Our weekly food diary shares on-trend ingredients, fun foodie events, Instagrammable restaurant dishes and must-try street eats.
In January we tried...
Ask someone who has converted to veganism what they miss the most and the answer, more often than not, will be cheese. While plant-based meat substitutes and dairy-free milk alternatives have come a long way, finding a good vegan cheese (and by 'good' we mean one that smells, acts and, most importantly, tastes like its dairy equivalent) is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. As we're often asked to recommend dairy-free cheese alternatives, we decided to conduct a blind taste test of nearly 40 different varieties to find our favourites. We tried the good, the bad and the downright shocking but you can find out which ones came out on top here. Or, have a go at making your own with our recipes for vegan cream cheese or parmesan.
We took a trip to Catalonia on a cold winter’s night with Brindisa's ‘Calçotada’, a festival dedicated to the humble spring onion based on an old tradition. The calçot is an allium unique to the Catalan region. It’s larger and milder than the spring onions we’re accustomed to in the UK. They’re served charred with a delicious almond and pepper romesco dipping sauce – plus bibs, hand wipes and copious napkins. This messy onion party happens every winter when the calçots are harvested. They’re in season and available in the UK for a short period – try Ocado, Natoora and Spanish delis like Lunya to get your mitts on this gloriously bulbous treat.
Onion & cheese baked crab
Cheese isn’t an ingredient usually associated with Cantonese cuisine, and dairy is notably absent in much, but not all, of Chinese cuisine. In the 1980s, sauces – including cheese-based ones – used in Western cuisine gained popularity in Hong Kong, giving rise to the idea of integrating fresh, local ingredients with western-style sauces. The combination of baked crab and cheese marked a significant innovation in Cantonese cuisine, and this is still one of the most popular dishes at award-winning Cantonese restaurant Imperial Treasure, which recently opened a branch in London. It’s made using crab meat, emmental cheese and crispy onions, stuffed into crab shells and baked.
With a food scene rife with sourdough bread and brioche buns, StudMuffin is a breath of fresh air. Created by ex-restaurant chefs James Lakie and Matt Woollard, StudMuffin serves fluffy English muffins packed with bold-flavoured fillings, from its stall in Pop Brixton. They pride themselves on their flavourful fillings, and describe English muffins as the ideal vehicle for them – they don’t fall apart and have just the right level of sweetness. We tried the all-day breakfast muffin, crammed with crispy smoked bacon, a sausage patty, golden fried potato rosti, creamy truffle egg mayo and a standout house-made sticky sage and onion ketchup. Hangovers don’t stand a chance.
Dig out your largest pan and get sterilising those jars – it’s marmalade making time! December to February is the best time to make marmalade, as this is when Seville oranges (also known as bitter oranges or marmalade oranges) are in season, but online searches for our marmalade recipes peak in January (in fact, they were up 365% on bbcgoodfood.com this month compared to last). Our hub director Lulu Grimes likes hers dark, bitter and slightly looser in texture (pictured), but for something more traditional, go for our ultimate Seville orange marmalade recipe. Need more advice? Check out our top tips for making marmalade and our guide on how to sterilise jars. Someone get the toast on.
Hold the wine for tonight, because Burns Night (25 Jan) is the perfect excuse to wet your whistle with whisky, and who knew it could pair so well with food? We’ve been at special Burns Night dinner hosted by Scottish whisky distillery Speyburn at Somerset House. With a menu showcasing the best of Scotland, each of the three courses was also paired with a complementary whisky. Langoustines with seaweed butter were paired with a 10-year-old whisky with citrus tones, ideal for complementing seafood while the classic cranachan dessert was served with an 18-year-old whisky with flavours of toffee and oak spiciness.
If you ever need an excuse to make an anchovy dressing, then puntarelle season is it. This variety of chicory is a large, leafy head that, once you’ve finished preparing it, will look nothing like its original form. The leaves and outer stalks are very bitter and need to be blanched to make them palatable, and its crisp inner stems are eaten raw in a salad. The inner stems are hollow and cut into fine strips, then soaked in ice cold water to make them crisp up further and curl. These are then dressed with a sauce made from anchovies, garlic and oil. This month and next, you’ll find puntarelle on Italian menus such as the one at Lina Stores – you’ll find a recipe in our February issue.
If we hadn’t got quite so carried away with our love of chickpeas (let’s face it, they almost have cult status), then perhaps the carlin pea might be more well known. We’ve been growing and eating them since the 1600s so they’re not necessarily new, but they are due a bit more use in recipes because in large parts of the country we’ve all but forgotten them. Of course, if you live in the north of England or Scotland, you’ll know them as parched peas, which are boiled and dressed with vinegar or fried in butter with brown sugar and rum, traditionally eaten during Lent or on Bonfire Night. Very dark brown, almost black in colour, these dried peas are nutty and firm in texture with a thick skin, and don’t cook to a mush. There are several varieties, including Black Badger sold by Hodmedods, and, if you are searching for recipes, look also for mentions of ‘grey peas’ or maple peas. Buy them dried (pictured here) or tinned.
Botanical soft drinks
Good news for anyone doing dry January – this range of drinks from No1 botanicals makes a refreshing change to other soft drinks on the market. Unlike fruit-based drinks and flavoured tonic waters, which are often sickly-sweet, these sparkling mineral waters are infused with botanicals like lemon verbena, sage and olive leaf for a much-less sweet, herbal flavour. Our favourites in the range are the calming, floral lemon verbena and the grassy olive leaf. They’re not just for those abstaining from booze though – they would make a great alternative to tonic in a G&T, too! Find them online at No1 Botanicals or Harvey Nichols.
Ever wondered about the origins of the humble Scotch egg? You may have heard the story that it was created in London by Fortnum & Mason, but a competing theory is that it was inspired by the northern Indian dish nargisi kofta – hard-boiled eggs encased in lamb mincemeat, which is spiced, coated and deep-fried, then served in a curry sauce. This week, we’ve been at Indian restaurant Kutir in London’s Chelsea, trying chef-owner Rohit Ghai’s version of the dish. Rohit keeps it fairly traditional but with a few cheffy tweaks, including using soft-boiled Burford Brown eggs instead of hard-boiled for that bright yellow, slightly oozy yolk. The rich sauce is made with lamb bone marrow, brown onions, fresh mint and almond paste, and the dish is served with house-made chur chur paratha (made with multigrain flour).
Vegan Bakewell hot chocolate
Warming, silky hot chocolate with lashings of cream, chocolate shavings, a shortbread rim, raspberry jam and fresh raspberries. You’d never guess that this indulgent Bakewell tart-inspired hot chocolate was completely vegan. It's the perfect drink for a cold January (especially for those taking part in Veganuary). We tried this comforting hot chocolate at vegan pop-up The Meet in Clapham, London. Chef Dominic Taylor created the drink for his special festive menu, which runs until the end of this month. It’s made using dairy-free Bailey’s Almande, dairy-free cream and vegan chocolate.
Millefeuille des rois
From cronuts (croissant dougnuts) to townies (tart brownies!), we’re all for a culinary mash-up – provided the result tastes good, of course. This week, we tried Pierre Marcolini’s millefeuille des rois. It's a cross between the classic French patisserie millefeuille, made from layers of crisp puff pastry and crème patisserie, and a galette des rois. Also known in the UK as a king cake or Epiphany cake, galette des rois is eaten in France on 6 January to mark the feast of the Epiphany. It’s made up of a thick layer of sweet almond frangipane encased in puff pastry. Marcolini’s twist uses the flavours of a king cake in the form of a millefeuille, with super-crisp layers of intensely buttery puff pastry and a thick layer of sweet almond cream. It’s like galette des rois meets millefeuille meets almond croissant. Dreamy.