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


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...


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

- 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!
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