Thursday 10/3/2005

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Diary and Notes

No ranting today, just food, food and more food - and things concerned with food, like where to buy food.

Those of you with a more snooty disposition (and more cash) will inevitably be buying all your vegetables straight from the organic farmer and all your meat at an organic butchers. Your fish will be be purchased by a servant who trots off down to the quayside to bargain with the local fishermen and your personal herd of hand reared organic dairy cattle will provide your milk (your cheese is shipped in from France, Italy and various parts of the British isles in a humidity controlled refigerated van). I, sadly, am but a lowly piece of dirt stuck to the bottom of the social ladder and as such am forced to buy my food in Exeter high street (and the surrounding area). This limits my shopping power somewhat as I have only two fruit & veg shops (neither very good, nor selling anything unsual or exciting), two butchers' shops (one quite good but pricey, the other only selling pre packed giant meat selections), a very pricey fishmongers that only opens three days a week, a fantastic deli which specialises in the cheeses of Devon and Cornwall, a very small Tesco, a sightly less small Sainsbury's, a miniscule Marks & Spencer food hall and an average sized Somerfield - oh and of course R.L.Hira, the greatest shop in all of Exeter (the Indian grocer who I would like to be voted in as mayor).

This sounds like a fair selection but yesterday's meal of Hoppin' John wasn't right as I couldn't find any ham hocks and had to make do without my pork bone juiciness. Today I got an email from a fellow food enthusiast, Cath*, in Wolverhampton, saying that Morrisons sell them all the time and that's what today's little article is about - where can I buy...?

When I first got back from Germany I wanted to cook something with white pepper (it's particularly good with fish and chinese food) but couldn't find it anywhere. Sainsbury's don't sell it, nor do Tesco - it's just not fashionable anymore. I eventually bought some from Somerfield. Over Christmas, to make the hot watercrust pastry for my pork pie, I looked everywhere for lard with no luck, but saw some the other day in Marks and Spencer! Waitrose does a good range of fresh herbs but there isn't one in Exeter so I have to make do with what I can find in Sainsbury's who have the best selection here.

If you want to buy certain things you have to know where to shop and it isn't always where you'd expect. Take baby clams for instance, where can you buy a can of baby clams for a nice pasta dish? Sainsbury's or M&S would be the obvious choice but no luck there. Tescos? No chance. The only place that sells them (and has always sold them) is Somerfield. I've no idea if the regular Somerfield shopper is big on clams but they always have them in stock and although they seem to have gone up in price 35% this year (last year they were 99p now they're 1.35) they are still an absolute delight. Somerfield also sell neck fillet of lamb, being the only place in Exeter (including the butchers shops) where you can buy this fantastic cut of meat. If you want the best steak for a barbecue, rib eye, you have to go to Morrisons (or what used to be Safeways). Tescos are best for duck, Lidls do the best pasta and beer, M&S are superb for wine and emergency chicken/beef/vegetable stock and R.L.Hira is best for the weird things that make living in a multicultural society a joy.

So what's my point?

If you always shop at the same place you can't get everything you want. People who trot off once a week in their people carrier to a giant superstore miss out on the variety that is available. It doesn't matter how huge the shop you go to, if you only go to one, there will still be things you can't get. If you want a fore-rib of beef (the best roasting beef bar none) or some really good sausages you have to go to a butcher. If you want chapatti flour you wont find it in any supermarket - but then if you buy your tomato puree where you buy your chapatti flour you'll be paying through the nose. Also, if you shop around you begin to see the range of bargains on offer. There are thousands of people who live almost exclusively on the various bogof (buy one get one free) offers from the various supermarkets and it's worth going to every supermarket once every few weeks to see what's on offer - yep, I may sound like Mr Scrooge but it's not a bad idea, I may not be a rich man but I damn well eat like one - and don't underrate the specialist shops as well. A good deli, fishmongers etc... are essentials for a good life.

So I went to Somerfield to buy some baby clams and some neck fillet. I knew they'd have them and I knew that nowhere else would. Today I cooked a truly excellent lamb dish (using the pickled lemons I bought in Sainsbury's two weeks ago) which is well worth making - quite superb indeed, if I were having a dinner party this might be on the menu. But the only way this dish was possible is beacuse I didn't do all my shopping in one place. I like food shopping, I like to see what's available and think about what I'm going to cook while I wander around. Maybe I just have too much time on my hands - but I do have some excellent North African style lamb in my belly too.

*Some time ago Cath sent me a great recipe for pork chops with apple and stuffing - almost exactly the same as my Tetbury Pie concoction (though before I did my Tetbury pie) demonstrating that no one has ownership of a good idea, they are just products of their time.

Cake Blog

Treacle tart: The very thought brings back bad memories - imagine what the taste did.


  • Baked lamb fillet with pickled lemons
  • Couscous with dried fruit and coriander
  • Tomato and olive salad


  • Lamb: Lamb neck fillet, olive oil, lemon juice, pickled lemons, green chillis, green peppers, onions, garlic, cumin, cinammon, salt, black pepper.
  • Couscous: Couscous (instant), dried figs, sultanas, fresh coriander, black pepper, lemon juice.


  • Mince the garlic. Marinade the lamb in the garlic, a little cumin, some cinammon and lemon juice for about 1/2 an hour. Heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the lamb to sear it all over - place on some foil. Finely slice the chillis (seeded), green pepper and onions and fry these for a minute to soften them. Place on the lamb. Slice some pickled North African lemons and put on the lamb, season, wrap in foil and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. The lamb should still be a bit pink inside if you're lucky and the timing is right.
  • Chop some dried figs, mix with the dry couscous and some sultanas, pour over boiling water and stir. Leave to stand (covered) for a few minutes then stir in some fresh coriander and fresh lemon juice. Season and leave a minute or two more to let the sultanas and figs plump up.