April Best Bites

It’s hard to believe that May is here already. Where have the first four months of the year gone? Typically, the only times that ever seem to drag are at work, usually stuck in some boring meeting-about-a-meeting or from 3pm on a Friday. In contrast, when you’re spending your time as you choose (in my case usually cooking, baking, or eating) time develops a mind of its own and goes galloping faster into the future than you care for.

So it seems a shame not to look back on those moments when you’ve enjoyed doing something…and where better to start than with food? This is me savoring the best bites of April:

1. Food for a friend

Thai green prawn curryI had a friend coming round for a catch up before she went away on holiday and I wanted to cook something tasty and full of flavour that didn’t take too much time or dosh. Someone at work recommended Green Thai Curry – ok, so most people have made a Thai curry before, but this recipe just had a few subtle differences that made me want to give it a try.

This version had the usual suspects – green Thai curry paste, peppers, coconut milk – but the main difference from your standard curry recipe was adding cornflour to make the sauce thicker. This really worked and the sauce coated the other ingredients well instead of just sitting thinly on the bottom of the plate.

To keep the cost down, I chose prawns as the star of the meal instead of chicken, which can be pricey (when buying free range) and I also decided to throw in some diced butternut squash (steamed until soft before adding to the pan) to pad the dish out a bit.

I finished with a generous squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkling of coriander on top. So with a neat heaping of rice on the side, I presented my friend with a colourful and saucy dish which offered a variety of tastes and textures. Winner!

 2. Northern Delights

Easter meant a pilgrimage back to the mothership also known as Lancashire. That instantly gives me a dilemma in my best bites of April – there are just too many to choose from! Should I write about the mouth-wateringly good Holland’s Pies at the Wigan Warriors match? Or how about the best fish, chips, mushy peas and gravy around from Banny’s? Of course not forgetting my Mum’s delicious steak pie with crumbly pastry and crinkle cut chips cooked in the chip pan!

All more than worthy of making it onto the best bites list. But we also know how to eat out up north and on this trip, we visited somewhere new, or new to me. The Alma Inn at Laneshaw Bridge. We travelled from Barrowford along windy roads meandering their way across a jigsaw of green fields separated by dry stone walls. It was just starting to go dark and the lights from farms twinkled in the distance, peeking over the hills. We arrived just in time to catch the last of the view from the back of the pub, enough to make me write a mental note to come back on a hot day to soak up the sunshine and scenery.

Chicken in tarragon and mustard sauce with daughinoise with purple sprouting broccoliInside, the once coaching inn matches the impressive views. Beautiful light wooden beams, rich red walls and open fireplaces make this place appeal just as much on a winter’s day as in fine weather. Me and my three companions sat in the conservatory and us ladies enjoyed a glass of Prosecco (dangerously I can drink that stuff like it’s pop) while the blokes had a pint of the local ale. The menu gave us plenty to choose from, but my Alma Inn Best Bite had to be a very tender chicken breast with Diane sauce, served with two of my favourites – purple sprouting broccoli and creamy dauphinoise potatoes. The sauce, usually served with a steak dish, was rich without being too sickly and complimented the chicken well. The generous portion of broccoli was just cooked and the potatoes soaked up what was left of the sauce.

Chocolate mousse with caramel brittle and ice creamWe were all happily full after our mains but we couldn’t resist a glimpse at the dessert menu. Usually I can restrain myself, but that becomes a problem when there’s chocolate involved. And there was, in the form of a smooth chocolate mousse on a biscuit base, delicately impaled with shards of caramel and served with a dollop of clotted cream. This, like the mains was a generous portion and there was no way I could have eaten it on my own. Luckily, my altruistic other half shared it with me!

3. Best of the South West

So back to the West Country we came and to balance out the northern highs, Mr A and I enjoyed a weekend at the Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink. One of the foodie highlights of the year, I love to spend two full days tasting the samples, feasting my eyes and savoring the smells of all the stalls. Many of the same producers were there as in previous years – which is not necessarily a bad thing – but it was nice to see a few newbies too, like the stall that was selling gigantic wraps filled with everything you could imagine.

Sadly (and somewhat ironically, given that I spent the whole weekend talking about them), I can’t remember what they were called. Something Street Kitchen I think. The idea was to choose your main filling ingredient – I went for chicken – then pick everything but the kitchen sink to go with it. Lettuce, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, cheese and cucumber (I lose count of what else) with a sweet chilli sauce drizzled over for good measure. It was delicious, but even between the two of us we struggled to finish it. Value for money!

Another first was a juicy venison burger from Good Game which had cranberry and coleslaw on it – very tasty, especially when washed down with an Orchard Pig cider.

The star of show, however, was something I’d had at the festival in previous years: ‘Sole on a roll’ from Bennetts Seafood. The deliciously fresh fish is fried in a light crispy batter that dissolves on the tongue and served on a bap with a bit of greenery and a dollop of tartar sauce. It really does take some beating. Or should that be battering?!?

Food Festival haul 2014For me it’s one of the best weekends of the year in Exeter and I wish I had an unlimited pot to spend just gorging myself on the food and drink (nice image, I know)! As it was, we did go a bit mad and came home with quite a haul…the majority of which was made up of pies, but being a Wigan lass, who could expect any different?

Also in the loot were sausages, burgers, steak, mini tartlets and scallop fishcakes (which actually turned out to be more potato than fish cake, a little disappointingly). The festival might only be once a year but we’ll be dining on this lot for some time to come! Bring on next April…

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