Sunday, 28 October 2012

Have Your Say and Win £250

In 1979, Tim & Nina Zagat created the Zagat Survey, the first organised guide of New York restaurants based on the feedback of independent diners. Over the years, the survey has grown to cover over 70 cities across the globe, as well as adding guides for hotels, shopping, airlines, zoos, music, theatres and movies.

In the early days, the guide was available to buy as a book, and more recently by a paid subscription on its website.

Google acquired Zagat last year and as of May this year, Zagat reviews and ratings are now tightly integrated into the Google services, and the Zagat.com site became free to use.

A complete survey of Ireland has just been completed and Zagat are busy gathering reviews for Edinburgh & Glasgow and want help from you. Diners can win £250 of restaurant vouchers – by reviewing where they love to eat out. Zagat are looking for the kind of things that people would say to their friends – whether the decor is good, the music is loud/quiet, what the best dish, basically all the reasons someone would want to go.

To have your say on the best places to eat in Glasgow or Edinburgh, simply follow the link and get reviewing. You never know, your next meal might be on the house!



Sunday, 21 October 2012

5 Questions - everything CHILLI







Over the last few years there has been a big increase in the different ways that red (or green) hot chilli peppers are working their way into our food. In the old days, our old friend the chilli was simply chopped up and added to a stir-fry, but nowadays we can find the chilli hiding in ice cream, in chocolate bars and hot chocolate drinks, as well as a huge range of relishes and jams.

A few weeks ago I met Lynn Duthie, who runs "everything CHILLI", at the Ayrshire Farmers market in Kilmarnock. After sampling a few of the sweet and spicy relishes, I was hooked. From the few flavours that I sampled, the Lime Shred was easily my favourite. In fact I've almost finished the jar that I bought a few weeks ago, the sweet and spicy relish is delicious with cheese on toast!

Here's Lynn's story.

How did you get started?

It wasn’t a conscious decision to start a small business! The very first batch of “chilli jam” I made was to give to a friend (who likes chillies as much as I do) as a gift a few years ago. From there, the more people that tasted it, the more people that wanted some. I bought a few nice food jars, made three or four varieties of spreads and took a stall at a small local craft market with another friend, and was surprised at how well my products sold.

After that I decided that I’d like to take it further because I enjoyed inventing unusual flavours and working on the marketing of the products, and liked the sense of achievement when new customers enjoyed the spreads.

I made sure that I was following production and sales regulations, found ingredient and packaging suppliers and booked places at craft market stalls and farmers markets, and things have grown organically from there. I still do absolutely everything myself, from ordering jars right through production, design, promotion and sales to book keeping.

What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?

My background is in business and marketing, so I’d say do your research first to make sure that the market is there and that you can satisfy that demand in a way that fits your business model and at the same time you should be open to new opportunities that may require change. But just as important is to follow your gut instinct and be uncompromisingly true to yourself – do something that you get really excited about as that will keep you going through any tough times and make the wins all the more satisfying, and that also means that when you speak to customers your enthusiasm will rub off on them.

Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?

I might have relinquished some responsibility to other people by then! I hope that I’m still innovating, still enjoying it and still letting my customers experience new flavour ideas. My seasonal editions and new products are great fun to invent, so I hope that I’ll still be ‘flavour inventor’ to the business in whatever form it may take in 5 years’ time.



If you could only have one of your own products, what would it be & why?

Gerry, you ask really difficult questions! My favourite changes from month to month. I probably use Original Chilli the most because it’s great with cheese and lots of savoury dishes as it is, and it’s gorgeous used as a glaze for baked salmon too. I do love Lime Shred’s citrusy punch, and new seasonal editions always get me excited simply because they’re new inventions and I love taking them to a market and sharing them with my customers to see what they think of them.

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?

My last meal? What a horrible thought! The main dish would have to be something that I had never tried before – if I didn’t enjoy it then the disappointment would be short-lived, if I did enjoy it then I would go out happy. Maybe some strange exotic delicacy that I haven’t even heard of yet!

I do know that I’d make some everythingCHILLI cookies with the tea/coffee as a sweet treat afterwards though.

And the person to have it with ... Speedy Gonzales, the fastest mouse in all Mexico! He loves cheese, so there would be no arguments about whether to have a cheeseboard or not, and being from Mexico he would love chillies, and he’s a little cheery fellow, just what I’d need if I was facing my last meal! Plus he might join me in a little cheeky margarita cocktail.

If you like your relish with a kick then "everything CHILLI" have a huge range of flavour combinations to choose from. A little chilli can add an extra dimension to both sweet and savoury food. The current range of fruit and savoury spreads includes scrumptious and exclusive flavours that have a hint of warmth and, for the heat-seekers among you, there are also one or two that are rather hot, check out the website for a full list of flavours available.
Keep up to date with "everything CHILLI" on Facebook or Twitter.



Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review - La Cantina, Teguise, Lanzarote

After a week of work, and a particularly bad man-cold, our two week break in Lanzarote seems such a long time ago! Before we went on holiday I had set out with the intention of trying to meet some of the ex-pats who are feeding the tourists and locals alike. We had already met Tracy from Brown Delicatessen, Sarah of English Cakes Lanzarote, and Mike & Julie who run the Lanzarote Information website, who had all suggested that we pop into La Cantina in the old capital, Teguise, to try the food being served up by Benn & Zoe.



We had tried to catch up with Benn on the Sunday afternoon that we visited the big market at Teguise but when we stuck our head through the door he was in the middle of a busy lunch service. The restaurant was buzzing and the food being served looked fantastic so we made the decision to come back for our lunch on our final day.



On a Sunday, all roads lead to Teguise as the holidaymakers from all over the island head to the former capital for the weekly market, however on any other day of the week, Teguise reverts back to a sleepy and picturesque village. We had to be at the airport by mid afternoon so we were eating a little earlier than we had been used to over the last two weeks but despite our earlier lunchtime sitting, when we arrived we were quickly seated and left to look over the menu cum place mat. La Cantona reckon that they have the largest selection of Lanzarote wines on the island. I won't argue, there were loads to choose from! Nicola ordered her favourite Stratvs Rosado but Zoe advised that due to a smaller grape harvest than previous years, the Rosado was in short supply. Not a big issue, it just meant that we had to try another locally produced wine. Zoe recommended her own current favourite, Guiguan, a crisp and fruity Malvesia Seco.



After a long look at the menu we decided to end our holiday with one of La Cantina's Tapas Boards. One of my favourite ways of eating is to have lots of little bits that I can pick at, and when our tapas board arrived I wasn't disappointed. We had a selection of meats and cheeses including a rich chorizo, Iberico ham, plus a wonderful salami which was flavoured with black pepper and fennel seed. There were two local cheeses, huge olive and pickled red peppers, tapenade which was so good that even Nicola had some (she doesn't do olives), a fresh tomato, garlic and onion relish, fresh oaty breads, and a sweet jam, which may have been made from fig,that worked wonderfully with the meats and cheeses.

All this cost less than €15 believe it or not!

When we were finished we had a look at the dessert menu but neither of us had any room to squeeze in some of Zoe's homemade puddings. Which is a pity because after asking for the bill, one of the other diners was just about to tuck into the Parfait de Limon that is pictured above. Rest assured, next time we are on the island, I will definitely be ordering pudding at La Cantina.

Overall, La Cantina is exactly what I expected from a traditional Canarian tapas bar. Plenty of fresh, local ingredients put together to create a visual and delicious feast. Benn & Zoe are fantastically passionate about providing fresh, quality and authentic food to their regular and touristic visitors, in fact they also have plans to expand the business to include a delicatessen. Teguise might be a little off the beaten track from the bustling coastal resorts but La Cantina makes it trip worth making.




Sunday, 14 October 2012

Recipe - Easy Raisin Danish

Myself and my gorgeous wife have just returned from a fantastic two week break in Lanzarote. There was lots of sunbathing, splashing around in the pool, plenty of driving around the island, and we made sure that we tried as much of the local food and drink that we could find. Of course, there were some quieter periods of relaxation, when I would flick through the limited Freeview channels. As it turned out, the only channel worth watching was Food Network.

One of the programmes that I ended up watching was Barefoot Contessa, I had never heard of Ina Garten before but after watching her putting together tasty and simple dishes with ease, I will be checking out her website on a regular basis. The great thing about the Danish recipe below is that you can adapt it easily to suit your own tastes.

Ingredients

  • 250g puff pastry - shop bought is ok
  • 50g butter, softened
  • 50g raisins
  • 50g Demerara sugar
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
Method



  1. Roll your pastry out, you're looking for a size of about 12" square.
  2. Brush the pastry with the melted butter before scattering the sugar, raisins and cinnamon over the top.
  3. From one end, roll the pastry up forming a tight roll. Using a sharp knife, slice the roll into pieces about 1" in thickness.
  4. Put the cut pinwheels into a buttered muffin tray before placing into a preheated oven 200C for 15-20 minutes.


As the kitchen began to fill with the smell of buttery pastry and caramelising sugar and cinnamon time seemed to stop! After what seemed like the longest 20 minutes, I removed the raisin Danishes from the oven and set them aside to cool. Shortly after, my addiction started in earnest. The Danishes were delicious, sweet and buttery, and perfect with my early morning coffee.

I love the fact that the recipe is quick, easy and very adaptable, and am already thinking about what I can make next Saturday morning!



Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Review - Casa Roja, Puerto Del Carmen

We've been coming to Lanzarote for a number of years now, seven in total if my arithmetic is up to scratch. However, Casa Roja in the harbour area of Puerto Del Carmen has been serving up quality food for much longer. In fact, Casa Roja was originally built in 1850 by Dom Rupert Gonzalaz Negrin, where it served as a building to store animals such as chickens, goats and camels. Over the years, the front area increasingly became a busy meeting place for the many tradesman.
Fishermen from all over Europe would bring a variety of fresh fish, especially herrings, sardines, mackerel and bream. As quickly as the goods came into the red houses, they were dried, salted and then sold, mainly by the Canarian women.at this point in time, Casa Roja was a renowned trading area, and became a important symbol of the Varadero community.

Over the following years, three families resided at The Red House, one of which turned the building into a small shop that sold groceries. Mainly the building served as a storage area until the end of the twentieth century when it was eventually reinvented as a restaurant.

The restaurant has changed hands many times over the years but the original structure of the building has always remained the same. Casa Roja still maintains its status as the most important landmark in the old harbour area of Puerto Del Carmen.

Casa Roja sits right on the waters edge with tables set up to allow its diners to enjoy a fantastic view of the harbour and the picturesque hills in the distance. We have eaten in Casa Roja a few times over the years and the restaurant had always been busy on our previous visits, and tonight was no different as the restaurant was already very full. After being greeted by Heidi at the door, we were quickly seated at our own waterside table before being offered an aperitif of 'Cava Martini' by the restaurant manager, Viktor.

The Cava Martini was a brilliantly refreshing start to our evening. A fresh blend of martini and lime juice, shaken with ice before being topped with cava and a bruised mint leaf. This is a definitely a drink that I'll be recreating at home, it was very good.
The wine list had a wide range of Spanish and Island wines to choose from. As we had been to Bodega Stratvs the day before for a little wine tasting, we decided to order a bottle of the Stratvs Blanco which was a light, crisp Malvasia that so easy to drink, with food or on its own.
As we finished off our aperitifs and began to enjoy the wine, Viktor talked us through the specials that were available this evening. English head chef, Paul, has cut the size of the menu considerably, putting a huge emphasis on producing high quality food whilst trying to use as much locally sourced ingredients as possible. The specials demonstrated this by incorporating tuna, and prawns that both came from the surrounding waters.
Nicola ordered Seared Scallops with bacon, and fig jam for starter. This was to be followed with Sea Bass with Buere Blanc and chives, served with Canarian Potatoes and salad. I found choosing starter very difficult as there were so many things that I love to eat. In the end I plumped for the Timbale of Tomato & Mozzarella with Basil jelly. For my main meal, I ordered the Fillet of Beef dish from the specials.
Our starters arrived pretty quickly and we could see that presentation is an important factor at Casa Roja. It didn't take long to see that the food didn't just look good, it tasted fantastic too! The scallops were cooked perfectly, the slight charring from the grill giving a nice smoky flavour to the sweet & succulent scallops. The accompanying fig jam was sweet and sticky, but balanced with the saltiness of crisp bacon pieces scattered over the top.
The timbale of tomato and mozzarella was a delightful twist on the classic 'Salade Caprese'. Firm sweet tomato and creamy mozzarella had been placed in a mould before being bound in a basil jelly. When turned out onto the plate, the jelly tower was accompanied with soft avocado and tomato pieces and garnished with fresh rosemary and dill. Finally, the timbale was topped with a Gofio cheese Tuille biscuit, helping to add a crunchy texture to the starter. Where do I start? This starter was amazing! Everything on the plate had a reason to be there, the flavours and textures were perfect, I especially loved the jelly which tasted exactly of fresh basil without the jelly texture causing confusion. I have to be honest and say that I initially thought the Tuille was overcooked as it tasted slightly burnt, that is until I remembered that it was baked with Gofio cheese. The strong flavour of the cheese in the biscuit is quite overpowering on its own, however when combined with the other flavours on the plate, everything came together wonderfully.
The expectations for the main courses were now incredibly high, and after a short ten minute break, two more beautiful plates of food were brought to our table.
Grilled Sea Bass is Nicola's favourite fish, tonight she was tucking into two huge grilled fillets of soft, sweet Sea Bass smoothed in a rich Buere Blanc with chives. The fish was well seasoned, and served on top of salty Canarian potatoes and a well dressed salad, finally the whole dish was sprinkled with some Lanzarote black salt flakes. This was fancy fish and chips, done incredibly well. Nicola made short work of her Sea Bass, however her overall enjoyment was dented slightly by a small collection of bones that she was gathering on the side of her plate. I know that when you order fish that there is always the chance of a bone or two, but not enough to create a small mound. The head chef was very apologetic about the bones, in fact I think he was a little annoyed that a fish could leave his kitchen with that many still intact.
The fillet of beef that I had ordered from the specials menu was, put simply, steak served with potatoes. What I actually had was possibly the tastiest and juiciest steaks that I have ever eaten! The fillet is marinated with Malden salt flakes, Lanzarote black salt, fragrant pink peppercorns, and a little truffle oil, before being grilled and placed on top of the same salty Canarian potatoes and dressed salad that the Sea Bass had come with. I had been warned that the steak didn't come with any sauce because the steak didn't need any. Those are brave words especially when fillet steak needs a lots of help to bring the flavours out. How they manage to get so much flavour into a piece of beef is beyond me, words cannot describe just how tasty my medium cooked fillet steak was. I rarely order steak when I go out for dinner and I think after this meal that I will be less likely to order steak in the future, it just wouldn't be fair!
After drinks, wine and two fantastic courses, we were both full. I didn't think that either of us would manage dessert but a quick look at the dessert menu soon had us changing our minds. Nicola seen the words 'Baileys, chocolate, and bread & butter pudding' and her decision was easy after that. I'm a big lover of cheesecake so when I was told that the special was a cheesecake that incorporated the local 'Bienmesabe' into the base and filling of the cake, I had to try it.
As we waited for our desserts, the head chef kindly came out and had a brief chat with us about the changes that he had made to the menu as well as a giving a brief biography that stretched back almost 30 years including time served under chefs Marco Pierre White and Gary Rhodes.
Desserts arrived and we were both glad that we had ordered a third course. The bread and butter pudding was a dense stack of Baileys soaked bread layered with rich dark chocolate, served on a bed of raspberry coulis and more chocolate sauce. To lighten this sumptious pudding, it was topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice-cream, finished off with more chocolate work. It must've been good because Nicola managed to clear her plate in record time!
My 'Bienmesabe' cheesecake was another example of how local products are used on the menu. Bienmesabe is a Canarian dessert of ground almonds heavily soaked in honey, usually served with ice-cream. Tonight, the Bienmesabe was mixed in with both the crisp base and the filling to create a deliciously sweet cheesecake. A homemade passion fruit sorbet was placed on top, helping to cut through the sweetness. Sweet and sharp working well to put a smile on my face. This was a deliciously well flavoured cheesecake.
Six plates of food were ordered, and every plate was sent back to the kitchen empty. The total cost of dinner for two, including three courses, aperitif and a bottle of locally produced wine, was just over €100. In my opinion it was money well spent, the levels of skill in the kitchen are clear to see in the food that is served, and the flavours and textures that we tasted were well put together.
There are a number of restaurants who have been nominated for Michelin stars, but if you're looking for fine dining on the island, you don't need to go any further than Casa Roja in Puerto Del Carmen.
Keep up to date with Casa Roja on Facebook.


Monday, 1 October 2012

Review - Bodega @ La Cascada, Puerto Del Carmen, Lanzarote

For the third year running, myself and Nicola are back in Lanzarote for two weeks of relaxing by the pool at the villa that we first used on our honeymoon. The villa comes equipped with a big barbecue which means that I am able to serve up tasty dinners most nights. Of course, there are a few night that I take a break from the hot coals and we get out to sample some of the local restaurants. So after a few drinks in the villa whilst we changed from poolside attire into something a little more appropriate, we took the short walk to the old harbour area of Puerto Del Carmen. There are a number of well established restaurants in the 'Old Town' of PDC, offering tapas, fresh seafood and a wide selection of grilled meats. Tonight we decided to eat at Bodega @ La Cascada. The restaurant is split into two distinct sections, La Cascada is a more traditional laid out restaurant setting where the focus is on the meats cooked on the grill, whilst Bodega has a more old fashioned feel to it with old stone walls, lots of dark wood, and 'Jamon Serrano' hanging from the rafters. It was a busy Friday night when we walked through the narrow doorway, this gave us time to sit at the bar with a glass of vino blanco and catch up with some of the familiar faces from our previous visits. Despite the fact that we had not been there for over a year, we were immediately recognised and welcomed back like old friends.




Bodega has a huge wine list comprising of red and white wines from some of the top wine producers in Spain, such as Torres and Faustino, as well as other world wines. They also carry a strong list of wines produced on the island, in fact in recent years, Lanzarote wine has received recognition and awards in the wine world. There are a number of bodegas or vineyards on the island, each offering tours and wine tasting to those who make the trips to La Geria. Tonight we enjoyed a bottle of Manto, a crisp, clean white wine made from the Malvasia grape. (whilst Malvasia may not be as well known as the Chardonnay or Sauvignon grapes, it has been around for centuries, in fact William Shakespeare mentioned Malvasia wine in one of his early plays)

Bodega have a full a la carte menu with grilled meats being a speciality, as well as a huge range of tapas. Nicola & I both love ordering tapas and getting to choose lots of different things to eat. Tonight was no different as we ordered seven dishes in total. The tapas were brought to the table in no particular order, over the next two hours we were treated to the dishes below.
Pulpo La Galicia - fresh octopus cooked on the grill with smoked paprika, served with sliced Papas Arragudas. Octopus has become a one of our favourite dishes in recent years. Tonight the octopus was cooked perfectly, the combination of smoky octopus with the salty Canarian potatoes was delightful.
Croquettas de Bacalao - salt cod croquettes served with a sweet tomato relish. Salt cod is a common place ingredient in Spanish cooking, the croquettas were a well balanced blend of salty cod, fresh parsley and nutmeg, coated in breadcrumbs before being deep fried. The croquettas were accompanied with the perfect sweet tomato relish.


Queso de Uga - fresh Lanzarote cheese from Uga served with an assortment of toasted nuts. There are a number of cheeses produced on the island using both goats and sheep milk. The cheese served tonight was a delicious sheep milk cheese which tasted great, somewhere between a good strong cheddar and Manchego.

Revuelta con Gambas y Champi├▒on - scrambled eggs with prawns and mushroom. Creamy, well seasoned eggs packed with plenty of chopped chestnut mushrooms and fresh prawns. The Spanish have a knack for scrambled eggs, this dish was maybe my favourite of the night.
Croquettas de Pollo - chicken croquettes. Every Spanish tapas bar claims to serve up the best Croquettas in the whole of Spain! Admittedly, I think my own croquettas are authentic enough to carry their own 'pasaporte'. That said, the croquettas that Bodega serve up are fantastic! Well seasoned chopped chicken blended with parsley, before being deep fried in breadcrumbs, served with a creamy alioli.
Papas Arragudas - Canarian Potatoes served with Mojo sauce. This traditional dish consists of new potatoes cooked in heavily salted water, so salty that the potatoes float in the pan! (I'll post a recipe for Papas Arragudas in the coming weeks) These salty wrinkled potatoes are a superb replacement for chips or baked potatoes, especially when covered in spicy Mojo Roja!

Gambas al Ajillo - sizzling garlic prawns. Over a dozen fresh prawns cooked in oil with plenty of sliced garlic with a coupe of dried birds-eye chillies for good measure. As a dare, Nicola challenged me to eat the chili as well......challenge accepted and passed! (next time I'll think before accepting the challenge so quickly) This is one of my favourite dishes, I could easily sit with a couple of servings to myself with a chilled glass of white Rioja and some bread to dip.


Carpaccio de Buey - carpaccio of beef. This is Nicola's favourite tapas dish. Wafer thin slices of top grade fillet beef, layered on a platter before being dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and red wine vinegar then chilled in the fridge for a few hours to let the dressing break down the proteins in the beef. Just before serving, generous shavings of Parmegano Reggiano are spread over the tenderised fillet. The combination of flavours on this plate are amazing. The sharpness of the lemon juice and wine vinegar are balanced with the saltiness of the Parmesan, both working incredibly well with the richness of the beef.

The portion sizes are generous and every effort is made to make sure that each tapa is well presented, with every dish tasting exactly how you would expect. We have been eating at Bodega for a number of years now and have yet to be disappointed. To top things off, the multilingual staff are always friendly and attentive, and quick to make recommendations for those unsure of the menu!

Holiday resorts can often be overrun by restaurants that are solely interested in providing cheap and cheerful food aimed at the tourists, and whilst Bodega offer top quality food at great prices seven days a week, the fact that it is frequented by the local Spanish families is perhaps the best reason to take a trip to the old harbour area of Puerto Del Carmen and see what all the fuss is about!

Keep up to date with the team at Bodega on Facebook.