It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, due to a combination of not having eaten anywhere new recently and also just being a little bit too busy. But normal service will be resumed in the new year, I promise!
In the meantime, something a bit different as I rise to the challenge from Nicki at Cardiff Bites to take part in the ‘Food Bloggers Unplugged’ questionnaire. The idea of the challenge is to find out a little bit more about the person behind the blog, and maybe discover some other interesting food bloggers in the process. So here goes.
What, or who inspired you to start a blog?
I’ve always loved writing, and in recent years I began to like the idea of having a blog, but I always lacked inspiration on subject matter. I actually started a blog a few years ago but only got to about four posts before I ran out of ideas – and it always felt a bit too self-indulgent just to be writing my own random observations on life and expecting people to be interested in what I had to say.
Going back about ten years or so, I spent a lot of time writing on a review site and particularly enjoyed that kind of writing, as I do see myself as a bit of a critic (some would say moaner/grumpy old woman, particularly when it comes to customer service!) After a weekend away earlier in the year, I wrote a few Trip Advisor reviews of the places we’d stayed/eaten. Suddenly my ideal subject matter came to me – with food and dining out being not only a frequent pastime but also a big passion – and Love to Dine, my blog of restaurant and food reviews, was born.
Who is your foodie inspiration?
Unlike many of my fellow food bloggers, my biggest interest is eating out, rather than cooking, so with this in mind, I would have to thank my parents for taking me to nice restaurants from an early age and by doing so, teaching me to appreciate good food and good service. One of my pet hates is badly behaved children in restaurants, and this annoys me not only because it spoils the experience for other diners, but also because I think the children themselves are missing out by running around and misbehaving, rather than sitting at the table and enjoying the experience of being somewhere where they can learn to enjoy good food. If I do see a child behaving well in a restaurant, trying different food and having a good time, I think it’s wonderful, and I am glad that my parents always taught me that it was a special thing to do.
In more recent times, my boyfriend, Mr W, also helped to inspire me to the extent that I started writing my blog. He, like me, has always loved good food and loves going to good restaurants, and one of our conversations on the night we first met was about our love of food and dining. We’re forever discussing what we’ve eaten, are eating, or are going to eat, and we’re often planning our next dining expedition whilst we’re still enjoying the current one.
On a lighter note, I love reading Michael Winner’s restaurant reviews although I’m not sure I’d call him my inspiration, and I admire A A Gill’s ability to write a two page restaurant review which only actually talks about the restaurant in the last three paragraphs!
Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is?
This is a difficult one. I own loads of cook books (I know this as I’ve just packed two boxes full ready to move house!), but I don’t actually cook very regularly at the moment, as I live alone, work long hours and travel a lot, so I only really cook when it’s for other people. Add to that the fact that Mr W and I eat out an awful lot, I’m not often found poring over a cook book. Even if I do cook, it’s rare for me to faithfully reproduce a recipe. My preference is to read cook books at my leisure, get some inspiration, and then make something up myself which is loosely based on one or more of the recipes I’ve read. I also often look at the BBC Food recipes archive as it’s so easy to search and find something using the ingredients you have in mind.
Saying that, there are a few that I regularly refer to. I wasn’t a very confident cook for a long time, but when I left home my Mum bought me a copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course, which she had used a lot over the years herself, and has been invaluable to me. I still regularly refer to it now for foolproof techniques to rustle up some of the basics. At the other end of the spectrum is The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, which a friend bought me for my birthday earlier in the year. It’s not a recipe book, but rather a treasure trove of inspiration on pairing different foods and flavours together. It’s great if, like me, your cooking tends to be a bit experimental, or indeed based around whatever you happen to have in the cupboards at the time plus something from the spice rack!
In the New Year, I shall no longer be living alone, and I’m going to be cooking a lot more, which I’m really looking forward to – and who knows, I might end up extending my blog to cover my home cooking adventures as well as my restaurant-based writings. I’ve had a couple of early Christmas presents in the form of The French Brasserie Cookbook by Daniel Galmiche and Zhoozsh by Jeremy and Jacqui Mansfield (from relatives in South Africa) – both of which look fantastic, so I am looking forward to trying them.
Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
A couple of years ago now I was lucky enough to get a place on a European management development programme, which took place in various locations across Europe in a number of Chateauform venues. Chateauform are conference centres, but they’re run on a more informal basis than normal conferencing facilities, with an open bar (yay!) and, more importantly, a highly skilled chef on site who produces fantastic meals three times a day, plus snacks, ensuring that all course participants go home at the end of the week with their clothes a little bit tighter than when they arrived.
During the time I was on the course, I had some fantastic meals at the different places we stayed in, but the one thing that I always come back to whenever I’m talking about it is the wonderful Spanish ham croquetas that seemed to be available on tap when I was in Girona. They’d probably be my desert island food if I had to choose one.
Another food blogger’s table you’d like to eat at is?
Any of my fellow Cardiff-based food bloggers would be lovely. I’m moving there permanently in a couple of weeks’ time, after it being my weekend home for nearly two years, and would love to meet and eat with some fellow foodies!
What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
I’d love some Le Creuset cookware – a big casserole dish but also some of the smaller pots as I think they’re really cute! Also, someone was telling me last week about a friend of theirs who has just had a new kitchen put in which has not one but two dishwashers. This means they never have to empty the dishwasher, they just take the clean stuff straight out when they need it, use it, then put it into the other dishwasher to clean. This sounds like heaven to me!
Who taught you how to cook?
Me! Although my mother is an excellent cook (I’ve honestly never known her have any kind of kitchen disaster!) I never had much of an interest in cooking as a child or teenager, and when I first moved out of home, the extent of my culinary expertise was pasta and sauce! It was only a while after that when I started living on my own, in a flat with a nice big kitchen that I started experimenting, and now I’m pretty good. There have been (and still sometimes are!) occasional culinary disasters along the way, but when you’re the only person that sees/tastes the results, it doesn’t matter, and you can learn from it and move on!
I’m coming to you for dinner. What’s your signature dish?
If I’m cooking for friends, I find that simple dishes done really well are always crowd pleasers, even if it’s something as (so-say) simple as a Bolognese or a chilli – it’s surprising how well these sorts of things go down once people know they’re done from scratch (and even more surprising how many people use sauces from packets and jars!) At the moment, if I was cooking for friends, I’d make a beef in red wine casserole, with baby carrots, onions and mushrooms casseroled in with the beef, served with buttered green beans and creamy mustard mash. After that, for pudding, I’d do something light and easy, like a lime cheesecake.
What is your guilty food pleasure?
I’m struggling with this one as I don’t think there’s anything I regularly eat that would fall into this category. I dislike anything processed and would never choose to eat fast food. I do have an addiction to the chocolate brownies they’ve recently reintroduced in Costa Coffee, and could eat one of those with a skinny latte every day, given the choice (and given a forgiving metabolism, which unfortunately I haven’t been!) I am aware of the irony of ordering a skinny latte with a slab of cake but I actually don’t like full cream milk so it’s for taste, rather than health conscious reasons.
Other than that, it’s more that I eat weird combinations of food, or things that are not really meals – again, a result of living on my own for a long time. Sometimes I’ll get a pot of hummus (sweet chilli or caramelised onion), chop up a pepper and half a cucumber and just spend the evening dipping instead of having a ‘proper’ dinner.
Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
I was vegetarian for about 15 years. I started eating meat and fish again about four and a half years ago now after I realised it had become more of a habit than a matter of principle or taste, and haven’t looked back – I’ll now try pretty much anything.
So the next 5 nominees to do this are:
- Helen from Fuss Free Flavours
- Rebecca from Fasting Foodie
- Tweeter Cardiff from Eats for Wales
- Nikki from Your Last Mouthful
- Bill from Local and Great
Will they accept the challenge?