"The Penguin Teaboy is probably the cutest way to be obsessive about your tea -- wind the timer in his belly, hook the teabag's string around his beak, and when the timer runs down, he'll raise his head and lift the bag out of the mug."
I am so excited about this and can't wait to get my hands on one of these puppies!
Whilst in Croatia Cowie and I visited the local market at Labin. Perched high up above Rabac the old part of the town is home to a charming market square and a picturesque restaurant clinging to the side of the cliff overlooking the Adriatic.
After searching for ages we eventually found the market- jammed full of fresh Istrian produce. Cafes surround the market serving bracing, black espressos and a flavour of Croatian cafe culture. Young, old, rich, poor, men and women gathered together to just sit in the shade and catch up on a week's worth of gossip and banter. Cowie and I sat back and breathed it all in. Only the hellish toilets detracted from our experience.
The market itself was on the ground floor with a minstrel's gallery running around the outside which gives a great vantage point to choose your favourite stall from. It was fascinating watching 2 old women gossiping away with a vast array of multi coloured vegetables in front of them.
What struck us both was how fun the shapes and colours of the produce was. Garlic was both large and small with deep purple veins. Peppers were almost translucent green or deep scarlet with gnarled profile. And the blackberries were phenomenal. Large. Deep purple. Plump. Pristine. We were stunned by them and bought a punnet immediately. They were so sweet and juicy. Quite different from English hedgerow blackberries. Far less tart and gritty. Gorgeous. Reminded me of my GCSE English teacher Mrs Dixon who got us writing essays about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes attitudes towards blackberries. Very random! Here's Sylvia Plath's pretty dark poem...
"Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries, Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly, A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes Ebon in the hedges, fat With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers. I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me. They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.
Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks --- Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky. Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting. I do not think the sea will appear at all. The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within. I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies, Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen. The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven. One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.
The only thing to come now is the sea. From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me, Slapping its phantom laundry in my face. These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt. I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths Beating and beating at an intractable metal."
I'm glad to report that our blackberrying experience was less bleak - probably something to do with not getting prickled by thorns and because it was 34'c in Croatia in July and not raining in September in England!
Behind a big strong door was the fish market. Far cooler than the fruit and veg section the catch was spread out over marble tables with langoustine everywhere! In Croatia they call them Scampi which does them no credit whatsoever... there's been loads of articles in the paper recently about how we export 90% of Britsh laungoustine to the continent and only eat them ourselves in bad pubs with a breadcrumb coating and chips!
Our best meal in Croatia was at Villa Annette where Cowie had langoustine spaghetti with truffles and I had black ravioli with langoustines. Both were stunning and if you happen to be in Istria you simple have to pay them a visit.
We had an amazing culinary time in Croatia feasting on truffles, pasta, fresh fish and gorgeous zesty white wine. Risottos were stunning and pasta was perfect. Better than Italy in many ways!
Cowie and I returned to London on Monday having spent a blissful week in gorgeously sunny Istria. We flew by easyJet from Luton to Rijeka which is vaguely the other side of the adriatic from Venice.
We left the deluge of work and rain in London behind us and embarked on a gastronomic extravaganza in Istria. I had read in recent editions of Olive and Delicious magazines that the Istrian peninsula in Croatia is a fantastic destination for lovers of truffles, pasta, risotto, sea food, fresh zingy wines and slow food. Armed with this information and inspired by loads of amazing reviews and recommendations from friends we embarked on our quest.
Cowie, quite brilliantly, booked us into Villa Annette on the hill above Rabac with an imperious view from sunrise till sunset of the green mountains tumbling into the blue sea. It had a reputation for exceptional food, a restaurant in an olive grove and a fantastic swimming pool. Our room was enormous with a huge bed, sofa, kitchen and fantastic terrace/balcony with a sea/mountain view.
Our days were spent reading books by the beautful pool occassionally doing enough lenghts to make me think that I had burned off breakfast before embarking either on a road trip or lunch on our terrace.
The chefs at Villa Annette have carefully built up a reputation as being the best Slow Food establishment in the area with a menu heady with truffles and langoustines.
On Thursday night we dined amidst the olive grove as the sun set over the mountains and the candles started to light up the darkness. We were served by the most charming waiter who made some fantastically honest recommendations. It made us wish that all waiters in London were as up front as he was. He advised against some of the more expensive or elaborate dishes saying they weren's his favourites and instead guided us towards some of the more Istrian classics that weren't quite so fancy. His wine selection was equally impressive as he directed me towards one the cheaper bottles that he said was grown in his village.
Cowie kicked off with the most sublime dish. A delicious langoustine and truffle taglatelli with a shell fish sauce. Words can't do it justice. It was one of those dishes that will stay with me forever. For me it summed up Istria in one mouthful:
Truffles Langoustine/Scampi Pasta
Utterly knockout as Cowie's dish was, my gnocchi with asparagus and pancetta was bloody good too. The sauce was richly flavoured with sweet, minerally aspargus with a salty meaty kick from the pancetta. The gnocchi was rich and well cooked - like sinking your teeth into a pillowy cushion of pasta.
Then came a couple of steaks. One simply grilled with some wonderful grilled vegetables. The other topped and sauced with what seemed like several thousand pounds worth of truffles! Grey and mushroomy in appearance and with a slightly overpowering taste I tucked in... ooohing and ahhing as I went. I suspect the waiter tried to avert his eyes as I couldn't help making such lude noises. Now I know what all the fuss about truffles is all about.
Unfortunately for Cowie so food was so rich the most I could do was shuffle back to our bedroom before swimming 200 lenghts before breakfast to counteract my gluttony.
Our bill with wine and service came to 65 quid. Not bad considering we certainly didn't hold back!
Our second meal at Villa Annette was equally memorable. Towards the end of the week the hotel became busier so we dined in a now full olive grove. We very meagrely ordered a fish soup to share for starter. Upon its arrival we were very pleasantly surprised. Instead of the thick Frenchy soup we were expecting we were presented with two prstine bowls of light, almost clear, langousine soup. We loved how refined and stylish it both tasted and looked. Clearly some very accomplished cooking had been involved in its creation.
Surprised and exctited by the starter we then got hit by a powercut that affected the whole Istrian peninsual. The olive grove was plunged into dramatic darkness partially lit by dancing candles. We were reassured that the kitchen was still operating and eagerly awaited our main courses.
Cowie plumped for another steak because we were on a budget and she had enjoyed the previous one so much. This time it came covered in honey coloured chanterelle mushrooms. But not just a couple. There must have been about 6! Cowie needless to say had some fairly haloucinagenic dreams that night!
I followed our waiter's recommendation and went the black ravioli with langoustine, truffles and monkfish. Whilst Cowie's steak was excellent once again I can happily report that for once Cowie got food envy... my black sea food ravioli was sensationally good. The rich filling to the pasta balanced out by perfectly cooked chunks of monkfish and langoustine in the sauce. Although I could barely see what I was eating I was blown away by the simple but powerful flavours and technical ability to construct such a fine dish.
Our stay at the Villa Annette lasted only a week but we loved every moment of it. The staff were some of the friendliest and most helpful you will ever find and the rooms and ambience were idyllic. I have never been to a hotel with a better swimming pool and can't recommend a stay here enough. It wasn't too expensive either.
Wouldn't it be great if Black and Decker brought out a range of kitchen kit for men.
It would all be heavy duty, slightly rubberised, strudy looking stuff that would catch the eye and show everyone around you that you're serious about cooking. I've had too many appliances that break through fairly agressive use. Black and Decker kit would soak up the pain and just keep going.
You could draw inspiration from the way that Caterpillar moved from their digger base to selling clothing. In terms of build quality and masculinity brand like Hummer, Jeep, Land Rover and other rugged brands spring to mind.
They already have a range of fairly basic kitchen kit such as microwaves and coffee makers but it would be much more fun to rev things up into more heavy duty kit targetted at men.
Any feedback and ideas would be great! Let's see if we can get someone from Black and Decker interested!
Cowie brought some delicious pigeon breasts back from Somerset this weekend from Thorners, her fantastic local farm shop near Bruton. Coloured like blackberries and soft like butter we marinaded them simply in soy, honey, chili and garlic and then blitzed them quickly in the griddle pan and mounted them simply on a bed of spinach.
The marinade was composed of a good glug of dark soy, 2 squirts of honey, a squeeze of lemon to add some acidity, a clove of garlic and a hint of chili. About 30 minutes in the tar like mixture was plenty. It gave the delicate breasts a lovely edgy glaze that complemented their gamey flavour.
And here's the result.
If anyone's got any more recipes for pigeon we'd love to know.
This is simple. Really simple. But it's so often done wrong. If anyone ever puts milk in scrambled eggs refuse to eat them. Milk does not belong any where near properly made scrambled eggs. I can just about countenance pouring a slurp of cream into the mix if you're going to include some smoked salmon... but otherwise there is no need to tamper with what is a very simple piece of alchemy.
Take your best pan out of the cupboard. I enjoy using a seriously heavy Le Crueset sauce pan because it holds the heat so well and has never burnt the goodies inside it. It transfers the heat so well that you only need to use a gentle flame and you will be rewarded with exceptional scrambled eggs.
Take some unsalted butter and melt it gently with a little dash of mustard. Don't let it burn and try not to use salted butter.
Next whisk up your super fresh eggs. 3 per person normally does the trick.
Then pour into your melted butter and mustard mixture and stir with a wooden spoon. Add some freshly ground black pepper and stir occasionally whilst cooking over a low heat. It's important not to let the pan get too hot otherwise the eggs might catch the pan and you won't be eating gloriously smooth scrambled eggs. It'll be more like a badly made ommlette.
Don't add salt to the eggs whilst they are cooking as I find this causes the eggs to behave very strangely. Salt breaks down the eggy proteins in such a way as to change their state quite dramatically. Only add the salt to your eggs once they are cooked.
In my other pan I melted some butter and added some chopped mushrooms. I fried these slowly and added plenty of good salt and pepper as they cooked before adding some baby plum tomatoes half way through. Simply adding some thyme and a dash of olive oil was enough to make them taste delicious!
Plate it all up on some spelt bread and add some parsley, salt and pepper to the eggs. I like my eggs a little bit runny. It's often best to under cook them and then just set to one side as they will cook in their own heat.
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: