May 302009
 

It was Pete’s birthday on Wednesday. And I singularly failed to get him any birthday presents at all. I claim mitigating circumstances though, as he’s resolutely refused to come up with any ideas at all for things he wants.

So, whilst out buying something for lunch at work, I picked up some rhubarb as a last-minute present. He loves rhubarb, you see, but seldom buys it because I can’t stand it. I do encourage him to buy it anyway just for himself, but he never does. So I bought him some sticks of rhubarb for his birthday.

After close consultation it became clear that rhubarb crumble was his preferred recipe. As we were going to dinner at a friend’s house on Friday (whose birthday falls a few days after Pete’s), I decided to make two crumbles for dessert that evening; one rhubarb crumble and another pear and apple one.

The rhubarb was stewed with some sugar and a healthy splash of port.

The (eating not cooking) apples and pears were similarly treated, however I completely forgot that apples break down much faster than similarly hard pears so the result was port pink apple compote with chunks of pears!

For the crumble topping I mixed approximately two parts flour to one part sugar and one part butter. For the sugar I used about a third dark brown and the rest white.

These went into three plastic boxes for transportation to our friend’s house, along with suitable dishes in which to assemble them.

I spread the fruit fillings into my two dishes and spread the raw crumble topping over them both.

Once both crumbles were covered in a generous layer of topping they went into the oven for 30-45 minutes.

They came out looking beautiful! The good news is that they tasted great too!

 

 

The end of May bank holiday was so gloriously sunny, it really seemed to herald the coming of summer. We took it suitably easy with a little gardening, a little DIY and a lot of relaxing and good eating!

On Saturday Pete and I drove up to Burnham Green (Hertfordshire) for a country pub lunch in the White Horse pub. It’s a fair journey from where we live in North West London, but it’s a pub Pete used to visit with colleagues when he worked in nearby Welwyn and it’s a lovely place. When we fancy a country pub lunch after a meandering drive, it’s one of a handful we pick from.

I suppose most people would describe it as a gastropub – the interior has been modernised and made light and airy and the menu favours modern tastes too, but I hesitate to use the gastropub label as it has come to carry connotations of pretentiousness. The White Horse is altogether too relaxed, warm and welcoming for that. Although there were plenty of tables free outside in the sunshine, we chose one next to one of the big windows – the best of both worlds – and checked out the menu.

Pete ordered a pint of cask ale and I decided to push the boat out by ordering Pimms. Not a single glass of it, oh no! I ordered an entire jug! (I figured I’d easily get through 3 glasses and a jug cost less than 3 glasses so… the rest was a bonus!) The expression on the waitress’ face when she delivered the drinks was priceless – she seemed to take in the table, with just the two of us sitting there, and bite down on asking how many were joining us! I didn’t quite finish the entire jug but did enjoy several glasses through the meal!

Anti-social it might seem to others, but we sat in companiable silence, reading the Saturday papers (laid out on the bar for customers to borrow).

Instead of two starters we ordered 5 items from the “tasting slates” selection, priced at £1.95 each. We ordered some lovely sliced ham (possibly Iberico, I forget), chorizo salami, balsamic onions, feta-stuffed pepperdews and classic sourdough (served with a generous bowl of thick balsamic and olive oil for dipping. All very good, particularly the bread.

For my main I chose a rib eye steak and chips, both cooked simply and well. The skin-on chips were really nice. Pete had chicken with a honey and mustard marinade, also served with chips. I’ve used a honey and mustard marinade on meat myself; this one tasted fabulous and the meat was also flavoursome and moist.

At this point, we really didn’t need desserts but we both failed tor resist the temptation of the latte mousse on the dessert menu. And to make our fail even bigger, we didn’t order one between us but a greedy one each! The mousse was delicious, served in a coffee cup with a moist, cake-like almond biscuit, in the shape of an Italian amaretti biscuits.

You can imagine how full we were by the end of all this feasting!

Our bill came to a very reasonable £48 + tip. Restaurant prices, yes but restaurant quality food too served by warm, friendly and efficient staff in a relaxing environment.


On Sunday we headed out of London to meet friends for dinner, at another pub called the White Horse, this time located in Shenley (Hertfordshire), where our friends live. They joined us there for a lovely dinner. Like it’s namesake in Burnham Green, the Shenley White Horse has been modernised inside and offers a modern menu offering mainly restaurant-style dishes with a few pub classics (plus traditional roasts on Sundays). It’s a deceptively large space with plenty of tables, inside and out. Some are in the restaurant area and others in the more relaxed pub section, though I believe the same menus are available throughout.

We had booked a table in the restaurant area; inside but not far from doors left open through the evening.

Although it was very quiet throughout our meal, service was lackadaisical. Interactions with the staff were friendly but they were neither efficient (mistakes were made in taking down our order) nor consistent (sometimes it was very hard to get the attention of two waitresses looking after only a handful of tables between them). The kitchen wasn’t totally on the ball either, though the food, when we got it, was good. The daily specials menu informed us that the normal head chef was not in today, and the kitchen was being managed by his usual sous.

A and I chose the warm chicken livers + pear + pancetta + frisee + creamy garlic dressing which was a wonderful dish. The flavours and textures worked very well together, contrasting and complementing each other even better than I’d expected.

L really enjoyed her smoked mackerel pate + celeriac remoulade + toast. Even though, when Pete ordered his starter of chicken breast + crisp tortilla crumb + iceberg + guacamole + salsa + chilli + sour cream,(also available as a main), the waitress repeated “chicken salad” back to him and said it was her very favourite thing on the menu, she managed to input duck salad instead, which we discovered when the starters were served. It was another several minutes before the correct dish came out, though this was justified by the very freshly deep-fried breadcrumbed chicken pieces served over the various salad elements. Pete said it was worth the wait!

Pete was unlucky once again. As three of the mains were served, and L detected the smell of what she thought was burnt toast, Pete was told apologetically, that chef had burned his Piccante – pepperoni + chorizo + tomato + jalapeno pizza and was making another one! In the meantime, as the other mains were ready, the other three of us were served.

L ordered from the specials menu and her roast rack of lamb + crushed thyme potatoes + asparagus + wild mushroom + truffle sauce looked wonderful. She said all of it was good but the sauce was especially so. A ordered a classic burger + onion + gherkin + mustard mayo + frites which he’d had before. Served medium, as requested, it looked like a decent burger. My spit roast duck + cherries + cassis jus + frites was a generous portion and tasty too – moist meat with lots of flavour and thin, crispy skin. The cherries were mildly sharp and worked well with the mildly sweet jus. My only disappointment was that the “frites” were regular fat chips – to me, using the word “frites” implies thin french fries, which I was really in the mood for. The chips were OK but not as tasty as the BG White Horse skin-on chips. Pete seemed to enjoy his pizza though, as I’d predicted, it didn’t compare to those available from some decent Italian pizzerias near home.

Somehow, all four of us found room for dessert. Between us we had a sticky toffee and date pudding with toffee sauce and cream, a marshmallow cheesecake with turkish delight sauce, a passionfruit pannacotta with , I think, mango sauce and my (excessively large) apple and strawberry crumble with cream. Although A enjoyed it, I wasn’t too keen on the texture of the sticky toffee pudding – I found it tough rather than moist and light, like better example I’ve enjoyed. L’s panna cotta looked delicious and she definitely enjoyed it. Pete sang the praises of his choice, explaining that the cheesecake had a great marshmallow taste and fiercely guarding the turkish delight syrup from thieving fingers! My crumble was just OK. The fruit was undersweetened, which I don’t mind when balanced by the sweetness of a generous topping, but in this case, there was far too little topping for far too much fruit, made and served as it was in a dish that was too large and too shallow. Custard rather than cream would have helped with sweetness too. As it was, it was a bit blah and I didn’t finish even half of it.

Through the meal I enjoyed Pimms once again, this time two (generous, pint-sized) servings. Pete and Ade enjoyed Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and both A and L had wine during the meal and we had one coffee and one after-dinner whisky on the list too. Our bill came to 126.75 + tip though we didn’t leave a huge one. Service here has never quite matched that in the BG White Horse as it’s always hard to catch the attention of staff, though usually that’s because it’s busy. That said, it’s usually not sloppy – the mistakes in ordering and from the kitchen are not the norm. In retrospect it would have been a nice gesture for them to offer Pete a complimentary dessert or drink, given his two delayed courses, though these weren’t serious enough lapses for us to ask for a discount ourselves.

May 272009
 

As the 2 month anniversary of this blog fast approaches I think it’s high time to introduce myself.

But rather than rambling away in my normal fashion I thought I’d ask my (trickle of) readers what you want to know about me?

Whether you’re curious about what I ate growing up (being the daughter of Mamta of Mamta’s Kitchen) or have questions about how my passions of food, travel and photography combine or want to know what my favourite (and most hated) foods are or would like me to share my cooking and restaurant top tips or simply want to know what I think about SPAM, please ask away.

Leave as many questions as you like in the comments to this post and I’ll get thinking and writing soon!

Thanks!

 

I’m glad I attended the filming of Market Kitchen for a second time, after my first experience back in March. That session had been an Easter special, and although there was certainly cooking (and tasting) there were a number of segments (judging egg kits for kids, ranking easter eggs made by a range of celebrities and looking at posh jellies inside fruits) which the audience were not involved in at all.

Last time I went on my own but this time I was joined by a fellow poster from the BBC Food Chat board who responded to my invitation to attend with me. We met at the studios in Kentish Town at 8.20 am, grabbed a quick croissant and tea whilst we signed indemnity and permission forms before being lead upstairs to the studio. There were 19 or 20 in the studio audience this time and we represented a range of ages, backgrounds and interests. One couple had come all the way from Cardiff the night before!

Our presenters this time were Matthew Fort and Tom Parker-Bowles. Fort in particular is very warm and friendly and clearly enjoys interacting with the audience. He would often include us in the banter during filming, as there were often many takes and much silliness. And he would also come and chat to us during the breaks between segments. Tom Parker-Bowles was also friendly, though spent much less time chatting to the audience. I like him as a presenter very much; I prefer his relaxed and warm style to that of Matt Tebbit, who can be somewhat more sarcastic and mocking. Fort was dressed in his usual smart suit; P-B was wearing his characteristic scruffy-teen jeans and jumper. Very much the odd couple but a pair that work really well together.

Although we were given information handouts on arrival, which one must sit on during filming, to keep them out of shot, I decided to leave mine in the storage area, with my bag. So when we saw the three guest chefs, the only one I recognised was Richard Corrigan. With him were two ladies. One was heavily pregnant and casually, comfortably dressed. The other, an attractive, long-haired blonde, was dressed in a rather short, midnight-blue, chiffon dress heavily decorated with silver sequins, complemented by a pair of high-heeled silver stilettos! Uncharitable thoughts about nightclub hostesses popped into my head. I was certainly guilty of judging the book by it’s cover!

Immediately on walking into the studio we were asked to taste three pots of hummus and mark our favourite onto a voting slip. All three were far too dry, especially the first one, which could not hardly be described as a paste at all. That one was distinctly peanuty. One of the others was red and tasted of red peppers, chilli and spices. The other was somewhat more standard. None were very good. The first segment filmed saw Fort ask the chefs about their individual hummus recipes before announcing that Sophie Michell’s had won our audience vote. But, in between filming, it became clear that the chefs hadn’t made their respective hummus dishes – rather the crew had done so according to their recipes. And not very well, from their comments, as Corrigan made comments about the texture and adding in more oil. Sophie was disappointed to learn that her hummus had not been presented to us tasters with her specified toppings of pine nuts and chopped spring onions.

As last time, between every segment, not only were the audience mixed up, in terms of where we were all seated, but the tables and chairs were re-positioned too. A male and female took the place of the two male baristas of last time, one of which was that drop-dead gorgeous South African; he was sadly away in Paris, Fort explained. Shame, as he was rather pleasant eye-candy! But the hot chocolates I opted for were still good, so all was not lost! What was odd to me was how often the barista would deliver empty coffee cups to the audience tables during filming; they were obviously keen to give the impression of a proper cafe atmosphere.

One of the segments that was interesting to observe and passionate too was an interview with Professor Tim Lang about food policy in the UK and glocal food and water crises. Lang is Professor of Food Policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy. The centre specialises in how public and private policy shapes the food supply chain, what people eat, societal health, environmental consequences and so on. Lang combines research on these issues with active policy making working with public sector as well as non-profit organsations.The main two areas covered in the interview were the amount of food wasted in the UK and the world water shortage. Interesting and sobering stuff.

Sophie Michell proved to be far more professional than I (unfairly) expected (and less prone to fluffing her segments than the presenters or Corrigan). Where she did have to do retakes, it was usually because the floor manager and production crew wanted a different angle or a few seconds longer to film a particular step. She made Russian black tea braised ribs with soy, honey glaze using anise, cassia, ginger and five spice amongst the flavourings. With the exception of the tea, not a hugely unusual or innovative recipe, but one I was looking forward to trying – I adore ribs, I love asian spicing and I love tea too so it sounded very promising. The tea was a mix of lapsang souchong and assam, with the lapsang souchong providing a smokey note to the overall flavour. Sitting at a table of 3 I was rather surprised when the tasting plate came with just two small ribs between us and we were given just a fork each with which to attack them. Having been given the forks, we assumed picking the ribs up with fingers (as any sane person would do to eat such a dish) was not to be done, besides which, we weren’t given a rib each. So we awkwardly pulled meat off the bone with our forks, all under the watchful eyes of the cameras. One of our two ribs had very little meat on it and had subsequently become charred and overcooked. Luckily, the other one had much more meat and a good ratio of fat too, which had kept it moist. The outside was crusted and the inside moist and tender. The flavour was wonderful with a great balance between smokeyness, sweetness and warm spices. This will likely prove to be the first Market Kitchen recipe I actually make the effort to try myself! The ribs were served with a very simple cucumber salad. A good contrast but nothing special.

Corrigan was making a breakfast dish of poached smoked Haddock with mustard, dill and dry cured bacon served on light potato pancakes. The haddock was light and moist, though quite a gentle flavour, not as strong as I would have liked. The mustard sauce was nice but the dill didn’t come through at all, likewise in the pancake, which also had dill added. The pancakes were like wee drop scones and were much lighter and airier than I would ever have imagined potato scones could be. This would be down to the whipped egg whites being folded in to the batter separately from the yolks, I guess. The bacon was from The Ginger Pig and was delicious! Corrigan was genuinely delighted with the positive feedback from the filmed audience tasting feedback. I ended up giving feedback on the haddock – I didn’t love it though it was nice enough but they needed an extra person to comment and those who hadn’t already done so were shying away. I’d rather have given feedback on the ribs, which I liked far more. I doubt mine will be used anyway as I called the pancakes scones and focused on them rather than the haddock itself.

The next main segment was rather odd, but to be fair, I’m definitely not the target audience. A bloke called King Adz came on and talked briefly about the origins of hip hop and American culture before recommending Berlin as the hippest (and cheapest) city in Europe; a buzzing place to visit. I couldn’t follow the connection between American food culture (discussed for maybe as much as 10 seconds) and Berlin city breaks! The segment finished with King Adz blitzing together Dime bars, vanilla ice-cream and milk to create a Dime bar milk shake. It tasted exactly as you’d expect, if you know Dime bars but I was confused by how it related to the topics until I finally noticed in my handout that it was something he’d come across in Berlin. A quick google when I got home told me that King Adz is a writer/ photographer/ editor/ producer/ director whose main expertise is “producing food, travel and culture content for the urban youth demographic”. Having learned, last time I was on MK, that it’s very big with university students (it was Countdown in my day) perhaps this segment was a nod to them but probably left the rest of the audience quite bemused. All a bit odd and slightly surreal.

Last to be filmed was Jo Pratt’s segment. Her main dish was paella cakes made from left-over paella though most of the segment was about cooking the paella itself. I didn’t rate the paella cakes at all, the flavour wasn’t great and I didn’t like the texture much either. Again, they gave us just 2 paella cakes between our table of 4 (and this time, no cutlery at all with which to divide and eat them). Alongside the cakes was a small shot glass of red gazpacho. Very nice but again, not practical to share a single shot glass between 4 strangers with no straws or spoons provided. The (single glass) of sherry spritzer also provided was nothing special either. All in all a disappointing segment.

Throughout the morning various short introduction and voice-over segments were also recorded plus a brief section on the growing trend to grow one’s own vegetables. I’d been looking forward to this, as we’ve been growing our own vegetables for several years now, but it was filmed on the large kitchen table in the corner, making it hard for the audience to see and it was a short segment and therefore very superficial.

We finished before 1pm and headed off. LindaCaterina went home to get on with some work. I headed down to China Town to meet a friend (and her lovely baby boy) for dim sum in China Town.

 

After the truly scrumptious chicken stock risotto we enjoyed a few weeks ago, my first thought for using the lamb stock we made from the bone and bits from Sunday’s shoulder of lamb roast was to make another risotto. This time, however, we didn’t have any lamb meat left (having already used it to make a shepherd’s pie). Odd though it may sound, my initial pondering was to add some bacon pieces to the risotto.

I did ask fellow foodies for alternative ideas (and particularly liked the idea of a potato and onion bake which is on the list to try next time). As well as many helpful suggestions, doubt was expressed that lamb stock would work well in a risotto, being rather a strong flavour. And I knew that combining lamb with pork would certainly be unorthodox!

In the end, Pete rather fancied the original idea of the risotto and we went ahead with that. The lamb fat skimmed off the stock, together with pork fat that came out of the pancetta during frying, were used instead of oil and butter to fry the risotto rice, before the stock was added in the normal way. The flavour from the lamb stock came through loud and clear and so did the smokey pancetta. Others might have felt they clashed but Pete and I really enjoyed the combination. It was tasty!

 

One one of our numerous trips to France Pete & I enjoyed some wonderful meals at a cheese and wine restaurant in Bordeaux. One getting home, Pete attempted to recreate one simple dish we ate there and this is his rather tasty result! It’s a dish we both love so we have it once every 6 weeks or so! I’d have it every week but that much cheese makes it a no-no!

April cheesey bake (can’t remember which cheeses)


Petetree’s Cheesey Potato Bake
Ingredients
Approximately 200 grams potato per person (floury variety)
Approximately 200 grams strongly-flavoured cheeses per person (roughly one third each of a hard cheese such as Comte or Gruyere, a medium-soft cheese such as Maroilles or Pont l’Eveque and a blue cheese such as Gorgonzola or Stilton)

Method

  • Peel and chop potatoes into roughly half inch cubes.
  • Parboil the potatoes. Better to over than under do this stage but don’t overcook them to the point they can’t hold their shape when transferred into the cooking dish.
  • Chop or break cheese into small pieces; about half an inch. Pete often slices some of the soft cheese to lay over the top.
  • Distribute potatoes and cheese evenly in a shallow oven dish. (You can either use individual baking dishes or one larger one for a communal meal).

Just a little longer!


Perfect! This one contains Ilha Graciosa, Blue d’Auvergne and Pont l’Eveque

  • Bake at a medium heat, about 160-180 degrees, until the cheese is starting to brown on top. Time is a little dependent on the cheese mix but is approximately 45 minutes.
 

Having ordered an organic meat box delivery from The Well Hung Meat Co whilst visiting the Real Food Festival last week, our box duly arrived today and I decided to cook the pork belly slices for tonight’s dinner. I had been a little worried that the stated 300 gram portion would make for somewhat small portions for 2 adults so was disappointed that a) the pack size was only 290 grams and b) one of the slices still had the bone attached, making the actual meat portion even lower.

I have a long list of recipes for pork belly bookmarked but none suitable for pork belly slices. The twitter food blogger community and the BBC Food Chat board rose to the occasion with several suggestions including marinated grilled or oven-roasted, Vietnamese caramel pork and Chinese red braised pork. But the suggestion that won the day) was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Boston Baked Beans recommended by St John Restaurant.

As I didn’t have time to soak dried haricot beans overnight, I opted for tinned and I substituted double the volume of milder French mustard in place of stronger English. HFW makes it clear that the recipe is very flexible suggesting that pork can be replaced with chorizo, white haricot beans with cannellini, kidney or borlotti and that the tomatoes can be left out completely! The ingredients below are what I used; you can follow the link above to HFW’s original recipe.

This recipe was absolutely delicious and I’ll definitely do it again!

Boston Baked Beans with Pork Belly
Ingredients
2 x 400 gram tins of white haricot beans in water (I used Biona organic beans)
220 grams pork belly cut into pieces (I’d prefer 300 to 400 grams next time)
50g soft brown sugar
3 tbsp black treacle
2 tbsp French mustard
200g chopped tomatoes (ie ½ a tin)
4 cloves
8-10 shallots peeled but left whole
Black pepper

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 140C/ 275F/ gas mark 1.
  • Tip the contents of the tins of haricot beans, liquid and all, into a large casserole, on the stove, medium heat
  • Cut the pork belly into small pieces; mine were about 1cm x 1cm x 4cm. I removed the pork belly rind but you could leave it on.
  • Add pork to the beans.
  • Stir in the sugar, treacle, mustard and tomatoes.
  • Press a clove into four of the shallots onions and add all the shallots to the casserole.
  • Season with pepper.
  • Cover and pop into the oven for about 2.5 – 3 hours
  • Check the seasoning before serving, perhaps with some fresh, home-made bread or over a jacket potato.

 

The weekend before last, while Pete went to the Reading Beer Festival with friends, my sister and I had lunner (lunch-dinner) in China Town before sitting open-jawed infront of the spectacle of Oliver, on stage.

The next day my sister and I made chocolate chip cookies for her boyfriend. My sister was particularly keen to find a recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies, crisp on the outside, soft and chewy inside. I found several recipes on the web, my sister picked one that seemed to match what she wanted, we stopped off at a supermarket for ingredients (as well as a lovely garden picnic lunch) and we set to work!

The recipe was pretty straightforward, though we mis-interpreted the instructions on size and ended up with only 5 enormous cookies that ran into each other on the baking tray! But the cookies came out wonderfully! They tasted so good that my sister dubbed them The Cookies Of Dreams. Having put aside the finest and roundest 3 cookies for the boyfriend, Pete was allowed to help us eat the other two when he arrived to collect me and join us for lunch. He agreed that we’d made some pretty fine cookies.

Unfortunately, my mobile phone photos are so poor I felt I simply had to make The Cookies Of Dreams again, just to blog them for you, dear readers. (I’ve always wanted to do that twee “dear readers” thing!) so I made them again this weekend. They came out just as delicious as the first batch, but a more manageable size. Which is fortunate as I’ve also promised some to a work friend for her upcoming birthday, and needed to check I had the recipe down first!

Our recipe is essentially little changed from allrecipes.com’s Best Big, Fat, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with the exception of switching the butter and reducing the volume of chocolate chips. The 200 grams we used (both the first time, with my sister, and this time, at home) was more than enough to stud the cookies generously with chocolatey goodness.

The Cookies Of Dreams
This recipe makes 10 to 20 cookies depending on size.

Ingredients

250 grams plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
170 grams butter ^
200 grams dark brown soft sugar
100 grams caster sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract ~
1 egg +
1 egg yolk
200 grams chocolate chips *

^ The original recipe calls for unsalted butter and then adds 1/2 teaspoon salt. I used salted butter and omitted the salt.
~ Do use extract rather than essence. The strong vanilla flavour is crucial to these cookies.
+ I used large eggs, as that’s what we buy normally.
* Both my sister and I used a mix of large, square white chocolate and milk chocolate chips from Waitrose’s Ingredients for Cooks range

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 170 C.
  • Grease baking trays, line with parchment or use a silicon baking sheet.
  • Sift together the flour and bicarbonate of soda and set aside.
  • Melt the butter (I find a few short bursts in the microwave perfect for this).
  • In a large bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and caster sugar.
  • Beat in the vanilla, egg and egg yolk until pale and creamy.
  • Mix in the sifted ingredients to create a sticky cookie dough.
  • Stir in the chocolate chips.
  • The original recipe suggests dropping cookie dough onto the baking trays. I found it easier to roll small balls in my hand, place them on the tray and flatten slightly. The dough will spread in the oven into properly flat cookies so leave plenty of space between each one.
  • Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking trays for a several minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
  • Enjoy!

Note: The cookie dough can be frozen to be baked another day. Form the dough into individual portion balls and freeze in a sealed plastic container. This way, you can defrost and bake any number you choose. The dough only takes 3-4 hours to defrost and you can then place balls onto a tray, flatten slightly and bake as normal.

 

Thanks to winning tickets from Simon at Dos Hermanos Pete and I headed down to Earl’s Court bright and early on Friday morning to check out hundreds of small-scale food and drink producers from all over the UK.

We walked and tasted our way around the show for a whopping 7.5 hours and, with some caveats (faaar too many cup cake stalls not to mention the holiday company, washing up liquid and those chocolate pizzas!) we discovered some wonderful products produced by some friendly, passionate and enthusiastic people.

Here’s my feedback on some of my favourite producers, products and stalls.

My joint favourite from the day was a light, refreshing, crisp and very grown up sparkling cider from Polgoon Vineyard and Orchard. Kim Coulson explained how Polgoon Aval is created using the method traditionelle and uses dessert apples (the exact variety is a closely guarded secret) instead of the cider apple varieties commonly used for cider. Her son busied himself pouring samples! For someone who drinks only dessert wine and French cidre doux, finding regular wines and ciders far too sharp, this dry bubbly was a revelation! Polgoon also offer the aval blended with raspberries to create a pretty pink version but I found that the fruit muddied the flavours.

I was also bowled over, for the second time in as many months, by Henrietta Lovell’s beautiful teas. Her Jasmine Silver Tip Tea, made by steaming fine silvery-white tips of tea with fresh jasmine flowers, blew me away at the Guardian’s Chocolate Tasting Event but would I still be so impressed after sampling the teas on offer from so many other tea producers at the festival? I left Henrietta’s stall till the end of the day and the answer to that question is a resounding yes! Drinking the Rare Tea Company’s jasmine tea is like sitting amid a glade of jasmine bushes just as the sun sets and the tiny blossoms unfurl and release their intoxicating scent. Unusually, the flavour comes through just as much as the heady perfume. All of Henrietta’s teas are made with the same careful attention to quality and flavour and I can recommend her Emperor’s Breakfast black China tea, her delicate Oolong Tea and her refreshing Green Leaf Tea.

Speaking of tea, it has to be said that there were an awful lot of tea stalls at this year’s Real Food Festival. As a lifelong “teaphile”, I was delighted. Perhaps this year will really be the year of the tea; top quality and fabulous tea! I samples teas from many stalls:-

Teapig’s Nick Kilby describes himself as a tea evangelist, keen to bring the joys of great tea to the masses. Aware that many tea drinkers eschew loose leaf tea because they perceive it as a time-consuming hassle but heedful that regular teabags don’t allow the glories of loose leaf tea to shine, Nick and partner Louise, were travelling in Japan when they discovered what they call the tea temple – a little pyramid pouch made of biodegradable silky mesh which gives loose leaves the space to properly infuse. They fill these little purses with the same top quality tea, sourced from around the world, that they also sell loose. Their English Breakfast, a blend of teas from Rwanda, India and Sri Lanka, was brewed strong and black and yet didn’t pack the usual tannin punch that furs the inside of your mouth so unpleasantly. As a chilli wuss I wasn’t brave enough to try their chilli chai and didn’t notice their chocolate flake tea until reading the leaflet I took away with me – one to try next time!

East Tea’s Alex Fraser can talk the hind legs off a donkey. But his stories are so charming and his tea facts so interesting, I didn’t mind being that donkey! I learned, for example, that East Tea’s da hong pao tea is cultivated from a 2nd-generation cutting taken from a bush so prized that an emperor of the Ming Dynasty bestowed his Imperial red robe to protect the bush, so grateful was he for it’s healing properties. When tea from the original bush was last available, it sold for about £15,000 for 20 grams! More of Fraser’s tea tales can be found in the online archives of The Epoch Times, for whom he writes a regular column. Fraser himself is an intense individual and ardent about the provenance of his teas as well as the other products he sells, including some truly beautiful Korean ceramics. He spent three years in Japan studying the Japanese Way of Tea, though it’s his business partner Tim who travels Asia to source the teas. The teas themselves are delicate. I lacked the vocabulary even to approximate their complex and delicate aromas and flavours, let alone to nail them definitively. In truth, they were perhaps too subtle for me and certainly the prices for much of the range are not for the faint-hearted (though some are more affordable). These are teas for aficionados; teas on which to focus 100% of one’s attention; teas for collectors of rarities.

Another category that was rather well represented, was that of chutneys, pickles and jams. But I hope people weren’t too chutneyed out to sample my favourite – Indian chutneys and pickles from The Spice Shelf. I asked producer Meher Salman whether she was using family recipes from India. Yes, she told me, the recipes were adapted from those passed down by her grandmother in Lucknow, India. This would explain why her products remind me so much of my mum’s goodies, made to recipes also handed down through our family, who hail from the same area of India – my mum’s older sister lives in Lucknow itself! My favourite was Salman’s award-winning garlic pickle, though her plum chutney was a close second. Pete was particularly taken with her cranberry and chilli chutney.

For those with a sweet tooth, my first recommendation would be to search out Mr and Mrs Darling’s Burtree Puddings. Their sticky toffee pudding was moist, rich and extremely moreish. The ginger pudding contains crystallised ginger and the sticky lemon uses real lemon zest and juice. All made from good quality ingredients. When I learned that it can be frozen, a selection of puddings went straight onto my shopping list to be purchased just before leaving the show!

My other pudding purchase was a beautiful, round Pommes Calvados Pain d’Epices, made by sold by It’s French! The calvados, chunks of apple and warm spices all come through clearly. Also available are versions with preserved orange or prunes and Armagnac. Made with delicious french honey rather than refined sugar and using only organic flour, these cakes are light, moist and packed full of flavour.

Munchy Seeds are probably larger than many of the producers present, seeing as how they are available in both Waitrose and Tesco. I first came across them at the Feast East food show in Linton in March of this year and couldn’t resist the cute, snack size sachets. The tasty, healthy snacks were first made and marketed by Lucinda Clay and her mother in New Zealand following Lucinda’s grandmother’s recipe for roasted seed mix. High in iron, zinc and vitamin C not to mention Omega 6 and 9, the seed mixes include sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds roasted in special flavouring mixes. Free from artificial flavours, colours and preservatives, they are also cholesterol, dairy and gluten-free and suitable for coeliacs, vegans and vegetarians. Who would have thought something so tasty could be so healthy?! Crispin Clay met Lucinda whilst travelling. After she came back to the UK with him, she decided to launch Munchy Seeds into the UK market. Just over 10 years later, both Crispin and Lucinda are working in the expanding business. Their range now includes a number of flavours including cajun mix, vanilla pumpkin and original as well as my favourite, the omega mix available in tubs as well as handy sachets. Also worth looking out for is the Roasted Pumpkin Seeds & Sunflower Seed Oil. Healthy, yes, like the the rest of their range, but it’s a combination of the delicious rich and nutty taste and the bright green engine-oil appearance that sold it to me! I can’t wait to enjoy mine drizzled over a salad or some beautiful, roasted vegetables.

I first became rather enamoured with Gorvett & Stone’s lovely chocolates at the Great British Cheese Festival 2007. Their mint truffles blew me away, with their taste of the fresh herb rather than the more common mint essence or oil. Such herby chocolates are all the rage now, but back then I’d not encountered them. I was wowed! So I was delighted to see Matt Stone and his goodies at the festival! I stuck to the fresh mint truffles whilst Pete opted for white chocolate and raspberries. Jolly nice they are (soon to be were) too!

Having recently made my own chocolate for the very first time, using the Mayan Magic kit by Chocolution, I was intrigued by Nibchoc’s natural raw chocolate bars. Like my kit chocolate, Nibchoc bars contain no refined sugar or dairy nor any artificial ingredients. The result is chocolate with a gritty, granular texture that reminded me a little of crunchy chocolate tiffin. Both Pete and I thought their ginger nibs bar the tastiest, followed by coffee and then vanilla and rose petal.

Meat was another well-represented category. Hazeldene Farm’s organic bacon was as dense, meaty and delicious as I’d been lead to expect by media and blogger testimonials. A packet went into the bag with of goodies that went home with us from the show.

From Manor Farm Game we bought two whole wild rabbits. Having only cooked rabbit once, unsuccessfully, we decided to give it another chance and see what we think. Also available are free-range turkey, geese and duck, estate-reared pheasant, partridge and mallard and more wild game such as venison, grouse, wood pigeon and hare.

From Simply Sausages we brought home 3 packs of proper British sausages. Our favourites were smoked bacon & leek and italian herb.

Throwing caution to the wind we also paid a whopping £50 (less a £5 trial discount) for an organic meat box from The Well Hung Meat Company, to be delivered in the coming week. Our “Well Thrifty Box” will contain a collection along the lines of 1kg whole chicken, half a shoulder of lamb (800g), beef chuck steak (300g), 2 pork belly slices, diced pork (300g), 5 handmade sausages, 6 rashers of bacon, beef steak mince (400g), liver (300g) and beef stock bones (800g). For good quality organic meat, I think that sounds reasonable, though it’s hard to make a comparison. Maybe next time I’m in Waitrose I’ll do a quick totting up against their organic meat.

As a cheese-fiend I surprised myself by tasting only a few of the cheeses on offer. But I was impressed by the quality of the cheeses on sale from Mons Fromager-Affineur. Hervé Mons sources most of his cheeses from France and matures them in his own caves in the Rhone-Alpes region. We tasted two wonderful goat’s cheeses, a strong, unctuous sheep’s blue called Persillé de Malzieu, an absolutely fantastic soft raw milk cheese called Saint Felicien, so oozy it almost walked away from the stall on it’s own and a similarly creamy Saint Marcellin which is the one we bought to enjoy at home. I believe Mons can be found at Borough Market. Can anyone confirm?

The Cafe Spice Namasté stall was manned by Cyrus Todiwala’s cousin Tushna and the McAdams, who provide marketing services to the Cafe Spice empire. Pickles containing meat were new to me, though they were, so I have learned, more popular in times past. The range includes a wild boar vindaloo pickle and a venison pickle. I much preferred the beetroot chutney which was sweet and hot, and one of the Guardian’s top picks for the festival. But it was when I spotted the parsee wedding pickle that I began to chat more openly. One of my parents’ closest friends passed away just last year, an “uncle” I liked very much. His lovely wife has contributed a number of Parsee recipes to my mum’s site, Mamta’s Kitchen. When I told Tushna and Gina about our family friends, Tushna immediately told me she knew just who I was talking about and she did – the parsee community within the region is a small one! It really is a small world! About to leave the stall, we were called back to taste the new range of ice-creams and sorbets. Now these really were a wonderful discovery. The rose and cardamom ice-cream combined the delicious flavours of a perfumed kulfi with the soft and creamy textures of good-quality ice-cream. The guava sorbet was even better, capturing the very essence of one of my favourite fruits. Get your hands on some if you can!

Other stalls deserving a mention:

Andy Shepherd of Divine Deli is the UK partner to Toronto-based Wildly Delicious and sells a wide range of their food products as well as specialist ceramics in which to serve them. The new Petite Maison range includes a delicious fig tapenade – not a combination I’d ever have thought of but it works!

Orchid Apiaries is another producer I came across at Feast East in March. Produced from resident apiaries in Norfolk the individual honeys have intense and very distinct flavours. I bought two at the Linton show and can thoroughly recommend them.

The Roundwood Orchard Pig Company really look after their pigs and are keen to point out that they neither castrate their animals nor dock their tails nor clip their teeth. The pigs are reared outdoors and, as they are reared on a neighbouring fruit farmer’s lands, they feed on fallen soft fruit, no doubt contributing to their flavour. The owners invite interested foodies to visit the farm for yourselves. As well as seeing the happy pigs in their environment you can purchase some pork not to mention pick your own fruit.

La Paimpolaise Conserverie, based in Northern Brittany, make a range of seafood products, including a razor clam rillette which was full of the flavours of the sea combined with a lovely parsley butter.

The Real Boar Company’s wild boar salami is a winner, as is their new mixed game and port salami (coming out in November). Their chorizo didn’t do it for me. As well as charcuterie they also sell lean boar meat loins and haunches.

Cherizena really know their coffee beans! Their Jumbo Maragogype is the largest bean I’ve seen so it’s no surprise that it’s the world’s largest and is also known as the elephant bean. The roasted beans seem to have very little smell but they release an incredible, delicious aroma on grinding. The Ethiopian Yirgacheffe comes from the Ethiopian Highlands where, it is believed, mankind first ingested coffee – both the fruit and the bean.

Fans of good bread will probably already have heard of DeGustibus, artisan breadmakers offering a wide range of baked goodies. Delicious!

I encountered Chegworth Valley juices at Oliver Rowe’s Konstam restaurant recently. Beautiful Kent fruit turned into refreshing fruit juice.

There were many other stalls with perfectly nice products.

There were also a few that I tried and didn’t much like. Some stalls I ignored completely as I’m not a fan of granola or chilli sauces or oysters nor am I enticed by the trend for cupcakes. And there were definitely those that didn’t appeal at all (such as the chocolate pizzas that I looked at in disbelief as we quickly walked past). Rather than dwell on those that didn’t impress, I’ve chosen to share those that did. Hope you enjoy!

 

Courtesy of the very generous Kieran & Jake at The Chocolution and the lovely Julia, veteran UK food blogger and founder of the UKFBA, I recently received a beautiful Mayan Magic Chocolate-Making Kit in the post.


A slightly rainy bank holiday Monday seemed the ideal day to hide inside from the weather and get to work! I had already decided to divide the ingredients and create two distinct chocolates – fresh Coriander Chocolate Penguins and Honey & Walnut Squares. I had gathered and dried the walnuts myself, when visiting a friend in France a while back. The walnut oil was purchased on the same trip from a small-scale, high-quality producer selling at the local market.


As advised in the simple and straightforward instructions, I prepared my extra ingredients first.

Using a bain-marie, I melted just over half the butters provided – a combination of cacao butter and coconut butter.

The powder mix contains Ecuadorian raw cacao, Peruvian carrob powder and lucuma fruit powder. Some of these had solidified into a loose lump, which I broke into chunks before stirring the powder into the melted butters. It took quite some effort to break the small lumps down fully and achieve a smooth consistency.

The kit provides a pot of agave nectar as a natural sweetener. A few teaspoons of this went into the mix next.

Finally, I stirred in the chopped coriander leaves.


I carefully spooned the finished coriander chocolate into a penguin ice-cube mould, popped the tray into the fridge to set and got to work on my second batch.

Using less than half the butters provided, I added in some walnut oil to make up the volume and (hopefully) add an extra kick of walnut flavour.

This time I scraped the solid powder into smaller slivers before adding all the powders into the melted butters and oil and stirring in.

Instead of agave nectar, I used honey to sweeten the second batch.


For some of the honey and walnut chocolates, I placed pieces of walnut into the ice-cube mould and spooned the chocolate over them. For the rest, I stirred in some walnuts into the remaining chocolate and spooned these into empty moulds. The second ice-cube tray joined the first in the fridge to set.


After an impatient couple of hours, I removed the chocolates from their moulds, hoping they wouldn’t fall into pieces or melt at my touch.

So how were they? I was impatient to finally try my creations! Although my Coriander Chocolate Penguins lacked a glossy surface, they tasted wonderful! The fresh coriander came through loud and clear and the agave nectar gave just the right amount of sweetness against the dark cocoa.

The Honey & Walnut Squares also worked well. They had a much smoother surface than the penguins. I don’t know if this is down to breaking the powders down more before mixing them into the butters or simply because the penguin mould is rubber whereas the square one is made from plastic. The honey worked well as a sweetener, though I’d perhaps use a more strongly flavoured variety next time. The walnut crunch was lovely against the smoothess of the chocolate.

All in all, I’m thrilled to bits with my first ever, home-made chocolates! The Mayan Magic Chocolate-Making Kit can be ordered online and I think it would make a wonderful gift for chocolate-loving friends!

Oh and thanks to Pete for taking some of the photographs for me, when my hands (and mouth) were full!

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