A good toad-in-the-hole is perfect comfort food for the depths of winter. A soothing dish of sausages baked in batter — the same as for Yorkshire puddings — it’s a distant cousin of pigs in a blanket, only that the sausages, instead of being tightly swathed in a blanket of pastry, are reclining in a delicious duvet of batter, which billows up agreeably around them. Get the full story here, on Zester Daily.
When I’m faced with the choice of whether to eat in or out, it’s usually eating in that wins. I love poring over books, planning a meal (maybe testing out something for an upcoming workshop), buying it (especially if this includes a visit to Saint Louis or Loerrach market), cooking it up in my azure-blue Alsace kitchen and enjoying it in the comfort of my own home – with wines selected from our own cellar. I even have a SO who takes care of the bits of washing up that won’t go in the dishwasher. What’s not to like?
But I’m also partial to a bit of eating out, of which I do more than my fair share during the year. There are always highs and inevitably some lows (even some absolute horrors). Here’s a roundup of places visited in the past year or so. I’ll post it in at least two episodes, otherwise you’ll get indigestion.
In Amsterdam we loved the oddly named Ron Gastrobar, a big, buzzy bistro full of local foodies, mainly half our age. The food is full-on tapas/bites/snacking mode and every dish (a decent racion rather than tapas-size) costs €15. Stars included crab mash with foam, intensely flavoured and wholly nourishing for taste buds and the soul, a ‘Dutch sausage roll’, aka hare in a royale sauce with foie gras wrapped in pastry, and a naughty choc ice, slightly redeemed by a yogurt mousse.
In Maastricht we came a cropper at Gio’s Cucina Casalinga. You can’t book but you leave a mobile number and they call you when a table frees up. You arrive and (if lucky) you’re seated. After a long pause, a waitress appears asking if you’d like a drink. “Love one”, you reply. “Wine?” she asks. “Sure, what do you have?” “We have the house white and the house red.” “Yes, and what are they?” “Italian.” “Yes, and from where in Italy?” This is becoming tiresome, but we try again. “May we see the bottle?” Bottles are grudgingly procured, one of each colour. The bianco is a verdicchio from somewhere, the rosso is from somewhere else, probably somewhere south of the white. We go with some of each. Long pause.
After about 30 minutes, with zero interest from the wait staff and no sign of a menu, we’re beginning to wonder if they also serve food. A signora (Gio?) hoves into view. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, she divulges the fact that YES, they do food, and there is a menu, and today it will be tomato/mozza, followed by ravioli followed by a) lamb or b) beef or c) shellfish and it will cost €37. The meal began eventually at 8.30 p.m. and we got out at around 11 p.m. Getting each course was like prising blood from a stone. By the time it arrived, hunger had evaporated, boredom and irritation had set in and all we wanted was to go home and curl up in bed with a hot-water bottle or a sarnie or ANYTHING. The bill for 3 with the house bianco and rosso was €176; the soggy profiteroles were extra.
La Bistronomie in Illzach (nether regions of Mulhouse/Alsace) is the tapas end of the gourmet resto La Closerie, housed in a light, bright conservatory-style building and open evenings only. For between €25 and €30 you get a 2- or 3-course menu; add in €18 for 3 different glasses of wine (a white from Friuli, a white Cairanne and a Chianti Classico in our case, all interesting and different). Food included “cannelloni” of marinated tuna where pasta was replaced with a rice wrapper, a robust, wintery pressée de queue de boeuf (pressed, jellied oxtail), perfectly done cod with langoustine sauce and overcooked risotto, and guineal fowl “carbonara” with a creamy smoky sauce. Service was cheerful and the open wines are a definite plus.
Hotel Bella Tola on a sunny plateau high above Sierre in the Valais/Switzerland, built originally in 1859 and member of Historic Swiss Hotels, is a delicious haven both in summer and winter. Food is fairly standard Swiss fare (lamb’s lettuce salad, veal, risotto & Co.); the real draw is their spectacular wine list, a veritable litany of Valaisan wines (Arvine, Chardonnay, Fendant, Ermitage, Johannisberg, Heida, Humagne (white and red), Lafnetscha, Malvoisie, Rèze, Cornalin, Diolinoir, Dole, Gamaret, Merlot, Syrah & more) from all the leading producers.
Galicia/northwest Spain (research for a wine travel piece for Decanter, due out in March) was a high point and provided some of the year’s most outrageously good eating and drinking. I put away close to my own weight in zamburiñas (queen scallops), discovered fragrant and fleshy Treixadura (Rubens to Albariño’s Twiggy), and fell in love with the local smoked San Simon cheese. Too many places to list, but in A Coruna I’d go back in a heartbeat to Vinoteca Jaleo for their spectacular shellfish tapas (langostinos, pulpo, scallops large and small) and the [omi]Godello Bolo from Rafael Palacios. Both Restaurante Nova in Ourense (I squeaked in just before the two young chefs Daniel Guzmán and Julio Sotomayor announced their first Michelin star, a development which I wholeheartedly approve) and Restaurante Yayo Daporta in Cambados (Yayo is part of the Top Chef team on Spanish TV) stole the show with their inspired nueva cocina gallega.
In Santiago de Compostela I can’t wait to return to Abastos 2.0 for their 5-tapas menu @ €21 (razor clams with jellied juices, cured mackerel with wasabi, empanada of bonito, cuttlefish with an inky mash and a softly poached egg with chorizo crumbs) washed down with a wicked Godello that goes by the name of Vid Vicious (vid = vine). Perch on a stool, soak up the super ambiente, watch the chefs beetling from one side of the street to the other (where the second restaurant is), brandishing plates of food you kind of wish you’d ordered but will go back for next time. On the other hand I definitely won’t bother with Acio, where the food was good enough and the wine list well furnished but the people startlingly shirty. Interested, as ever, in the wine list (not least for the Decanter article), I was making a few notes of wine producers worth visiting, to be instructed frostily by the sommelier: “Please do NOT copy our wine list”.
Phew, that’s enough for now; next time around we’ll visit Mallorca, Emporda/Catalunya, Umbria, Sicily, Baden/Germany and the Jura (another Decanter piece, just published in the February issue).
The autumn schedule took us from Sicily in September to the Middle East in October and then back closer to home again in November with a foretaste of new recipes to be featured in the possible re-edition of my book A Taste of Switzerland.
Time now to look forward to the 2015 schedule, which I’ve had fun putting together with loads of help and input/requests from regular customers (thanks to all!):
Friday 13 February – Bread and Pastry, 9.30 – 1.30
Bread dough can take any amount of pummelling, but pastry needs a light touch. In this workshop we’ll turn our hand[s] to both. First we’ll make bread dough and leave it to rise. Then we’ll get busy on shortcrust/pie crust and turn it into a range of pies and parcels. Finally we’ll shape and bake our daily bread. Lunch will be pastry-based goodies and there’ll be a home-baked loaf for all to take home.
Thursday 16 April – Vegetable Fusion, 9.30 – 1.30
In this all-veggie workshop we’ll look to both Asia and Latin America for our inspiration, but the raw materials for our menu of light, bright, flavour-packed starters, main courses and sides will be seasonal and local with a definite spring (ahem) in their step.
Thursday 7 May – Fishy Fix, 9.30 – 1.30
Stumped for what to buy when faced with an array of fish and seafood, and fearful of what to do with it when you get it home? This workshop takes us to the fish counter of a supermarket in France on Wednesday 6 May (venue to be communicated) to see, select and buy. On Thursday 7 May we’ll fix a fish and seafood menu with spring vegetables.
Thursday 4 June – Summer Sharing Buffet, 9.30 – 1.30
Tapas, raciones, buffet riche, apéro dinatoire, sharing plates…whatever you call this kind of food, the grazing, mix ‘n match model is all the rage. For our summer workshop we’ll cruise around the Mediterranean selecting an eclectic bunch of delicious morsels to share on your buffet table.
All workshops take place in my kitchen just across the border from Basel in Alsace/France. Seasonal, sustainable, creative, eclectic and hands-on, they culminate in a shared meal (table d’hote) around the dining room table (or on the terrace, weather permitting) with wines to match.
Full details on my Workshops page.
Seeya in 2015!
Anyone got a panettone, kugelhopf or any other soft, slightly sweet, yeasty bread hanging around at home awaiting its post-Christmas moment? A few weeks ago Jamie Oliver wheeled out a wicked-looking bread and butter pudding featuring panettone, dark chocolate, marmalade, cream, butter, milk and loads of brown sugar. I’m not much good on rich, calorie-laden nursery puddings but – as ever – he made the dish sound completely irresistible and mildly bonkers (his title is in fact Bonkers Bread & Butter Panettone Pudding). I filed away the idea for a snowy day.
Yesterday, after a fabulously frosty/sunny New Year’s Day walk, its moment came. I tried a version using kugelhopf, broadly similar to panettone but less sweet – and also easier to find here in Alsace. Continue reading
If you want the skinny on good places to eat in and around Basel, you have a number of options at your fingertips. First, natch, there’s the Eating Out: Alsace, Basel and Baden page of this site, which I strive womanfully to keep current, and which attempts (not always successfully) to keep a balance between the various eating possibilities in the three countries on our Dreilaendereck doorstep.
There’s also the Michelin Guide to Switzerland, the Swiss Gault Millau guide and the Guide Bleu Suisse, all of which have entries for Basel. And then there’s Basel Geht Aus, the annually published magazine devoted to good eats, whose 2015 edition was launched at the Kunsthalle on 1st December and which is now on sale at Jens and Franziska Stocker’s brilliant Bider & Tanner, Basel’s best and liveliest bookshop, and in kiosks around town. Continue reading
“Those of us with an overly developed interest in our lunch can measure out our lives in great meals”, writes Guardian food critic Jay Rayner in his preface to the newly published 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die.
If you check in here regularly, you’ll know that my own interest in lunch is exceptionally finely honed, so this is a book after my own heart. [I should also disclose that I’m one of the 70 “well-dined collection of restaurant reviewers, food writers, travel writers, journalists, inveterate eater-outers and bloggers” who have contributed from around the globe.] Continue reading
High above Brig in Switzerland’s southern canton of Valais is a tiny village named Mund. Nothing remarkable about the place at first sight – just a few houses on a scrubby hillside above the valley, a handful of Spycher, the typical Valaisan wooden storage huts, a primary school, an ancient and a modern church. But in the 1980s, Mund shot to stardom on account of its one product: saffron. Continue reading
Recommending restaurants is a dangerous business (says she, who does more of it than many…). A Basel-based friend who’s thoroughly into his food and a terrific cook recently mailed me for ideas on where to have lunch in Colmar. He’d be meeting up with “food-interested friends” from Sydney – a city not noticeably short of good spots to eat – and wanted to give them a treat. Did I have some recommendations?
I thoroughly approved his plan to go to Colmar right now: the Christmas markets have just opened and the city is looking drop-dead gorgeous. But where to wow his Sydneysider friends? The stakes were high.
If you love Swiss wines and are living in or near Switzerland (or even planning a visit in the next ten days), there’s a treat in store. From the 20th to the 30th of November, it’s Swiss Wine Week. Which means what, exactly? It’s a joint initiative by Swiss Wine Promotion (whose new logo is featured left) and Sierre-based Swiss wine event organisers Vinea. The aim is to shake Swiss restaurant-goers and winemakers out of their usual – dare I say boring? – habits and cajole them into tasting wines from some part of Switzerland other than their own. Continue reading
Autumn signals open season for one of the greatest cheeses known to woman: a wondrous, washed-rind, cow’s milk cheese that comes on the market every September, made in small dairies in the Jura mountains, on both the Swiss and French sides of the border. Continue reading