Olia Hercules will be cooking in France this June…

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OLIA HERCULES,

WHOSE NAME, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHOSE FOOD IS ON THE LIPS OF EVERYONE, IS THE GUEST CHEF ON MY FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE OVER A LONG WEEKEND IN FRANCE THIS COMING JUNE

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…………….AND IT’S FILLING UP FAST.

IF YOU WANT TO JOIN US PLEASE BOOK NOW ON

WWW.BIGINFRANCE.COM

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Posted in 2017, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

cooking with my hat on…..

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When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool, that’s amore: no it’s not. What it is is pasta e fagioli but even though Dean Martin was Italian, Italians in America become American after quite a short time which entails a naturalisation test, which you must spell with a “z”, and a severe reduction in syllables. If Dean Martin ever cooked..I’d be surprised, but, if he did, he’d cook pasta fazool because fagioli has too many syllables and, more importantly, does not rhyme with drool; and he’d wear a hat. Eaters of pasta fazool always wore hats. Tony Soprano and his fellow goodfellows wore hats even when cooking pasta in prison or, after naturalization, in the monosyllabic can.

Hats were on my mind this cold morning; indeed, one was on my head. A February morning in a cold kitchen in the Northern hemisphere is a test of the human spirit. Its days being slightly longer and its nights that bit shorter allow the subliminal suggestion to creep into our subconscious that the good times are about to roll whereas all that is about to roll is heads, or head colds, unless there’s a hat on them. February is 28 days of treachery and disappointment. It is known as a leap year in memory of all the people who have metaphorically leaped into the slough of despair on that quadrennial red letter day 29. Food is a way out of February: cooking deep flavoured dishes that will take our minds to places that aren’t February which thought leads directly to my book shelves where I can enjoy the foreplay of leafing through favourite books in search of today’s panacea. Some twenty years ago the wonderfully talented Alastair Little published his “Italian Kitchen” which I recently bought on Amazon for 1 pence; which is sad in that the insatiable hunger for new cookery books renders them worthless within days of publication, but joyful in that I could afford it…pace Alastair. That he is a renowned chef is a given but I am drawn to the cook and the writer in him. A small chapter about Pasta Fagioli included pasta e ceci, pasta e lenticche, pasta e patate and, of course, pasta e fagioli which was what I then realised was my ticket to ride out of February. His version takes time and care which is, for me,  the heart and soul of cooking.

Taken from “Alastair Little’s Italian Kitchen” ( recipes from La Cacciata – his cookery school)

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Posted in 2017, Alistair Little, beans, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Herbs and Spices, Humour, Italian food, Olive oil, Parmesan, pasta, pasta e fagioli, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

lunch…alone…

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“…lost to almost everything but a vague sense of jam and idleness” Although, pace Maggie Tulliver, in my case “jam” was supplanted by “lunch”. This perfectly conceived emotion had caught my imagination as I was reading last night and had come flooding back as I sat in our sun filled kitchen this morning contentedly considering, that most important of midday things, what should I cook myself for lunch. Cooking for oneself and eating alone is not to everyone’s taste but it is a pleasure that I have always enjoyed because it is not continually imposed. Memories of lone lunches, such as a well put together welsh rarebit with a bottle of cidre de garde at St,John, Clerkenwell or jamon iberico with a chilled fino at the bar of Moro, come to mind together with the fact that the dish in question was not complicated yet always satisfying and toothsome. Oeufs Meurette is such a dish and is perfect to make at home as the ingredients required are not too Hoxton so it’s more than likely that you’ll have them without losing spontaneity by first heading to the shops. Whenever I make this dish, which is probably two or three times a year, it occurs to me that I have never eaten a better version than my own…anywhere…yet. 

Oeufs Meurette
Ingredients…( the amounts relate to me cooking this dish for myself )
Eggs 2
Banana shallot 1
Lardons fumés 100gms
Garlic clove crushed
Flour 1tsp
Bayleaf
Large glass of red wine
25gms butter
Seasoning
Vinaigre du vin rouge/Jerez/cidre….add some to the salted egg poaching water

Cut the shallot into 4 quarters lengthwise and brown, with the lardons and crushed garlic, in the butter in a small, thick based, frying pan for 5 mins. Stir in the flour and cook, moving the ingredients about, for another 5 mins. Add the wine and bay leaf and cook, bubbling over a medium flame, until it has thickened. If it’s too thick, add some wine and so on. Season with salt and pepper …I add a pinch of sugar.
Meanwhile poach the eggs in boiling salted water and vinegar and, when ready, put them into a bowl or small dish.
Spoon the sauce around the eggs…..add some chopped parsley…I always have it ready and forget to put it on.
Fried bread is good with this.

  • the quotation is from George Eliot’s “Mill on the Floss”
Posted in 2017, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Drinks, Eggs, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, oeufs meurette, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, poached eggs, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

for the love of basil…….

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I have a similar aversion to day time television as have the majority of its advocates towards ingredients such as anchovies, oysters and snails. This all encompassing judgement may at first appear inequitable and, in concert with the zeitgeist, it undoubtedly is…..so, for fuck sake, get over yourselves and just accept it. The previously mentioned ingredients together with fennel are long time inhabitants of that netherworld wherein reside the nemeses of “picky eaters”. Being of a contrary nature I’m forever tempted to include such ingredients when entertaining as I cannot help but imagine the querulous faces which will uncover those of a “picky” nature. However, such pleasures are for the most part denied me, as my wife is among that fastidious and exacting group. On the occasions when we are apart from each other I take the opportunity to enjoy some of those ingredients that would otherwise be unlikely to cross our threshold and now is such an occasion. And there I was watching daytime television. There is an excuse, indeed a watertight defence but I suspect that it will fall on deaf ears so I shall just push on to say that Nigel Slater was knocking up some linguine with fennel, shallots, basil and feta and I immediately pushed the “netherworld” button in my mental elevator which took me down to the Orphic supermarket where fennel and feta abounded…..basil didn’t abound so my version is basil free.

Fennel, shallot and feta linguine
Ingredients ( not amounts)
Linguine
Fennel bulb
Banana shallots
Olive oil
Feta cheese

Slice the fennel and shallot and, in a thick bottomed frying pan, cook them slowly in olive oil. Remember, you’re not trying to caramelise the fennel, just to soften them. Meanwhile cook the linguine in heavily salted water ….Marcella Hazan has plenty to say on salting the pasta cooking water —“For every pound of pasta, put in no less than 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, more if the sauce is very mild and undersalted. Add the salt when the water comes to a boil. Wait until the water returns to a full, rolling boil before putting in the pasta.” Now crumble the feta cheese into the pan of fennel and shallot ( and tear up some basil if you have some). When ready, combine the linguine with the contents of the frying pan.

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Posted in 2017, Cheese, Cooking, Digital photography, fennel, feta and basil, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Italian food, linguine with fennel, linguine with fennel. feta and basil, Mediterranean food, Nigel Slater, Olive oil, pasta, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

thoughts while contemplating a sausage sandwich…

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Deeply, madly and truly enervated; that’s me today. I rarely find a use for the “e” word as, happily, I am, for the most part, happy. At the moment, however, I am often not which is why I’m so utterly enervated. Many years ago, in Covent Garden, it was my pleasure to take a drink or three with a celebrated Australian photographer who, being an alumnus of Geelong Grammar, spoke English. He enjoyed asking me the meaning of English words not because he did not know their meaning, because he always did, but in the hope that I did not. “Enervate” was such a word. To his delight, a delight that was as restrained as the gentle drops of extreme hysteria concomitant with the three very large and alarmingly dry Martinis that we had each already consumed, I had fallen, metaphorically at this early point in the proceedings, at the first hurdle.

“You dumb cunt” he joyfully cried, in pitch perfect received pronunciation, all vestiges of Australian submerged beneath a tsunami of delight at an Englishman’s failure to master his own tongue seasoned with subliminal memories of Geelong thrashings on those occasions of slippage into the vernacular “how could you think that enervated means to be excited, how could you?”

And to this day I have not been able to answer that question and because of it I’ve had to take extreme care in choosing the sort of Australian with whom I now break bread or glasses; preferably one who hasn’t been to school. Which brings me back to my current enervation. I’m just so fed up with being fed up with my fellow man’s delight in doing and believing in things to which I am totally opposed. For most of my previous life, let us say “before France” life, such things didn’t bother me as I was rarely conscious of current affairs because my time was taken up with vocabulary and drinking whilst trying to remember the vocabulary whilst drinking….and some photography. However, now that I have time to take notice, the radio, my constant cooking, writing and photography companion, does not cease to remind me of the ineptitude and mendacity of those who are responsible for our well being…….so I turn the radio off and concentrate on turning a plump Toulouse sausage which sizzles happily in a favourite frying pan. A fresh baguette waits in the wings ready to play an important role as a roll in this exciting production of a Sausage Sandwich which will run and run and run.

Posted in 2017, Breakfast, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Sausages, Sunday, Sunday breakfast, Toulouse sausages, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

what’s brown and sticky…?

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Neither of the predictable answers are funny but, inexcusably, I’ve laughed at both of them although, on one of those occasions, laughter was eminently excusable as the riddle was recounted by Lee Mack who is clever enough and, more importantly, funny enough to make a crap riddle or a riddle about crap funny. Should the crap riddle have been modified to include the phrase “..and impossible to get enough of”, then the pudding in the picture, let’s forget proper names, would be the ultimate and unpaired unriddling. I dislike riddles and have never understood how it is that sarcasm has been denounced as the lowest form of wit; it can only be that Pun and Riddle didn’t turn up on the day of the show or that they bribed Simon Cowell to give Sarcasm the thumbs down by giving him an overflowing punnet of riddles so that he might not appear as a self satisfied narcissist with no sense…….oops, left out humour…as has he. How is it that I have been led down this vituperative lane when my intentions were to share with you my delight at discovering this luscious pudding? That was purely rhetorical as I am only too clear as to how this has happened…..”squidgy”, the addition of the word “squidgy” in the recipe title of this outstanding pudding. Why? Chocolate and pear pudding would be a good name whereas squidgy chocolate and pear pudding takes us to the birthplace of English cooking ,,,,the fucking nursery. It never fails to surprise me that so many cookery writers feel that their public should be treated like infants, using multiple yummys, gooeys and squidgy widgys to make us open wide for the choo choo train…..I am hyperbolising but, in culinary terms, laying it on thickly was necessary.

pear_choc_0001Pudding was on my mind and, having a pair of Bosc pears sitting listlessly in the fruit bowl and knowing how quickly a pear can metamorphose from perfect to far from perfect, it was to be a pudding with pears..and chocolate. Internet research with the two key words led me quickly to this recipe which, apart from having Squidgy as a christian name, had the misfortune of including tinned pears in the list of ingredients. Maybe I’m a fool for not foreseeing a dystopian future when the fruit bowl will be piled high with tins of pineapple chunks and pears in syrup but I freely confess that I have not owned a tin of pears since I was at boarding school in the 50’s..which makes me remember how usual it was for children to carry around knives and how low was the rate of attrition save to tins of fruit and condensed milk. Poaching fresh pears in home made sugar syrup flavoured with vanilla is a pleasure both visually and sensually. It’s important that the pears stay submerged in the syrup and are not exposed to the air during the poaching process so it’s wise to lay a disc of baking parchment or grease proof paper, with a small hole cut in the middle to allow steam to escape, over the poaching pears. Collapsed pears are not what one is looking for so care in timing is essential. The resulting drained pears are far superior to those from a tin. Here’s the recipe, which I have taken from the BBC Good Food website and made the adjustment from tinned to fresh pears and reduced the amount of chocolate….pace Barney Demazery.

Pear and Chocolate pudding

Ingredients:
200gms butter
300gms golden caster sugar
4 large eggs
75gm plain flour
50gm cocoa powder
4 firm pears, peeled, quartered and poached
50gms plain dark chocolate ( at least 70% cocoa solids)
25gms flaked almonds (optional)

  1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Lightly grease a roughly 20 x 30cm shallow ovenproof dish. Put the butter in a large saucepan and place over a low heat until just melted. Remove the butter from the heat and stir in the sugar until well combined.
  2. Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl. Gradually add the eggs to the butter and sugar, beating well with a wooden spoon in between each addition. Sift the flour and cocoa powder on top of the egg mixture, then beat hard with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour into the prepared tin or dish and nestle the pears into the chocolate batter. Put the chocolate on a board and cut into chunky pieces roughly 1.5cm with a large knife. Scatter the chocolate pieces over the batter and sprinkle with almonds, if you like. Can be frozen at this stage.
  4. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 mins or until the mixture is crusty on the surface and lightly cooked inside. Do not allow to overcook, as the cake will become spongy rather than gooey in the centre. Serve warm with cream or ice cream
Posted in 2017, Baking, Chocolate, Cookery Writers, Cooking, desserts, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Google, Humour, Memory, Pear and chocolate pudding, Pear and chocolate pudding, Pears, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Credo….

As a young photographer I was not interested in nor informed about the world of politics. My world was filled with more important things such as myself. I lived through momentous times without noticing much save that I wasn’t as important as I had initially imagined. And then I had left London, had left middle age and had realised how lucky I was to have made it this far without having ever having looked in my rear view mirror. Today, whilst rifling through the book shelves, I came across this picture that I had taken in the early 70’s.

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The picture held memories for me as it was to be a cover for the iconic “Nova” magazine but it was the recollection of the process of creating the image that led me to write this post. On the day of the shoot the model duly arrived at the studio looking forward to being on the cover of the leading style magazine of the time. I remember she was very young and this was to be for her an important step up the ladder of recognition but, for all her inexperience, I could see that she was surprised at the lack of personnel present on such an important session. On such a shoot one would expect to see a stylist, a hairdresser, a make up artist together with the magazine’s fashion editor and her entourage of assistants and assistant’s assistants but there we were, the three of us….me , the model and the art director. And so the obfuscation begun. We were looking for a young natural look, which we assured her she possessed in spades, and which would be diminished by the primping and painting by so called experts in the field of beauty. Had she brought some clothes and jewelry for the shoot in line with our brief to her agency? Why would we want a stylist to provide clothes for a model such as her who, no doubt, had a wardrobe bursting at the seams with cool clothes…what do fashion editor’s know, for God’s sake? Having been assured that all she needed to do was to brush out her hair and leave the rest to the photographer she sat confidently in front of the camera and was surprised at how quickly the shoot was over. She was promised that she would be delighted by the result and it would change her life.

I believe therefore I am right……..ring any bells?

 

Posted in 2017, Expectation, fashion, Film, hypocrisy, Illusion, Photography, Retouching, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Summer food photography course with Roger Stowell and Olia Hercules…

The sun pouring in through my office window this morning makes me think of summer and reminds me that in June, in partnership with Big in France, I’ll be running a food photography course together with one the brightest of the burgeoning stars of international cooking, Olia Hercules. We’ll be based in a fabulous villa in the West of France, close to the beaches and restaurants of La Rochelle and to the Venise Verte of the ancient city of Niort, where we’ll be cooking wonderful food and photographing it ….there’ll be time around the pool….visits to local restaurants and markets…..and plenty of opportunities to improve your photography and cookery skills …..all in all, a very good way to spend a long weekend in the French countryside.


The course will be taking place between 16 – 18 June ( arriving on pm 15 June and leaving a.m 19 June) All the details and booking forms are on the Big in France website …..now’s a good time to check it out….looking forward to seeing you here.

Posted in 2017, clay oven, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Landscapes, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Photoshop, pizza oven, Still life, Uncategorized, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

If Heineken made a year….it wouldn’t be this one

 

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The cold but radiantly sunny morning found me filled with a sense of purpose as I motored along peaceful winding lanes towards an isolated house in the countryside on a mission of mercy. Once inside that house, through some simple manipulations, I was to bring warmth and internet access to where there was currently neither, which the zeitgeist declares to be as far beyond the pale as one can be beyond whatever a pale may be, in order that a group of New Year revelers, who were simultaneously wending their way to that very house in which they were to celebrate the dawn of a brand new year. would enjoy these celebrations in the warmth and be able to share endless amusing pictures of their warm and inebriated selves with an assumedly expectant worldwide audience which popular dullness is now assumed to be enshrined within the Declaration of the Rights of Man. On arrival at the house, entry dictated the collection of a key which was held by an acquaintance of the owners, let us call her Marie, and it was my fleeting encounter with the said Marie and her menagerie that for a moment made me feel as if I had escaped the tensions of wretched 2016 and entered the delightful realm of a latter day Madame Doolittle, the complete antithesis to this nearly exhausted year. My approach to the land of Dolittle was greeted with a less than threatening alarum of geese and dogs led by a delightful, honey coloured retriever. However charming geese and country dogs may appear from the other side of a gate I thought it wise to wait for the mistress of these sentinels to appear before attempting to enter this land which was apparently ruled by the animals. Even on this cold sunny day the windows of the south facing side of the house were all thrown open allowing the building to inhale the fresh bright air and to surprisingly exhale, from a ground floor window, the top section of a round lady with a round, ruddy, smiling face on top of which was a pink knitted hat like a tea cosy. “Brioche” she cried, making me believe for a moment that she had mistaken me for a peripatetic baker only to be instantly disabused of my mistake by a qualified attempt at obedience by the dog whose name I now knew. On my first appraisal of the grounds and animal stock I had missed the prettiest brown and cream goat that was obediently standing next to the window through which half of Marie protruded. I say standing, but this goat was posing. It would be true to say that the prettiness of Marie is not outwardly evident but if jollity and kindness are elements of prettiness then she is a beauty. This is not a farm or a small holding; this is a home. A home where milk and cheese come from the goats, meat and eggs from the geese and chickens, the ground, although not perfectly ordered and trimmed, yields vegetables whilst the trees bear fruit. Not an Eden but a place that affords a kinder view of mankind than that which has festered in my mind this year. It may well be that this view of mine is that of an ageing man turning his back on a world that daily becomes more unreasonable and unreasoning ….and I’m happy with that.

 

 

Posted in 2016, Digital photography, Dogs, Eggs, Excellence, Expectation, France, French countryside, harmony, Humour, lifestyle, New Year, Poultry, Uncategorized, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

hold the anchovies….

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I never fail to be surprised at how many people appear have an aversion to anchovies whereas I cannot imagine being without them, in the same way that I cannot imagine being without olive oil, tomatoes, onions and garlic. If ever there was a North South divide of culinary tastes, astride it would stand the Colossus of  anchovy. Although Margaret Visser, in her seminal book “Much depends upon Dinner”, leaves out reference to the anchovy when she declares that “butter divides the people of northern Europe as radically from the oil loving southerners as does beer and cider distinguish them from wine drinkers” there is little question in my mind that olive oil and wine must be joined by anchovies to form the trinity that is the heart of southern European cooking. It is worth remembering that anchovies bring both saltiness and savour to a dish, a notion that escaped me on one forgettable occasion long ago when I cooked Jansson’s Temptation to partner a gigot for a dinner for friends. For those not familiar with Jannson’s Temptation, it is a traditional Swedish gratin dish made with potatoes, onions, sprats, breadcrumbs and cream. I now know that the original recipe in Swedish includes the word “ansjovis”. meaning sprats, which, in the book from which I was cooking, was mistranslated as anchovies and that lapsus linguae, combined with my unfathomable decision to add salt to that which was already very salty, created a dish that would not have tempted a dog let alone the sprat loving Jansson: the gigot that I served with this punishing dish was studded with anchovies and interestingly served raw…warm, but raw. A fragile excuse existed for this perversity in that I had taken a recipe from Edouard de Pomiane’s “Cooking in 10 minutes”, which on reflection was not an auspicious title in which to find a recipe for cooking a leg of lamb, which involved cooking the gigot over an open fire with a curved metal reflector to radiate the heat. In addition to this imprecision, the cooking time suggested was equivalent to that of a conversation between M.Pomiane and his neighbour about the benefits of such a cooking method, the exact length of which conversation was unfortunately undefined. I put the dénouement down to the panic that overcame me when I tasted my potato version of the Dead Sea…at that point, what was left of my judgement having fled the scene, I plucked the golden skinned gigot from its sunbed and laid the feast before those who would not later be counted as close friends…sick transit gloria and her chums. The exact reaction of our guests to this extraordinarily violent attack on their palates is vague as I had so little time to assess it before the legs of two of our decrepit and fragile dining chairs collapsed beneath two of our guests, throwing them to the floor as they gamely chewed on a mouthful of raw meat and salty potatoes. The sole blessing lay in the fact that their profanities and curses on our household were muted as cursing led to choking. After they had left the house in that loftiest of vehicles, high dudgeon, and Jenny, in preference to chatting recipes with me, silently swept up the Chippendale, it occurred to me that it had been worthwhile to finally confirm that the anchovy could not live happily in north European food which has allowed me to count that evening among my most successful dinner parties.

Posted in 2016, anchovies, Baking, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, friendship, gigot, gratin, Humour, Margaret Visser, Meat, Memory, Olive oil, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments