Sue Stoneman's pie

Food Nostalgia

Food is notorious for evoking memories, with particular dishes or flavours producing strong feelings and flashbacks.

I recently read an interview with Gary Barlow in April’s BBC Good Food magazine which got me thinking. He talked about two favourite dishes from his childhood – Cheshire potatoes and his Mum’s chicken pie – both of which he still makes for his own family.

There are a few rather random dishes that stand out from my childhood. The first is soup and chips. Not so strange you might think, but the way we enjoyed it was with the chips served in the bowl of soup. They were deep-fried in a proper northern lard chip pan and became mushy, soaking up the soup which was usually Heinz Cream of Tomato – an absolute classic.

The next that comes to mind is my Mum’s meat pie, something I always request when I visit. She makes the filling for this beauty in the pressure cooker and uses thin short crust pastry for the base and topping. The ‘meat’ is minced beef and the flavour of this and the veg is intensified by the pressured method of cooking, plus the splash of Worcestershire Sauce that Mum adds. I can taste it now…

For dessert, along with a good old choc ice and a bowl of ‘Angel Delight‘ (a flavoured powder to which you add milk and whisk into a mousse…highly nutritional!), chopped bananas in custard was a firm favourite in our house. The best bit was the chocolate sprinkles on top which melted into the custard. Simple, yet  tasty and most definitely comforting.

Food Nostalgia

Thinking about my three dishes, I smile and savour the memory of both the taste of the food and that particular time in my life. Like Gary Barlow, I hold those dishes dear and just the thought of them can transport me back in time.

Food nostalgia is a fascinating subject, especially how something we eat, drink or smell can have such an emotional impact on us. Interested to hear the food stories of others and with the 2017 competition looming, I spoke to some of the winners from last year’s South West Chef of the Year contest about their food memories.

Sue Stoneman, 2016 Home Cook of the Year winner

Sue Stoneman, South West Home Cook of the Year 2016

Sue Stoneman during the 2016 competition. Image courtesy of One Voice Media.

As she prepares to enter the competition again this year, Sue shared memories of cooking with her Mum, which felt remarkably similar to my own.

I have many fond memories of my Mum’s cooking as she was the person who taught me how to cook. She would cook at the weekend to make meals for the week.  Sundays were spent making stews in the pressure cooker, making pastry for pies (fruit & meat), baking cakes and biscuits as well as cooking the Sunday roast.  I would help with the chopping up of the fruit and vegetables and I would be given the left-over pieces of pastry to make jam tarts and to cut out shapes for the top of the pies.

My mum made the best pies. Her pastry was light and crispy, not a soggy bottom in sight!  My favourite would be her beef pie, the gravy or sauce was full of flavour. Her secret ingredient was Bovril.  She also made a very tasty chicken and ham pie with the roast leftovers.

Sue Stoneman's pie

One of Sue’s pies. Image courtesy of Sue Stoneman.

Clearly Sue’s Mum had quite an influence on her culinary talents today. She still makes pies for her family and when her sons were younger, she would decorate the pies with shapes as she did with her Mum. Her sons would each choose which slice of the pie they wanted, depending on the decoration on top. Evolving the recipes that had been passed down, Sue’s favourite pie to make today is chicken and ham, to which she adds a little dollop of mustard and fresh tarragon to give extra flavour.

Pies are a great comfort food, best served with mash potato and fresh vegetables. You need the mash potato to soak up the sauce/gravy. So for me, a pie is full of memories and the baking and sharing of it with your family gives you a wonderful warm feeling. The best bit about cooking with my mum was licking out the bowl and the whisks from the cake mixture, although she scraped the bowl so clean with that bendy spatula there wasn’t much to lick!

Ethan MacDonald, 2016 Junior Chef of the Year

Ethan Macdonald receiving the Junior Chef of the Year award

Ethan Macdonald receiving the Junior Chef of the Year award in 2016. Image courtesy of One Voice Media.

In contrast to the childhood memories of myself and Sue, Ethan chose to tell me about a particular ingredient which he often uses because of its adaptability, even though he is not such a fan of it himself.

I think I would have to say white chocolate because it is so versatile you can do so much with it…from a pastry chef point of view you can use it in a chocolate mousse or something like a fruit ganache. To be honest I don’t really like chocolate but I love the fact that you can do so much with it. I make raspberry and white chocolate all the time as it’s great for filling macaroons. I also make white chocolate Chantilly which is a very different taste to the raspberry, but it still has the white chocolate in it.

What makes a young chef pick out an ingredient which he doesn’t really care for himself as a stand out food moment? The visual memory of a stunning dessert from a significant time in his life.

I will always remember when I was 14 and the head chefs made a cherry and white chocolate ganache which was very, very bright and something I will not forget.

Challenge Yourself

It would seem that it’s not just the taste of food which carves a memory in the mind, but its appearance too. For both Sue and Ethan, food plays a big part in their lives and although they are from different generations, it’s clear that significant moments with food have remained with them and influence the way they cook today.

If you share this same passion for food, why not use a culinary memory of your own to inspire a menu to enter South West Chef of the Year 2017? With a number of different categories to choose from, the experience has been designed to support those with a passion for South West food and give them a platform to progress in the industry. There is a month to go until the closing date – plenty of time to dig out those edible memories and turn them into an impressive competition menu.

Food hall of fame

So why does food recreate moments in time so clearly for us, conjuring the exact same feelings for a small moment when we enjoy those flavours again? Perhaps it’s because of the involvement of all the senses when we eat – the sight and smell of the dish before it even passes our lips, then the texture and taste as we devour it. Even though we eat food every day, it can still have a lasting impression on us, especially if we are involved in the creation of it.

Which reinforces my thoughts that food is something to be enjoyed and treasured. Perhaps that’s not always possible or realistic, but there’s a lot to be said for mindful eating in today’s busy life.

So as I begin to introduce my young son to new flavours and eating experiences, I will aspire to create special edible memories that he can treasure and look back on with fond food nostalgia.

Home Farm, River Cottage Spring Fair

Family Fun at the Fair

What does a self-confessed foodie do with her 3 month old son on the bank holiday weekend?

Visit the fair of course!

No, not the type of fair that includes dodgems, candy floss and bearded ladies. A much better one: The River Cottage Spring Fair.

Although I’ve heard great things I’ve never made it over the hill to Axminster for such an event before. So it was with much excitement that my husband and I packed everything but the kitchen sink into the car (necessary for a day out with a baby) and hit the road.

Following the success of our day out at the Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink, I was quietly confident that this too would be an enjoyable experience with our son. After days of glorious weather I had visions of relaxing on a picnic rug, sampling delicious food and watching the entertainment, with little F happily wriggling and gurgling away.

River Cottage Spring Fair in the rainBut that beloved thing, the great British weather, had other ideas. The heavens opened just after we’d parked up and began the bumpy descent through a muddy field and down a stoney track to Park Farm. It’s true that a bit of rain never hurt anybody, but it did get them soaked to the bone and running for shelter. Of course everyone had the same idea so undercover sanctuary was scarce, but it gave us a good excuse to do some cheeky sampling in the suppliers tent.

Local South West Producers

Many of the market stalls were taken by suppliers to River Cottage, giving an assurance of quality and ethical standards. There was a mixture of products, with more traditional foods such as cheese from Quicke’s and cured meats from the guys at Good Game.  It was fun to also taste some more unusual food combinations, including apple cider vinegar and salted honey ‘Fitcorn’ from Willy Chase’s and vanilla beer from Littlepod.

River Cottage Kitchen Garden

With the showers showing no sign of letting up, we bravely made a dash for it  through the kitchen garden (well, as much as you can dash when pushing a pram), which was everything you’d expect from River Cottage – beautifully organised, yet informal and appealing to the senses.

I’ve often seen this kitchen garden on the television, with Hugh cooking up a masterpiece using his freshly dug up goodies, so it was satisfying to see it in the flesh. I admit to experiencing a small pang of envy that my teeny veg bed at home would never be a patch on this vegetable garden of Eden, but I guess we all need something to aspire to!

Liquid Refreshment

From the garden we moved to the courtyard and watched the chefs at work on the hot grill, whilst enjoying a latte (me) and pint of Old Jollop’s cider (hubby). We gave F a quick refresh in the baby changing room, then sought refuge from the rain to feed him. Possibly not the most appropriate place, but we ended up in the cocktail tent. Well, needs must!

Mouth-Watering Food

After the three of us had enjoyed some liquid refreshment, the rain showed mercy and finally cleared up, so we made the most and stomped along the straw covered path into the meadow. This for me was the main attraction of the fair – the delicious food!

Quality definitely won over quantity here as there was space for more food stalls, but what was on offer was enough to make you salivate. From pimped up takeaway favourites like stonebaked pizza and posh kebabs, to pulled pork baps and River Cottage curries, there was something for every taste.

It was a tough decision but we opted for a kebab to start from the Posh Kebab Company, made with Angus beef and served on a flatbread with salad leaves and dressing. It was undoubtably the most upmarket kebab I’ve ever had and quite superior in taste and quality. A very appropriate company name indeed.

We couldn’t possibly leave it there so next we shared a ‘Porker’ pizza from Rebel Town Pizza, which consisted of caramelised onion, Cumberland sausage and green pepper, with basil leaves and healthy lashings of balsamic dressing drizzled on top. This particular pizza is apparently award-winning and I can see why – the flavours complimented each other well and the base was light and crispy at the edges. Watching it bake in the stone pizza oven added to the experience and although we didn’t have to wait long at all for it to be ready, I think we still demolished it in half the time it took to cook.

Something for the Kids

Fully fed, we turned our attentions to the entertainment – a man blowing giant bubbles. Well I guess you had to be there, but it really was quite impressive and certainly kept the hoards of children happy.

In fact, there was more than enough to entertain the mini masses. Wellie wanging and shelter building seemed to be popular, as did the coconut shy and bug house building. I think my favourite activity might have been the mud kitchen though, just the kind of dirty and quite literally down to earth activity that I loved as a child.

Entertainment for the grown-ups

It wasn’t just the kids who had an extensive entertainment bill to choose from. For the adults there was live music to listen to, a pop-up book shop to peruse and talks to enjoy from various experts on subjects ranging from foraging, to cooking and curing your own food.

Those seeking something more hands on could enjoy cocktail making masterclasses, a taster at the art of blacksmithing at the forge, or simply the sport of lifting a glass or two in the bar.

One Final Lap

After enjoying exploring the fair in what became a dry afternoon, we began heading back towards the entrance and decided to do one final lap of the outdoor market stalls. That steep incline back to the car was on our minds, so to give ourselves an energy boost, we spent a bit of time at the Old Jollop Cider stand. Old Jollop was the name of a tradition in Somerset where farmers gave workers cider at the end of the working day, to help cure their aches and pains. It seemed only right then that we sample some, purely for medicinal reasons.

Old Jollop CiderThe quality of these hand crafted Somerset ciders was impressive. The first that we tried was a vintage blend, which in cider can often be dry and almost sour, but this was a very pleasant and smooth drink. Our friendly cider maker was passionate and knowledgeable and no sooner had we finished one sample than he was pouring the next.

Our second drink was named ‘With A Twist’ – a sparkling cider with elderflower. The two flavours mixed well and created a refreshing drink.

The last cider was a full strength lightly sparkling variety, which was again very enjoyable and one that I could imagine being happily quaffed in the garden on a sunny afternoon. Unable to resist, we bought one of each for good measure, then began the steady ascent back to the car.

A Fine Day Out

Pushing the pram laden with our purchases of cider, sausages and bottle of Conker gin back up the hill, we congratulated ourselves at persevering through the rain to enjoy a fantastic family day out. My fantasy of picnic rug reclining may not have become a reality, but we still had a fun time and tried some delicious food and drink. The atmosphere was great and I hope to visit Home Farm again soon, perhaps for the next River Cottage Festival in August – when the great British weather might be a bit kinder!

Exeter Food Festival Through a Baby’s Eyes

This year my annual pilgrimage to the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink was just a little bit different…

Foodie Paradise

Usually, my husband and I would spend the whole weekend indulging in the tasty morsels and various beverages on offer, catching up with friends and soaking up the atmosphere of the ‘After Dark’ parties.

There would be competitions to work our way through as many of the real ales as possible and we’d enjoy slowly wandering through the marquees, stuffing our faces with the finest south west cheese, pastries, chutneys, cured meats, seafood, cake and chocolate.

We’d dip in to watch a chef demo or two and spend time and money with the multiple producers showing off their fine fayre.

Paradise interrupted

This year for us meant the arrival of little F into our lives and we were excited to initiate him into what has been our local foodie highlight of the year. Delicious food and drink and the opportunity to watch some top chefs at work, all on our doorstep.

But would it be the same with a 10 week old? No of course not! For a start there was the logistics – no walking in and having a few drinkies this time. When the forecast is ‘light rain’ and you need a shed load of baby paraphernalia and a quick escape route in case it all goes wrong, driving is the only option.

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Contemplating buggy manouvering at the festival entrance

Secondly there was the fear of manoeuvring the pram around Exeter Castle and Northernhay Gardens without getting wedged/running people over. Taking F in a carrier wasn’t really an option because of the weather, besides, he might only be 10 weeks old, but he weighs getting on for 3 bags of sugar, not great for the posture over any length of time.

And what about getting in the nooks and crannies to really explore what the producers had to offer? Or watching the cookery demos and running the risk of ruining it for everyone with a screaming baby (like that annoying person at a wedding)? Well, there was only one way to find out…

The proof is in the pudding

We arrived early on the last day of the festival to avoid the crowds and found that a few minor changes had been made since last year, including a larger covered bar area now on the right of Castle courtyard with more seating – that was our refuge sorted if the heavens opened then!

Some familiar faces were there, including Gourmet Street Kitchen with their luxury mac n’ cheese and Tom’s Pies (self explanatory…), but it was a delicious chicken satay dish that I devoured first from newbies The Charcoal BBQ Company.

After stuffing our faces, the first pram-related challenge we faced was getting through the little doorway and down the steps into Northernhay Gardens without tipping the contents (namely, our son) onto the path, but thanks to the big strong husband this was easily managed.

Then we just had to be overly confident and forget that the pre-parent us has said we’d never take a pram into the busy marquees if we ever had children. Ignoring the signs that said ‘Pushchairs to be left outside the tents where possible’, we managed one full lap of each area, pausing in less busy spots to try the odd taster and purchase goodies. We may have made much less of a meal about it than previous years, but we still had a good nosey and came away with bacon, sausages and gin – not a bad combo in my book!

Refreshment break

Feeling smug about our haul, we rewarded ourselves with a Baileys latte for me (heaven in a disposable cup) from Camper Coffee Co and a Tarka ale from Otter Brewery for my hubby. By now the sun had started to peep through the clouds and we sipped our beverages whilst perusing the outdoor stands.

Although F is too mini at the moment to do much other than lie in his pram and take in the sights and sounds, in the future there will be lots of child-frindly activites for him to join in with, from pizza making at the Darts Farm ‘Food is Fun’ teepee, to baking classes in the Fun Kitchen and learning how to milk a cow with the NFU.

I actually wanted to have a go at that one but managed to restrain myself. There is definitely plenty to entertain little ones though and help them to understand the importance of where food comes from. Thumbs up from me!

fed and watered

I noticed that there was a feeding and changing area signposted in Northernhay Gardens, which was a relief as I had visions of having to manage in the portaloos (which actually are quite socially acceptable). Predictably though, F waited until we were back through the stepped doorway and in the Castle Courtyard before demanding to be changed and fed. Instead of getting in a flap about ploughing through the busy queue back to the garden side claiming a nappy emergency, we found a quiet spot on the steps to the VIP area. It was easy and fairly secluded enough to then change and feed him without feeling lots of eyes in us. We also managed to share a fresh cod bap (with homemade tartar sauce, very tasty) to the music of Folklaw who were onstage at the same time (we even bought their CD, pushing the boat out!).

Ironically, once we were all finished, a festival worker approached to compliment F and ask if we needed to pop inside to change him etc. At least the thought was there and good to know it could be an option for next time.

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Me and F grabbing a cheeky picture with Michael Caines

 

And I am already thinking of next time, because as we enjoyed a glass of Pebblebed fizz and did one final lap, grabbing Michael Caines on the way out for a picture, it was with a sense of achievement that we can still do these things. Yes we did the festival differently than in pre-baby life, but it was still fun and thanks to a little planning, not stressful. So roll on next year when F will be that bit older and able to enjoy it with us – he’ll be first in the queue to milk that cow.

Food Vows

I can’t believe it’s a year since my wedding at the Driftwood Spars Hotel in beautiful St Agnes, Cornwall.

Kate&James-9132Celebrating my first anniversary with a steak and wine meal at home got me thinking about the food at our wedding.

As a food obsessive, planning the menu was one of the most enjoyable tasks for me, as may have come across in my blog at the time.

Wedding day reality

On the day, like many people, I was too excited and busy to truly enjoy the meal. I didn’t even get the chance to try one of the canapés, which is a real tragedy as I think I spent as much time agonising over which to choose as I did my dress! If you don’t believe me, it’s  all down in black and white…

The Blessing of the Guests

I did manage a few mouthfuls though and I could tell that our guests enjoyed it, not just from the grunts of approval as they tucked in, but also from the clean plates after each course.

With menu choices including Salmon and Crab Parcels to start, Slow Braised Rump of Beef for main and Chocolate and Beer Brownies with Cornish Clotted Cream for dessert, it’s hardly surprising they cleaned up.

Pan Roast Cod Fillet was another of the main dishes and the one I chose. As we could see the sea from where we ate, it seemed only right to have some seafood options.

Slaving over a hot stove

Head ChefKnowing that the wedding food was important to me, our charismatic photographer not only captured the dishes above but also somehow managed to blag his way into the kitchen. I imagine that this was much to the annoyance of the Chef, who was trying to serve 76 rather hungry (and largely Northern) guests.

Despite the distraction, he did a superb job…I only wish I’d had more time to savour his wonderful food. Perhaps we’ll have to renew our vows?

The icing on the cheese cake

Not much of a traditionalist, cutting the cake wasn’t something I particularly wanted to do. I also believe that marzipan is the work of the devil, with royal icing following close behind, so a traditional wedding cake was never on the cards.

It took some time to solve this wedding cake dilemma, but in the end we opted for a tiered cheese and fruit cake, with (in ascending order) Somerset Brie, Cornish Yarg and uniced fruit cake, then to crown this magnificent stack, a red waxed Godminster Cheddar heart. Decorated with grapes and sprigs of herbs, it was a thing of dairy beauty.

Served with crackers as part of our evening buffet, there was plenty to go round and I managed to find time in between dancing and guest-greeting to enjoy the strange but hugely delicious cheese/fruit cake combo. If you’ve never tried it, add it to your ‘things to taste before you die’ list. Trust me.

Happy ever foodie after

So all in all, we were thrilled with the edible delights on our big day and we were really proud to showcase some of the magnificent produce the South West has to offer.

Now to get planning the menu for our renewed vows party…

A Birthday Cake Fit for The Queen

A Royal BuffetWhether you’re a fan of the Royal Family or not,

you surely have to admire the energy and professionalism of The Queen. To still be working now at the grand age of 90 is a huge achievement. In my view, she most certainly deserves to celebrate and what makes this milestone even better, is that The Queen has given us a reason to celebrate too.

In my book, that means cake.

In honour of Her Majesty, we held a Royal Buffet in my office and I was reminded of a rather majestic cake I’d made in years gone by. The occasion then was The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and it seemed fitting to dig out the same recipe 4 years later.

The Base

Just like The Queen herself, it’s a classic, and is appropriately named after her great-great grandmother – it had to be a Victoria Sponge.

Victoria Sponge CakeMascarpone Icing

Light and delicately sweet, it’s the perfect cake for such an event.  Once out of the oven, I left my halves to cool before sandwiching them together with traditional strawberry jam.

The topping

As much as I’d have liked to put my feet up with a cuppa while they were cooling, I had important decoration-based prep to do. For the topping, I mixed mascarpone cheese with some sifted icing sugar, until it was just sweet – I’m not a fan of very sickly icing. Sticking this in the fridge to set for a while, I turned my attention to the stars of the show: Strawberries and blueberries.

I’d made a point of buying the ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ strawberries from the supermarket and I was hard pressed to find any defects at all. It’s about time the giant shops started addressing the needless waste of so much food just for visual reasons.

I sliced evenly sized strawberries into long quarters and the blueberries in half. After topping the cake with the mascarpone cream, I set to work creating my patriotic masterpiece.

The Finishing Touches

I felt a bit like I was creating some kind of edible mosaic at an art class… Adding the fruit decoration was quite therapeutic and didn’t actually take too long. The result was quite eye-catching and I’m sure Her Majesty would be proud.

The comparison

So how do my consistency skills fare? After a gap of 4 years, my 90th Birthday cake was a close resemblance to my original Jubilee cake, and it tasted just as delicious.

Jubilee Cake, 2012

Jubilee Cake, 2012

90th Birthday Cake, 2016

90th Birthday Cake, 2016

 

A Winter’s Tale of Food and Drink

Once upon a time, there was a true foodie who was given the most perfect gift by her fabulous husband. Appealing to her fascination for everything edible, the gift was being whisked away for a weekend to be surrounded by hundreds of artisan producers, cookery demos and celebrity chefs.

The Hairy Bikers

The Hairy Bikers during a book signing

That’s right, this is a story of the BBC Good Food Show Winter, and the foodie in question was myself, treated to a trip to the NEC Birmingham at the end of November last year.

I did my reasearch into the different zones and activities of the exhibition but I was still taken aback by the vastness of this edible utopia. Initially, we wandered around in a delicious daze, randomly trying whatever we could get our hands on in some kind of food frenzy. Before, that is, it dawned on us that we actually had two full days to attack this and to try to savour, rather than binge on the delights at our fingertips.

Lancashire Kippers

Lancashire smoked kippers

There’s no doubt about it,  I was in heaven. Not only were we surrounded by an endless larder of every food, drink and related product imaginable, but we also had a pick of activities to enjoy.

With such a glutton of tasty morsels to experience, it’s difficult to pick a top five. But on the three hour drive home, eager to digest every mouthful of the weekend, that’s just what we did…

No. 5: A World of Cheese

The World Cheese Awards 2015

The World Cheese Awards 2015

I’ve never seen so much of it in one place at once. But this wasn’t just a few too many cheese producers booking the same area of the exhibition. This was no accident. It was the World Cheese Awards.

There were some beautiful looking specimens, everything from goats cheese to mozzerella, manchego to Cheddar. But the dairy crown this year went to a Gruyère – a Gruyère AOP Premier Cru, to be precise.

A very worthy winner, I’m sure, but I don’t envy those judges one bit. I like a good wedge of cheese as much as the next person, especially accompanied by a sweet chutney and a glug of red wine, but those poor buggers had to shortlist down from 2,727 entries to just 16 before deciding which was best. That’s something of a cheese overload.

Mind you, there were 250 judges. I bet they all had interesting dreams that night.

No. 4: Tom Kerridge

Tom Kerridge cookery demo

Tom Kerridge cookery demo

What’s not to like about the infectiously happy Bristolian? Tom Kerridge entertained the audience with his cookery tips whilst working his magic on two delicious savoury recipes, the first being seasonal venison chops with cranberries and red wine. The second was a tasty looking mussels dish with chorizo and tomatoes – not something I’ve seen mussels cooked with before but I’ll certainly be giving it a go myself.

He started by sweating the chopped chorizo to release the bright orange oil, then added onions, garlic and peppers, plus some red chillies for heat. He then cooked flour in the pan as the base to a sauce and added white wine. Finally he threw in the cleaned mussels to steam for around 8 minutes and stirred in the diced tomatoes at the end, with a sprinkling of chopped parsley to finish.

How these celebrity chefs manage to multi task in front of an audience I don’t know, but Tom certainly managed it with a smile on his face and an understated confidence, a very likeable chap!

No 3: Beer Tasting

Beer Tasting with CAMRA

Beer Tasting with CAMRA

Well, with all the sampling of food and watching of demos we’d worked up a thirst, so we settled down for an hour to learn a thing or two about real ale. Far from a room full of bearded men huddled around a bar, this was a really fun, interactive session where us participants had the pleasure of slurping five different beers, from light and fruity to dark and dangerous.

The session was run by the Campaign for Real Ale and had just the right balance of theory of the brewing process, mixed with the opportunity to try plenty of real life examples.

To do them justice, a review of all five of the beers we tasted would need a blog of their own (watch this space…) but for now I’ll just give a mention to the one with the most amusing name: What the Fox’s Hat, a golden number with a refreshing light flavour. Plus, my favourite beer of the afternoon, Gravediggers, which was dark black with hints of red when held up to the light. I love stout-type flavours and this beer also had a taste of chocolate to it – even better!

After this we were definitely merry – the beer tasting was a clear highlight of the weekend. All the beers came from the Church End Brewery in Warwickshire so I’ll definitely be paying them a visit if I’m ever in that neck of the woods.

No. 2: James Martin Cookery Demo

As much as I enjoyed watching Tom Kerridge, there is another Chef who has the edge over him. A fellow Northerner who loves food and posesses endless cookery talents as well as a quick sense of humour. It may be predictable, but the James Martin demo was the runner-up highlight of my show.

James Martin Cookery Demo

James Martin Cookery Demo

And although it was clear that he’d been out the night before ‘team building’ with the crew around the bars of Birmingham, he didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think it added to the performance as we saw an ‘unedited’ version of Chef Martin, the like of which is somewhat censored on his BBC Saturday Kitchen series.

After ploughing into the crowd to have selfies taken with a few lucky people, he rustled up some of the recipes from his new cookbook ‘Sweet’ whilst taking great pleasure in less than squeaky clean hygienic practices. No, he wasn’t just being lax in his morning-after state, it was a pot shot at a regular Saturday Kitchen viewer who apparently phones into the show every week without fail to complain about something she’s seen, which she feels is a health and safety hazard. He clearly took great pleasure in this mic take and it was highly amusing to watch.

As well as the performance, he created some beautiful looking desserts, including a coconut cake using the ingredient of the moment, coconut oil, and an impressively structured raspberry millefeuille. It was all over too quickly though, I could have sat there all day being entertained by the butter-loving Yorkshireman, but at least I have my memories. Oh, and his Sweet cookbook which Father Christmas kindly brought down my chimney a month later!

No. 1: Rubbing Shoulders with the Celebs

Me with James Martin

What could possily beat an almost front row seat watching my favourite chef doing his thing? Well, rubbing shoulders with him, of course.

That’s right, I was lucky enough to don a pair of chef whites and meet the man Martin himself.

Along with thousands of other visitors who were daft enough to stick their heads through a hole in the life size cardboard cut out, that is! No, that dream shall have to go unfulfilled, for now…

So there we are, my top five highlights of the Winter Good Food Show. I may not have been in touching distance of Mr Martin but at least I got to witness his cookery genius. I left a happy foodie bunny, albeit a few pounds heavier.

This was definitely a Winter’s tale of food and drink with a big fat happy ending.

Life After The Big Day

So…

Did the cheese cake go down well with the guests?

How many of them took on the canapé challenge and won?

And was the menu proposal the right one?

It’s 5 months since my wedding, and this is my first blog. It will be a short one, not because anything went wrong on the day or because I didn’t enjoy it, but because what I really want to do is talk about the food, which was totally fabulous.

However.

Although we received a spectacular hard-backed photograph book, graphically designed to tell the story of the day in beautiful and atmospheric style, we are yet to receive electronic copies of the images. And knowing my passion for food, the brilliant photographer got some amazing shots which really do the food justice. He even managed to get into the kitchen, so I have photographic evidence of the talented Head Chef in action.

Pan roasted cod fillet, herb roasted new potatoes, seasonal vegetables, shellfish beurre blanc

One of the delicious main courses: Pan roasted cod fillet, herb roasted new potatoes, seasonal vegetables, shellfish beurre blanc

So until that long awaited memory stick arrives, I will continue to compose my wedding food thoughts in my head, ready to put them to paper alongside some mouth-watering pictures.

For now, I shall post a tasty teaser with thanks to my Mum for being snap-happy on the day.

I can taste it now…

Wedding Cake Dilemma

Since reaching what can be called adulthood – although I don’t think any of us ever woke up after the age of 18 and thought “Yes, that’s it. I’ve reached adulthood, I can tell, I feel all grown up” – my tastes have definitely been inclined towards more savoury than sweet flavours. The craving for sugary sweets and cakes has declined and now when wanting to stuff my face on a Saturday night in, it’s more the breadsticks and dip that I reached for than a box of chocolates.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to pounce when someone brings cakes or chocolates into the office. But if I’m eating out, I rarely have a dessert, choosing starter and main over pudding every time.

So when it came to choosing a wedding cake, I had something of a dilemma. Icing has never been a favourite of mine and don’t even go there about that evil yellow stuff that is known as marzipan. So what to do? We still wanted a nod to the tradition of having a cake, but we also didn’t want to have something for the sake of it, or be left with mounds of uneaten slices at the end of the night.

The Answer

Blindingly obvious really – a savoury cake. You guessed it, a CHEESE CAKE! Now this was something I could get excited about. So I did my research and contacted a few local cheese shops and delicatessens – happily we have quite a few to choose from here in Exeter. After a few conversations about what would look good, taste good and possibly most importantly, what would keep the best without melting into a gibbering wreck if it’s a warm day (that’ll be me instead!), this is what my cheese stack will be made up of:

The Twist

If having an alternative savoury cake wasn’t enough, I was struck with an idea from my natural enemy county, Yorkshire. Us Lancastrians may indulge in a bit of northern rivalry with the white rose but we’re big enough to admit that they have the odd good idea. And one is to enjoy a slice of cheese – often Wensleydale or crumbly Lancashire – on top of a slice of fruit cake. Trust me, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. So why not have a tier of fruit cake in amongst the cheese?

Well, I think it’s the perfect compromise and I’m sure it will go down well with our guests. So this is it, only 1 more day to go…let the celebrations begin!

The 3 Step Canapé Challenge

Most of us have been there: At a party, wedding or networking event when the canapés are paraded alongside the drinks. When approached by the waiting staff, wafting the trayful of goodies beneath your nose, you have only a few moments to make your choices.

1: To eat, or not to eat.

The likelihood is, you’re in the full flow of a conversation with someone who you may class to be more of an acquaintance than someone you feel comfortable dribbling in front of. So, do you indulge or not? Of course you do! Next dilemma…

2. To choose with your head or salivating taste buds.

You can either choose the smallest, most modest morsel to ensure minimal embarrassment when tucking in, or you can go with your first instinct and pick up the big, juicy, pretty looking one. And then…

3. To gobble or to nibble.

You’ve taken the plunge and your fate is sealed. But you can still save yourself from a social faux pas by moderating your consumption rate. You may think you can get away with stuffing the whole lot in your gob in one fell swoop, but sods law will ensure that someone asks you a question just at that very moment. However, choose to eat your canapé in bites and you risk wearing it for the rest of the evening if it breaks on bite-impact, tipping its contents down your front. Tricky, very tricky!

Cliffside garden, Driftwood Spars

The Driftwood Spars cliff side garden, the venue for our drinks and canapés. Image courtesy of youandyourwedding.co.uk

I suspect that while my wedding guests are enjoying their drinks and canapés, I will be too busy to indulge in the sport of people watching and won’t see how many people fall into the trap, sadly.

It’s definitely true to say that the dribble-factor element of our wedding planning intensified when we looked at the canapé choices. The wedding planner suggested that we chose 2 or 3 different ones. But that was a challenge too far and even when trying to restrain ourselves, we ended up with 5:

  • Scallop, with Pea Puree & Truffle
  • Mini Beef & Stilton Burgers
  • Tiger Prawn & Crab on a Baby Chicory Leaf, with Sweet Chilli Dip
  • Marinated Chicken Skewer
  • Marinated Vegetable Skewer

Loads of room for food-based embarrassment there! But not to worry, our guests, like the wedding itself, are pretty laid-back and if anything it would give our friends and family – who aren’t short of a sense of humour or two – something to talk about. You never know, they may even see it as a challenge: Who can excel themselves the most in the canapé scoffing stakes. Now there’s an image!

Less than two weeks to go…up next: Wedding cake dilemma!

Menu Proposal

Well where have I been hiding for the past 4 months I hear you cry? Apart from the usual work demands restricting that oh so precious leisure time….I’ve been in the throws of organising a wedding. Yes, my wedding.

I never thought I would be one of those people to be having conversations about the colour of the sashes on the chairs, the songs to play during the meal or which guests should sit with who. It seems, however, that this happens to the best of us.

Yet I’ve refused to turn into any kind of ‘Bridezilla’ or bow to many strict conventions, and what I have really enjoyed about the whole thing has been the FOOD. A shocker, I know.

Although adding to the already ridiculously long ‘to-do’ list, when choosing the canapés, sit down meal and evening buffet I’ve been like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop. Of course, as a northerner, a black pudding starter followed by pie and peas would be perfectly acceptable to me. But I guess on such an occasion one should venture further into culinary adventureland. And with our wedding location being beautiful Cornwall, we had an abundance of delicious Cornish produce to choose from.

The foodie side of us wanted to go all-out and have lots of fish and seafood – well, getting married by the sea it would be rude not to – and dishes packed with flavour. We were tempted by unconventional options, with starters including Tempura tiger prawns with wasabi mayonnaise or Cumin falafel with harissa crème fraiche. But the visions of those relatives who are partial to their standard meat and two veg with minimal spice suddenly choking, gasping for air and crying out for water steered us towards slightly more reserved options.

  • Salmon and crab parcels, lemon & chive aioli, baby leaf salad
  • Ham hock ballotine, Alfie’s ale piccalilli, granary toast, dressed watercress
  • Tempura vegetables, Thai style salad, soy, chilli, coriander & ginger dressing

Similarly, the Shellfish risotto with white truffle and Slow cooked pork belly main courses appealed to us, but thinking again of the majority, we opted for:

  • Pan roast cod fillet, herb roast new potatoes, seasonal vegetables, shellfish beurre blanc
  • Slow braised rump of beef, wholegrain mustard mash, braised red cabbage, seasonal vegetables
  • Herb rösti, wild mushroom & tomato compote, poached duck egg, Tintagel smoked cheddar

For dessert, however, we stuck to our guns and have gone for pure Cornish indulgence:

  • Chocolate and ale brownie with Cornish clotted cream
  • Apple tatin with Cornish vanilla ice cream

Perhaps unsurprisingly, now that the menu choices have come back from our guests, the vast majority of people have gone for the ham hock starter and roast beef main, so perhaps we were right not to restrict the menu to seafood. I for one am definitely looking forward to tucking into my salmon and crab parcels and pan roast cod though. If I manage to maintain an appetite on top of the nerves, that is…

So the two week count down begins. Further enthralling posts involving canapés and cheese coming soon!