WIN: a massive box of Hotel Chocolat chocolates

Food politics
WIN: a massive box of Hotel Chocolat chocolates post image

Here you go, a chance to win a huge box of very good festive themed Hotel Chocolat chocolates, because: Christmas.

‘The Christmas Wreath Box’ is described in the marketing as “a show-stopping festive centrepiece to gather round and share this Christmas. Filled with 43 delicious Christmas truffles, a chunky cookie wreath and two large chocolate snowflakes, one cast in salted caramel and the other in 85% dark”, and it is indeed quite impressive, and worth £42, but free to one lucky Interweb surfer!

Hotel Chocolat have a place in Leeds, and have just moved their shop in York right into the heart of Stonegate. It seems fitting that York, which has a fairly impressive chocolate-steeped history itself, should be home to a Hotel Chocolat.

Entering is easy – just fill in the form after the break below. The draw will close at midnight on Tuesday, 15th December, and the winner will be notified by email. Entries open to UK residents only. Sorry, rest of the world.

Best of luck, and Happy Christmas.

Click here to enter…

Vietnamese noodle salad with rib of beef

Food & drink
Vietnamese salad

So, I’d made this Vietnamese-style noodle salad with a rib of beef, and Tweeted a picture, and Rich asked me to write a post about it for his blog. I agreed (I was quite chuffed actually but don’t tell him) and he gave me access details and then I forgot about it. Time passed and I was in my local butcher’s shop and saw the beef ribs and I thought “I must buy that, marinate it , cook it, make the salad and then write about it for Rich’s blog.” So I did. Except for the bit where I wrote about it for Rich’s blog. But now I have. I hope that you’ll try it – don’t be put off by the ingredient list –  it really is a splendid way to do something different with a decent bit of beef. Traditionally, you’d do this with steak, but this version allows for larger scale catering without the last minute meat-cooking. It’s lighter than the usual roast beef accompaniments and absolutely giddy with the fragrance, heat and pungency of nuoc mam cham sauce. Oh my, what a dressing.


1 rib of beef, on the bone

For the marinade:
1 bird’s eye chilli
2 garlic cloves
Fresh ginger or galangal root – about the length of your thumb
The juice of a lime
2 stalks lemongrass
2 kafir lime leaves
Fish sauce – probably about 3 tablespoons
Shrimp paste – a teaspoon
A glug of oil to loosen it all up, something not too strong – vegetable oil or groundnut oil. For the love of God, not olive oil. Are you reading, Jamie Oliver? Not olive oil. Where are the olive groves of the Mekong Delta? Nowhere. I don’t want to get bogged down in authenticity, but that’s a big hint about the role of olive oil in South East Asian cuisine. Sorry, I’ll crack on, shall I?

For the salad:
Rice noodles – enough to feed the number of people for whom you’re cooking
Fresh Thai basil (top tip: you can get the same aniseed flavour by mixing Mediterranean basil and tarragon)
Fresh coriander
Fresh mint
Fresh rau ram, if you can find it – don’t fret if you can’t.
Half a cucumber
Cherry tomatoes
Spring onions


The Beer & Food Companion, by Stephen Beaumont

The Beer & Food Companion, by Stephen Beaumont

When a group of diners sit down at the table after having enjoyed a range of pre-dinner drinks – a martini here and a glass of chablis or a pilsner there – the answer to the question about what to drink with the meal is, usually, wine.

…and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there are some reasons why that’s the case.

The main factor that led to the pre-eminence of wine at the table is the influence of the French.

Much of Western gastronomy derives from France’s wonderful and sublime food traditions, and the obvious pairing for a meal in a wine-producing country is clearly wine, especially if that country produces wines as spectacular as the French do.

It’s not an accident, nor is it a design.

It’s simply a matter of reason and good sense. Wine was the best thing for the French to drink with their food, and so that tradition and custom has stuck as France’s gastronomic know-how crept around the Western world.

It’s as simple as that, but there was a casualty.


Stephen Beaumont, in his book The Beer and Food Companion, observes that “had modern western gastronomy found its roots in Bavaria, England, the Czech Republic or even French Alsace, we might have been dining with pilsners and märzens, or pale ales and porters, rather than the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy.”

Beaumont has a point, and there is a sense of happenstance at play here that led to the promotion of the grape to the table and the relegation of the hop to more of a social position rather than a refined and genteel one.


Taste: The Infographic Book of Food, by Laura Rowe

Taste: The Infographic Book of Food, by Laura Rowe

I remember a time at work when we had a problem.

It was a big problem, involving a huge amount of data. I sat down with the resident data guru, and she tried to explain what the matter was by dancing around between two spreadsheets that spanned a couple of very large monitors, flitting from row to row, column to column in a way that was both easy and natural to her. She had this data under total control. She could see patterns and connections in it, trends and meaning in the vast sea of numbers.

I, however, could not.

I sat and nodded a lot, trying not to look lost at sea, which is exactly where I was, obviously.

I went away no closer to solving that particular problem, and it took a very different approach to eventually get anywhere.

Later, I told somebody else who had a similar mastery of that particular set of data about the issue. He got  up and headed for the printer, and came back with a big piece of A3 paper and a pack of coloured pens. He started to draw big circles, and connected them all up as he talked about the same things that my other colleague had done, but this time, it all connected. The picture grew, and I had something I could see and feel, something that helped me to relate to The Problem, and ultimately to see what I needed to do to solve it.


Kapow Coffee, Leeds

Eating out
Kapow Coffee, Leeds

I catch the train into Leeds every morning, and instead of rushing straight to the office, I take a slight detour through some of Leeds’ alleys and yards, down onto The Calls and back up to work through the Markets.

I see the same faces every morning, passing the same people in the same places, our independent routines apparently choreographed.

I do this in the name of exercise (those 10,000 steps aren’t going to step themselves, are they?), but really, I just like a bit of a wander in the morning, ten minutes or so to collect my thoughts and listen to a bit of music before whatever-the-hell is going to break loose at work actually breaks loose.