This little piggy went to market!

I love markets, be it a local one in France, England or Mexico. The fish market in Palma, Majorca is wonderful as is the main market in Barcelonaor Florence. The weekly market in Condesa, Mexico City is a riot of colour and flavours, everything can be tasted before buying and if you are to lazy to chop or grate your own vegetables for a stir fry, then these too are readily available. 

Mexican Market Flowers
Mexican Market
  One of the best markets that I have been to is in southern Yunnan, in China. Here the ethnic mix is Han Chinese long with Chinese ethnic minorities, many of whom are also ethnic Burmese. The women in the market place, traditionally have painted faces and are very beautiful. Whereever I travel, I always make a point of visiting the markets, I feel they give a true reflection of life for the real people who live there. Case in point is Cuba. When the Russians left Cuba, the average Cuban lost over a third of his body weight, because the local economy could not produce enough food and funnily enough, Cubans do not eat fish, as most of it is exported. Consequently the food on offer in the markets was indeed of a very poor quality. 

Fruit and Vegetables in a Cuban Market
London on the other hand, has a multitude of markets, many of them ethnically biased, depending on the neighbourhood . The North End road, in west London is predominately African, whilst Church Street Market , just north of the Marble Arch is mostly Middle eastern. Borough Market near London Bridge station is the complete opposite, it is the weekend Yuppies paradise. 
Fish man at Church Street Market
Church Street Market
Middle Eastern Ladies, looking for a bargain!
Another Fish Trader at Church Street

If I need upmarket good quality produce I will go to Borough Market. Never go on a Saturday, it is unbelievably crowded, and is a real food fest, people everywhere eating. If I want more local, in season produce, then I go to Church Street and jostle with the shrouded middle eastern ladies. Here too are some eateries, but are  not of the Foodie variety, more the local ethnic foods.

For an interesting exercise, I have compared some prices for cheese. I bought in France some local cheese, called Abondance ( I love the name) and it makes the most delicious Cheese tarte ( quiche type of tart but heavy on the cheese), in France I paid about £13, per kilo, in Borough Msrket, it was £24, so almost double BUT in an up market cheese shop ( La Fromagerie, in Marylebone)  it was a whopping £32, so although Borough is not a  cheap venue for shopping it is certainly cheaper than a specialist cheese shop. 

Borough Market
Cheese Galore
Fish and Seafood
Beautiful Tomatoes
And Mushrooms
Indian Food
The Butchers
Flowers anyone?
We also visit Billinsgate, which is in Docklands, this is the main fish market not only for London but for the UK. It opens about 3 or 4 am, I tend to go on. Saturday at about 7 am, there will be fewer people there and a few fewer traders, but nonetheless it is well worthwhile, not only in terms of price but certainly in quality. The market inspector, checks each stall daily to check the quality of the wares on sale.If you know nothing about fish, then it could be worth your while to take a class at the Billinsgate Seafood Training School. Here they will take you on a tour of the market, choose some fish, go upstairs to school and learn how to prepare various types of fish and then cook them.

Another stop on our market tour is to Smithfield market. This again is a wholesale market but this time for meat. The best buys are certainly on ribeye steaks and filet of beef.

And finally the last of my regular stops , is the New Covent Garden, this is for plants and flowers ( and all related items ) in the first half and in the second is the wholesale fruit and vegetables section.i have to admit to not having been in the fruit and veg section, but about three times a year I buy plants for my terrace in the plant section. Where else do you think the garden shops and florists buy their wares? Which brings me on to Columbia Road. Nothing to do on a Sunday morning, then a visit to Columbia Road is a must! It is the Sunday morning version of Brough Market, but for plants and flowers and yes, you have guessed it, food!

Christmas Dinner anyone?

Christmas was here, best time of year! Mistletoe and wine etc! But is Christmas dinner the best dinner that you can have?

I questioned that concept about 30 years ago and have not cooked on Christmas Day since. Even before then, I always experimented with what we would have on that special day. My first Christmas dinner ( one that I cooked rather than my Mom) I chose Suckling pig. However it, skinny little thing was too big for my minuscule oven, so had to chop it in two and I cooked the front end first. I duly stuffed his mouth with an apple and stuck him in the oven. As he roasted tears rain down his face, or so it seemed, have not cooked suckling pig since. So we have gone from various ideas, roast loin of pork, standing rib of dry aged beef, goose, duck, wild duck to Cajun Turkey ( Turkey which is deep fried, whole, cooks in no time at all, is not greasy as the boiling oil seals the bird very quickly and is as tasty as can be) however I have never roasted a turkey, with all the trimmings! I am not sure I would know where to begin.

So what do we have on Christmas Day. Well as it is a family day, all the family get involved, but it is very easy. We have home cured grav lax, which I cure in either gin or vodka and serve with sour cream wasabi créme, best smoked salmon, oysters, either freshly shucked or as in oysters Rockefeller , ( number one son is usually in charge of the shucking) boiled large shrimp/ prawns , cold meats such as Parma ham, fois gras with brioche, maybe home made Rillettes and some salmon pâté and an assortment of cheeses, Bleu D’auvergne, chèvre, tête de Moines, Camembert or Brie . We might also have Mont d’or, the wonderful cheese which, is so yummy when melted in its box and eaten with chunks of bread or simple plain boiled new potatoes.

So for the first time , as a newly extended family we were all together for our Christmas dinner, and we ate more or less what I have just mentioned. However, the next day newly wedded son and his beautiful bride took on the task of feeding us all. Not for them either was the traditional Turkey, but they had been watching Tom Kerridge on T.V and produced the most amazing roast turkey ever. Turkey breast beaten flat, stuffed with a mixture of ground pork/sausage meat mixed with herbs, spices , nuts and fruits. This is then rolled, tied up with string, wrapped in cling film and put in a low oven for about 2 hours. I have to admit to being very sceptical about the cling film in the oven ( although I have used it when making potato gnocchi and used in boiling water) so I waited with bated breath and WOW, it was moist and succulent and absolutely delicious. So apologies to Tom Kerridge, a brief synopsis is below with alterations to what we had available at the time.

It is served with a crumble topping which is made with mixture of
100 grams crushed pork scracthings
100 grams dried crisp crumbed bread
100 grams chopped pistachios
Some chopped dried cranberries, some thyme and some orange zest. We omitted the pork scracthings and the thyme, however added orange and lemon zest and chopped garlic confit.

The turkey is stuffed with sausage meat ( about 1 lb) , 5 onions chopped and sautéed until soft but not brown, chopped chestnuts about 4 oz ( the ones that you can buy vacuum packed, ie already cooked) fresh breadcrumbs, dried cranberries and junipers berries some black pepper. We also added crisped chopped bacon bits.

We had a turkey breast vacuum packed from Costco, which. Weighed 2.5 kilos, we unrolled it, bashed it a little and then spread a huge dollop of the stuffing on the turkey. Roll up the turkey, like a Swiss roll and place on a large sheet of cling film ( the type that is pre cut into set lengths will not work here). Completely wrap the turkey breast in the cling film and tie up with string, a bit like wrapping Christmas presents!

Heat the oven to 120 C. Take a large roasting tine and half fill it with boiling water, put a wire rack in the pan and place the turkey on this. Cover with aluminium foil, so in fact making a bit like a Bain Marie, the turkey does not touch the water. Cook for about 2 hours, check the inner temperature of the meat it should be 70C, remember this is poultry so important that it is cooked through. Rest for about 30 mins covered with aluminium foil. Meanwhile, make a date sauce, by sautéing 1 chopped onion with 1/4 cup chopped ginger, 2 chopped cloves of garlic,, when onions are soft add one cup of finely chopped dates, along with 2 tabs of balsamic vinegar. Simmer adding a cup of vegetable stock. Reduce, until the sauce is thick and yummy, taste and adjust the seasoning.
Brush a thick layer of sauce over the turkey and top with the crumble mix. Of course according to Tom Kerridge, you do not even have to make your own sauce as good old HP brown sauce does the trick! Yummy give it a try and for all those families who a) do not like brown meat or b) get tired very easily of inventing ways to use up turkey, then this one for you!

Meanwhile I have learnt tow new French words. Emmerdeur ( Emmerdeuse) and Crosne.

The former is one I can use to describe Himself, from time to time as it means “A pain in the neck” and the other, is a type of edible tuber, with mint type leaves. They are called thus in French after a town, where they were first grown in Europe. They taste similar to Jerusalem artichokes, can be eaten raw in a salad, or sauté in butter and garlic for a side dish, or cooked with potatoes in stock along with cream and garlic blended for a soup!
They are labour intensive in cultivation hence they cost a whopping €15 a kilo! (Actually having taken a photo of them, I must admit, they look like giant maggots!) they are only ever washed and never peeled.



Schwarzwalder Kirsch Torte ( Black Forest Cherry Cake), Chocolate Cake or Sacher Torte, your choice!

Long before Black Forest Cherry Cake became the mainstream of English Cafes, decorated with lashings of mock cream and nasty dyed red cherries, I had eaten the real McCoy . We lived in Heidelberg, I went to the University and after class went to the best Konditerei in town, namely Schafheutel, on the Haupt Strasse to sample the delights that were on display. Years later, the munchkins and I would dash from Brussels to Aachen for the Christmas Market and our first port of call would always be Kaufhoff ( the local department store ) for breakfast  and being indulgent they could have what they wanted, but none of them ever chose the Black Forest cake, sometimes it would be Apfel Strudel and sometimes  Pflaume Torte, ( plum cake). Also in those Germany years, we discovered another Black Forest delight, Schwarzwalder Himbeergeist ( literal translation, Black Forest Raspberry Ghost!) this was a local Schnapps, which was served by it’s producer at the bottom of his privately owned ski lift, right in the middle of the Black Forest! 

Moving on from those days, Birthdays were always celebrated with a Chocolate Birthday Cake, normally in the form of a Sacher type cake. Sachertorte, is a type of chocolate cake,  invented by Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832 in Vienna, Austria.The 5th of December is National Sachertorte Day. There were during the  1930’s-1950’s huge disputes over who had the rights to the name and they were finally settled by giving the name The Original Sacher Torte, to the hotel Sacher and the name Eduard Sacher Torte to the Demel Bakery. Apparently the recipe is a secret, but for many years the closest  I got to making the real thing was by using an Elizabeth David recipe from her 1960 book French Provincial Cooking. In my opinion she was the first celebrity cook, and she was a cook, not a chef, the same as Julia Child in the USA, both were inspirations to many, me included . In the 1960’s in the UK Elizabeth David published several cookery books and my original copy is well thumbed. 

 In recent years I moved on and started using the recipe from Ruth Rogers and Rose Grey, their famous Nemesis Chocolate Cake. The difference between their version and that of Elizabeth David, was the use of flour. For the Elizabeth David version there is a very small amount of flour whereas with the Rogers/ Grey version there is absolutely none.  Both cakes are covered with a rich Chocolate Ganache, which even after learning how to “Temper” chocolate , I was not always successful in keeping a shine on my chocolate. However help is at hand, if you live in the USA, or have access to American baking products, ( check out Costco). The product that will rescue the shine is PAM spray which is used to grease a frying pan or a cake tin. It comes in an aerosol and a quick spray will do the job. However the low calorie sprays that are available in the UK, do not do the job! I have been known to be rushing around London at 9 pm trying to find Pam spray, all to no avail!

So now I have moved on again and my latest version is that which was given to me by a dear friend, along with a fool proof glaze, which does not require tempering chocolate. I have also adapted her recipe slightly 

  1. 150g butter
  2.  150g superfine  sugar
  3. 200g plain chocolate (75% + cocoa) broken into small pieces
  4. 200g ground almonds
  5.  6 medium eggs separated
  6.   4tbs milk
  7. For the chocolate glaze
  8. 180 grms plain chocolate,again with a high cocoa content.
  9. 120g unsalted butter 
  10. 1 tablespoon golden syrup


  1. Preheat oven to 150 C 
  2. Grease and line a 25 cm cake pan, better still one with a loose bottom or a spring form pan.
  3. Melt butter, sugar and chocolate. I usually do this in the microwave ( see chocolate glaze for more information )
  4. Cool slightly and fold in the almonds, the egg yolks and milk.
  5. Whisk egg whites until they hold stiff peaks and fold into the chocolate mixture. 
  6. Pour into the tins and bake for about 40 minutes.After 40 mins the top should be firm to the touch, but you can not test for doneness by the traditional method of inserting a skewer and seeing if it comes out clean. Remove from oven leave to cool for 10 minutes and then careful remove the spring form, leaving the cake on the base.. When fully cold, carefully slide with the help of a spatula onto the serving dish.
  7. Break the chocolate into small pieces into a bowl add the butter and the golden syrup and either melt on a low Microwave heat or place the bowl over a pan of hot water and let th chocolate melt. A point of interest, melted chocolate can be melted but still retains its shape!
  8. If desire you can add the grated zest of an orange.
  9. Pour the melted chocolate carefully over the cake. It will spill over the edge, using a damp cloth or kitchen paper, tidy up the edges.
  10. Decorate the cake as desired,  mine with almond flakes, as someone poked a finger in!!     

I saw in a cookery magazine recently a recipe called, Pizookie , it consisted of a pizza size chocolate chip cookie, which was served as a finale at  dinner party, served warm with lashings of Ice Cream. ( this actually came out of the Waitrose Test kitchen) I  really do not like the sound of this at all, and neither do I fancy Butter ( unsalted of course ) with chocolate chips in it,which I saw recently on French Supermarket shelves  Ummm ? both are interesting but the word Interesting  in Himselves vocabulary is very much a negative and I do not think I will be trying either anytime soon.

On a final note I saw in Marks and Spencer the other day, single clove garlic, whooppee I love it!!