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!

The best kind of Christmas gifts: edible ones

Edible Christmas giftsChristmas seems to inspire creativity and craft, whether it’s decorations for the tree or handmade cards. That’s all very lovely but I’m afraid it has to be food related for me. And I’m one of those people who, if the urge takes me, enjoys making something that I like to the look of but once the creation is done I’m not too bothered about eating it myself. So the perfect output for scratching this itch is to make edible Christmas gifts for friends. Or basically anyone who will take them.

As my earlier posts have established, my thirst for feasting on Good Food magazines reaches a fever pitch at this festive time of year and that is the publication I have to blame – I mean, thank – for this latest offering: Chocolate candy cane lollipops.

Initially I was just drawn to the aesthetically pleasing aspect of this gimmick, but once I saw that:

  1. There were hardly any ingredients involved, and
  2. It was incredibly simple…

…it just had to be done. So I made 2 versions, one with normal sized candy canes and one with those cute little mini ones. Here’s what to do – it’s so easy, like taking Christmas candy from a baby.

Candy cane lollipopsPre-heat the oven to around 150°C (apparently that’s about gas mark 2 or 3) and line a baking tray with a piece of baking parchment, or more than one tray if you plan to make lots (be careful, you want to give a nice gift for Christmas, not diabetes).

Mini canes at the ready

 

For each lolly, arrange two candy canes in a heart shape around a lolly stick. Place in the oven – the original recipe said for 5 minutes but when I extracted the mini canes after 4 they had started to boil – so I would recommend checking them every 2 mins.

When the canes are beginning to go soft, whip them out of the oven and with asbestos fingers, or just with a lot of blaspheming, gently squeeze the canes together at the top and around the stick at the bottom, until they feel like they will set to make a complete heart shape attached to the stick.

Melt your chocolateWhile you leave the canes to cool, break your chocolate of choice (you can use milk or dark, but I think for Christmas white looks most festive) into a bowl and melt in the microwave, or over a pan of water.

Check if the canes are set by gently easing them off the greaseproof paper with a palette knife – they should come off easily and ideally in once piece! Leaving them on the lined tray, spoon the melted chocolate into each heart, making sure there are no gaps.

Fill with white chocolate and decorateNow comes the even more fun bit – the decorating. You can go to tinsel town here and why not? It’s one of the only times of the year when you can get away with it. Admittedly I was a bit boring and just sprinkled over edible gold sugar balls, but it was all I could route out of the cupboard. You could use a rainbow of coloured sprinkles, traditional festive silver and gold balls or an assortment of small sweeties like Jelly Tots or even better, Popping Candy! Why didn’t I think of that when I made mine?!?

Place in cellophane and tie with ribbonNow you have to be patient again for a while until the chocolate has fully set – don’t be tempted to mess with them until you’re sure, or disaster will strike…

Again using your trusty palette knife, extract the lollies from the paper and if you can refrain from eating them yourself, pop them into a cellophane bag and tie with some lovely looking festive ribbon or gift tags.

Then ta-dah! Your very own professional looking chocolate candy cane lollies, the perfect Christmas present.

 

Keeping it real

When I wrote the blog ‘Quality not quantity‘ back in May, I knew I was writing about a business which stood out from the crowd.  It is obvious to anyone who is remotely interested in food and local produce that the Real Food Store is far from your average shop.

The Real Food Store

Now, the effort and ethics of this impressive community-grown company have been formally recognised – they have been shortlisted in the Best Local Retailer category of the 13th BBC Food and Farming Awards.  Beating off stiff competition from over 900 other nominations, the Real Food Store is up against two other retailers from across the country: Cross Lanes Organic Farm Shop in Barnard Castle and Eurospar, Dolgellau, north Wales.

Both very different stores, the latter is perhaps on first thought, a surprise entry for this kind of award, but when you look closer it is obvious that although it has the branding of a national chain, it shares the same ethos as the Real Food Store: to serve the local community.  Cross Lanes has its own story to tell too, with a strong emphasis on operating in an eco-friendly way, and future plans to make the business into an educational facility to inspire school children, businesses and members of the public.  It’s fair to say the Exeter shop and cafe has some tough competition.

Previous winners of this well respected award include The Brockweir and Hewelsfield Village Shop of Chepstow in 2011 and Topsham’s own Darts Farm Shop in 2010.

In their latest newsletter, Real Food said about the shortlisting: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to put the Real Food Store and Exeter on the national map for its quality local and seasonal food, community foundations and value in the city centre.”

The award winners will be announced in a ceremony on 28th November, as part of the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham.  So will the Paris Street premises, which began life as a community benefit society in 2009, bring the Best Local Retailer award back to Devon?  I certainly hope so.