Tag Archives: soup

Vin et Fromage – stretching my blogging legs

So. After four months of exam-and-frolic-based neglect, I decided it’s about time I resurrected my poor dusty blog before it got relegated to the back of the shelf like an out-of-date packet of cup-a-soup.

It wasn’t an entirely unprompted decision – as usual, it had something to do with cheese, and quite a lot to do with coffee.

Last week, I reluctantly returned from France. The reluctance was twofold. Firstly, it was a 4am ferry, so every follicle and molecule was urging me to sleep. But secondly, and much more importantly, I was leaving behind not so much the land of milk and honey, as the land of wine and cheese, where each day was spent in the warm embrace of a soft chevre, a speciality of the Loire Valley, and a glass of cool red.

Coming back to the wonders of a Shell garage somewhere on the M4 didn’t really help. Somehow we’d swapped cafes selling salads which sang with yesterday’s plastic sandwiches, glowing with E numbers.

It’s not as cheap now anymore, of course, and skipping round a supermarket knocking about 2 euros off the prices is a thing of the past. Plus now Milka and Mikados are available in the UK, part of the joy I always used to have on school exchanges has gone.

But – the coffee! No more decaf-half-fat-frappe-latte-milkshakes masquerading as coffee – in France, it’s either white, or black, small or big, in delicate cups. Strong and smooth, it goes hand in hand with a ladylike glass of Stella (no wifebeater jokes here) and should send shivers of fear through Starbucks.

And I’d forgotten about the bread. Forgotten how a 70 cent baguette from the baker’s in the square manages to be better than the poshest, posing-as-artisan bread here. The crust crispy but chewy, the inside white, fluffy, verging on sourdough as it stretches gently when you pull it apart.

And of course bread, and a jug of water, come with everything, almost without asking. And salads aren’t relegated to the bottom of the menu and doused in Caesar dressing – they are bright and bold, with delicate vinaigrettes, sizzling lardons, molten cheese, generous slices of cured ham…

They cost virtually nothing in labour, and at 8 euros is probably a bit cheeky, but it’s so much nicer to see maybe three or four salads on a menu, with perhaps a quiche and a croque, than a whole litany of ‘and chips’, chosen by the not-so-discerning hands of the freezer and microwave.

But the most striking thing of all were the two lonely shelves in the supermarket selling British food. I will defend custard and HP and Marmite and all the rest to the hilt, but Loyd Grossman, really? And Batchelors’ Pasta ‘n’ Sauce? And Tiptree jam at four times the price of rhubarb Bonne Maman?

Is dried pasta in powder really the best we can do?

Of course not. But good food is taken for granted in France – it’s still a 50/50 gamble here.

Commonplace rant over. I’m going to go and bake a (frozen) pain au chocolat, and pretend I’m not really in Suffolk.

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Goat’s cheese and galettes – Madame Fromage review

Madame Fromage is the kind of restaurant a small, malicious part of you doesn’t want to live up to the hype. Homemade pies, locally-sourced food, a deli you can drool over as you wait for your lunch to be prepared – it ticks too many boxes.

Unfortunately for my malicious side, at the third time of trying, Madame Fromage has yet to disappoint.

Tucked away in Castle Arcade, this famous Cardiff haunt combines Welsh classics like bara brith and lamb cawl with French-influenced galettes and traditional rib-sticking comfort food.

Part-deli, part-cafe, you’re greeted by a table piled high with freshly-baked bread and a deli counter filled with an impossible choice of cheese when you first walk in. The scent of homecooking and garlic more than makes up for the fairly limited seating area, tucked just inside the deli itself.

The menu is huge, but only because the range of ingredients on offer is so broad. Last time I visited, my friend waxed lyrical and loud about her galette (a savoury crepe) filled with melting goat’s cheese and homemade red onion marmalade, so this time round, after much deliberating, I followed suit and went for one with chilli cheese and chorizo.

The wait seemed interminable, not because of poor service but because in the closely-confined space you are surrounded on all sides by gorgeous food and It’s impossible not to stare.

When it finally arrived, my galette was light and crispy at the edges, little more than a vehicle for the cheese which oozed out at the first cut. The chilli and firm, meaty chorizo cut through the richness perfectly, and a generous side salad doused with balsamic vinaigrette stopped the cheese from being too overpowering.

My friend’s lamb cawl was a bowl full of goodness, tender chunks of lamb and winter vegetables in an aromatic broth, served with huge chunks of fresh bread from sundried tomato to wholemeal.

Despite homemade chocolate fondant, brownies and cheesecake tempting us from the counter, we were too full even to consider dessert.

It’s slightly pricey for a cafe – the baguettes jump from £3.50 to £6.50 if you choose to eat in – but it’s an ideal weekend treat, especially for cheese lovers.

Reposted on Capture Cardiff

Soup for Snowy Souls

January is a miserable month. Grey, invariably; long, always. Full of broken promises and failed good intentions, food-induced lethargy and unused gym memberships. Even the coldest, darkest day of December is cheered by the twinkle of fairy lights and the anticipation of Christmas. In January, it’s a long hard slog to pancake day before any festival brightens the gloom.

The grey has been lifted by a dusting of snow, but it’s still a month in which my body’s natural reaction is to hibernate in a mismatched selection of jumpers, fluffy socks and scarves. New Year’s resolutions bewilder and bemuse me – how can I hope to motivate myself when I’m wrapped in several layers of wool and post-Christmas chocolate? As Robert Crampton wrote in a – sadly now unfindable –  column,  September is the real new year, when tanned (perhaps),  relaxed (a little) and armed with glossy new stationery we can take on the world.

Enough moaning. In the absence of an inspiring resolution, I have a culinary cure for the woes of January – soup.

I cannot hope to better Nigel Slater‘s description in The Kitchen Diaries:

“I have always loved the first day of the year. A day ringing with promise.  I have a tradition of making soup on New Year’s Day, too: green lentil, potato and Parmesan, noodle broth and this year red lentil and pumpkin. It is a warm ochre soup, soothing yet capable of releasing a slow build up of heat from its base notes of garlic, chilli and ginger, a bowl of soup that both whips and kisses.”

But this being Horseradish on Toast in lazy slumbering January, my soup of choice is straight out of the tin: humble, maligned, old-fashioned Heinz Cream of Tomato.

This year it will have been around for a century. It has survived (and played a part in) two world wars, the ebb and flow of foodie fashion and, most recently, the growth of the New Covent Garden Food Co. and its ilk (even Marco Pierre White has jumped on the fresh soup bandwagon).

Tomato and basil pretenders should give up gracefully. Yes, they bear a much closer resemblance to the original tomato, but that’s not the point. Heinz tomato soup owes its popularity to its creaminess and rich, indefinable edge, and most of all to the sense of nostalgia it conjures. Soup to eat when you’re ill, soup to eat and splash onto every possible white surface when you’re little, soup to nourish and calm when the very thought of cooking is too much.

Doused in Tabasco and black pepper, it has singlehandedly tugged me through the revision and colds and hangovers and tight budgets of studenthood. It simultaneously manages to fortify and cleanse, simple and bright after too much stodge and turkey.

It’s food for weary chilled souls. Come in from the snow, wrap yourself in a slanket (if you must) and curl up with a bowl of soup. Only two months to hibernate until spring.