"Heston's Christmas Pudding" My take on it anyway

I keep seeing reports on how amazing Heston's Christmas Pudding is and how much they sell for on ebay. In the interests of good taste, food investigation and a shameless traffic generating blog post I am creating one.

Stage one ... candied orange:
Actually I'm going to candy some mandarins ... they're quicker and, for me, they taste better for this dish.
Four mandarins, prick a dozen or so times all over and remove any stalk, trat an orange the same way.

Place in saucepan and mix roughy 250g icing sugar and 350ml water and pour over. The mandarins will float so make a cartouche to cover them ... or just use a small pan lid with a vent hole like so ...

Heat to 80-90C and leave at this heat for about 2 hours  ...
What we have now is a sticky candied fruit, slightly translucent and glossy, I added a small orange and lemon to flavour the final pudding, the liguor has a wonderful frangrance a citrus flavour so I've added some orange juice and reduced it to make a citrus sauce for the puds. I then placed the fruit in a low oven for an hour to dry the peel and 'candy' it

When the fruit has dried the lemons are more candied than the mandarins, I diced a mandarin and some lemon to add to the pudding mix

The liquor is reducing nicely on low:

Now to the pudding ...
  • 2 slices of brown bread, crust removed
  • 20g Plain Flour
  • 30g Brown sugar
  • 50g Butter
  • 1 Egg
  • 1tsp Bicarb
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp Orange marmalade
  • 2 tsp Ginger conserve
  • Diced candied orange and lemon
Blitz bread to fine crumbs before adding dry ingredients and mix.
Add other ingredients and mix for a short time with a wooden spoon.
Place several Tbsp of mix in based of a buttered pudding bowl.
Place the mandardin on top of the mix and fill around and over, till the bowl is approx 3/4 filled.

Clingfilm the top of the pudding dish and place in a baking tray with a couple of inches of water in the tray, bake in a low oven (140C) for approx 70 minutes.

The end result was spot on ... which was a relief  ... the pudding was delicous and the sauce ... oh my god the sauce was good ... toffee, citrus, bitter peel ... heaven

The fruit could be candied for longer, overnight in a low oven perhaps, personally I like it like it is with a citrus kick still ... but if I'm honest candied fruit is not high on my list of things I choose to eat ... I liked this pudding and will be making it on my cookery course this week and at home for christmas.

A few people on Twitter have asked how much ... Heston's was £13, at a rough guess this costs about £1 and 20 minutes work over a day. I won't be selling these though ... go on make it yourself ... its easy !

Burmese night at The Wild Garlic

On Friday night we held a succesful evening where I let MiMi of meemalee's kitchen take over my restaurant and cook Burmese food for the night ...

Why would I let someone take over my restaurant for a night and cook food I know nothing about ?

A question that will take a little longer than my usual twitter 140 characters to answer.

I guess the nub of my answer is the same reason 44 customers booked blindly to come and eat ... an interest in food and a different culture. I know MiMi does great food and has one of the best food blogs around (here) plus she is working on a cookbook ... hopefully she'll leave a comment with more details.

The practical ... Asian food isn't that hard to provide for a group ... its bulk rice and pots of curries, salads and cold foods ... there was a couple of dishes cooked to order but that's a whole lot less than any normal evening. Its not something I could do daily as MiMi and Simon spent two solid days on the preparation and we have hours between services to do our prep.

MiMi did a brilliant job of preparing a dozen or so dishes, about the right amounts for the customers, her and Terry plated and sent the food out well and on time for the evening.

How was the food ? ... there are some other bloggers who will describe better than I can ... lost in the larder for example, for me the food was interesting, some really good, like cinnamon chicken, and some I didn't enjoy ... I'm not going to hurry to eat century egg salad again but it was something I'm glad I tried, other customers disagreed and loved the salad.

The food is very different to most asian foods I've tried but I would choose to eat Burmese again. It has subtle flavours like Thai but light heat and spicing so very different too. The food was all very well cooked to a professional standard, by MiMi and her husband Simon who seemed to spend several days just chopping onions !

The customers, I think, felt pretty much the same, it was good food, it was mostly locals in, who block booked the restaurant within days of us deciding to host the night, for a great night out and a very different experience and we delivered that succesfully

Well done MiMi ... and good luck with your next popup !

Burmese Night at the Wild Garlic

Friday 1st October


Christophene Fritters
Gorakhar-thee Jaw

Matpe Bean Fritters
Bayar Jaw

Charred Tomato Salsa
Pun-tway Byaw


Wood-ear Mushroom and Bean-thread Vermicelli Soup
Jar-zun Hin-gah


Fish Ball Salad
Nga-pè Thoh(k)

Century Egg Salad
Say Bè-Oo Thoh(k)

Green Bean Salad
Bair-thee Thoh(k)


Cinnamon Chicken
Je(t)-thar Hin-mway

Mogok Pork Curry
We(t)-thar Hnu(t)

Tomato and Coriander Prawns
Bazuhn See-Byun

Straw Mushroom, Oyster Mushrooms, Baby Spinach
Moh Hin-Noo-Nwè

Burmese Coleslaw and Shrimp Relish
Gorbee Thoh(k), A’Ngun Jaw


Coconut Sorbet, Tapioca Milk and Brioche
Mohn(t) Le(t) Saon

Fennel and roast tomato Lasagne

One of my favourite vegetarian ingredients is Fennel. The aniseed flavour in Fennel becomes milder when it’s roasted, so I generally slow cook it in an oven before mixing with cream; this gives a lovely deep savoury flavour that can be used as the base for many dishes.
This recipe is one of my wife’s (ex-vegetarian) staple dishes when I’m away or working at the restaurant and it uses a fantastic vegetarian cheese.

(Serves 4)

800g Tomatoes on the vine
3 Fennel bulbs
100g Parmesan style cheese (we use Lyburn's 'Old Winchester' - www.lyburnfarm.co.uk)
Balsamic Vinegar
Extra Virgin Rapeseed Oil
1 packet of good quality dry lasagne pasta
300ml Double cream
Salt & pepper to taste


  • Finely slice the fennel and place in an oven tray; drizzle with rapeseed oil and a pinch of salt & pepper

  • In a separate oven tray, place the tomatoes (still on the vine); drizzle with rapeseed oil and season with 2 dessert spoons of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt & pepper

  • Place both trays in the oven for 30 minutes at 180C

  • Take out the oven tray containing the fennel; add 300ml of Double cream, mix with the fennel, and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes

  • Take out the oven tray containing the tomatoes and place them in a bowl. Remove the vine and lightly crush the tomatoes with a fork

  • Take out the oven tray containing the fennel. Grate most of the cheese onto the fennel and stir (this should make a thick cheesy sauce with a custard-like consistency. Add more cream if it's too thick)

  • To assemble the Lasagne, start with a thin layer of tomatoes, then a layer of dry Lasagne pasta followed by a layer of fennel then another layer of dry Lasagne pasta. Continue with alternate layers of tomatos, dry pasta, fennel and dry pasta. The top layer should be fennel, onto which you can grate the remaining cheese

  • Cover with foil and place in an oven for 40 minutes at 160C (remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of cooking)

  • Serve with a seasonal salad

Ham Hock Terrine

The difference between dishes I would cook at home, and those I would cook at the restaurant are twofold; firstly, the effort involved in sourcing the best ingredients (we currently use lightly smoked and cured Ham Hocks bought from local smoker, Capreolus Fine Foods); secondly, the preparation time; to make a Ham Hock Terrine takes 2 days. It's a worthwhile endeavour but as a home cook you've got to be organised to do it. This recipe is ideal if you start mid-week for a weekend dinner party, for example.
Ham Hock is a cheaper cut of meat and it's well worth sourcing a good quality joint from an independent butcher.

Serves 4

Ham Hock
1 onion
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
½ bunch Parsley
2 Gerkins
30 Capers
Small handful Hazelnuts

  • Place the Ham Hock in a large pan and add water until it is just covered, then add the roughly chopped onion, carrot and celery. Cover the pan and simmer for 3 hours
  • Take off the heat and leave it to chill
  • Remove the Ham Hock and set the pan of liquor aside. Pick the meat off and chop into small pieces, place in a bowl
  • Strain the liquor and return it to the heat on a rolling boil until it has reduced by 1/3, set aside
  • Chop the parsley, gerkins, capers and hazelnuts and mix with the meat
  • Spoon the mixture into a mould and press down gently. Add some of the liquor, then place in the fridge to set overnight

To serve, use a nice apple based chutney or homemade piccalilli (I'll do recipes for these soon)

Chocolate and Rosemary Mousse

Chocolate & Rosemary mousse

This is a simple recipe, using cream, allows us to infuse all sorts of flavours into the mousse, not just rosemary. Other alternatives could be ginger, citrus (use the zest and a little of the juice), basil, chilli etc.

We use this mousse as part of a trio of chocolates in the restaurant, along with a chocolate citrus sorbet and a white chocolate strawberry truffle ganache. Rosemary works well with the dark chocolate because, as with lamb dishes, the rosemary cuts through the richness that dark chocolate can bring. This recipe is all about the chocolate, so use a good quality dark choc; for an extra few pennies it’s worth investing in some Green & Blacks 72%

Serves 4

3 Eggs
200ml/7fl oz double cream
100g 72%(or higher) dark chocolate broken into small pieces
tbsp chopped rosemary

  • Heat the cream and chopped rosemary in a saucepan untill the cream is just too hot to touch ... don’t boil it !
  • Leave the cream to cool and infuse with the rosemary flavour, then place in fridge after 20min of cooling
  • When chilled, strain out the rosemary pieces and whip the double cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed
  • Separate the eggs and whip the whites till hard peaks form when the whisk is removed
  • Warm the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, take off the heat as soon as melted and combine with the yolks (take care not to heat too much, or the chocolate will grain or the yolks will cook) ... I know I’m making it sound difficult, but it’s easier than it sounds
  • While the chocolate mixture is still melted fold in the cream until well combined, then carefully fold in the whipped whites
  • Pour into serving dishes and chill for two hours or more. This will leave you with a strong but light dark chocolate and rosemary mousse ... delicious !

Full circle, back to New Orleans and some great food this time !

My last night on the road was back in a Motel 6, an original design version, which gave me the chance to see the difference between a bog standard and newly designed room, which I had been mostly staying in for most of the trip. This room had the bare essentials, and although the clean lines and jazzy colours were missing it was still an OK place to stay and ticked all the boxes after a long ride.

The staff though were fantastic. When I asked where it is I should eat that night, not only did they come up with a load of suggestions, they were also enthusiastic about their local food, and had gone to the trouble to try to get in contact with a local wise woman who foraged and used herbs from the landscape to come see me. It didn’t work out as I had to get back on the road early the next morning, but I appreciated the effort they had gone to.

Supper - a mile down the road – an unbelievable $10 later, but almost worth it just to chat to Daniel the taxi driver. I thought he was as mad as a rattlesnake, but had some great stories to tell. He had spent time in the army and was from a family of racehorse breeders, as well as being a bit of an expert in Tai Kwan Do, well he said so anyway – and with all those tattoos and general demeanor I certainly wasn’t going to argue.

The restaurant was empty but did have a key difference – it served vegetables! The meal was a bit topsy turvy with alligator tail starter being served ¾ way through the main course, but all was excused as the soup – a seafood bisque was absolutely stunning. One of the best dishes I’ve had since being in America. Truly stunning mix of depth, spice, fresh seafood and seasoning. I loved it.

A Po-boy in New Orleans ... basically a huge filled french bread sandwich
Leaving Alexandria a bit sad as it was the last leg of the road trip I was still looking forward to getting back to the wonderfully colourful New Orleans. This time I was determined to do it right. No more messing around in tourist restaurants that were serving half hearted slop. I was up for the real deal. Half a dozen oysters and a margarita later the friendly bar man I had plonked myself in front of had recommended half a dozen places with Bayona right at the top. Reservation made, job done.

It was as good as I had hoped. And I certainly had high hopes for this restaurant that has been rated in the top 50 in the world. Cocktail was delicious, service friendly, quirky and prompt. Food all fantastic, flavoursome with a Cajun kick to it all. Just what I had been waiting for. I didn’t take any pictures though as it seemed inappropriate in such a reserved setting. It’s all going to just have to stay in my memory – all I can say is that if you’re in the area then go. I would.  

I think I’ve written enough about New Orleans from when I first stayed there at the beginning of the trip. I did end up on Frenchman street after dinner for a quick drink to catch the end of a jazz session which was authentic and uplifting. But early to bed for me as I was off to the Big Apple the next day. A great end to a brilliant road trip that I will never forget. You’ll just have to watch this space to see which food inspirations make it back home to my café opening later this year.

Telegraph review

Was so delighted to get a great review from the Telegraph ... one of the best I've seen ... will address the limeness of my tart for next week !


Dorset restaurant guide: The Wild Garlic in Dorset

Jasper Gerard is delighted by The Wild Garlic restaurant in Dorset.

Dorset restaurant guide: The Wild Garlic in Dorset
The Wild Garlic: Simple, stunning and seasonal Photo: CHRISTOPHER JONES
Dusk is the time to descend on Puckden Wood. I walk to its heart, open my arms then breathe in lungful after lungful. The flowers of May cover the ground as extravagantly as had the falls of January's snow, and every year this great explosion of ransoms leaves me spellbound. My children are normally about as keen on walking as Pauline Prescott is after a fresh blow-dry but come May even they will down their Wiis and race to the woods. April's sweet sweep of bluebells had seemed beauty itself, until summer's white shroud. Early evening is when deer break cover and in their flight they trample the delicate flowers that could so easily be lily of the valley, and this fills the wood with a powerful aroma of garlic.
I realise that brand-wise, garlic has work to do. The marketing men would consider its pong a definite negative. Its image is down there with Ratners and New Labour while even the prettiest lips parted to reveal garlic breath will send most us recoiling faster than from a Greek bearing gilts.
But in the woods I can't get close enough to wild garlic. You would kiss this with gusto. If it weren't for its unsexy reputation Jennifer Aniston would have declared it a scent and bottled it as "Amorous: the Aroma" or "Whiff of the Wild – For Women".
So I'm delighted to see garlic being rehabilitated. A restaurant has been opened called Wild Garlic, and it's sensational. The chef is Mat Follas, the IT geek now reigning as Masterchef. And serendipitously his inspiration is Denmark's Noma, just declared the best restaurant in the world. Follas had a stint at Noma while filming Masterchef and impressed its chef, Rene Redzepi, as he did viewers. As I await a table there – Copenhagen's tourist board claims 100,000 people around the globe are in the queue – I'm intrigued to see how its ethos might work in Britain.
Noma goes way beyond the usual "local produce" mantra, avoiding even olive oil. When I interviewed Redzepi recently he spoke of sending his chefs foraging, garnering extraordinary ingredients: cloudberrys, wild beach roses, musk ox. He talks with near-religious solemnity about venturing out with "cold fingers" to pick "the first shoots of spring".
True, many British restaurants now decorate dishes with "foraged leaves" but these sometimes add about as much flavour as the cellophane packaging to a sandwich. Follas claims to employ three foragers. I'm not sure wild garlic is the greatest challenge to the forager's craft seeing as you can smell it several fields away but the name does symbolise Noma's attempt to re-connect with nature. If Heston Blumenthal is exploring the future, Noma is pioneering the past.
Beaminster is a small town with a big appetite. On a soaking midweek evening two food vans do a bustling trade while inside the simple, rustic restaurant every table has been snared. As soon as chefs acquire even the stringiest reputation they often desert to shoot some dire cookery show, but within minutes of us sitting before our rough-hewn table Follas enters the dining room. He is bearing a giant brill of proportions almost as generous as his own. Our eyes had wandered elsewhere on the brief but tempting menu but who could resist that brill? Redzepi also brings food to table, declaring there is nothing like facing customers out front to raise his game out back. Follas is rugby-tackled by another customer rhapsodising: "That's the best pigeon I've ever tasted".
I order a starter of spelt and nettle risotto with confit rabbit, and I'm tempted to do bunny hops of joy. Spelt grain makes this sturdier than conventional risotto, while pine nuts add crunchiness and nettle pesto round the edge lends intrigue. Like all Follas dishes it's perfectly seasoned, but it's the strong flavour of rabbit that wows. Faultless.
Diana tries crab pâté with cucumber and pickled dill, stunningly presented with nasturtiums and resting on chicory leaves which somehow escape bitterness and are instead young and juicy.
Unusually an amuse bouche arrives after the first course by which time our mouths are already laughing merrily. And rather than some frothy nonsense this is proper grub: smoked venison, so tender I long for it all over again.
And so to brill, arriving not so much on a plate as a giant flying saucer. There are no tricks, just consummate cooking of fine fresh fish, lifted powerfully by lemon and caper butter. Fillet of beef with – another seasonal touch – asparagus is another simple perfectly cooked winner, the only twist coming in wonderfully smoked mash.
Puddings don't win quite so many garlands. A lime tart has good texture on thin short-crust pastry and is well caramelised, but where's the lime? It tastes more like thick baked custard. Hot chocolate is better, with cream poured into the gooey middle lightening the richness.
But these are quibbles as trifling as a foraged Jack-by-the-hedge. If the burghers of every country town could enjoy a restaurant like the beaming folk of Beaminster's, we Britons would be happier bunnies.
Best of all there is nothing poncey about this place. A note on the menu states: "If you have had great service please leave a tip; if you haven't, don't." Just so.
Now when I amble over to Puckden Wood I will still be thinking of aromas – but they will be calling me back to Beaminster.
  • The Wild Garlic Restaurant, 4 The Square Beaminster, Dorset (01308 861 446)
  • Dinner for two: £84.50
  • 9/10

BBQ and smokehouses

After a breakfast of Mexican influenced cinnamon beignets stuffed with an apple sauce I was back on the road, heading to, well, I wasn’t really sure where. I knew I wanted to get lost in Texas lake country and pointed the bike in the direction of nowhere hoping for the best. Actually, I had seen that there may be the possibility of renting a cabin next to Lake Buchanan for a night, so envisaged a night spent catching up on the blog next to a moonlit lake with a beer in my hand. Long story short, it seems that in America you either stay in a mass motel and hotel center where everything is within spitting distance of each other, or…you go into the middle of nowhere and find a load of holiday homes, but nowhere to rent for the night. Lots of hotels yes, but going back to the basics in a cabin,  no. It may seem lame, but I did end up in a hotel for the night overlooking the lake I had been driving around the last hour looking for said cabin. The hotel was a 5* Marriot resort, with a pool and a spa, which I shamelessly enjoyed to the full.


Dinner was brilliant - black and blue Texas waygu sirloin perfectly cooked, Argentinean medoc and al dente asparagus resulted in me enjoying every bite. I almost didn’t want to find such a stunning meal in an international chain hotel, but really can’t find fault with the main course. The pudding came to the rescue of my preconceptions….inside-out strawberries. What do you think they are? No? Haven’t got a clue? Don’t worry, explanation follows.... Strawberries stuffed with cheesecake filling, coated with a rice crispy batter and then deep fried to perfection. They had the taste of three things I like - strawberries, cheesecake and doughnuts. But no, really, trust me on this one, no! But with an exceptional steak like that I can excuse the chef anything....almost.

Heading for Dallas the next day I was happy travelling along the roads, listening to the radio as loud as it could go. There was a bit of a side wind which kept things interesting, but hey, that’s all part of biking. 

Seeing the countryside change from scrub land with ranches dotted around through to lush trees was interesting, but most striking, driving through a hot country you really do get to smell water before you see it. Such a metallic smell that you recognise before you have even got within sight of it, its a smell that's saved many a smart biker who learns to slow down at the smell before hitting a wet patch on the road, but on this day it was so marked that it couldn't be missed, the route was long and I spent most of the day on the road, but did stop off at a smoke house in the middle of Marlborough country.

What an amazing little place this was. The owners are a married couple who have been working together cooking and smoking their meat since year dot. Mrs Smoke House rules at the stove, shoving and slicing huge slabs of meat around the place, and Mr Smoke House busies himself around her, helping his wife with whatever he can get for her, as well as serving the 6 odd tables in the place. The smells are amazing, oh, and I met the local policewoman coming out of the place, so again, a definite good sign.

Their meat was the most amazing melt in the mouth, flavoursome sumptuousness you could think of. Ribs in homemade BBQ sauce (so much more complicated in its spicing than we tend to get at home) and beef that fell apart as soon as my taste buds got to it. Seriously good. Am drooling still thinking back on it. There are some things that no chef should mess with. And this is one of them….if only I could get the recipe off them …. I can see a lot of time will be spent coming up with my own version … a few hours later, full and chilled out from my drive I arrive in Dallas dusty and dirty.

The Motel 6 I arrived at was just fab. A great pool and stunning room with individual balconies. They arn’t all as great as this one, it is near their head office, but if there was ever a flagship motel to stay in this was it. Sipping a beer, looking over the pool I was pleased with my trip so far. The ribs at the BBQ place recommended to me that night were great, as was the pulled pork sandwich. It seems Dallas has got a load of fab restaurants, but one serving a good homemade BBQ sauce is celebrated above all others. Justified too.

The next day saw me doing a monster ride. Over 300 miles with strong side winds so hot I thought I was in a hairdryer. Stopping every half hour or so for refuelling on the water that I’d lost, Alexandria seemed a long way away. Travelling over such a long distance in one day the changes in landscape were striking from rocky brush, to fulsome pine trees and then back to more bare grassland with the odd copice spattered around. Arriving in Alexandria I had crossed over back into Louisiana and alligator country. The change is almost immediate with different foods, road rules and architecture immediately apparent, the language changes too to the creole sing song accent and words and the Texan hats disappear. So long Cowboy country, hello Cajun.

Beach and San Antonio

Eating at a local restaurant on the waterfront (the only one open) I asked the waitress whether the frogs legs on the menu were local - seeing as I had heard frogs in the swamp on the way over. Frogs legs? Local? She looked at me like I was a complete idiot and said ‘Nah - they come off the back of a truck every couple of weeks’. OK then, no frogs legs for me. So I ordered what was local; oysters and shrimp. You can make up your own mind from the picture of the oysters, but all I will say is that bigger is almost certainly not always better (insert own joke here if you like). Shrimp were very good - better grilled than broiled is my tip of the day.

Chatting to my friendly waitress, who had apparently been working at the restaurant for a year, but didn’t consider herself local, I enquired as to what I could do in the area the next day. Was there any interesting activity I could do in the swamp? ‘SWAMP?! What swamp?’ she exclaimed. Urrrrr……the one pretty much over there, there, and there….a blank look came over her face and I realised I wasn’t going to get any further with my tourist information enquiries that night.


Waking up to bright blue skies the beach was the only option in my mind. Flowers all around, with lovely yellow cactus flowers. I may have looked a bit a prat though wading through the dry bush singing at the top of my voice to scare off any snakes that may have been lurking. A quick dip in the sea seemed a good idea at the time.  I did wonder why no-one else was swimming, and assumed it was an american thing -must be wooses. Until of course I came out from my refreshing dip and saw a lovely big jelly on the beech. Don’t think I would have been so happy if that one had got me in the water.

I know I should have tried some, but I didn't ...
 A long drive with endless green fields almost put me to sleep, with the odd nuclear power station dotted in between - no, sorry ‘Electric Generating Plant’ as they call them. Hmmmm, very PC I’m sure. Eventually I ended up in San Antonio - really looking forward to getting off the bike and into the shower at the Motel 6. Without meaning to sound like an ad at least I knew by now the formula and what I would be getting in the room, which was strangely comforting after the mozzie splattered walls and damp of  the night before.


San Antonio - wow, what a place! This city rocks, and I mean really rocks, mainly to the sound of trumpets played by Mexican musicians, but rocks none the less. It helps if you douse yourself with tequila, frozen margaritas and Corona beer of course. Oh, while I’m thinking about it I have to tell you about the way they serve the beer here. So far, since I’ve been in the States they’ve served the Corona with a slice of lime in it, which I would expect, but here in San Antonio, they push the lime wedge into the top and then, wait for it, sprinkle the whole of the wet bottle (it’s been sitting in a vat of ice) with salt. That’s salt sprinkled all over the top half of the bottle, including on the bit of lime, so when you push it in and take a taste there is cold cold beer, fresh lime and salt all combined. Perfect. Completely perfect after a long drive. So perfect actually that I managed to sink quite a few … and then there was the tequila …

I gorged myself on the Mexican food on offer and promptly forgot the ‘to go’ bag with the stuff I hadn’t finished in it. I think I might have had a few margaritas by that point. Oh well. The spices were fresh, the guacamole delicious and the meat cooked meltingly well. I console myself with the thought that my ‘to go’ box wouldn’t have tasted as good the next morning as it all did that night, but am not really so sure.

A bar with couples and groups of all ages dancing together to Mexican and American disco music finished the night off. I also met a lovely couple who offered for me to come stay with them any time I am next in San Antonio and I think this sums up the feeling I get from my night there. Everyone is generous, fun and willing to talk to anyone - even me. The city and its people have endeared themselves to me and I would love to return to experience more.

Heat, Houston and crazy cars

The main land consisted of a long road with pylons either side. The sea and grassland stretched for miles, with the grass so green and round in the formations it had grown in that it looked like something from telly tubby land. Passing through the small towns which had constructed forks of land into the ocean, so they had their own personal jetty, a bit like streets of houses, but instead of roads between the opposing rows of houses there was a canal.  These water streets formed the town of Bayou Villaz, which if you lived there would certainly be buying into a way of life, and not just bricks and water.

This is where the dream ride ended, as the next 20 miles were spent starting and stopping in a long series of traffic lights with vehicles either side. I am definitely a fair traffic rider and hate having to stop for lights, partly as the bike is so heavy it takes it out of you. Exhausted after a long drive I arrived at Motel 6, Houston happy to see my room was in order and one of their newly redesigned versions. This means that the old 80’sdecor has gone out the window and in its place you have a Scandinavian like sparse design with chairs the same as the ones I have in the restaurant and the biggest bed I have ever seen. Sleep certainly wasn’t going to be a problem tonight.

The morning brought more sunshine and heat with it which I hid from in a café doing a whole range of Texas breakfasts. I plumped for the eggs with grits and a side of blueberry pancakes. As I had never had grits before I wasn’t really expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by the bowl of what was basically gritty porridge. The blueberry pancakes were ok and the glass of orange juice just delicious. I was off to a good start.
 I had been told about a great place in the centre of Houston which was built as part of a new garden complex in the city.  The Grove is the brainchild of executive chef Ryan Pera, set in the middle of Discovery Green, a collection of gardens with lawn and oak trees and interactive water fountains. A charming place to spend hiding from the midday Houston sun. It really was starting to hot up, with humidity hitting the 90% mark. The Grove is different from anywhere I had yet eaten on my trip. It was fine dining but also has a stab at sustainability by growing fresh herbs on the rooftop which are used daily in the restaurant dishes. Ryan Pera is of Italian descent but born and raised in USA so wanted to create a culturally integrated menu. I decided a tasting menu was the way forwards, as that way I wouldn’t have to choose between dishes.

Brought out before me was plate after plate of wonderfully presented food, which smelled great. I started with a charcuterie board of locally made salami, chorizo and ham. It came with devilled eggs which were made from ‘yard eggs’. I eventually figured out that ‘yard eggs’ are what we call free range. This seems to be a relatively new concept in these parts and indeed when I walk around supermarkets there is only really a choice between white or brown eggs. Maybe there’s a vacancy over here for a celebrity chef to come save the chickens?!

The next course was cerviche with plantain crisps, a tricolore salad made with fresh oregano rather than basil and a salad of pink grapefruit, roasted pecans, feta cheese and leaves. This was promptly followed by pork buns, a take on the Chinese dish I think, soft shell crab served in mini fajitas and salsa and cold smoked quail with apple sauce dip.  Following that (and yes, I did take a deep breath as there was so much food) skirt steak with chips and a salsa verde with melted cheese and the other dish was hand made ravioli with fresh vegetable sauce. At this point I thought I could fit no more in, but found the desserts so appealing that I tasted a bit of each of the bread pudding,  cheesecake, chocolate tart with marmalade orange and peanut pudding. I may have got a bit blurry with my descriptions of things by this stage as was just so full.

For me the best parts of the meal were the ceviche, sweeter than the one I serve, but delicious with lots of different flavours. The salami on the charcuterie board was a winner, as were the pork buns which were sweet and yummy and the soft shell crab. The crab was my favourite dish by far, no surprises there though seeing as I love cooking crab myself. The beef dish was really good, although possibly a little bit simple, but the chef said as much himself, explaining it was an early dish on the menu but if he took it off some of his customers would object violently. I know how he feels as I have dishes like that on my menu. The ravioli deserves a mention as well, as it was adequately made, but the sauce accompanying it was fantastic as the vegetables were cooked so well they made the dish.
All in all a great meal, in a stunning setting. A brief tour of the kitchens made me envious of the amount of space they have, as well as the number of staff, but I reminded myself that The Grove is a completely different beast to The Wild Garlic. I am happy in my little kitchen in Dorset, would rather be nowhere else, as much as I enjoy seeing what other people are doing with food.

A quick walk around the park was entertaining as there were dozens of cars which had been made up as pieces of art for a festival and competition taking place the next day - a bit thing in Houston. The best one for me was The Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, a load of singing fish stuck onto a car that rise up and perform different hits, with the fish as chorus and the lobsters on the top standing up for the main verses. Very amusing. But really they were all brilliant and I couldn’t stop taking pictures, so there are quite a few on the blog. I couldn’t help myself!

The end of a great day in Houston for me, and I set to the roads in the afternoon, hoping to get to the coast. Unfortunately, everyone else in Houston was also leaving at the same time as me and add to that a four lane going down to a one I was stuck in the hottest day so far on the Harley hardly moving in traffic. It got so hot that my boots melted and I was trying to follow in the shadow of trucks to help cool the engine down. This didn’t work though and I was afraid the whole bike was going to blow (yes an exaggeration, but trust me, you would have though the same if you’d been there), so pulled into a gas station for a rest and refuelling of my fluids.

After a long drive which did eventually get cooler I made my way towards Mateador country. This was just a finger on map job, and I didn’t have a clue what I would find when I got there. Certainly it wasn’t very touristy and when I did reach the coast came out onto a peninsular with a river on one side and water and land on the other. It was a bit of a mish mash of land and I admit to not paying too much attention as was scanning for a place to sleep. This was a night that I had decided to go off the beaten track where no Motel 6 could be found. Stopping by two fishermen who were packing up I asked if they knew of somewhere I could go. Not many suggestions later they were sucking their cheeks in and trying to hurry me up as they were in a hurry to go. They revealed that they had to get back and in their houses right this minute as the mozzies were about to come out - I was in the middle of a swamp! Oh dear, not only did I not have anywhere to stay at that point, but also no mosquito spray.

A quick U-turn took me back to the first shop I came across to buy some deet. No sooner had I put it on and come out the shop the place had turned into mozzie central. I could hardly see in front of me for the critters and became very aware that being in the middle of a swamp with no-where to stay wasn’t the best plan I had made so far. But not to worry, I sorted myself out and found a room … a bit smelly and damp but OK for the night.

TV and Texas

Wake up calls at 4.30am are never pleasant, and this one wasn’t welcome. However, it was for a TV interview on the local station and I was cooking the flounder and shrimp that I had bought the night before. So off for a pre-dawn ride with all the truckers and got to the studio just about on time, only to find that they had no pots or pans of any description. I mean zip. Motel 6, who had set up the interview had warned me that they didn’t have much and I should bring pretty much everything - the baking tray, knife, presentation plate etc. But, what I failed to manage to stuff into the back of the Harley while in Wall Mart the night before, was a frying pan, called skillet over here. One measly frying pan (or an oven) was all I needed, but no.  So a mad dash ensued with producers flying out the door to find a frying pan at 5.30 in the morning, whilst I started my interview.  I was prepped, ready and prepared for my cooking demonstration with all the ingredients before me, praying that someone would get my a frying pan in time before the camera started rolling. Literally 30 seconds before ‘on air’ was called, a frying pan was shoved into my hand and I was off. A close shave by even my standards … all terribly Masterchef last minute panic stations but hopefully I looked calm on air.

Getting back to the Studio 6 I was staying at I wanted breakfast after the eventful interview. Toast with marmite I had ‘acquired’ from the breakfast bar at the Crowne Plaza, Heathrow and a smearing of Philadelphia did the trick, but I wanted more. Rummaging in my bag I found a jar of 
Mayhew jelly - a jelly (what American’s use as jam, but it really is spreadable jelly) that I had picked up along the way. This jelly is made from the Mayhew berry - a native berry to the southern states and to be found growing naturally around, so right up my street. This was also great on toast, albeit a bit sweet, as it was catering for the American palate. I don’t mind sweet though, and was pleased I had been able to try something made from local berries. This was teamed with a huge papaya I bought the night before with the juice of a key lime squeezed over the top. Great, I was finally ready to roll and get back on the road.
Leaving Lake Charles over its huge bridge was again stunning as the sun shone down and I started to sweat in my leathers … nice.  I was off to Texas today and couldn’t wait for whatever I was going to see.  I was really getting into the bike now and relaxing into the rides, which were becoming more and more enjoyable as I saw the landscape changing around me.
Taking the long way round, down to the coast and along the Bolivar Peninsular was one of the best decisions I have made so far this trip. What a stunning ride, it was.  There were birds galore, derricks still being used and an amazing long stretch of road with the sea lapping at the sides and pelicans flying overhead. The beach on my left hand side was deserted, so parking the bike up I went for a stroll. Before I had gone 50 yards I had found samphire. Fantastic! Samphire in the States. Extremely pleased with my find I rolled on to the end of the peninsular where houses have been built on stilts.  And I don’t mean small bits of wood raised above the ground. The houses are 20 feet high off the ground, and the views would be amazing across the Gulf of Mexico, but I don’t think they did it for the views but rather the storms that come through and can cover the whole peninsular with water. This happened, but on a much bigger scale a few years ago with the hurricane, and again, as in New Orleans, you could see the remnants of houses that had been completely swept away, leaving their naked wooden legs behind. The waters were 15” high over the land … I’m not sure if the locals are brave or just mad resettling after that ! I can see why they do though and its where I’d live if I was in the area …

My grumbling stomach encouraged me to stop at what seemed to be the only open joint in town. Set off the road and looking a little ramshackle, but well loved I strolled into the kind of bar that I knew existed in America, but hadn’t yet experienced. A ‘howdy y’all’ greeted me and after my eyes got used to the change in light, I saw a long bar with stools perched up against it - most of which were taken with locals escaping the heat with an ice tea or beer. Signs were hung up all behind the bar and juke boxes and other games scattered the room. I settled myself down and ordered from the menu, after being served an ice cold beer from the attentive and charming server. 10 minutes later I had crawfish nachos, stuffed jalapeños, shrimp kisses and soft shell crab in front of me. Oh, and a bowl of green chilli salsa made from, I think, green tomatoes as a base.  The whole thing was absolutely delicious. The vegetables (yes, vegetables - pretty much the first ones I had found on a plate served to me since I had arrived) were cooked well, still with a crunch to them, which can be difficult when serving a mixture, including green and yellow courgette, which have a tendency to run to mush very easily.

Admittedly, I was hungry before I walked in, but the combination of the warm welcome I received along with the superb food and an ice cold beer meant that Tiki Bar had just served me the best meal I have had since being in America. So much so, I had to thank the owner Amanda, and have a quick picture taken with her. Everyone was charming and if I can I intend to return to the houses on stilts, where all you need to do all day is hunt for samphire, go fishing and, once you’ve had enough of the sun, have a drink at Tiki bar, before going back to cook your supper over a BBQ. Bliss.

At the end of the peninsular is a ferry, that not only is amazing for its capacity to fit two long lanes of vehicles onto its small decks but also because as you travel across to Galveston the pelicans fly in a formation next to you, occasionally veering off to crash into the sea, catching some tasty fish. An amazing sight by anyone’s standards - especially when it’s free!


Large red bottles of Tabasco on billboards started directing me to Avery Island, the home of the McIlhenny family who founded the sauce and still run the factory, long before I was near to it. This is the home of, and I am pretty sure I am right in saying this, the most famous hot pepper sauce in the world.

Travelling over train tracks and little rivers on Avery Island was very peaceful, passing the Jungle Gardens; huge trees with vines draped around them, which also provides a sanctuary for thousands of birds at certain times of year. I also discovered the Mcilhenny family own the salt mine on the island - one of the largest in America. I don’t think they’re short of cash.

Beverly (Bluerose) and me

Pulling up outside the factory it was hot. Really hot. I can see why all those little chillies like growing here. First stop was a free tour around the factory, with our asthmatic tour guide. I cant remember her name, but I do remember thinking it was a definite Faulty Towers moment as she explained that it was the chillies that caused her asthma, and so if she did have an attack as we pass through the factory to just keep going and ignore her….she would come round eventually. With that image in mind, and wary that the tour guide could keel over at any moment we started the tour. There were about 12 of us, which was just fine, and between us all I think we got the gist of what she was saying.  Moments where she lost her train of thought, or just where she was in general with the Tabasco story were soon remedied by one of us piping up, letting her know just where she had got to. A video demonstration later and I was much the wiser about Tabasco.  Enough of the learning and onto the gift shop and café.

As it happened there was a fellow Harley blogger; Beverley who was visiting with her husband on the same day. They rolled up in the most amazing machines and we happily got down to tasting the free samples in the Tabasco café.  I never knew they did things like Worcestershire sauce Tabasco, or soya sauce Tabasco, but they do! The chipolte Tabasco was particularly good, as was the sweet and spicy Tabasco.  I wasn’t completely sold on Tabasco ice cream, but hey, it wouldn’t have been the same without the experience.  The café next door also does food, so we tucked in to some nachos and sausage and beans.  It was great to be eating out in the open air with Beverley and her husband, generally talking about Harleys and the trips they had done.

Leaving Avery Island I travelled a little way inland, as Beverley had told me all the little towns along the coast had been devastated by the hurricane and were still pretty much flattened.  There wasn’t a whole load more to see on the route that I took either - the odd small bungalow houses, that seem to have grown from the original trailer, and lots and lots of flat land as far as the eye could see. A great ride that I really enjoyed, as the music was blaring and I was happily roaring along.

Approaching Lake Charles it seemed that this was more of an industrial town than I had thought. Lots of factories and industrial plants lining the lake on one side. But then you go up, up and up higher on a great bridge that gives you views across the whole city.  Stunning. I made my way to a fish shop, JT’s who stayed open late just for me, to get some flounder which I needed for the TV interview I was doing the next day. While I was in there the shrimps looked so good I had to get some for myself.  As I was staying that night in Studio 6, a variation of Motel 6, where they provide a kitchen, I thought I would cook myself a little supper, instead of eating out.  And boy, was I glad I did. The shrimp, which we would probably call giant tiger prawns were succulent and sweet and completely delicious. Cooked in a heavy sprinkling of the local Cajun spice mix, and then peeled once cooked, sucking all the juices off your hands as you go. I have found another dish to take home. 

Bridge over Bayou

Houseboat ... still occupied I think

Grain store .... dotted everywhere they are huge ... like most things in the US

Ruminations on Gumbo and coffee

Landing in New Orleans was fantastic - not just because I was able to get off the cramped plane, but because of the smells and heat that greeted me. The humidity welcomes you like a hug after the dry atmosphere in the plane and jazz music drifts through to you while smelling amazing food smells.  Great - my trip starts here.

Travelling along in an American vintage car I passed Obama and his entourage of cars just leaving New Orleans. The president of USA passing you on the road just 10 minutes after you have arrived - bet that doesn’t happen all the time. 

After dropping bags and before I crashed out I had to experience some of those New Orleans smells that greeted me for myself. Stepping out onto the streets I found myself in the middle of a tropical storm, raging around and making the streets seem like rivers. One step out from under cover and you were drenched within an instant.  It made me reflect on the hurricane and all the damage it had cause - evidence of which you can still see all around as you pass through the city.  With no brolly, I braved the downpour and made my way to Bourbon Street, which drew me in from the smells wafting out of it.  A bubbling couldron of people, jazz and cajun food rolling out and around you. With the steam coming up from the recent downpour it really was an amazing atmosphere and I found myself on the film set of Bladerunner.  Weird.

Everywhere was full!  Packed with people out of town over for Jazz Fest, finishing that night.  I found a tiny Mexican café, tables of the local police digging into their mid-shift fajitas. Seemed like the thing to do, and I ordered some myself along with stuffed jalapeños and some crazy chilli cheese stuff which turned out to be something that I wasn’t bargaining for. A gelatinous mass of plastic cheese with a load of chilli thrown in. But hey, it didn’t taste so bad with some nachos and salsa chucked on the top. What can I say - I was hungry! On to better things though - the fajitas were great and fresh calamari meant my dinner was just the ticket after a long journey from the UK

Monday morning brought with it beautiful sunshine, and even more heat! Wow, all that steam and humidity in the air, along with the sunshine beating down on you and everyone in the street nodding a G’mornin’ to ya. First things first I head off to the French Quarter, winding my way through small blocks with stunning maisonette buildings either side of me, all with balconies laden with intricate iron-work and flowers drawing me in further to one of the most beautiful parts of any city I have seen. My meanderings deliberately brought me to a trumpet player blowing out as much jazz as someone can at 9am on a Monday morning outside the Café du Monde. This colonial style building with covered open air tables is home to the most popular and celebrated coffee to be had in New Orleans, also serving a type of French doughnut that they call beignets. The star of the show was the beignets which come on a mound of icing sugar, which you dip them into as you stuff as many down as you can. These were seriously good, and I can see why there are queues out the door to eat at this place. The coffee?  Well, let’s just say, I don’t get it.

Moving on with stunning views of the Mississippi river to the right I wandered through the French market area, trying alligator on a stick and meeting the cactus lady. She didn’t seem very impressed with me when I asked if any of them were edible, so I took a picture of the tequila cactus and moved on. Stalls solely set up for selling cocktails were all around, as were people drinking the local speciality of Bloody Mary, even though it was only 11am. Well that’s the thing in New Orleans, you go with the flow. And so, with Jazz wafting through the streets I found myself drinking a local beer ‘to go’ and taking it all in.

I took a peek into a doorway with spicy Cajun wafts of steam escaping onto the street, and found myself in a different world - but one I was more familiar with; the back kitchen of a busy restaurant. Wayne, the head chef noticed me and came over to give the usual warm New Orleans greeting and we got chatting. He was in the middle of making stock for his gumbo from crawfish shells, although admitted they did bland it down for all the customers in the restaurant, as locals like him eat it mouth burning hot.

Moving on I came across a jazz street band and decided to pop into the Gumbo Pot for some lunch. This turned out to be enjoyable really only due to meeting a Quaker couple who were sitting next to me as they were visiting for the jazz festival, which they do every year, and recommended to me some places to eat that evening. The food?  Well, I tasted blackened fish, not bad, jambalaya, crawfish etouffe and gumbo, no comment.  Ok, well it was fine, but really just a stodgy mess on the plate. I was expecting more from it flavour wise and although all the spicing was in there, you could tell the kitchen wasn’t really putting much love into what they were cooking. I left disappointed, but with a recommendation for dinner that night, which gave me hope of better things to come.

Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed again. I don’t want to be down on the food I tasted, its just that’s the way things have turned out. An oyster house was the destination for that night’s food and I sat down with great expectations of the seafood to come. Half a dozen raw oysters, and half a dozen mixed cooked ones later and all I can say to you is that although they were fresh, the oysters were fed, so were very plump and tasted of flour.  The mixed cooked ones were better, I admit, but using frozen spinach and plastic cheese is always going to taint the taste of any dish. This hasn’t put me off though, it has made me want to start cooking oysters rockafella and other delicious variations properly myself, and done well, with the fantastic local oysters in UK, I will be onto a winner.

A stroll through the red light section of Bourbon street, past the jazz halls and clubs took me to Lafette (I may have got that wrong), the oldest drinking house in New Orleans. There I soaked up the sounds of a pianist with americans crowded around him, all singing and chatting happily to each other, along with a beer in my hand and found I was content to be there, but in need of sleep. So, a great drinking hole was found at the end of a long, enjoyable and interesting day.

Up bright and early the next morning as I had signed myself up to a cookery class at the aptly named New Orleans Cookery School. This I was excited about, as we were going to learn about gumbo, jambalaya, pralines and bread pudding (a New Orleans speciality pudding that really is just like bread and butter pudding back home, but with a few more handfuls of cinnamon and nutmeg, and generally using pineapple instead of raisins). Laura opened up the class with a  talk on New Orleans and its food history and influences. It seems everyone has put something into this culture’s spice pot, including the Spaniards, French, Germans, Italians and Africans to come up with a truly fabulous tasting cuisine, que and drum roll…..the gumbo.

Gumbo is a soup that originated as a bouillabaisse but then had a load of chicken, sausage and spices thrown in to make it a dish in its own right. With Laura showing us how to make a roux (not what you think - a load of hot melted lard with some flour thrown in and stirred until it turns brown) and ending up with a delicious soup, which had layers of spices and a depth of flavour that really was delicious - I was sold. Gumbo, cooked right, is a delicious thick soup that I would happily serve up in one of my future cafes back home. I just hope I will be able to do it justice, as it has a dedicated following out here, with everyone having learnt their own family recipe which has been handed down through the generations. 

The rest of the class passed pleasantly, and the top tips I give anyone visiting New Orleans is go to the cookery class and learn something about the food. Get recommendations from them on where to eat in this fantastic, vibrant city - it will save you dollars as well as disappointment. But most importantly - DON’T DRINK THE COFFEE!

My time in New Orleans ends as Chris comes to pick me up to take me to the Harley Davidson centre, just outside town. Like most Americans out here Chris drives a huge truck. This form of machoism in the states is everywhere and although I have been here before, it does seem that the vehicles just get bigger and bigger. So travelling along with Chris he tells me about the hurricane and the effect it had on people who didn’t get to leave. The stories that didn’t get into the papers, because they wernt allowed to. Stories of how gangs set up camp in the city, charging people rent on their own homes, paying up if they wanted to stay safe. If safe can be a word used during those times. Everyone had a gun (and still does, ready for the next hurricane), and police were not afraid to use theirs, as rule of law went out the window. It seemed the use of firearms was the only way to get the attention from the outlaws running havoc through the city, loading up vans full of ATM machines they had just ripped out of the wall. A crazy, crazy time which saw devastation on so many levels. At least it seems people are now coming back and the city has recovered itself - on the surface at any rate.

Pulling up to the Harley centre and being able to browse round all the bikes was just about the best thing, if you are into bikes, which of course I am. It seemed only right for me to buy myself a new helmet whilst I was at it, just to make sure my Motel 6 road trip got off to only the very best of starts.

My bike was waiting for me, gleaming in the sunshine, and with a quick cheerio to Brian who helped get me sorted I was off on the roads. 

My road trip had begun, and in such an amazing part of the country. As I got into the swing of things, with bikers waving as they passed on the other side of the road, I swept over bridges which covered miles of swap land as far as the eye could see.  The sun was shining, and for me, knowing my motel room was booked ready for me at Lafayette I relaxed into the hum of the engine and started eating some miles. Perfect.

A good night’s rest in the first Motel 6 I had ever stayed at put me in good stead to get an early start off to Avery Island, home of the iconic Tabasco brand.  Everywhere I have been so far on this trip there has been a bottle, in various sizes and flavours, on the table of every restaurant I have eaten.  It isn’t just a little red bottle of hot sauce over here, it’s a way of life, and I wanted to find out more about it … as well as try to blow my head off on chilli sauce … it’s a macho thing. 

New Orleans

French Quarter garden

A coffee shop that made a half decent espresso, sorry but American coffee is not good

French quarter balcony


Nearest thing to an edible plant I could find !

Alligator on a stick ... it was OK

French market, a few ok food stalls but mostly tacky souvenirs

Beignets at Cafe du Monde ... yum !

Wayne was very cool, met him by sticking my head in the back of a restaurant, we talked food for a while.