Forman and Field Christmas hamper

You’ll have noticed that posts at Gastronomy Domine have been a bit thin over the last couple of months. That’s because I’ve gone from a very pleasant part-time freelance lifestyle to volunteering considerably more than full-time for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, so meals out and recipe development have had to take a back seat.

Raspberry Pi is a educational charity set up by my husband, Eben (who most of you know as Dr W). Its aim is to democratise computing for people who can’t currently afford to own a PC, and to promote the study of computer science in schools, by producing a very tiny computer for very little money. We’ve come up with a Linux PC the size of a credit card which will cost around £15, which we should be launching by Christmas. There’s been press interest from Ukraine to Brazil; we’ve been on the TV and in the papers in the UK, have spent a few weeks on the conference circuit in America, and seem unlikely to get much sleep until we launch in December. Gastronomy Domine will be back to normal in early 2012, by which time the charity should be generating some money for itself so I can hand my work over to a paid employee. If you really can’t stand not reading me witter on before then, drop into the forums or visit the Raspberry Pi blog.

Back to the food stuff.

Opening hamper
Opening a hamper from Forman and Field with some help from Mooncake the cat, who seems unnaturally attracted to the smoked salmon

I got back from the US a couple of weeks ago, after a month of prattling on about computers. The jet lag after a month of gorgeous sunshine eight time zones away is something to behold. I wasn’t safe around knifes or saucepans, so it was a very great relief that Forman and Field had decided to send me a Christmas hamper to review a few days after my return. I’ve been stealthily working my way through it ever since: this was a generous and carefully selected set of gourmet bits and bobs, which really deserved some time to be taken over sampling it.

Forman and Field specialise in top-notch foods from independent producers all over the UK.  You might have come across their smoked salmon before, which is sold at Waitrose and really stands out against the competition. The London Cure in particular is really worth your time. It’s cured in much less salt than many smoked salmons, with a less dense smoke to it, all to showcase the taste of the fish itself. There was a handsome packet in here, with a soft flavour and firm bite, alongside a pack of wild salmon, smokier, richer and creamier than the London Cure. There’s no better way to eat this than on lightly buttered slices of rye bread.

More hamper contents
Ham, pork pie, lemon curd, lobster, cakes, and some mince pies hiding under the wood shavings

Potted lobster in a pretty little Kilner jar was the only thing in the box I wasn’t able to eat (anaphylaxis is nobody’s idea of fun, and while I do carry an adrenaline injector for allergic emergencies, I try to go out of my way not to have to use it). Dr W, though, pronounced it just the ticket; a little like potted shrimp but sweeter and juicier. Take it out of the fridge a couple of hours before you serve it at room temperature so the butter can melt into hot toast.

Alderton ham from Nottinghamshire is carved off the bone, and glazed with marmalade. I made sandwiches with it and some of the British cheeses from Neal’s Yard in the hamper: a Colton Basset Stilton, which is one of my favourite cheeses in the world; some of Mrs Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire cheese; an unidentified Cheddar; and a bit of Caerphilly. That Colton Basset is stupendous on its own, but you can raise it to positive divinity by bringing it to room temperature and drizzling a little runny honey over it before you eat it with some crusty bread. An just in case that wasn’t enough on the savoury side, there was a handsome great pork pie from Mrs King’s in waxed paper, made to the same recipe since 1853.

It’s Christmas soon, so a little Christmas pudding and some mince pies were right at the top of the package. The pudding is the only thing I haven’t eaten yet. I’m saving it for December. Mince pies came with a lovely buttery, crumbly pastry and a mincemeat sharp with brandy. I ate them as a midnight snack with a hot buttered rum. A chocolate brownie cake and banana bread made breakfast in bed for the two of us on two weekend mornings, and the little Kilner jar of lemon curd was just right for elevenses on toast with a nice hot cup of tea.

I’d reached the bottom of the hamper, but for a box of impossibly glossy chocolates from Paul Wayne Gregory. Now. For my posh chocolate needs in the UK, I usually turn to l’Artisan du Chocolat, but three chocolates into the box I was swearing undying loyalty to Paul Wayne Gregory, and by the end of the box I was both feeling sick and wondering if he’d be interested in a bigamous marriage. I still can’t decide whether I’d like the last thing I ever eat to be one of his salted caramel chocolates, the passionfruit one or the popping candy one. These aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny, and then some.

Paul Wayne Gregory chocolates
Paul Wayne Gregory chocolates. Be still, my beating heart.

Forman and Field hit it out of the park with this hamper. There wasn’t a single dud in there. Every item in the hamper was something I’d consider ordering off my own bat. And there is nothing nicer than opening up a beautiful wicker box like this to rummage through on the living room floor, finding surprise after surprise. If there is a greedy somebody you love very much this Christmas, I can’t  think of a better present. The hampers are packaged with ice and insulation, so they arrive fridge-cold. Last orders for Christmas at Forman and Field’s website are on Saturday 10 December, with last deliveries on Friday 23. To celebrate the launch of their new website, they’re offering readers £5 P&P until the end of November.

A word of caution. Forman and Field use the Royal Mail as couriers, and last Christmas, when we had all that snow, the Royal Mail managed to lose a Pugh’s Piglets porchetta we’d ordered from them, only to deliver it a week or so later, smelling exactly like you imagine a porchetta that’s been sitting in a van for a week probably smells; they also delivered some Forman and Field foie gras and smoked eel to my lovely Mum several days late, which meant they missed the Christmas Eve gathering they were intended to feed. Probably down to the weather, but it made our Christmas run less smoothly than it should have done. At least they don’t use the Home Delivery Network.

A wedding reading

It’s been a very busy month and a bit, and I’ve been taking a bit of time away from this blog to recharge the batteries. I don’t want to bore you with wittering on about the psychology of blogging, but six years’ regular blogging top of some fairly exhausting stuff at home left me feeling a bit…drained.

I spent part of this month in Spain (where I very deliberately avoided taking ANY photographs of food, and didn’t take a SINGLE note about what I was eating – it was bliss, I tell you), where my fantastic little brother Ben was marrying the lovely Katie. Here they are, in a photograph rudely stolen from my aunt Kathy. (Sorry, Kath!)

Ben and Katie's first dance
Ben and Katie's first dance

Ben and Katie had asked me to give a reading at the wedding. I chose this section from the introduction of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s advice that works admirably for the management of relationships as well as kitchens.

Pay close attention to what you are doing while you work, for precision in small details can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food. If a recipe says, “cover casserole and regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly,” “heat the butter until its foam begins to subside,” or “beat the hot sauce into the egg yolks by driblets,” follow it. You may be slow and clumsy at first, but with practice you will pick up speed and style.

Allow yourself plenty of time. Most dishes can be assembled, or started, or partially cooked in advance. If you are not an old campaigner, do not plan more than one long or complicated recipe for a meal or you will wear yourself out and derive no pleasure from your efforts.

If food is to be baked or broiled, be sure your oven is hot before the dish goes in. Otherwise soufflés will not rise, pie crusts will collapse, and gratinéed dishes will overcook before they brown.

A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls, and equipment you need, but soak them in water as soon as you are through with them. Clean up after yourself frequently to avoid confusion.

Train yourself to use your hands and fingers; they are wonderful instruments. Train yourself to handle hot foods; this will save time. Keep your knives sharp.

Above all, have a good time.

Congratulations to the pair of you. And for everybody else, normal blogging has now resumed.

Hack hack cough

A short post to let you all know I’m not dead – I’ve just been stuck without much of a sense of smell or taste for a week and a half now (much of that time spent sweating, choking and swearing in bed), having caught some incredibly virulent and unpleasant thing from one of the unhygienic souls I was sharing a plane with back from New York.

Normal service will, I hope, resume later this week, but for now I’m huddling in a dressing gown and necking Covonia.

Jolly merry holly berry

Christmas garden
Fervently hoping the snow doesn't get any deeper than this.

I’m off doing a festive round of family visits until the New Year. Deliveries in the snow allowing, we’re feasting on foie gras and smoked eel with Mum and Dad on Christmas Eve, roasting a goose on the day itself, and plan on making a trip to the Freemason’s Country Inn in Wiswell, one of my favourite new-to-me restaurants from 2010, with my splendid in-laws. I expect to return in 2011 several pounds heavier.

If you’re after last-minute Christmas recipes, check out the posts tagged with Christmas in these parts. Have a splendid Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hannukah or Winterval – see you next year.

A secret wine tasting

I’m off on my summer holidays tomorrow – I’m headed back to Las Vegas and Utah for a mixture of hiking (to keep the pounds off) and restaurant crawling (to put them back on again). I may post a few pictures while I’m away, but I’m planning on spending most of the next fortnight well away from any computers.

Box wine
Andrew Barrow, a man so sophisticated that he is unable to penetrate a wine box without the instruction manual.

In the meantime, I leave you with some pictures from Andrew’s Really Secret Event. Note the acronym – Andrew seemed awfully pleased about it, and it would be churlish not to draw your attention to it. This was a wine tasting on Coombe Hill in Buckinghamshire, which you may have noticed me tweeting from a couple of weeks back. Andrew Barrow, annoyingly good photographer, proprietor of Spittoon and a proper gent despite the tendency to humorous acronyms, marshalled a sundry group of bloggers (Eat Like A Girl, Simply Splendiferous, Supermarket Wine Reviews, Wine Sleuth, Cook Sister, Wine Woman and Song and Wine Passionista – all worth a click if your Friday becomes too much like hard work) and marched us up to the top of a hill. A very steep hill, not made any better by the fact that Andrew got lost on the way to the top – how do you get lost on the way to the top of a hill? – and ended up trailing a line of terrified bloggers through a dark and boggy wood, all of us convinced that he was about to turn on us with a shotgun and subject us to some sort of Shallow Grave-style performance art.

Booze bloggers
The reason everyone looks so serious is that we're all worrying about having to wee in a bush.

Happily for readers of food and wine blogs everywhere, we survived and made it to the top, where Andrew and a group of friends had set up gazebos, laid out a huge picnic, and, most importantly, prepared a blind tasting, courtesy of Nick from Bordeaux Uncovered. My favourite wine of the afternoon was the Champagne Barnaut Seconde-Collard Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, with a lovely toasty nose and a crazily low price, coming in at less than £20 a bottle.

Liz Upton
Yours truly, smug and cheerful having successfully navigated the prickles in the toilet bush. (Gorse. Lousy choice for a toilet bush.)
Surely this takes the prize for 2010's best wine tasting view.

A lovely afternoon, with some great company. Only one request, Andrew – next time you do one of these, can we please go somewhere with a toilet?


A quick and dirty picture post today; having spend the weekend doing the tourist thing, I’m spending the day battling with Beijing tailors, braving traditional foot massages and eating congee while Dr W is whisked around a dairy and a pharmaceutical company. (Rather him than me.) We’re staying at the gargantuan (it’s the largest Marriott outside the US) and very plushy Marriott City Wall, which has a superb Chinese restaurant charging prices which seem more London than Beijing, where I’ve been gorging on dim sum. I’m on the hunt for the perfect Beijing duck, which, if everything works out and I manage to avoid accidentally booking one of those cultural show places with no Chinese people in it, I’ll post about later in the week.

Incidentally, if you’re one of my Twitter followers, you’ll find me uncharacteristically quiet this week. The Great Firewall blocks access to Twitter (and to every Twitter client I’ve tried), so I’m not able to update.

Photography is tricky here in the city, because of the smog which hangs over the city and does very peculiar things to the light – it’s useless trying to take pictures with any depth of field because the haze turns everything yellow and blurred. Here, anyway, are three holiday snaps to keep you entertained until I can write about some of the eating we’re doing.

Inside the Forbidden City
Inside the Forbidden City
Forbidden City doorway


Great Wall
Great Wall

Polpo, Soho, London

Small bites at Polpo
Small bites at Polpo

Inevitably, it took longer than I was hoping, but after a few days of PHP and Python hell, we’ve moved the platform Gastronomy Domine is published on. You’ll still notice some peculiarities today – internal links will still point you at the old template. We’re hoping to get redirects put in overnight, so things should be (ha!) seamless when you check in tomorrow. Many, many thanks to Dr W, without whom and all that. I am typing this one-handed while crossing all the fingers of the other and simultaneously touching wood, but everything (pictures, comments, tags, links) should be working now. Today I’ll be working on the template, so what you see at the moment is probably not the way the blog will look when I’m done.

I’m new to WordPress, and I’m still feeling my way around a bit. I’m also only able to check the appearance of the blog on the monitors I have in the house, so if you see anything odd, I’d really appreciate it if you could email me at or leave a comment to let me know.

White bean bruschetta
White bean bruschetta

Meanwhile, here are some photos from Polpo (follow the link for menus and booking details), a Soho restaurant doing bacaro, a kind of Venetian tapas, which I visited with the spiffily dressed Douglas from Intoxicating Prose – always a very enjoyable person to shout at about food, who is much worse at reading maps than is natural. Polpo is spackled fashionably across UK magazines and newspapers at the moment, and was packed with the beautiful and famous on the Monday afternoon when we visited, but I detect a spot of Emperor’s-New-Clothes-ness about the place. The food is, as you can see, very pretty, but it’s unsubtle and a bit two-dimensional in flavour. The tapenade spooned carefully onto my halved egg turned out to be a big minced olive, without any additional spiking with zest, garlic or anything else; puréed white beans on crostini were singing out for a squirt of lemon. Seasoning is heavy, encouraging you to apply yourself to the drinks menu, and the larger dishes were jolly, but not particularly memorable. Cuttlefish in its ink was gloppy, rich and tender, but salted so densely we couldn’t finish the dish. The pork belly with hazelnuts and radicchio was my favourite of the ten or so dishes we sampled, and it’s good to see endive, radicchio and drinks like Apero and Campari get such a showing on the menu; that bitter quadrant of the mouth doesn’t get the exploration it deserves on many menus in the UK, even Italian ones. Still – these days, you’d be shocked to find a London restaurant that didn’t offer a good pork belly prep. And generous applications of cream and chocolate didn’t disguise the fact that the fat our pastry discs were fried in for dessert had been on the go for far longer than it should have been, and tasted stale and elderly. (Admittedly, we arrived right at the end of the lunch period, but still.) Three cheers for the belly, three boos for the tapenade and the contents of the deep-fryer.

Cuttlefish in its own ink
Cuttlefish in its own ink

My sense is that since a bacaro is such an unusual thing in London, and since little, sharing plates are such a good thing to do enjoy with friends, Polpo’s success will continue irrespective of any niggles over what’s on the plate; this is a social event more than anything else. And it’s a good spot for celeb-spotters (we recognised a few faces at the other tables); it’s also a nice reminder that your own anonymity is a very precious thing. David Mitchell, a man I find it a bit hard to look at because of his very unfortunate resemblance to an ex-boyfriend I’d rather forget all about, was doing an interview over lunch in a nearby corner. On his leaving, the entire dining room erupted in a chorus of: “Goodness. He’s much thinner than I’d expected,” and: “My. Doesn’t he have a big face?”

I left thankful of the certain knowledge that no room full of diners has ever felt the need to discuss the proportions of my head.


Blogger is stopping support for FTP blogs in a couple of months, and this blog happens to be one of them. I’m migrating the blog this week.

Hopefully, you shouldn’t experience any downtime (I’m hoping you won’t notice any difference at all). It’s a big blog, though, and there are a bazillion links and pictures that I’m going to have to check, so the work will take me a few days. There will probably be no more posts this week – hopefully service should be back to normal on Monday.


Apologies for having had such a quiet week or two, blog-wise. As frequently seems to happen at this year, I am a bit low on batteries, and I’m not feeling brilliantly creative. All should be well again in the New Year – I’m off to Morocco tomorrow for the festive season, to enjoy some lovely recharging sunshine, snail soup and shish kebabs. And a lot of things cooked in pointy earthenware pots.

In the meantime, you’re probably after some Christmas recipes. Fortunately, we have plenty of those around here. Here’s the main event – a turkey recipe which is, uncharacteristically for turkey, so good you’ll be tempted to cook it when it’s not even Christmas. It’s brined overnight, leaving it juicy and succulent (the juices will spurt when you prick the thigh to check for doneness), the flesh infused with aromatics from its night-long submersion. If there are too few of you to justify a turkey, try a roast duck with prunes and pancetta, which is just about as Christmasy as it gets with its port and cherry gravy. And here’s a really fine ham for Christmas Eve.

You’ll want some trimmings. Chipolatas wrapped in pancetta and stuffing balls always go down well, alongside some cranberry sauce and bread sauce. Try a maple-mustard glaze on your vegetables, or cook the cabbage/chestnuts side dish that’s mentioned in the duck recipe above. And nobody can say no to a crunchy spiced parsnip.

You’ve probably bought your Christmas pudding, and you already know how to make mince pies. If you want something to drink alongside them, try some hot buttered rum (but beware – you’ll inevitably drink too much, because it’s hopelessly good). This is an especially good drink for those with cold fingers and toes. Mulled wine is another fantastic loosener-upper, and you’ll find present-opening is even more fun with a glass by your side and a little plate of cherry and almond cookies.

Merry Christmas!


My RSI’s suddenly decided to flare up again – so I’ll keep this necessarily brief! Unfortunately handling a knife and typing are both causing the joint where my right index finger meets my hand to resemble a boiled sweet, so I’m taking some time away from chopping board and keyboard until it goes back down again. Hopefully things will be back to normal next week; in the meantime, if you want something to read, I’ll still be using Twitter, which is something I can do with my left hand!