Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Stuffed Marrow

One of The Boy's workmates has had the good fortune his veg patch producing an exuberant load of courgettes and, consequently, marrows. He's been lumbered with so much fruit that he's been palming them off on his coworkers - well, his glut is our gain!


Still wondering what you're going to do with that glut of courgettes? Have you discovered one or two that were hiding amongst the leaves that are now mammoth marrows? Give this easy recipe a try.


Chorizo stuffed Marrow


You will need: (to serve two)
A medium sized marrow (approx 25cm long)
3 inchs of chorizo sausage, halved and sliced
1 onion, finely chopped,
1 pepper, roughly chopped
handful of sliced olives
50g of grated Parmesan or hard cheese
3 tbsp passata or 3/4 chopped fresh tomatoes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
sunflower oil


- Preheat the oven to 190C.
- Half the marrow length ways and score diamond into the insides without piercing the skin.
- Rub a little olive oil into the cut sides of the marrow and season.
- Roast with the cut side up for 15 minutes or until the inside starts to become tender.
- Meanwhile, fry the chorizo in a pan with a little oil until it flavours the pan and expresses its red oil then add the chilli, garlic and onion.
- Sweat the onion until translucent.
- The marrow will begin to soften. Gently scoop out the innards with a spoon being careful to leave about half a centimetre (or more!) on the skin to keep it together. Return the hollowed skins to the oven.
 - Roughly chop the flesh that you've removed and add to the pan. There'll be a lot of moisture in the marrow flesh so be prepared to simmer the stuffing for a few minutes.
 - Remove the marrow from the oven and generously fill them with the filling.
 - Top with sliced olives and parmescan.
 - Return to the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden.
 - Serve with basil and a fresh salad.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Courgette Salad with toasted seeds

Any that grow their own, or know those that do, will be aware that this time of year is courgette season. The plants seem to kick into overdrive and produce trugs of the lovely things. I adore courgettes for their potential; catch them early and you can have the tender young squash complete with pretty flower to stuff or add to your summer salad. Let them swell into fully fledged fruit or allow them to go over and enjoy humungous marrows! Some say that they're bland and unexciting but I seem them as a blank canvas with tons of promise.

The finished summery salad
Whether you're wondering what you're going to do with your allotment glut or you're planning to make the most of them while they're in season, there's lots that you can do with them. Check out my recent recipe or give this simple salad a go.

Courgette Salad with toasted seeds

You will need:
1 courgette
1 large carrot
1 yellow pepper
2 tbsp mixed seeds
2 tbsp lemon juice
- Heat a frying pan on a low heat and sprinkle the seeds in, moving them gently around the pan to ensure that they toast evenly on each side.
- Coursely grate the carrot and courgette and put in a bowl
- De-seed and finely slice the pepper and add to the bowl
- Dress with the lemon juice and toss with your hands until everything is combined
- Top with the seeds and serve

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Summer Pasta

On these hot summer nights, I'm often after simple grub with minimal cooking. After all, we're hot and tired after a day in the office and crammed into trains so we might as well keep things simple.

Give this simple summery pasta recipe a go...

Tomato and Goats Cheese Pasta


You will need: (to serve 2)
1 pack of chevre/goats cheese
1/2 red onion
2 tomatoes, diced
handful of basil
1 courgette, sliced lengthways
6 asparagus tips
175g spaghetti
sunflower oil
olive oil
salt & pepper to season

- Put the spaghetti on to boil. I find that it usually takes around 10 minutes for my taste but follow the packets instructions if you're unsure.
- Meanwhile, cut the onion into rings, brush them, the asparagus and the courgette with a little sunflower oil and fry on a griddle pan until softened and nicely coloured. Set aside.
- Break up the cheese into bite-sized chunks and put in a bowl with the tomatoes, cooked onion and torn basil leaves. Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it thoroughly and add it to the bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and some seasoning. Leave for a moment so that the cheese melts slightly and toss until the ingredients are combined and the tomatoes and cheese cover the spaghetti.
- Serve a twirl of spaghetti with the griddled veg over the top.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Point of Interest: What's in Worcestershire Sauce?

A friend of mine is a fellow designophile and subscribes to Wired magazine. He very kindly passed on his recent cast-off in the shape of the June addition. I've heard of Wired before but haven't had a chance to give it a proper read. It's certainly interesting stuff - a mix of a little bit of everything with a tilt towards the world of digital/science/design geekery. Needless to say, this floats my boat rather well.
I'm a publication behind the cool kids but I thought that this article about the ingredients of Worcestershire Sauce is interesting. Shamefully, somewhere down the line, I'd assumed that Lea & Perrins was an almost exclusively English affair but it turns out that they have it across the pond too. This article sites high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetening ingredient but, as this is from the US version, I doubt that this is found in the UK bottles. Still, a little food geekery for your Monday afternoon...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Goodies in the garden

Baby beef tomatoes

I might not have acres of fresh top soil at my disposal but when I tire of the limitations of my potted vegetable garden, I escape to my parent's garden. That, or my parents-in-love's vegetable patch. My own parent's back garden has become home to a feast of veggies including a forest of tomato plants. I forget the exact story but I think they planted lots of seeds, expecting about half to germinate. And then bought some seedlings from the local garden centre. Then, of course, all of their own seed offerings sprouted! Tomatoes are like buses.

They have a copse of towering tomato plants gradually taking over the bottom of the garden with their spindly leaves and their rapidly swelling fruits. But my parents haven't stopped there. The tomatoes are taking over. They've dotted tomato plants around the garden. They've also been growing lettuces in the flower bed nearest the house which, of course, makes complete sense - the closer the produce, the fresher it is in your bowl! Their lettuces have been in salads all summer and the tomatoes should be ripening soon if the sunshine comes back. Fingers crossed!

Fresh home-grown beetroots

While wandering around their other vegetable beds, I found some deliciously ripe beetroots, prime for the picking. As well as fixing my broken blue-screening computer (thanks Dad!), they kindly gave me a small bunch to take home. I can't wait to cook these beauties!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Banana 'icecream' with pecan butterscotch sauce

Making the caramel

If you, like me, can't be phaffed with the rigamarole of freeze-then-stir-then-freeze-again method of icecream making and don't have the cupboard, counter or wallet space for an icecream maker, this dessert might be the answer. It's also really quite healthy (until you load up on the butterscotch!). Banana's gooey nature means that it's naturally creamy when frozen so it works really well n lieu of ice cream.

The finished pudding
Banana 'icecream' with pecan butterscotch sauce
You will need: (serves two greedy people)
3 bananas
50g demarera sugar (or mix half demarera and half granulated)
10g butter, at room temperaure
100ml single cream, at room temperature
a handful of pecans, chopped
- Liquidise or thoroughly mash the bananas with a fork and scrape into a freezable container (I used an old takeaway container) then pop into the freezer overnight.
- Remove the banana from the freezer about half an hour before you want to eat it and get started on the sauce
- Melt the sugar slowly over a very low heat in a heavy bottomed pan. Don't be impatient and turn the heat up or it will burn which tastes horrid. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, take the pan off the heat and let it continue to melt from the heat in the pan. If it needs some encouragement, put it back on the hob but watch it like a hawk.
- Once the sugar is completely melted, add the butter and whisk.
- Add the cream and whisk again until it is completely combined.
- Stir in the pecans.
- Serve scoops of 'icecream' with lashings of sauce
Tips & Variations:
- Beware, the melted sugar is very very hot. Don't be tempted to taste it; it burns!
- Add chunks of pecan, macademia or chocolate to the bananas before you freeze the mixture.


Yummy chopped pecans

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Love Food

Summery Bunting

The weekends Love Food Festival took some exploring skills to find. Tucked away in Bristol's Paintworks, we followed our noses and the upbeat Jamaican tones being pumped out by the DJ's. We found a colourful courtyard festooned with cheerful bunting.

We arrived at lunchtime and quickly found our midday meal in the shape of Tom's tarts; we shared a slice of spinach and three cheese and a slice of chucky roasted veg. The spinach was divine but we were both surprised by how well the generous hunks of butternut squash went with the creamy egg filling. Delish!

We found seats in the glorious suntrap courtyard and people-watched while we tucked into our quiche. There was an overwhelming community atmosphere with strangers shaving tables and stall holders gamely exchanging happy banter. The sun was out and the mood was high.

Hedgehog bread, Tim's tarts and a travelling greengrocer

Next up was a slice of chocolate and cherry cake from the Ooh La La Chocolaterie accompanied by a well-deserved cup of tea. I lost myself in creamy black forest heaven for a full five minutes... Wow! I galantly managed to bring myself to share a few mouthfuls with my friend who in turn swapped a bite of her chocolate caramel cake. These girls know how to make a woman happy!

The foodhall, just off the main courtyard, was alive with tables of kids decorating hats (very tempting even to us adults!) and stalls groaning with sumptuous food stuffs. The Thoughful Bread Co amazed us with their unusually hued beetroot bread though the real star of their stall was their tangy onion bread. The lovely Kate from Lahloo Tea had a table stacked with delightfully chinz cups and saucers. I've since heard that they've won four Great Taste Gold awards for their glorious loose teas - congratulations Lahloo! My magpie eye just can't get enough of their stylish packaging.

Our eyes were also drawn to Parsnipship stall where they had a stack of Hedghog Bread (above). The dough had been snipped, sprinkled with cheese and decorated with pumpkin seeds for eyes and noses. Very cute! A savory take on gingerbread men that we just loved.

The Love Food Festival isn't the biggest food event that you'll find this year but it was friendly, relaxed and unpretentious. It has the feel of a school fete - maybe next time, we can have a foodie tombola and lucky dip!?

A beautiful blaze of colour

Friday, 16 July 2010

Blazing Griddles, Big Lunches and lots more foodie fun

So it seems that the festival season is well and truly upon us. Following an unusually sunny Glastonbury this year, I have high hopes that the rest of the summer's events are going to go off without any hitches (please!). This weekend alone is jam packed with foodie events in Bristol - you really are spoilt for choice.
 

Grillstock is taking over Bristol's Harbourside for this weekend only and describes itself as "a BBQ themed two day food and drink festival". As well as sampling whats on offer from the 130+ stalls hosted by producers, you can also get involved with the 'King of the Grill' competition where 25 teams will be battling for a portion of the $100,000 prize pot. They will be preparing their best bbq dishes in the hope of scooping one of the six 'Best of' categories and spectators are not only encouraged to feast their eyes; you can taste their creations and vote for your favourite.
 

love food festival

The Love Food Festival is running a summer food party on Sunday to get us all out in the sunshine (fingers crossed) and thinking about where our food comes from. It seems to be a very family-orientated event though Lorna, the organiser, assures me that all food lovers are welcome. There'll be a Mad Hatter's Tea Party for the kids to enjoy while adults get to explore the outdoor picnic area which will be crammed full of local producers peddling their wares.
 

Meanwhile, Sunday 18th July is the Eden Project's Big Lunch. The idea is to organise a communal lunch with your neighbours or alternatively, you can use their website to find the nearest Big Lunch to you. They hope to join together communities and encourage people of all ages and cultures to meet to discuss life, share skills and generally "conquer our natural shyness". For me, great conversation often sparks from sharing food so this sounds like a lovely way to build some local bridges.
 
Grillstock is running on 17th and 18th July at the Lloyds Amphitheatre and costs £5 to get in (£4 in advance).
Love Food Festival is free and is on between 10:30 - 4pm on 18th July at the Paintworks Bristol.
The Big Lunch is happening nationwide on 18th July.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Review: Martin's Chocolatier

My lunchtime was brightened by the lovely gents in Martin's Chocolatier. I hadn't noticed them before and on speaking to the guys behind the counter, it seems that they're a new addition to the Bristol shopping experience. They've only been open for a week! They have a large selection of chocolates which you can buy by weight or they also have a variety of boxed chocolates for sale.

More importantly for me, they have a café set up so that you can enjoy the finest hot chocolates and cakes while resting your poor shop-til-you-drop feet. Now, I can't resist trying out the newest place on the block (price permitting) so I wandered in and took advantage of their Buy 1 Get 1 Free offer on all drinks. I ordered a house blend (half milk, half dark) hot chocolate to enjoy there and a dark chocolate orange hot chocolate to take away. If you "drink in", your drink is served complete with a yummy chocolate from their selection to try. Their home blend comes highly recommended by yours truly; a delicious middle ground between smooth milk and rich dark chocolate. The dark chocolate orange was absolutely devilish and is set apart from other chocolate orange drinks(a vice of mine) that I've tried as it doesn't have a synthetic edge to it.
I will be back with a friend to try their cakes very soon.

Martin's Chocolatier can be found at 72 Horsefair Road, Bristol BS1 3JS. Tel 0117 927 9433

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Mayonnaise

Cooked and smoked shell-on prawns and dressed crab with homemade mayonnaise

It's The Boy's birthday and I wanted to treat him to a tasty meal for two with the minimum amount of complex preparation so that I could maintain (at least for a while) an air of calm and sophistication. Yeah right. Anyway, I didn't want to be running around like a headless chicken and worrying about timings rather than enjoying the company of the birthday Boy.

The day started at 5:30am when I was up to make The Boy a cup of well-deserved birthday tea at his habitual weekday wake-up time. I didn't get a chance to think anniversaire fayre until my lunch break where I trotted off towards St Nicholas' Market in Bristol. Fate was on my side as I didn't realise that Wednesdays sees the Farmers Market invade the pedestrian street, selling fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish as well as much more.

I selected single cream from Jessie's Ladies, which proved to be totally divine from the tasters that were out. I also selected a few handfuls of smoked and cooked shell-on prawns and a dressed crab from one of the fishmongers. I was thinking too much about my menu to notice the name of many of the stall holders but I did procure half a loaf of ciabatta from a friendly baker. This was supplemented with a few bits and pieces and turned into an indoor picnic feast of baked Camembert with caramalised balsamic onions, homemade basil pesto and a seafood plate that you can see above.

I decided that now was the time to give homemade mayo a go and I've got to say, it's not as hard as I expected. Give it a go yourself...

Mayonnaise

You will need: (to feed two keen dippers)
1 egg yolk
125ml sunflower oil
25ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt

- Remove all of the ingredients ahead of time so that they are at room temperature
- Place the egg yolk in a mixing bowl (pop a teatowel underneath to stop it sliding about)
- Whisk the egg yolk with a generous pinch of salt until it starts to look thick and sticky
- While whisking the mixture, pour a slow thin but steady stream of sunflower oil into the bowl. The mixture will start to thicken and become paler.
- When the mix comes together into a consistency that you like, add the sunflower oil while whisking quickly until completely combined. If the mixture is too thick, add a drizzle of water and whisk. Repeat if required.
- Add mustard and lemon juice and whisk again.

Variations & Tips:
- As my mayo was for dipping, I wanted it to be slightly runnier and added a dribble of water to the mix.
- Stir in chopped herbs at the end to add flavour. Dill and fennel tops would go well with fish and cooked meats while finely chopped sundried tomatoeswould go well with cruditeé.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Green Olive Focaccia

If you're in need of an easy accompanyment for your barbeque or a tactile starter for that romantic summer meal, focacia is the simple option that can be jazzed up whichever way you wish.

Focaccia ready to go into the oven

Green Olive Focaccia with fresh herbs

You will need:
250g strong white flour
1tsp salt
7g (1 sachet) quick yeast (or the equivalent dried yeast)
50g green olives, chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 sprigs of thyme
1tbsp maldon salt
olive oil

- Combine the flour, salt, yeast and a little olive oil in a bowl.
- Add around 150ml of tepid water, stiring the mixture with a wooden spoon until it comes together and then use your hands.
- Knead, stretch and work the dough until smooth.
- Coat the dough in a little oil and put in a warm place to rise. This will take up to an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Knock back the dough then knead in the olives, a little at a time.
- Stretch out onto a baking tray covered in oiled parchment.
- Sprinkle with salt and push short lengths (approx 2cm) of the herbs into the dough then cover with clingfilm and leave to rize for another 30 or so minute while you preheat the oven to 220C.
- Remove clingfilm and bake for 15 minutes.

Finished focaccia served with homemade pesto

Variations & Tips:
- Be patient when kneading the olives into the dough. It can take a while so relax and take your time.
- This could be replicated with black olives or sundried tomatoes.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Newt Beer Festival


We've spent a merry few hours in North Petherton at the fantastic annual Newt Beer Festival. With the allure of 101 different bitters, ales and stouts to sample this year, we decided to cycle along the tow path from our town so that we could enjoy a drink or two. The weather was fantastic and the live music on offer added to the atmosphere.

A festival for all the family (would you believe?) with face-painting and trampolines for the kids while Dad (or Mum?) takes part in the Yard Competition...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Fair Play - Bristol Wine & Food Fair

Having explored the sights and sounds of the Bath Food & Drink Festival only the day before, Bristol Wine & Food Fair had a lot to live up to. The atmosphere on entering was undoubtedly different to Bath's offering; this was slightly more formal and, dare I say it, upmarket. Still, I shouldn't compare as the two are very different and both fantastic in their own right.

Arriving fashionably late and just in time for lunch, we were presented with the difficult task of choosing where to start our culinary adventure in form of lunch. After much dithering and deliberation, we couldn't resist the delicious smells wafting over from The Real Olive Company's Kofta Bar. There was quite a queue but this, I feel, is usually a very good sign. I enjoyed a lamb kebab with babaganoush and peppers on a fluffly Lebanese wrap while my foodie friend tried their veggie offering. Both were awarded top marks; what a great way to start!

And so, the wandering (and wondering) started in earnest. The fair was much more about wine and less about food than I expected with one marquee dedicated to food (though there were many foodie bits and pieces in the Food Producers Market) and two reserved for wine. We enjoyed Georgie Porgie's Puddings, particularly the unusual lemon and Pimms and the devilish apple and cider. We got chatting to the lovely people at Lahloo tea who caught my eye with their gorgeous packaging and smoking infusions. I couldn't resist the lovely preserves at The Cherry Tree; it was a miracle that I came away with only one jar (the spicy tomato and caramelised onion chutney, if you're wondering).

Making the most of our free tasters... hic!

With our complimentary tasting glasses at the ready, we threw ourselves into the fray of Wine Marquee A and immediately found the St Germain cocktail bar where the barmen were busy mixing up fantastic elderflower inspired drinks.

The miniature selection at Bramley & Gage

Tempted though we were, we were deterred by the price tag and we were pleased when later, we found the lovely ladies at Bramley & Gage. It didn't take us long to invest in their fruit liqueurs as well as their punchy sloe gin. I came away with a bottle of their elderflower liqueur which, I can honestly say, I would have over St Germain for the taste as well as the more reasonable price tag. It's sweet, refreshing and summery without being saccharine.

Just a little way over, we staggered upon Discover the Origin who were offering shavings of Parmesan which were carved from cheese the size of car tyres! There was also slivers of parma ham, straight from the joint, paired with fine wines to enjoy which got us feeling rather sophis.

One of the humongous wheels of Parmesan on offer from Discover the Origin

I was lucky enough to get my hands on tickets to a complimentary tasting workshop held by Cordorníu where we sampled four of their sparkling wines and got a crash course in wine tasting and champagne history. I must admit that I hadn't heard of Cordorníu or their wines before but they were certainly palatable and would be a fun and more pocket-friendly alternative to the traditional champagnes.

Speaking of champagnes, my friend and I were donated a ticket each to the Champagne & Chocolate Masterclass by two lovely gentleman. Their loss was certainly our gain as we sampled Hotel Chocolat chocolates with a variety of Tattinger champagnes under the guidance of Sarah Jane Evans of the Academy of Chocolate.

Sarah Jane Evans talks the talk

It was a wonderful way to end the day as we were emersed in the wonderful world of bubbly. Sarah threw in some fantastic facts; did you know that there are around 45 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne and that the cork shoots from the bottle at around 40mph from the pressure of the wine which is three times the pressure of a car tyre!? We sampled all sorts of combinations of bubbly with the four chocolates that we had in front of us. Tickets were £8 and, though we got ours for free, I think I would've gladly paid up for such a fun hour. Sarah was insightful and obviously extremely knowledgable while still being approachable.

The weather wasn't on our side but we had a fantastic day at the fair!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Festival of Delights - Bath Food & Drink Festival

You may know Bath for it's beautiful architecture or the healing steamy waters of it's spa. This weekend, Bath's historic Royal Crescent was awash with colour, the promising sound of sizzling and a cocktail of mouth-watering smells. Producers, purveyors, chefs and performers (sometimes the same thing, it seems) happily rubbed shoulders and vied for the attention of the ticket-holding foodies.

The city’s picturesque country-side surroundings were reflected in the mix of stalls that were neatly squeezed into the park. Amongst the real ales on offer, the increasingly trendy ciders were well represented (though I wasn’t impressed by the Gaymers stall) and the Pimms tent was predictably popular as the hot and balmy Saturday wore on.

The Cosmic Sausages

The festival atmosphere was fed by the live music performed on and around the music stage; the musical highlight of our afternoon was the quirky (and rather aptly named) Cosmic Sausages. Jarvis of St James had picked a prime spot to set up shop as their cute teak be-parasoled tables and chairs had a great view of the stage - great for sipping a glass of bubbly and enjoying the chaos unfolding before you.

The main food tent was a feast of interesting chutneys, crusty bread and sweet things. We were disappointed by Med Food UK; despite their fantastic selection of olives and antipasti, everything we tried tasted as if it was from a jar, overly salted and was all incredibly expensive. Still, everything else looked so wonderful that it was hard to know where to start. We'd arrived at lunchtime and eventually started with a chicken wrap from Natural Game. We were very glad that we did - food festivals can be wallet emptyingly expensive (stall holders know they have a captive and enthuastic audience) but for £5 we had lunch for two in just one wrap.

Antonio Carluccio

Once we were suitably fed, we headed to the Chef's tent to see Antonio Carluccio do his thing. Now, Antonio might be 73 but he certainly doesn't act it. He's very much full of the joys of spring and in rather rude health. Half an hour in his company was filled with giggles (he tells the most wildly outrageous jokes!) and smiles as he whipped up some simple, hearty food. He told us that he has just returned from filming a food documentary for BBC 2 out in Italy which will be out sometime next year so keep your eye out for that.

Me and another unsuspecting audience member with Richard Bertinet

Later, we had the pleasure of Richard Bertinet's company. Richard is probably best known for his baking skills and we were treated to a live demonstration of how to knead dough in the traditional French way. It's mesmerising to watch but certainly not easy as proven by an innocent audience member who was tugged out of his seat to help with the proceedings. It just so happened that I put my hand up to the wrong question (or should that be right question?) and ended up on stage cooking a smoked fish chowder with the man himself. I've got to say that the recipe was surprisingly simple and, with some freshly baked bread to dunk, absolutely heavenly.

We ended our day with a cookie sandwich from Mendip Moments - a generous scoop of honeycombe icecream crammed between two freshly baked chocolate cookies! Bath Food & Drink Festival was a fantastic day out and comes highly recommended when planning your trips for next year.

Friday, 2 July 2010

All the fun of the fair!



Summer is the season of the fair and we food-geeks are somewhat spoilt for choice in the coming months. This is very much the case this weekend as there seem to be numerous food events going on all over the place. To me, it seems slightly counter-intuitive to spend what often totals months organising a packed few days of fun on a weekend that clashes with things that will pull the public away from your proceedings.

Bristol and Bath, two culturally rich cities less than 11 miles from each other, are throwing separate foodie celebrations. Sadly, this also clashes with Theo Jansen's public showing of his kinetic sculptures at Exeter's Summer Festival – it may not be food but this really shouldn't be missed. Decisions, decisions… for quite a while, I really couldn't choose – they all look so good. This time, I've decided to stay true to my culinary leanings; I hope that my waist line (and feet) will forgive me with time! Sorry Theo, some other time? (Please!?)

First impressions are good though. Bath have been incredibly organised; I've already received my advance ticket in the post with the program which is pretty informative though their website could be more useful. Bristol are lagging far behind as they haven't confirmed anything with me though their website is more comprehensive. I'm looking forward to having a good mooch around, sample lots of glorious products and take in some talks. If you're in Bristol on Saturday, I hear that the Whiteladies Road Farmers and Fair Trade Market is having a relaunch party with all sorts of fun stuff going on.

Bristol Wine & Food Fair runs from 2nd until 4th July and can be found at the Lloyds Amphitheatre and Waterfront Square at BS1 5LL.

Bath Food & Drink Festival can be found in the historic Royal Cresent on the 3rd and 4th July with talks from the wonderful Antonio Carluccio and Richard Bertinet

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Today's foodie fact

 
Did you know?
 
Egg yolks are half water!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Steak with Samphire


A delicious mix of the land and the sea. Samphire is bang in season right now until September.

Steak with Samphire

2 rump, ribeye or fillet steaks (at room temperature)
130g march samphire, thoroughly rinsed and drained
1/2 clove of garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
butter
salt & pepper

- Put a frying pan on a high heat with a little olive oil in it and heat until very hot with the oil smoking slightly
- Season the steaks with salt and pepper and place into pan. I generally do this one at a time. Cook the steaks to your liking but avoid turning them as much as possible - you'll get a better colour on them if you only flip them once.
- Once cooked, remove the steaks from the pan onto a plate. Rest them on an upturned spoon to hold up up and away from the juices that they'll express while the meat relaxes.
- Turn the heat down to low under the pan and add a knob of butter. As that starts to foam, add the garlic and stir constantly to encourage the flavours of the steak in the pan to combein with the butter and avoid burning the garlic.
- Add the samphire and increase the heat under the pan slightly. Sauté for 30 to 40 seconds until warmed through and tender. Add any juice from the resting meat to the pan and stir.
- Plate up with a generous spoon of samphire topped with the juicy steak. Serve immediately with potatoes and your choice of vegetables.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Source, Bristol


Today is a bit of an occasion and I needed food to suit. Now, you would think that being in central Bristol, it would be easy to find fantastic food shops right on my doorstep. Sadly, this hasn't rung completely true; mainly because I've been limited to places that I can walk to and back in under an hour. I was particularly after good meat but butchers shops don't tend to spring up in central locations. I did a bit of net browsing to see what I could find but, again, was left a little stumpted.

My colleagues recommended having a wander around St Nicholas' Market on Corn Street as it features a variety of shops and stalls under one roof. The place itself brings back memories of my college days - buying chunky jewellery and sipping tea amongst the smoulderings of incense. If you traverse the main hall, you emerge into the more lofty passages beyond that holds a feast of food shops. Most of these sell takeaway food or meals to enjoy there and then. Not really what I was after... I passed The Real Olive Company without being able to resist the allure of their mixed olives (£3.20/100g) and stuffed vine leaves (35p or 4 for £1.20). There's a great looking cheese shop which is well worth a look (and a sniff!) but just across and technically (I suppose) outside of the market, I found Source.

Source doubles as a restaurant and food hall tucked away in the heart of Bristol. They have an amazing butchers and fishmongers counter selling everything from cornish mackerel to buffalo rump steak. They also have a case of fine looking puddings and cheeses to choose from with a selection of fresh fruit and veg plus all the condiments you could ask for on sale. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful; they're obviously passionate about what they do and very knowledgeable. Their website isn't up and running completely yet so drop in. A fantastic place.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Mojito Ice Lollies!


Summer seems to have hit hard and if you're in need of a cooling fix, you might reach for something in a glass. But wait! The frozen cocktail is on it's way! I just love mojitos - a delcious blend of lime, mint and rum... Yum!

The recipe hasn't gotten past my testers just yet but as soon as it does, you'll be the first to know.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

An authentic taste of Italy

My mother - the networker, blogster and textile-artist extraordinaire - has a nack for using the Internet to its full advantage. She's the goddess of the search engine; if she can't find what you're looking for, it probably wasn't worth discovering in the first place. She's a social network aficionado and is often found glued to her emails.

Now, you're always told (particularly as a small child when you're first allowed to get your grubby hands on the Internet) that the net is full of lots of friendly people but you must not, under ANY circumstances, meet the people that you chat to. After all, they might turn out to be weirdos. Quite right too and this was preached to me from a young age. This rule, apparently, doesn't stretch to adults. Or mothers, anyway, because my Mum has met all kinds of wonderful people (and her fair share of weirdos... joke!) through various virtual meeting places and happily goes off on merry little jaunts around the country with her new posse.

Anyway, she's recently Facebook friended a guy (known through mutual friends) who rented us a gorgeous apartment in Florence a few years ago. While perusing his website, I came across some of his lovely recipes. He seems to be something of a seafood fan with lovely looking recipes for scallops, squid and langoustines. Despite the Florentine connection, the recipes remind me of the amazing seafood market in Venice. I do miss Italy!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Lunchtime Snack-shot

Around Christmas time, I did a week of lunch related articles documenting what I, and my businessy friends, were lunching on come half-time in the working day. Today, I thought that I would share my view.

I'm sat in a sun-soaked Bristolian square with my commuter lunchbox full of homegrown lettuce salad. Its so warm that I've kicked off my shoes and am comfortably reclining while reading my trashy Metro

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Friday, 18 June 2010

Works of wibbly art

Striped Clementine from Jelly with Bompas & Parr (Pavilion).

A striped clementine jelly by Bompas and Parr
 
One food that I associate, more than any other, with childhood birthday parties is jelly. No party was a proper party without a jewel-bright wobbly bunny. No sir-ree!
 
My usual daily sweep of foodie links drew me to a more refined and grown up incarnation of this kiddie favourite. This photo of striped clementine jelly caught my eye and my curiousity. The accompanying article claims that the recipe is "not as complicated as it sounds" but it still involved hollowing out clementines, which seems like a faff to me though the results are impressive. Suddenly, I've been dropped into the wibbly world of Sam Bompas and Harry Parr; 'jellymongers' who are described as "the country's foremost jelly experts" by the Guardian. This has got me thinking about how many jelly experts we must have in Britain for them to be at the "forefront" of this undulated crowd.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The growth of my windowsill garden

Our windowsills have started to overflow with luscious pots of greenery and we're starting to run out of space. And its only set to get worse because this gardening and growing malarky is really rather addictive. One plant isn't enough; you start to lust after your next herb or vegetable. I've been bolstered by the promising young shoots from each pot that I've lined up on the sill and they've grown strong, straining towards the light.
We're lucky enough to have our own driveway and parking space which has become the latest stopping point for my pots. Our collection has been kindly supplemented my mother-in-love who has gifted us a handsome dish of pick-and-come-again lettuces and several pots of perennial and annual herbs. I am really craving strawberry plants now but we shall have to see if our watering routine is up to scratch as I'm concerned that, unlike my windowsill beauties, our driveway garden fall victim to out of sight, out of mind issues...

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Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Good Science

I stumbled upon a fantastic article on the Guardian's website today: 'The Science of Cake'. My father is well known for being a sponge for knowledge and a hawk for facts; I think is born of his natural curiosity to understand things (he is a psychiatrist, after all). He has either passed or imprinted this habit on me though, alas, I don't think I will ever be as knowledgeable as he. It does mean that I sometimes find myself pondering the reactions that cause bread to rise while I wait for my loaves to bake or why the blades of my teensy food processor are angled just so to enable the optimum number of cuts while I whizz up a batch of pesto so this article was right up my street.
 
It was fascinating to find out about the chemistry of cake making. Because of the reactions and the molecular science involved, I've always looked at baking in a different light to the subtle art of combining flavours that set a lot of chefs apart from the rest. The author, Andy Connelly, goes into the history behind it too. My favourite line in the whole article is a quote from Miss Leslie, a popular cookbook author circa 1857, where she 'described a technique that would allow cooks to beat eggs "for an hour without fatigue" but then advised: "to stir butter and sugar is the hardest part of cake making. Have this done by a manservant." ' Finally, the excuse I need to get The Boy doing all the hard graft!
 

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

An answer... But what was the question?

My current place of work doesn't have a microwave. Apparently, their insurance won't cover it but I wonder if the more likely reason is that they don't trust us not to blast CD's and made explodey food messes. Anyway, eons ago while I was doing work experience in an architectural practise at London Bridge, there was a girl who would come in most mornings and use the communal toaster and microwave to make a bacon sandwich. Yep, microwaved bacon. Weird, eh? I was sceptical but, when she offered me a bit, I couldn't resist satisfying my curiosity and it was good. Not your typical bacon sandwich but still a salty, relatively satisfying bacon hit.

Alas, my current employer will never see such delights. But maybe there is a simple answer to this. Last year, while I was still a merry student, my housemate presented me with a concept - baconnaise. A creamy, meaty condiment that can be used to take you and your meals to "new bacon-y heights" according to the official website (www.baconnaise.com). Weirdly, its actually vegetarian (though not vegan as, like most mayo, it contains milk and eggs) so this could be a way of staving off your bacon cravings if you're counting the calories or are off meat. For me though, the stuff sounds grim. Don't get me wrong, I like bacon well enough. But the idea of salty, smokey mayo makes me feel a little ill.

Still, it would mean that I could indulge in "bacon" sandwiches at work despite our lack of irradiating equipment. Don't let The Man drag you down!

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Thursday, 3 June 2010

Caught the Grow-bug

My brilliant basil

One good thing leads to another. With my basil coming on strong, my mind has turned to more crops to fill out my windowsill garden. But what to try next? I absolutely adore homegrown tomatoes fresh off the vine but we don't really have the vertical space. Salad leaves, I pondered. Now that might have potential. Always delicious when they are at their freshest and crispist but I've found that homegrown lettuce tends to be quite bitter. Then it occured to me... Rocket! Fab peppery taste with none of the bitterness and ideal for bunging in my commuter lunchbox!

Look at it go!

As before, I sowed a few seeds and settled back, with a cuppa, to await the first promising shoots come forth. A few weeks alter, I have teensy plants that are, I think, recognisable as rocket. They're about 5cm high and really shooting up. I'm already dreaming of the rocket, avocado and bacon salads to come. Meanwhile, my basil is really looking good.

Sweet basil

Saturday, 29 May 2010

A Night of Good Plates & Bad Plates

Its coming up to the end of exam season and so, there's been a distinct absence in our social group of those poor unfortunates who are still at the will of the academic machine. High-time then, to organise a simple meal to catch up with some good friends, who will be in academica for a while to come (they've just signed up to PhD's). Clever whatsits. Anyway, they'd both been working incredibly hard so we decided to jointly celebrate my birthday and the end of term. We were in need of something simple - a crowd pleaser - as the setting for our reunion and I decided to try a local chain rather than one of the nationwide franchises that have been springing up to provide Med to the masses.

Aqua is a South West based chain with two branches in Bristol (Clifton and Welsh Back) and one in Bath. Their Welsh Back restaurant jostles for attention amongst the other popular river/harbour side venues. Parking was relatively easy to come by as the single yellow lined streets become a free for all after 6pm. We arrived in good time for our 8pm booking, just in time to see a hen party - complete with pornographic sailors outfits - dance their way through Aqua's door. My heart sank but I tried to remain positive - one hen party wouldn't spoil a lovely quiet meal with friends. Well, yes, maybe one wouldn't. As it happened, we were seated squarely between three separate gaggles of scantily clad hens. Fifty screaming girls on the lash combined with an already stuffed restaurant and topped off with loud music did not make for a relaxing and chilled out atmosphere; we could barely hear ourselves think, let alone get into the banter.

Our waitress seemed to be taking the whole thing in her pride; unpromptedly bringing me a jug of water for the bunch of flowers that I'd been given. Very thoughtful! We decided on sharing a Doppia Flatbread (£4.30) to start with a bowl of olives (£3-ish) to get us started. The glorified pizza was very hot and fine - pretty garlicky if nothing else - while the olives were a little soft and soggy with no real flavour. Not a good start.

For mains, we had a bit of a selection among the four of us. Tagliatele Gorgonzola (£9.75) which seemed to feature none of its namesake cheese. My Ravioli ai Crostacei (£12.25) had shell in which at least proves that it contained some lobster even if I did nearly break a tooth while The Boy's Grigliata di Pesce (£16.95) was a cacophony of overcooked, griddled-within-an-inch-of-its-life seafood. The only dish that didn't disappoint was the Rissotto all Zucca (£9.95).

Needless to say that we decided against pudding, partly because of the dismal standard of our mains and partly on principle on seeing Torta ingelese caramellata. Translated: sticky toffee pudding. Traditional Italiana, innit? As The Boy very rightly pointed out, we'd come out for Italian, not "ingelese"! We wandered instead to Graze, only a few minutes away on Queens Square. They didn't bat an eyelid at our late arrival and our demands for sweet things. They seated us sharpish and we swiftly chose Eton Mess pour moi and the Chocolate Plate for The Boy (he's always had impeccable taste...) while our friends went for a selection of sorbets and a banofee Cremé Brulee. Everything was very tasty and we shall definitely be returning. The less said about about Aqua, the better, but Graze is definitely somewhere we'll be returning to.

Puddings: around £5
Graze
can be found 63 Queens Square, Bristol, BS1 4JZ.Tel: 0117 927 6706

Friday, 28 May 2010

Review: The Lido, Bristol


The Lido seems to be the current culinary "place to be" in Bristol. Having read Jay Rayner's uncharacteristically glowing review in The Observer and an equally chirpy article in the Metro, The Boy very kindly booked a table for two.

Stepping across the threshold from the car-crammed residential street and into the Lido world was like finding a gate into a secret garden. Our waiter seems to melt a little as he describes it as an "oasis", recognising the awe-struck delight on our faces as we enter. The entire building seems to lean into the central space with its raised, infinity-edged pool lined with candy-striped be-curtained cubicles. The whole place reeks of contemporary, but not necessarily cliched "modern", style. Simply laid back, good quality design at its best. The restaurant itself, being on the first floor, has an amusing vista of the pool being on the first floor. You're able to eye-ball the swimmers as they go about their business; an interesting ice-breaker or, if you know each other through-and-through like The Boy and I, great for people spotting.

The service was very good; prompt but unhurried and so very friendly without being over the top. The high street seems to be infected with this insincere salesman-esque exaggeration of "friendly". A brittle veneer of "chatty"; a poor approximation of the real thing. It's all "How are you today!?" or "Have a nice day!!". Not here. The waiting staff were genuine and thoughtful without stifling us.

We consulted the menu. On first glance, our impression was positive. Simple, almost sparse, featuring only five mains and ringing with seasonal produce. The Boy went for a Scallop and Asparagus with Hollandaise starter while I chose the Squid with Harrisa. While we waited, a plate of fresh bread with good olive oil materialised. A nice touch though I found the bread (homemade, natch) a little heavy. Our starters arrived, nicely presented and undoubtedly fresh though we had a few niggles. Forgive me for a moment but The Boy's £9 starter featured only two scallops and four minuscule spears of the spring-time good stuff. Now, we were armed and ready for a luxurious celebratory meal with a price tag to match (easy for me to say considering that it was The Boy's treat!) but this, to me, seemed a little mean. A scallop starter usually consists of three scallops, no? My squid was just slightly overdone in places, rendering it chewy rather than melt in the mouth soft. This wasn't enough to prevent me from clearing my plate, I must admit. The harissa was zingy and delicious and despite my gripes on portion size, it was an appetiser, leaving us wanting more.

Our mains followed; oak-roasted poussin with a sumptuous broad bean salad for him and lamb rump with a bulgar wheat and cabbage pilaf for yours truly. Both meals were good; everything was perfectly cooked and seasoned but, for some reason, it seemed to miss the 'wow' factor. I wonder now if this was because of the amazing setting; a fantastic atmosphere that is a feast for the eyes but dwarfs the taste buds. Or, the cynical side of me chimes, they've become complacent, lazy even, following their recent golden press though I doubt this.

It almost seemed like the mains were lacking a certain something that would lift the dishes and bring them together. I wouldn't hurry back for a second helping tomorrow but I think I will return given time. I would love to wander by the pool and spend some time in the spa. I would also like to try the poolside café bar to see how this compares to the upstairs restaurant. I won't be highlighting The Lido as a culinary highlight of Bristol for food alone though it is well worth a visit for the atmosphere. You can tell that the place has history and I like that but there is definitely something undefinable that stops it being a perfect all-rounder

A few tips if you are curious and want to explore The Lido for yourself... Parking is hard to come by in Clifton and in Oakfield Place, you would be very lucky to find a space but there are plenty of opportunities in the surrounding residential streets. Set aside some time and be prepared for a hunt. Also, The Lido is pretty laid back so keep this in mind when choosing your dining attire. Jeans and a 'nice top' for the ladies will do you fine and men can get away with a casual shirt. This from the lady with the curves and the corset top who felt just a teensy bit out of place....

Starters: £7 - £9
Mains: £15 - £19
The Lido
can be found on Oakfield Place, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2BJ.Tel: 0117 933 9533

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Hot & Sticky Sausages

Those three lovely syllables. B...B...Q.... The delicious, mouth watering scent of charcoal burning filled the air as soon as the temperature tipped into mildly summery highs. Mmm... barbecues are one of the best things about summer food (apart from, or possibly coupled with, the availability of fresh and fabulous produce). The first few barbie's are often a hurried experience and the food is simple, quick-slap-it-on-the-coals-before-it-tips-down grub. Our later summer fry ups can be more leisurely but by that time, you might be getting a little bored of the usual sausage and burger with some kind of chicken kebab fayre so consider marinades! This is an easy one to try out and is good on the coals or done in the oven if the heavens open.


Sweet, Hot & Sticky Sausages

You will need: (for 2 people or 6 sausages)
2 tsp finely chopped chilli
1 garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp honey & 2 tbsp tomato sauce or 2 tbsp honey and 1 tbsp tomato pureé

- Mix all the ingredients together in a mug or jar until combined
- Prick the sausages all over and lay in a bowl or, to keep things simple, pop into a zip-lock bag and pour over the marinade. Seal the bag or top the bowl with a plate or cling film and put in the fridge overnight to marinade or for as long as you can.
- Throw onto the barbecue or bake in a preheated 190C oven for 30 minutes. Be sure to make sure that they are sticky on the outside but perfectly cooked and piping hot all the way through.
- Serve with lots of fresh, zingy summer salads and/or chips!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Herbidacious!

Parsley the Lion from The Herbs

Since I've had my very own kitchen (shared with The Boy and, if they're lucky, a few carefully chosen friends), I have been revelling in the freedom of it. No flat mates, strangers or landlords to poke through my cupboards and peruse my fridge shelf. Once we were well and truly settled, one of the first personal touches I intended to make was to place a few cheerful pots of fresh herbs on the windowsill. Although I have a larder full of dried herbs and spices (with one or two bay leaves snaffled from my parents garden), I have longed to have fresh basil, rosemary and thyme at my disposal. Fresh herbs, to me, brim of promise and inspire me to try new flavour combinations; I day-dreamed of fist-fuls of basil whizzed into homemade pesto and bunches of thyme stuffed into casseroles.

First stop in fulfilling my herbaceous dreams was the fresh produce aisle of the supermarket. Away we scurried holding our first pot aloft. But alas, my revelry was short-lived because it promptly died despite following my Mum's advice to re-pot it immediately (because they are always sold in pots far too small for them). Deflated I did some research. It seems that supermarket herbs are doomed from the start; they're grown in hot houses to force lots of visible growth which means that while they're bushy above ground, their root-balls don't develop so they die very quickly. They're literally all fur coat and no knickers, which is fine if you're planning to use an entire plant in one go but not suitable for my windowsill garden. So, it seemed supermarket herbs weren't the way to go but garden centre plants don't seem to be much better in my experience - I bought a basil plant from my local a few years ago and it perished from aphid attack within days (despite being kept inside!).
One way that I found as a temporary work-around for the fresh-or-dried issue is to buy up discounted packet fresh herbs when they're about to go all wilty and freeze them in their original cellophane. It doesn't solve my basil cravings but is an easy way to add fresh taste to recipes - simply snip off whatever you need and then pop back in the freezer for next time.
I was in Wilkenson's one day and spotted basil seeds. Growing my own hadn't occurred to me before but getting the seeds, compost and pot for a mere 80p (on offer), I thought I'd give it a go. I wasn't sure if the whole thing would be a complete flop but actually, it's been remarkably easy.

My tender seedlings

So far, so good. All you need do is fill a pot with compost, make a little whole with a finger, pop in your seeds (for basil, put in about half a dozen), pat the soil flat and water. Then stretch some clingfilm over the top to create a microclimate that will encourage them to germinate or use a small germination tray. When they start to get a bit big, pot them up into bigger pots. Whatever whenever the soil gets dry but don't over water. The Boy will vouch for how attached I've grown to my little plants. I've read that I should start to pinch out the new growth but I can't bring myself to! Buoyed by the extent of my success, I've planted rocket seeds in the hope of tucking into my very own home-grown salad sometime soon but my mind is running wild with the possibilities - sage and strawberries grown in pots in the sitting room? Carrots in the carport? Blueberries in the bedroom?

My basil plants, growing strong

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Toad in the Hole

I have a younger brother. (I used to refer to him as my 'little' brother but this is no longer an accurate description considering he's nine years younger and about six inches taller than me!) Like many teenagers, he watches a lot of TV and the last time I went round to see my family, he was planning to make a recipe that he had seen on the BBC's Junior Masterchef. He had been inspired by the first episode of the series where the contestants had been asked to make a simple toad in the hole.

We modified the recipe a little and I thought we should put it up as the Beeb don't seem to have a recipe listing for Junior Masterchef. A disappointing lack of follow through, in my opinion.

Lil Bro carefully measures out the milk for the batter

Toad in the Hole with onion gravy

You will need: (to serve 6)

18 sausages
2 onions
25g butter
1 tsp flour1 bayleaf
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
300ml stock
a grating of nutmeg
sunflower oil

for the batter
150g plain flour
2 eggs
150ml milk
110ml water

- Preheat oven to 200c
- Place the sausages in a heavy bottomed pan and rub with a little oil then turn on the heat and brown the sausages all over.
- While you're doing that, mix together the flour and eggs then add the milk and water and whisk until smooth. Stir in the wholegrain mustard (you don't have to use the full 2 tbsp if you're not a huge mustard fan) and season with a little salt and pepper. - Lightly grease the ovendish with oil and pop in the oven for 10 minutes to heat up. By now, your sausages should be nicely browned all over so once your dish is warm, spread the sausages out in one layer and pour the batter over the top. Wiggle the dish from side-to-side to disperse the batter.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, slice the onions and soften in the butter with a drizzle of oil until soft "like worms" (bro quote) then sprinkle the sugar and stir until it dissolves completely. - Add the cider vinegar and stir until mostly evaporated. Add flour (optional if you want to thicken your gravy) and stir until the onions are completely coated. Add the bayleaf and nutmeg then add the stock and stir.
- Put the gravy on low heat and continue to stir occasionally until your toad in the hole is ready. It should be pleasantly crisp on top and soft and springy underneath with the sausages cooked all the way through. Serve with your choice of vegetables and gravy (minus the bayleaf). If you're a real mustard fan like I am, add a tbsp or so of mustard to the gravy too!

Our finished gravy

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Trucks vs Green houses - The struggle to stay green

Yesterday evening, the Boy and I defied our usual domestic routine and went food shopping, an act that is often relegated to a Saturday morning when, as we all know, the supermarkets are generally absolutely rammed. Take it from me, if you get the chance, I'd recommend reserving a weekday evening for your trip to the supermarket as it's generally a much more enjoyable experience. I digress. Anyway, it was extremely quiet and, with us both in excitable moods and with time to spare, we dashed around the fruit and veg aisles revelling in British-ness. It seems that, since I heard tell that the Jersey Royal potatoes were coming into season, Britain has bloomed; we were staggered at just how many products on offer in our local Sainsbury's were grown in the UK. Smug, we crammed our trolley with two types of asparagus (hoping to compare their merits later in the week), tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, onions, radishes, beetroot and parsnips – each one baring the proud Union Jack symbol along with the name of their grower and a homely English county printed on the packet.

Don't get me wrong – this isn't about patriotism. I love most countries (apart from the ones that say or do mean things). This is about seasonality and food miles. I am a firm believer that food is better, in both quality and taste, when ingredients are as fresh as possible. As such, it stands to reason that good will be freshest if it is grown in season and close to where it is needed so that it doesn't need to travel far to be used. Limiting the time (and therefore the distance) from soil to plate is the key to delicious food. Arguably, it's also the key to healthy food too because ingredients that are naturally yummy require less salt and fat to make them taste good. Still, that's another article – and debate! – in itself. All of this is all set off by the fact that society is becoming much more environmentally aware and while we're being told en masse to take public transport and limit our use of cars, it makes sense that our food should be shipped as little as possible in order to help our ailing environment.

It was interesting, after our smug happiness of the previous eve, to read this thread. It never really occurred to me that it wasn't as simple as buying food that is grown or made locally. I'll be checking back with interest on Friday to see what the 'experts' think on the matter.

Monday, 17 May 2010

News Bites

School kids go elsewhere at lunchtimes
At my school, it was only the cool kids that would sneak off to buy snacks from the local shops however now it seems to becoming increasingly common. At study by the School Food Trust showed that 74% of popular meals bought outside of the school yard at break times contained too much salt while some dishes contained more than twice the daily 20g limit for saturated fat. Maybe Jamie Oliver needs to start converting the local shops rather than the dinner ladies?
Shoppers short changed on size
A survey by MySupermarket.co.uk has blown the whistle on the food manufacturers showing that they have been reducing product sizes while keeping the price the same or, in some cases, inflating it. They found that popular items like potnoodles have gone up in price, from 85p to 87p, while the produce itself slimmed down, from 96g to 90g. A good a reason as any for people to start making their own rather than relying on the ready-made.
Recent Controversy
Processed cheese - love it or loathe it? Tasty treat or a plastic-y attempt at the real-thing? One commenter made me giggle with "The Laughing Cow is to Double Gloucester as Dementia is to Reminiscence".
It was no surprise to me to hear that the high street fast food retailer, Kentucky Fried Chicken, had been fined for breaching five hygiene rules. Newspapers have been gleefully outing the fact that cockroaches were found in areas that food was prepared in their Leicester Square branch in London.
Recommended Recipe & In Season
It gives me great pleasure to combine these topics as I've been aiming to buy as much British and in season produce as possible of late. Try asparagus in this delicious recipe by Yotam Ottolengthi - great as a laid back starter with friends.

Noodle Bar, Loughborough

If you're looking for a simple, quick meal out in sociable surroundings, Noodle Bar in Loughborough is a good place to try. Slightly strangely named - The White Horse & Noodle Bar - the establishment is both a pub and a Chinese noodle bar so you can kill two birds with one stone. The Noodle Bar itself is a lofty long room filled with long dining tables. Everyone sits together, which combined with the high-ceiling and student-y atmosphere, gives the room a buzz. We were seated quickly and had barely looked at the menus before our waiter had returned to take our drinks order.
We decided on sharing some crispy duck to start, which arrived promptly and was shredded by two waiters at our table. The duck itself was perfect - crispy skin with moist, tender flesh. The accompanying pancakes were a little thin on the ground - we could've done with a few more between three of us - but the spring onion and cucumber seemed nice and fresh. For main, I had the sweet and sour vegetables with noodles while the Boy had King Prawn fried rice and his uni friend had stir fried pork (all £4.50). My sweet and sour was good enough for the price - the sauce was a little vinegary for my taste but there was a nice array of vegetables with large chunks of pineapple to get my teeth around and keep me happy. The Boy and his matie seemed very happy with their meals and we shared some prawn crackers (£1) between us, which were tasty if a little overtly oily.
Gourmet cuisine, it is not. But if you're looking for a fun alternative to a take-away or a first stop for fuel before a night out, Noodle Bar delivers. Not recommended for a first date (too noisy) and be aware that they do not take cards though they do have a conveniently placed card machine in the bar plus you're not too far from cash points in the centre of town.
Starters: £3 - £4
Mains: £4.50 - £6
Noodle Bar can be found at 32 Bedford Street, Town Centre, Loughborough LE11 2DS.Tel: 01509 269 247

Friday, 14 May 2010

Review: The Plough Inn, Wrington

There are few things nicer than seeing a place revitalised, especially when said establishment has been crying out for a (cringe) 'make-over' for an extended period of time. The Plough Inn in Wrington was a pleasure to visit yesterday as, for many years and increasingly so recently, it had fallen out of favour and consequently off the map. I have fond memories of the place from years when I was at school and college, as several of my friends worked waiting tables or behind the bar which meant that it was a popular haunt for get-togethers. Even the Boy did a stint there! The food, back then, was good - nothing too fancy but good grub. The place was kept busy by the restaurant and bar alike as the pub reaped the rewards of their proximity to a fantastic local brewery. But in the years that followed, and with several changes in management, the pub seemed loose its spark. It became quieter and quieter, much to our dismay.
We returned last night to find the pub renovated and rejuvenated under new management. The atmosphere has gone from musty traditional country pub to urbane gastro-pub in one seemingly easy step. We were seated in the brand-spanking-new extension to the old dining area which gives the pub a much more open-plan and airy feel, party due to the large windows and patio doors that now look onto the smaller but more manicured garden. We consult the menus and are pleased to hear from our waitress that the bar is still well-stocked with good beers on tap while others (online) have raved about their wine list.
The food, over all, was good. I had the creamy smoked haddock with poached egg and cheddar to start, which was simply lovely, while the Boy had the ham hock terrine with absolutely sublime chunky chutney. We shared their paella plate for our main, which was a little bit of a let-down compared to our starters; the rice was a little dry and, though it did come with a pile of seafood, the calamari rings were overcooked and the mussels were extremely salty. Other members of our party had more success though – both the trout nicoise and bangers and mash receiving a positive review. Pudding was a sticky toffee pudding between two, which was very nice. All in all, well worth a visit and reassuringly busy, even on a Thursday night.
The décor is a little bit tacky gastro-pub for my taste – a little swish for a small country public house – but hopefully it will mellow with time. Watch this space!
Starters: £5 - £7
Mains: £9 - £16
Desserts: around £5
The Plough can be found on the High Street, Wrington, Bristol BS40 5QA. Tel: 01934 862 871‎

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Stolford Mud-Horse Fisherman

Views across Bridgwater Bay from Stolford

The Boy was on a mission. We set off into the Somerset levels in search of a fabled fisherman that he had first heard of on the Beeb's Coast programme. Armed only with the name of the hamlet where he was based, we drove for only thirty minutes from where we live to Stolford on the coast of Bridgwater Bay in Somerset.
Here resides the last remaining mud-horse fisherman in Britain who works the mud flat on his wooden sled. Adrian Sellick comes from a long line of mud-horse fisherman and you will see him out all year round. There's something incredibly romantic about the thought of him casting himself out in all weathers and venturing out into the bay on his home-made drift-wood contraption. He tends to his nets, strung between posts driven into the mud, which trap fish as the tides turn. On the day that we went, the chiller in their tiny garage-cum-fishmonger was still packed with fish. Brendan, his Father and a former mud-horse fisherman, now runs the shop and shows me a handsome bass as long as my arm which could be mine for a mere £12. It could easily feed eight or ten people! We choose a lovely looking mullet instead which is a more reasonable size (though still a feast!) for two at a bargain £3. As he expertly guts, scales and washes the fish, Brendan tells us how the fish aren't even 24 hours out of the water - and you can tell how fresh they are, simply by looking at them.

I feel surprisingly proud that this tiny family business is still running, mainly I think down to the support of the local community. Though labour intensive, the practise is extremely environmentally friendly and much kinder to the seas that the common methods of fishing used today. We hurried home to make the most of our fresh fish and cook up a real treat.

Adrian and Brendan Sellick of the Stolford Mud-Horse Fisherman can be contacted on 01278 652297.

Mullet - primed and ready to go into the oven

Mullet en papillote with fennel, chilli and lemon

You will need:
1 mullet, gutted, scaled and washed
1 head of fennel
1 lemon
3 springs of rosemary
1/2 chilli
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 glass of white wine

- Preheat the oven at 190C
- Slice the fennel, lemon, chilli and garlic
- Unroll and cut enough baking foil and parchment to go around the fish (if you have a long fish, like we do here, roll out two lengths and fold to join together). Lay the baking parchment on a kitchen counter and then lay the foil on top.
- Lay slices of fennel in the middle of the foil in a mound and place the fish on top
- Stuff the cavity of the fish with the rosemary sprigs, lemon, chilli and garlic
- Bring the foil and paper up and around the fish to seal leaving a small gap at the top of the parcel (about the size of a small fist). Into this, pour the wine and seal firmly.
- Place on a baking tray and bake for 25 minutes. Resist the urge to open the foil and check how it is doing. The fish will cook in its own steam and juices so opening it won't help! Eat when the flesh is opaque and falling off the bone.
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