Sunday, 27 March 2011

SUNDAY SUPPER: MOQUECA

A whiff of the exotic for supper tonight with this robust and flavoursome fish stew from the Bahia region of Brazil. In fact, there are many different versions of this dish around Brazil, and my Google search for a recipe threw up a number of interesting alternatives.  Don't be daunted by the long list of ingredients: it is simple to make, and very tasty.

I have a vague connection to Brazil in that my father is married to a Brazilian woman. However, my interest in Brazilian food began much earlier, in the early 1990s, when we used to go to a rather good cafe-style Brazilian restaurant in Hammersmith called Paulo's. It was there that I first tried palm hearts, fried plantains and Feijoada, a rich and hearty meat stew with black beans. Our meals at Paulo's were also accompanied by Caipirinha cocktails, another Brazilian speciality made with sugar, lime juice and Cahaca, a spirit made from sugar cane (my father always brings me a bottle back from his trips to Sao Paulo), or Batida, a sort of upmarket 'Slush Puppy', a drink made from crushed ice with fruit juice, coconut milk, rum or other spirits. You find batidas on the menu all over South America: I got rather hooked on them when on holiday in Venezuela.


Moqueca

Serves 4-6

Approx 750g grouper, snapper, mahi mahi, salmon, or monkfish, or other firm white fish
250g large prawns (optional)
Juice of 2 limes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red pepper, sliced thinly
1 green pepper, sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced thinly
2 tomatoes, sliced thinly
1 fresh bay leaf
4-5 spring onions, white and green parts, finely chopped
1 bunch of fresh coriander, washed and roughly chopped
2 tsp paprika
1/2 - 1 tsp chilli pepper (or to taste)
400g can of coconut milk

Cut the fish into chunks and marinade in the lime juice and garlic for a few hours.

Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and fry the sliced onions and peppers until soft.  Add the bayleaf, then the tomatoes and cook on a high heat until everything is softened. Add the coconut milk, chilli, paprika, and when all the vegetables are soft, add the fish and prawns (if using) and continue to cook until the fish is done. Garnish with more lime juice, chopped spring onion and plenty of fresh coriander. Serve with plain rice. Sometimes I make a salad of sliced avocadoes and palm hearts to go with this.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

COQ AU RIESLING

I should probably rename this recipe (taken from Nigella Express) 'Coq au Liebfraumilch' as, when I went to buy the ingredients for it in my local Waitrose, the Riesling was far too pricey to use as cooking wine. Trying to think laterally (not easy at 8.30am!), I pulled my iPhone out of my handbag and attempted a Google search for "alternative for Riesling". Unfortunately, the basement location of my local Waitrose allowed "no connection". Discussing this dilemma as I served the food, one friend suggested another wine from the Pfalz region, while another pointed out that it was all about the grape variety..... As a matter of interest, a Google search just now threw up Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Gewurtztraminer, Moscato and Piesporter. Ho hum.

This recipe is the Alsace version of Coq au Vin and shares the same ingredients, except that the red wine is replaced with white and cream is added at the end to finish the sauce. It looks very enticing in the picture in Nigella's book. I'm glad to say my version looked equally delicious when brought to the table. It's dead easy to make and actually benefits from being made in advance, even a day in advance, and allowed to rest. I had to stay in all day yesterday to await (with barely-contained excitement) the arrival of my new iPad, so I decided to prepare all the food for supper in the morning. The angle of the sun in my piano room from 9am until lunchtime made practising impossible as the sun was shining directly in my eyes when seated at the piano. So, I chopped and fried and stirred, keeping an anxious eye out for the courier (who eventually arrived at 4pm, when I was teaching!).

I served the dish with boiled Charlotte potatoes (nice, waxy texture and buttery flavour) and Chantenay carrots (which were deemed "dinky" and "bijou"). I like them because they are delicious sweet - and yes, they are very cute too!

For pudding, we had the best chocolate tart, perfectly dusted with icing sugar by my son, who is shaping up quite nicely as my sous-chef.

Coq au Riesling
Serves 6

2 x 15ml tablespoons garlic oil
150g bacon lardons
1 leek, finely sliced
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
300g oyster mushrooms, torn into strips
1 x 75cl bottle Riesling
200ml double cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill to serve

Heat the oil in a casserole or large, wide pan. Fry the bacon until crispy, then add the leek. Allow it to soften with the bacon for a few minutes. Add the torn mushrooms and bay leaves. Cut the chicken thighs into 2 or 3 pieces each and add to the pan. Pour over with the wine, bring up to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is done. Add the cream, if using, at the end of the cooking. Sprinkle with fresh dill and serve.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

MY FAVOURITE THINGS No. 2

Popping corn

My mum used to make popcorn for me when I was little, and I remember loving the sound of it hammering on the lid of the saucepan as the kernels exploded in the hot oil. Once done, she would cover the bright white 'popped corn' with a wickedly sweet and naughty toffee sauce. I've always felt my mum's popcorn was far, far better than the stuff they shovel into cardboard buckets at the cinema.

When my son was quite small, but old enough to eat "proper" food, I started making popcorn for him as a snack (unsalted, unsweetened, of course). Later, I taught him how to do it himself: put a couple of tablespoons of corn oil or sunflower oil in a saucepan with a tightly-fitting lid, and cover with popcorn kernels (readily available in your local supermarket). Turn up the heat and put the lid on. When the corn starts to pop, shake the pan (with lid intact) regularly so that all the kernels have a chance to pop.

Serve with seasalt. Or make a naughty toffee sauce!

Here's a nice recipe from the Waitrose website which offers a rather less naughty sweet dressing. And one from the BBC Good Food site....

SURPRISINGLY GOOD: FRIED GNOCCHI

I got the idea for this from a recipe in Nigella Express, but I had also eaten an Asian-inspired dish containing fried gnocchi at The Wookey Hole Inn some years before - and liked it. There is quite often a packet of gnocchi lurking in my fridge. It's a handy stand-by for a quick lunch or supper, and I particularly like it with a sauce made from grated and fried courgettes with garlic and lots of fresh parmesan. When I was on holiday in Liguria last September, I ate a lot of gnocchi as it is a speciality of the region. Very occasionally I make my own (with butternut squash) but it is rather labour-intensive, and can be tricky to get right when cooking as it can fall apart.

Since gnocchi is (usually) made from potato, fried gnocchi makes a nice alternative to chips for children, especially small children who tend to have a penchant for "dinky food",  and it has a pleasant "mouth feel" as it is crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. Mmmmm. It's particularly good with sausages, or fried chicken (I usually flatten a chicken breast between sheets of cling film and marinade it quickly in smoked paprika, cumin and garlic). In her book, Nigella offers it with a quick mustard pork chop. She calls it "Rapid Roastini", which I'm afraid I find rather twee. However, she does also suggest using friend gnocchi as a neat little canape, served with a piquant dip, perhaps. I will try it out on some dinner guests and report back.

Meanwhile, here's the Domestic Goddess herself (the other one!), to tell you how to do it.


Nigella's Rapid Roastini

Sunday, 20 March 2011

MY FAVOURITE THINGS

An occasional series featuring favourite ingredients and kitchen kit....
Belazu Rose Harissa
"Small but sexy...... Made to liven cousous, naturally, but that warm spicy perfumed cocktail of chilli, coriander, caraway, garlic,olive oil and rose petals, will lift many a more mundane creation." (Matthew Fort, The Guardian)


Words cannot truly express how much I love this piquant, fiery paste, a traditional ingredient in North African tagines, and a great condiment. Belazu Rose Harissa is the best, and, like Nigella Lawson, I would love to receive a year's supply, gift-wrapped and delivered straight to my kitchen. On my two holidays to Ireland, I have always packed the Harissa: because I cannot live without it and it comes out with most meals. Other fans include my friends and regular dinner companions, Jacky and Nick, who often ask for the condiment, if it is not already on the table.


Made with chillis and over forty spices, including rose petals, Belazu Rose Harissa has a very special flavour and aroma. Unlike other brands, such as Le Phare du Cap Bon, which my mum used to buy in a tube (beware: it is very, very strong), the hot kick of this harissa is tempered by the rose petals, which also give it a special sweetness. It is the perfect accompaniment to lamb, grilled, roasted, tagine-d or barbecued, but I also serve it with chicken, and meaty fish like tuna. A quick supper is two chicken breasts, flattened between clingfilm, and flash-fried with cumin, garlic and a dollop of harissa. In the Ottolenghi Cookbook, there is a recipe for harissa roast chicken, simple but utterly delicious. You need nothing more than a green salad to go with it. And stir a generous dollop of harissa into cream fraiche or Greek yoghurt (or a mixture of both), and you have an instant dip, or milder condiment. I like to stir it into roasted vegetables or couscous, to give some 'back heat' to a dish.

I first tried harissa in the early 1980s when my mother (an excellent and imaginative cook) started moving away from the traditional cordon bleu-type cookery to more adventurous 'world' cuisine. As part of the fundraising for the dreadful famine in Ethopia in 1984, Oxfam brought out a cookbook, compiled from contributions by the general public. A favourite recipe, and one which I still make, was West African Groundnut Curry. My mother used to make this quite often as a lunch dish, as it can be easily stretched for feed many, served with fluffy couscous and a sauce made from the most fiery harissa. The sauce for the curry is made with peanut butter, and the harissa cuts into the smooth, sweet-saltiness of the peanut butter perfectly.


Because it does not last long in this house, I always order two jars when I do my monthly Ocado shop.


You can purchase Belazu Rose Harissa in Waitrose, or online direct from Belazu
 

Saturday, 19 March 2011

PORK COOKED IN MILK (LOMO CON LECHE)

Sounds strange? Trust me: it's delicious.

This recipe comes from The Moro Cookbook, which is one of my most favourite cookbooks of all time. I have all three books by Sam and Sam Clark, but the first Moro cookbook is probably the best. It is full of interesting and imaginative, robust and flavourful Spanish, Moroccan and Turkish recipes, many of which are reminiscent of summer holidays on the Med. I love the food of Southern Spain and north Africa, and this treasure-trove of recipes is one which I return to time and time again.

I have eaten at Moro, the restaurant run by Sam and Sam Clark, only twice, sadly. Its location, in trendy Hoxton, necessitates a long drive across London from my home in the leafy south-western suburbs. Having said that, it is well worth the effort, and the second time I went, I was joined by friends who have lived in Spain (the wife is from Barcelona), and who were able to select the most interesting tapas and wine. It was at Moro that I first tasted Zhoug, a thick, pungent, fiery green paste made from fresh chillies, which was served as a condiment for grilled squid....

This recipe is one of those wonderful slow-cooked dishes that can be quickly assembled and then forgotten about for several hours. Because my time is limited on Fridays, now that I have weakened and taken on yet another piano student, I tend to make a supper dish which is quick to prepare and slow to cook. This seemed just about perfect for a cold early spring evening. The first time I made this, Other Half said "Oh, I don't like that at all!". I reminded him of this statement as I witnessed him going back for seconds and scraping the remains of the sauce from the casserole dish the other night. He, in turn, reminded me of General Melchett's declaration in Blackadder Goes Forth "Never poo-poo a poo-poo!".

Jamie Oliver has a version of this recipe, using chicken, in his Happy Days With the Naked Chef, and I have also seen it in The River Cafe Cookbook, as it is a classic Tuscan recipe (Arista al Latte). It's worth noting here that Jamie Oliver worked with both Sam and Sam Clarke (when they were at The Eagle gastropub) and at The River Cafe before he made a name for himself as The Naked Chef.

It's important to use full-fat milk for this recipe, something I do not usually buy as I detest it in tea, having been brought up on skimmed milk, but you really do need the creaminess of full-fat milk to produce the lovely, caramelly sauce. The pork, cooked in a milky sauce flavoured with garlic, cinnamon and bay leaves, is succulent and tender. I served this simply with rosemary roast potatoes and carrots with cumin. And lots of homemade bread. In the winter, I would probably serve it with red cabbage or mashed swede. In the summer, a simple green salad and new potatoes would be sufficient. My version is actually a conflation of both the Italian and Spanish recipes.

Serves 4-6
1-1.5 kg boned organic or free-range pork loin, with skin removed, tied
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, or a pinch of dried thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
Several thin strips of lemon zest
Half a head of garlic, separated into cloves, unpeeled
1.5 litres milk
sea salt and black pepper

Trim the pork of excess fat and rub all over with salt, pepper and thyme. Place a large, heavy saucepan or Le Creuset type casserole over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the pork and seal until golden brown on all sides, but not too dark. Pour off any excess oil, add the cinnamon, bay, garlic, lemon zest and milk and bring to a gentle simmer, turning down the heat if necessary. Cook slowly with the lid half off for about 1-11/2 hours, turning the meat occasionally, or until the meat is cooked through, but still juicy and tender, making sure it does not catch on the bottom. The milk should have reduced into caramelised, nutty nuggets, and made a wonderful subtly flavoured sauce. If it needs more time to reduce, remove the meat until the sauce is ready. Taste for seasoning. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Friday, 18 March 2011

SAKSUKA

On the menu of my local Turkish restaurant (Diners Turkish Delight - a greasy spoon cafe by day), Saksuka is subtitled "Turkish ratatouille". Indeed, it shares many of the same components as rataouille - aubergines, peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes - but I prefer it to ratatouille. It is usually served as a mezze dish, with a dollop of Tzatziki and warm Turkish bread.

The trick with this dish is to cut all the vegetables into small cubes, approx. 1-2cms. Normally, I am not terribly good at finely chopping or cubing, but this dish really benefits from it. The addition of dill (fresh or dried) and smoked paprika give it its exotic, Eastern flavour. It is great served as a mezze, or an accompaniment to roasted or barbecued lamb. I quite often serve it with couscous, with Feta cheese crumbled over the top and a generous sprinkling of fresh coriander (by which I mean a big handful - I love the stuff!) for a light vegetarian supper dish. You can vary the ingredients, though I would recommend always including aubergine, red pepper, onion and plenty of garlic. I have had it made with carrots and butternut squash, potatoes and courgettes, and I suspect that one would find regional varieties around Turkey. This is my version:

Serves 4 as a mezze, 2 as a light main meal

1 medium-sized aubergine, cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red, yellow or orange pepper, cubed
A generous handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 peeled garlic cloves, crushed
A good lug of olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
A tsp of smoked paprika
A generous handful of fresh dill (and coriander, if liked)
Half a block of Feta cheese, crumbled (optional)

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or wok and add the aubergines. Cook until the aubergines are just turning brown. You may need to add more oil as aubergines are like sponges. Then add the onions and peppers and cook until just soft before adding the tomatoes. Check seasoning. Add the smoked paprika and cook until everything is soft and melded. Just before serving, add the dill (if I am using dried dill tops, I add them earlier in the process). Serve with the crumbled Feta (if using), more fresh dill and coriander, and plenty of warm pitta bread or Turkish pide, flatbreads or couscous. Also nice served at room temperature.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

LOOK WHAT I MADE!

In Clas Ohlsson ("the useful shop!"), which is like Ikea without the steroids, and which has replaced Woolies (also a useful shop) on the market place in Kingston, I purchased a baguette tray. Not sure why, as in all the years I have been baking my own bread, I have never before felt the need for specialist equipment, beyond some decent flour, Dove's Farm Quick Yeast, my trusty Kitchenaid mixer, and a good hot oven. However, I will own up now to a slightly fetishistic "thang" about kitchen kit: sometimes just have a few professional-looking accoutrements around me makes me feel better (the heavy-duty garlic press, the 'mezza luna' herb chopper (Nigella's is particularly fetching), the Global Japanese knives). In reality, I use very few pieces of equipment when I'm cooking, my essentials being: a good chopping board and knife, a heavy-duty deep frying pan, a Le Creuset lidded casserole (now very old), a garlic press and a lemon squeezer.

So, I bought the silly baguette pan and promised myself I would make baguettes, and the wretched thing sat on the worktop for a week, and my son kept asking "When are you going to make baguettes, mum?". In the end, last weekend I indulged in some "artisanal baking" and produced two lovely, crusty raisin and hazelnut baguettes, cooked to perfection in the baguette pan.

On reflection, I think the pan was quite successful. Its perforated design allows the hot air in the oven to circulate freely around the cooking loaf, which ensures an all-round crust. It also helped to create an authentic baguette shape, perhaps not as elegant as a golden stick one might purchase in any French boulangerie, but rather charmingly rustic and 'stumpy'. And tasty too.....

The term "artisanal" which seems to be applied to any bread which is not made by a mass-production system these days, amuses me, for even commercial "plastic" bread requires some attention by a human hand. Maybe "craftsman" ("-woman") bread would be more appropriate? "Handmade" is just daft: all bread is handmade, to one degree or another, even if that hand has just emptied the ingredients into a massive food mixer. In any event, I can claim to be the maker of "artisanal bread", and the lucky few, who come regularly to my dinner table, know how delicious it is.


By the way, I am not indulging in some kind of Teddington voodoo rite with those loaves.....

GREAT STORECUPBOARD FINDS No. 8

Farrington's Mellow Yellow Rapeseed Oil

Drive through the countryside in the late spring/early summer, and you will see field after field of vivid yellow flowers. This is rapeseed (Brassica napus), also known as oilseed rape. It's been a feature of our countryside, and agricultural production, for many years now, and the harvested oil is used for biodiesel, and for human consumption, in the form of rapeseed oil.

My mother-in-law, who shares my inquisitive mind and taste buds where food is concerned, introduced me to Farrington's Mellow Yellow Rapeseed Oil. It is a beautiful saffron-yellow oil with a pleasantly nutty flavour, not overpowering. It can be used in dressings, or drizzled on bread, just like olive oil, and its high smoke point (around 220C) makes it ideal for stir-frying and roasting. Farrington's rapeseed oil is produced in the same way as superior-quality olive oil, by cold-pressing, which ensures the full flavour and essence of the oil is preserved. As well as being delicious, it is also packed with Omega 3, 6 and 9 oils, and is low in saturated fat. Personally, its nutritional benefits are by-the-by for me: I love its flavour and if I don't have any olive oil to hand, rapeseed oil is a great alternative. Go on - try it!

Recipes and further information here

Friday, 4 March 2011

DEMON COOK'S CAT

Lulu in the larder!

FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER - LAMB TANGIA

Gastropub of Fran reopens tonight; closed last Friday because I was away, my regular dinner guest, friend and Scrabble champ, Nick will be joining me to try a new dish, a Lamb Tangia from Jamie Oliver's foodie tour guide 'Jamie Does.....'. Although I only saw Nick two weeks ago, we have been behaving as if it's a lifetime - "will be great to catch up", "looking forward to seeing you" were some of the text exchanges yesterday. Whether we will be up to post-supper Scrabble remains to be seen....

I have a lot of time for Lovable Jamie, despite his Mockney accent and all that "pukka this" and "pukka that". He cares passionately about what he does, yet he delivers his message in an accessible way. His recipes are consistently excellent and I often return to his earliest cookbooks for favourite dishes. In his book and tv series 'Jamie Does.....', he visited Greece, Sweden, Morocco, Spain and France, cooking a selection of regional favourites, and adding a few twists of his own. Possibly the funniest moment of the series was when the Swedish family he was staying with (during which he made the most amazing beetroot Gravadlax - a dish I intend to attempt very soon) all went skinny-dipping in the fjord after dinner. For once, Jamie was lost for words - and there was no way he was going to strip off and join them....

A tangia is, like a tagine, both the name of a dish and the vessel in which it is cooked. A tangia is a large earthenware lidded pot, similar in shape to an ancient amphora. In Moroccan towns and villages people still take their tangias to the local communal oven and leave them there for several hours while the contents slow cook. I do not possess a tangia, so I have used a Le Creuset casserole dish. The mixture of meat and vegetables will cook for a long time, by which time the water will have evaporated leaving, succulent lamb and tender vegetables with a sheen of oil, saffron and butter. I'm going to serve it with 'favourite salad' (spinach & feta salad) and homemade flat bread. Pudding is baklava, bought from Waitrose, because I haven't got time to make my own, and besides, Waitrose baklava is pretty damn good.

Simple Lamb Tangia

Serves 4-6

small handful of mixed olives, stones in
2 small preserved lemons, roughly chopped
good lug of olive oil
large pinch of saffron
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 leeks, trimmed & roughly chopped
350g baby new potatoes
1 bulb of garlic, unpeeled cloves separated and crushed with the back of a knife
800g neck of lamb fillet, cut into 10cm pieces
2 tbsp 'smen' (fermented butter) or butter
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Oven 150C. Put all the vegetables & saffron in a casserole with a lid, pour over a good lug of olive oil, add the butter and place the lamb on top. Season, then cover with water. Cook for around 3 hours, or until the lamb is tender and falling apart. Check to make sure it does not dry out - not should it be watery. Serve with warm flat breads.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

MY MAGIC MAGIMIX

My trusty Magimix Cuisine Systeme 5100 is about 15 years old. It's had several replacement blades and bowls, and once had a trip to the mender's after Other Half tried to make carrot juice and managed to burn out the engine. The 'pulse' button has sprung out and is held in place with sticky tape. Other than that, it still works a treat.

When I bought my matt grey Kitchenaid, in that fervour of excitement that followed Nigella's first TV series (where one could regular enjoy seeing her draw the curved bowl of her Kitchenaid to her ample bosom), I thought the Magimix would be redundant, but while the Kitchenaid is brilliant for bread dough, cake mix and the lightest, most heavenly meringues, I doubt I could ever find another kitchen gadget that does chopping and pureeing as well as the Magimix. I can make pesto in moments, hummous in the blink of an eye, whizz up a garlic sauce, or mayonnaise "just like that"! The only down side of it, is that it lives at the back of one of my cupboards and has to be hauled out every time I want to use it.

After a day spent practising Bach and Debussy, trying to think myself back into piano teacher mode (students are back from half-term hols tomorrow) and doing "creative thinking" jobs for other people, an hour cooking-while-listening-to-Radio-4 was the perfect way to wind down. First, I made a slick of oily black olive tapenade. Redolent of summer days and lazy lunches, this garlicky bitumen-black paste from Provence, is delicious spread on toasted sourdough and topped off with a dollop of creamy, soft goat's cheese. After that, I decided it was time for those artichokes, which had been lurking at the back of the fridge for a day too long, to go into the Magimix. I toasted some pine nuts, added a garlic clove and a generous shaving of Pamesan. The result: artichoke pesto. Later, I'm going to make a pea puree to serve with grilled salmon, fragrant with basil and garlic, a welcome nod to Spring in its fresh green colour and flavours.

Black Olive Tapenade & Artichoke Pesto

Basil and Black Olive Tapenade

Small bunch of fresh basil
50g can anchovu fillets
100g pitted black olives
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp capers
Grated zest & juice of lemon
Olive oil

Put all the ingredients in the food-processor and blitz together to a consistency to your taste. Keeps in the fridge for about a week in a screw-top or Kilner jar.

Trying the Tapenade!



The artichoke pesto was of those "handful of this, and a spoonful of that" concoctions, so I suggest you just do an Google search for your own recipe, and experiment until you find one you like.










































GREAT STORECUPBOARD FINDS No. 7

No. 7 'Brunette' praline spread

The knives are out - and in a good way. 'Brunette' is a wickedly sweet and utterly delicious hazelnut praline spread, made by upmarket bread shop and cafe chain Le Pain Quotidien. It's like Nutella - without the chocolate. And that makes it better.....

I first tried it at the Marylebone High Street branch of Le PQ, in the good old days, when I was a skinny latte girl and a lady who lunched. Marylebone High Street, just north of Oxford Street, is a long, chic street of designer fashion and designer furniture shops. At the Baker Street end is La Fromagerie, one of those uber-trendy, uber-expensive delicatessens. Le PQ occupies a nice corner plot and is a cheery, friendly place for a late breakfast/brunch, a welcome pause when one is shopping.

At Le PQ, coffee and hot chocolate comes in big bowls, a la Francaise. If it weren't so nice, it would be pretentious. The bread menu is extensive, and each table is blessed - yes, blessed - with a selection of delicious jams, preserves and spreads. The Brunette was just too intriguing to pass by and while my companion, a very slim, elegant friend of mine who never eats too much, chose some sort of cuisine minceur for her snack, I selected the hazelnut and raisin baton from the bread list. A thin, chewy, nutty stick of sourdough, neatly sliced down its centre, was the perfect foil for the charms of Brunette. You don't need much - a light slick is enough, otherwise its temple-aching sweetness will give you a migraine.

Obviously, I had to buy a jar of this "ultimate treat". The next time I visited Le PQ I noticed they had added some other spreads to the range: 'Noir', a rich, dark chocolate spread, 'Noisella' (like Nutella) and 'Blondie', white chocolate (far too sweet even for my sweet tooth!).

I have not found any uses for Brunette, other than spooning it out of the jar and straight into my mouth when I can feel my blood-sugar level dropping.