Friday, 24 May 2019

May 2019 Favourites List

This Favourites List, I want to tell you all about Vinales in Cuba. Last month I gave you a brief rundown of my trip to Cuba this Spring. [Please see]. I wanted to tell you more about the little town of Vinales because it is such a beautiful and fascinating place. Situated in Western Cuba, Vinales is an attractive little town in a valley. The valley contains huge rounded mountains called "Mogotes". These formations are highly distinctive and unusual, only found here, in Puerto Rico and China.

Large Mogote on the outskirts of Vinales

Nestled in the countryside, Vinales is full of small wooden farmhouses and bijou Colonial style houses. Proudly painted in bright colours, the sunshine hits them, making them seem even more vibrant and striking. All around the town are farms dedicated to growing tobacco and corn. If you've ever smoked Cuban cigars, chances are the leaves which made them were grown in Vinales. The farmers here are required to hand over the majority of their crop to the government, who use these leaves to make the famous international brands like Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo Y Julieta and Guantanamera. The rest the farmers are allowed to keep for personal use and for small scale cigar production. You can buy their homemade cigars directly from the farmers who will even let you try before you buy. If you want to have your cigar like Ernesto "Che" Guevara and dip the tip in honey, no problem. A little pot of honey is waiting for you. The local farmers also produce local honey for tourists to buy.

As with the rest of Cuba, there are elements of living in the past which coexist with life in the 21st Century. Smartphones and the internet are contemporary technology apparent all over Cuba, including Vinales, yet no other place had a greater preponderance of free WiFi. (Which was very welcome, given one needs the special Nauta WiFi scratchcards for internet access everywhere else in the country, only available from official ETECSA shops or for vastly inflated shops from the local touts.) The internet age lives alongside a more 20th Century pleasure of listening to the radio, with old valve radio sets from the 40s and 50s run daily in people's homes. Equally, even older practices are kept alive in the farms; hand harvesting of the tobacoo leaves, which are tied up in bundles and dried in huge hand made drying houses. The smell in these big drying barns is strong and surprisingly pleasant. Ox carts are used alongside ancient tractors. Pony and traps ply the streets instead of taxis. Rocking chairs are on every verandah, used to drink in the last sunlight of the evenings, where locals share in family chit chat and social time.  

Ox cart on the way to the farm

The local fruit and vegetables are flavourful and delicious, kissed by so much Caribbean sun. The people of Cuba might be somewhat isolated by the trade block, but they look to their own culinary history and modern cooking trends for inspiration. You will find Spanish tapas, Italian pastas and pizzas, and flavours of Mexico and Peru.

Vinales is close to Havana, so it makes an ideal place to visit when the energy and crowds of the city need escaping. It is breathtakingly lovely. I hope you will enjoy my pictures alongside the food writing and culture I have been enjoying this past month. 

Food writing and articles:

Foodism magazine decided to visit the Trang region of southern Thailand to discover the food traditions inspiring these dishes. A great piece of food and travel writing:
Wooden houses with a matching vintage car

London dining can be pricey, especially because of the markup on booze. Here is a list of London's best BYOB restaurants!

Chef Romy Gill: "I come from a simple family who taught me to fight for my rights and that attitude enabled me to fight for myself and others." Romy reflects on:  having no regrets, overcoming adversity of all kinds and cultural appropriation. From Seetal Savla:
Tobacco farm cat makes sure there are no mice around

Pasta bake influenced by the flavours of Greece, with slow-cooked lamb, orzo, olives and feta:

Grilled chicken with coriander and green pepper sauce - a new recipe for Springtime from Chef Angela Hartnett:

Asma Khan is the entrepreneur behind Darjeeling Express and a fabulous cookbook "Asma's Indian Kitchen". Here is her recipe for a simple Indian vegetable dish, with potato slices and cumin, Zeera (or Jeera) Aloo:
How to make chicken pie. By Felicity Cloake. Although I disagree that pies don't look good on Instagram!

Tobacco drying barn

The cafe near my work has old ketchup bottles full of their secret homemade chilli sauce. I think that Helen at Fuss Free Flavours blog has cracked their secret! This no cook kebab shop sauce looks exactly like theirs!

Simple yet delicious Thai homecooking: Kay Plunkett-Hogge's recipe (based on her time spent living and visiting Thailand) for pad krapow moo (pork stir fried with holy basil, chilli and beans). As featured on Kavey Eats:

Butter beans, cooked in onion, garlic, tomato, cinnamon and oregano. Baked beans, Greek style:

Traditional farmhouse

How to make the perfect tempura - Felicity Cloake compares and contrasts recipes from Luiz Hara, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Charmaine Solomon, Tim Anderson and J Kenji Lopez-Alt:
I would use organic white wine vinegar rather than bother buying champagne vinegar. But this butter bean, tarragon and cucumber salad looks like a fab packed lunch (keep the dressing separate in a jar):

My other writings:

Not food, but a blog post for my students. Many of them discovered last week they didn't get a pupillage. But there is so much they can do to improve their chances next time!

Old style rocking chair on a verandah


I Love My Friends - Stephen Duffy
Lost and Found - Jorja Smith


Deutschland 86
Derry Girls Season 2

Crazy Rich Asians

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

April 2019 Favourites List

Hello readers!

I am back from a break and I am feeling newly inspired. Having had some time to get over the inevitable jet lag, and the tiredness which made me want to crawl under a rock, I can feel the benefit of a huge change of scenery. My trip to Cuba has filled my heart with the joy of son and salsa music, my memory with the colours of the cities and landscapes of the countryside and my spirit with the friendliness and kindness of the Cuban people. 

Vinales, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is out in the countryside, in a beautiful valley, punctuated by huge Mogote rocks. It is tobacco country where the raw material for the iconic cigars are grown. The built landscape features little houses with airy verandahs (with an obligatory rocking chair) and huge tobacco drying houses made of wood and palm leaves. 

Cienfuegos, founded by a ridiculously wealthy family of the same name, is a 19th Century town of pastel shade mansions, home of musician and favourite son Beny More, the famous "Barbarian of Rhythm" (a compliment reflecting his diversity of genre and ability to sing in any of Cuba's amazing music styles.

Remedios is a cute little town which packs 500 years of history in a small place. The main square has continuous stone benches providing seating for hundreds. Arriving at lunchtime, with the temperature topping 30 degrees, the square is deserted. Why so much space for people to sit, lying utterly empty. The answer arrives with the darkness; the balmy night brings out whole families to have a walk and to sit together, as a community. 

Trinidad (de Cuba) is another historic town, full of quaint low rise buildings with multi colour fronts. Some seem nondescript, with huge three inch thick doors. Open the doors to discover mini palaces with internal courtyards; an instant defence from the daytime heat. Horse and cart taxis make their way through the streets, shared by locals and tourists alike.

And Havana. Oh, Havana! The faded grandeur is almost as narcotic as it is romantic. The Paseo de Jose Marti (Prado) with the beautiful theatre, imposing Capitolio (reminiscent of the roof feature of the White House in Washington), old style hotels and paintbox perfect column fronted houses makes for superb contrasts. The vintage cars, which anywhere else would be a in a museum, but here you can cruise the streets. 

Everywhere, the music. It is so strong in the spirit and soul of the nation. Wherever you go, live music can be found. Strangers dance the salsa with each other, with smiles exchanged without necessarily expectating exchanging phone numbers. Singles dance for fun or courtship; they choose. Marrieds dance to express their closeness. Family members dance just for the joy. 

Cuba is a magical place. It will live in my mind forever, so I am sharing some of my pictures with you and hope you enjoy this month's collection of favourite stuff.


Food blogger Louisa (Living Lou) has devised this pork ragu sauce, made in the slow cooker:

Ever wanted to make your own Kimchi? Kimchi is the national dish of Korea, a hot and spicy fermented cabbage pickle which is tasty and helps good gut health:

Wild garlic is back in season. Here is a wild garlic and pea soup you can make with it:

Spicy Moroccan Kale and Rice Soup - from food blogger Janice on her Scottish farm:

Angela Hartnett's recipe for Risotto Primavera, full of the joy of Spring - peas, broad beans, sugar snaps and asparagus:

Brown butter, honey and garlic combined for this roasted carrot recipe - for Sunday lunch?

New ideas for cooking for one - cashew nut pulao rice, salmon, greens and sweet potato ‘en papillote’ (cooked in paper), Simon Hopkinson’s chicken, garlic and parsley broth, coddled egg, and baked potato with avocado, lime, chilli, feta and smoked bacon:

More cooking for one ideas: steak frites, Signe Johansen’s carrot, pomegranate and chickpea salad with a spiced citrus dressing, "seven-meal" roast chicken (recipes for cooked roast chicken included), Nigel Slater’s grilled pork salad, and comforting little casseroles:

Third selection of meals for one: fried egg sandwich, broccoli, anchovy and chilli pasta with crunchy sourdough crumbs, Nigella Lawson’s linguine with clams, crispy kimchi and cheddar omelette, and Fergus Henderson’s simple vanilla sundae:

One bag of dried chick peas will make enough of this chick pea curry for 7-8 people. You can freeze it for later, too!

I do the 5:2 diet (2 calorie limited days - 600 for a man, 500 for a woman - 5 days normal eating) and I'm always looking for diet day inspiration. This chicken and pearl barley stew from Karen Burns Booth looks scrumptious:

Quinoa Squash Salad, with aubergine, butternut squash, sundried tomatoes, pesto, soft goat’s cheese:

Food articles: 

Delicious Magazine's best places to eat in South East London:

Not necessarily the cheapest, but London's best value eateries - collected by Eater London's Jonathan Nunn:


Fleabag Season 2


If Beale Street Could Talk
A Private War


Buena Vista Social Club - Various Artists
The Stars of the Buena Vista - Various Artists
She Drew The Gun - Revolution of Mind

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

March 2019 Favourites List

Another month has flown past, hasn't it

It's assessment season for me and my students. Which means lots of work, some stress, doing one's best and fighting to keep on top of everything. I hope you will all wish my students the very best with their exams and assessments, as in the next month or so, they are taking some of the most important of the whole course. 

In amongst it all, I'm trying to keep on cooking and eating, trying out new recipes and revisiting old favourites. Sometimes cooking is like meditation, a way of using your hands, working on something and being able to let go of the cares of the day. At other times, it feels like a creative process, which for me, makes it feel fulfilling and gives me a sense of achievement. I wonder if many people feel the same, or whether it feels like a bit of a chore. Having said that, I'm lucky that the inimitable Him Indoors is around to lend a helping hand, making it more of a joint enterprise!

Anyway, this month's collection of lovely stuff is accompanied by a selection of photos of recent home cooking escapades. 

I hope you enjoy this post. I hope you are all well.

I wish my students best of luck in their assessments and exams! You've got this, my lovely students!


Making the last of the winter vegetables more exciting: potatoes and pork, beetroot salad, braised veggies, and Fritters for St Joseph's day:

Four Spanish stews by Nieves Barragan Mohacho of Sabor Restaurant:

March means St Patrick's day! Here is a recipe for bangers and mash with a difference - with Guinness and onion gravy!

Here is Michelin starred chef Galton Blackiston's recipe for Yorkshire puddings:

Pork schnitzel with caper beans, midweek supper for two:

Several upscale restaurants serve up Parmesan thins as part of the freshly baked bread stage of a meal. London's Gauthier has made theirs something of an art form: paper thin, and huge. But who knew they were this easy?

Chicken pot pie for the slow cooker. Because I'm feeling chilly, and this looks warming and delicious. From Janice Pattie:

Here are Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for Pancake day for Cheese crepes with honey, orange and pistachio, Turmeric crepes with spiced sugar and lemon and Kale and cheese pikelets:

For Pancake Day (AKA Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the best ever pancake recipes from Olive Magazine - get your frying pan ready!

We celebrated St David's Day, the Patron saint of Wales this past month. Here is a celebratory menu for Leek soup, Lamb stew with rosemary dumplings, Honey cake and classic Welsh cakes!

Tahini, pomegranate molasses and feta bring the flavours of Greece, Cyprus and Turkey to this chicken traybake:

Food writing and articles:  

Chandni Chowk in Southall and Sichuan Grand in Stratford sound well worth investigating. I can vouch for Moxon's Next Door in Dulwich.

Why don't the Brits love quinoa? A foodie rant:

How very civilised... a marathon with stops for cheese and wine. Only in France!

What you might have missed at Snig's Kitchen:

My recipe blog post where I try to recreate one of my mum's weekend brunch dishes, Poha, a Bengali dish using Indian flattened rice:

Bordeaux produces some of the world's greatest wines, so what can we expect from the 2018 vintage? I found out from the producers themselves:


She Drew The Gun - Memories of the Future

She Drew The Gun - Revolution of Mind

Aphex Twin - Collapse EP



Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Grand Cercle de Bordeaux 2018 En Primeur

Bordeaux is famous for its wines, and its producers are passionate about quality and co-operation. At this year’s En Primeur tasting (where the new 2018 Vintage can be sampled by reviewers, merchants and restauranteurs, I met with President Dr Alain Raynaud, the man chosen by all the producers to represent them in the “Grand Cercle” (great circle) of Bordeaux wine producers.

President Dr Alain Raynaud’s symbol on the business card he hands me is a neat, but telling one. It is a bunch of grapes which is intertwined with a serpent. The snake is the famous symbol of the physician and the grape, that of the winemaker, because Alain is a man of many talents, being a medical doctor and wine estate owner and wine maker. 

The 2018 Vintage has been described by President Dr Alain Raynaud as “a very good vintage, very close to 2016”. But he did say that it wasn’t a perfect vintage.

Alain went on to explain his summation further. “We are optimistic about the quality of 2018’s vintage. We had been in a bad situation in the Sprint because of mildew. But by good fortune July to September [2018] was very dry, which was perfect for ripening. So, despite the difficult start, we have been able to pick good healthy grapes. The only problem we’ve had to face is because of the amount of sun and high temperatures, which has increased the amount of sugar. Where the canopy is high, the sugar has been too high, which caused some trouble with the fermentation. Too much alcohol has been an issue, but only for a few vineyards. I don’t want to escape the problems we’ve faced. I don’t want to say it’s all perfect. But we have coped with the challenges we’ve had.”

So what is the cause of these extra challenges? Alain was happy to explain. “There is no doubt the change of climate is causing a different ripening of the berries. We may have to think about a different time for picking the grapes. We need a balance between alcohol content and acidity; to achieve the balance of the wine itself.” This is because over ripening can lead to too much alcohol in the wine. Too much alcohol results in a flat taste, which would spoil the pleasure of these wonderful wines. The sugar content, when too high, can result in too high an alcohol content.

I met Brigitte Rullier from Chateau Dalem, the fourth generation of winemakers at the Chateau. Brigitte is an utterly fascinating woman I had great fun chatting with. She single handedly runs the Chateau, which is no mean feat! Brigitte reminded me that whilst there are women winemakers, most of them work with either a father or husband, and not so many take charge themselves. Brigitte’s husband is gainfully employed elsewhere. 

Brigitte told me to watch out for the Fronsac Appellation. Her prediction is that it will be in fashion in a big way in the next few years to come. Brigitte is friendly with her fellow Fronsac neighbours and is passionate about maintaining high environmental standards (hence her ISO 14001 and HVE3 certification).

Brigitte’s En Primeur offering, the 2018 Chateau Dalem Fronsac is a fresh flavoured red wine, composed of 85% Fronsac Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc grapes. It is very long with good balance, the finish is mellow because of the long tannins. It is dark and rich looking, with lots of fruitiness.

The Chateau Dalem 2016 Fronsac, again with 85% Fronsac Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc grapes, has deeper tannins by comparison, but a more pronounced balance between fruit and tannins. It is full of character, much like Brigitte! Brigitte loves cooking and is inspired by her travels. She’s confident this wine can be the accompaniment to any food, even fish, perhaps cooked in red wine. Fronsac will go well with classic French food, I would agree. We both thought it might not be so suitable for very spicy food, given the deep tannins. A wine which would be great on a restaurant wine list for sophisticated diners.

Brigitte then suggested I meet another producer of Fronsac and took me along to the stand for Chateau de la Dauphine. She was surprised to realise I had already met Lisa Saunier from the Chateau at a previous En Primeur tasting!

Chateau de la Dauphine went organic in 2012 and biodynamic in 2015. The grapes are grown on clay and limestone soil on a hill, giving perfect conditions for the Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes used to make this Fronsac Appellation wine. 

The 2014 Chateau de la Dauphine Fronsac is 14.5% alcohol made with 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. It has good freshness, which Lisa explained is because of the “Fronsac Molasse”, tiny stones present in the soil from the time when the area used to be the sea bed, millions of years ago. The hill location provides good sun exposure, leading to effective ripening of the grapes. The wine is velvety smooth, with berries and a touch of liquorice. Lisa explained this liquorice flavour could be the effect of this Molasse on the Merlot grapes. I loved the gentle warming finish, with no harshness.

But what about the 2018 En Primeur? This time with 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, there is a subtle difference to the blend, which I notice has a much lighter colour to the wines I had tasted up to this point. It has lots of fruit, like fresh Summer berries. There is no harshness in the mild tannins, making this wine ideal for cheese and dark chocolate. Lisa said that this year they had a good yield with good maturity, leading to the superior freshness of flavour. The location of the Chateau by the side of the river is a big influence on the wine, bringing out the freshness. The Chateau coped with the hot Summer by speeding up the harvesting process, which if it had not been done would have resulted in a wine with too much alcohol and a flat flavour. Lisa thought this was the most promising of the wines she has ever been involved with making. 

Next up, I met Pierre from Chateau de la Riviere, located on the Dordogne river. I tried his white wine first, an Bordeau Appellation wine made of one third Sauvignon Gris and two thirds Sauvignon Blanc. It had real potential, but is still young. It needs more time to bring out the full flavours, which will be achieved by aging in barrels for six months. In fact, the 18,000 bottles worth of wine currently in barrels won’t actually be bottled until June! The riverside location of the Chateau protects the grape plants from hail and frost over Winter and early Spring, which damages the vines, spoiling the quality of the harvest. This is one to come back to when it is ready!

Grown on a clay and limestone terroir, I tried the 2018 En Primeur Fronsac next. With a deep dark red colour, this instantly seemed like a wine perfect to drink with steak. Pierre suggested that because of the pepper aromas, steak with peppercorn sauce and skinny fries would be a fabulous pairing. He also suggested game meats and wild boar in particular. Pudding wise, Pierre suggested any dessert with both chocolate and orange as the power of the wine would balance well with the acidity of the orange. The 2% Malbec brings the pepper aromas and the 84% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet France bring the power.

The last Chateau de la Riviere wine I tried was the 2016 Fronsac which has been bottled, but is a wine for keeping for later. Pierre suggested it could keep for 5, 10 or even 15 years! It was smooth, with a delicate finish, indicating how the 2018 En Primeur might come out. There were aromas of toast and I was able to detect red and black fruit flavours and a touch of chocolate. Pierre surprised me by saying he was able to taste pepper, coffee and toast!

I moved from Fronsac to St Emilion, meeting Jean-Francoise Quenin, owner of Chateau de Pressac. The Chateau is located on the historic limestone plateau of St Emilion in a historical estate which dates back 1000 years. Jean-Francoise renewed all of the vines when he took over the estate, and was rewarded for this troubles by being awarded Grand Cru status in 2012. He told me about the three different terroirs the estate has, and how they influence the quality and taste of the wine. The plateau of limestone rock, the slopes and the “Pieds de Cotes” (foot of the slopes) each produce subtle differences in the grapes and it is the blending of these grapes which create the overall flavour and aroma of the wine.

The 2018 En Primeur had an elegant aroma, which Jean-Francoise described as a classic nose. This wine will, when ready, be a great accompaniment to food owing to the black fruits in the flavour profile. Blended from 65% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Pressac and 2% of a special Malbec grape called Carmenere. Many of the grapes for this wine are grown on terraces, hewn into the stone by many hands hundreds of years ago. 

Tasting the 2011 vintage from Chateau de la Pressac, I was struck by the complexity. I sensed freshness, a lingering finish and good acidity. Jean-Francoise suggested this wine with meat, particularly with a little bit of fat, such as entrecote steak. He also said it was ideal for cheese, singling out Cantal and Gruyere as highly suitable. However, Jean-Francoise said goat’s cheeses were to be avoided because of the fruitiness.

I was impressed that despite the challenge of a very hot, very dry Summer last year, the winemakers had all managed to avoid flat tasting wines. Their ingenuity has resulted in a very hopeful new Vintage which the makers I met suggested could be as good as 2016. Good news!

Snigdha attended Grand Cercle Des Vins De Bordeaux Primeurs 2018 tasting as a guest of Business France. Snigdha has not received any incentive, either financial or otherwise for posting this review, which represents her genuine views and opinions.