Lunch in the Woods

The Blackwood Arms

Get lost in Burnham Beeches and discover The Blackwood Arms

IMG_2531It was another bitterly cold and windy March day and to get out of the wind we headed to Burnham Beeches. Although cold and very muddy, we managed to stay shielded from the wind and the dogs had a great time running around, noses to the ground discovering new scents, tails wagging non-stop.

So the dogs were happy, but what the humans needed was a decent cup of coffee as a reward for heading out early on a Sunday morning. We came across this little pub and were greeted with open arms by the landlord. “Come on in and get warm,” he urged. “Don’t worry about the muddy boots, just close the door quickly.”

I knew as soon as I spied the logs strung with fairy lights in the recess and the roaring fire that we had discovered a cosy haven. Although all the tables displayed a dry log painted with a reserved sign, we were urged to sit down with our coffees right next to the fire at a table which would be needed later. We also managed to squeeze in a couple of glasses of wine, a Guinness and some hearty open beef sandwiches as soon as we’d gulped the coffee.

They can only seat 30 in the little space, but it was the kind of place you always hope to discover; friendly, efficient, and good pub food. We left our doggies in the car, but it is a very dog friendly pub, and when we can come and sit in the little garden at the back, the dogs can come and sit with us.

Do check this place out if you live nearby and like to combine lunch or supper with a walk. This is a proper country pub and perfect for walkers and dog walkers alike. If only all places could be like this. The staff managed to combine being welcoming with being efficient, so we were able to enjoy a bite to eat and a drink before the table was needed again without feeling rushed.

Thanks everyone at The Blackwood; we’ll be back very soon. This is a fine example of how a pub should be run.

Let’s Talk Turkey – How to choose the best turkey this Christmas

Choosing the Christmas turkey will be one of the most important food decisions you make this Christmas so make sure you get yours ordered in plenty of time. To save you time, I have researched the different options which are widely available, plus a few local recommendations.

Since it is the most crucial time of year for food retailers everywhere, they will spend a lot of time and money trying to convince you to buy their offerings. If you address this early enough you won’t feel bombarded by advertising. The paired back Waitrose Christmas ad-campaign addresses the fact that it is this pressure to buy, buy, buy which takes the edge off enjoying the festive season for many of us.

My preference is for a bronze turkey whole bird; we tried a crown one year for ease (actually I think my mum didn’t trust dad’s carving skills) but it wasn’t the same.

Fresh turkeys go on sale round about 19th December with prime selling days being 22nd and 23rd. Local butcher shops will take advance orders to ensure you don’t have to go running around the poultry aisles in a last minute panic. Check out your oven space and also roasting pans; if you haven’t got the right size roasting pan, you can buy disposable foil ones from most supermarkets. I was once asked to cook a giant turkey for an American client for Thanksgiving. He was insistent that he wanted lots of leftovers, but didn’t realise that his oven was way too small for the size of bird he wanted. I gave him two turkeys; one which I had already cooked for his left overs, and the other one we cooked for the Thanksgiving dinner. Think carefully, too, about how much aside from roast potatoes you need to go into the oven. Most veg can be prepped in advance ready for reheating so you don’t have to juggle hob space either.

Kelly Bronze

IMG_2215The famous Kelly Bronze turkey was showcased at The BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham where people were queuing round the block for a good old fashioned turkey roll.

The Kelly Bronze turkey is reared to traditional farming methods and are allowed to roam in pastures and woodlands. They are fed on locally grown cereals and vegetable proteins, and are without additives, drugs or growth promoters. They are hand plucked and hung in a chilled environment for fourteen days or more to develop in flavour.

This is the turkey favoured by upmarket butchers, so make sure you order in plenty of time.

Sainsburys

Norfolk Black Turkey in the Taste the Difference range this Christmas. I felt very privileged to meet Mark Gorton, the genial turkey farmer who explained how his method of breeding results in succulent and full of flavour birds. Allowing all his birds to roam free in woodland and open fields follows the traditional way of rearing turkey and produces birds far removed from the dry and tasteless turkeys we have been led to accept. Aside from his whole birds, there is a more exotic sounding fig and orange stuffed crown.  Either opt for the already stuffed crown with some of the mixed flavour cocktails sausages, or team the traditional turkey with the Pork and Pomegranate wraps which serve as an interesting alternative to stuffing balls. Whichever you choose you will be on to a winner, and even the turkey doubters won’t complain.

Taste the Difference whole Freedom Food free-range Norfolk Black turkey £9.99/kg
Weight: 5-5.99kg (£49.95-£59.84)
6-6.99kg (£59.94-£69.83)
Options to serve up to 11
The exclusive Norfolk Black is a slower-growing breed of turkey, which means the flavour has longer to develop, resulting in a better tasting bird.

Taste the Difference whole Freedom Food free-range Bronze turkey £8.49/kg
Weight: 4-4.99kg (£33.96-£42.37)
Options to serve up to 9
The Bronze has lots of succulent, delicious breast meat.  These free-range birds are reared to the Freedom Foods welfare standard, which helps to ensure the best quality meat.

Waitrose

Waitrose have a Pork, sage & onion stuffed turkey with sage butters under the skin and a maple cured bacon lattice.

This turkey is in a roasting bag (inner bag). Simply place into your oven tray and roast for the perfect Christmas turkey.
£36.00  (£4.50 per serving)
Weight: 4 – 5kg
Serves 8

They also will sell a dry aged, free range bronze feathered turkey breast and leg joints stuffed with a sweet, nutty chestnut and cranberry stuffing, for a classic flavour combination. Each box comes with a handy stock pack to use for the perfect gravy and a meat thermometer to help cook the joints to perfection.
£50.00  (£6.25 per serving)
Weight: 3.5kg
Serves 8

Asda

Bourbon Gold turkeys – exclusive to Asda

Asda has worked with a producer to create a new variety of turkey by crossing the Bourbon turkey with a Kelly Gold for a meatier bird, which they say lends a hint of luxury.

The Bourbon Gold turkeys are the Kelly Gold variety mixed with the traditional Bourbon turkey, named after Bourbon Country, which originated in Kentucky in the late 19th century. This Bourbon breed was hugely popular in the 1930s and 1940s, but was eventually unable to compete with the plumper, broad breasted varieties. 

The Bourbon Gold Turkeys are reared from five weeks and live in small flock sizes maintaining tight knit social groups and are slow grown for a fuller and more succulent flavour. They are also free to roam the woodlands and grasslands. All Asda turkeys are British.

Fresh turkeys go in-store at Asda on the 19th December.

The History of English Food – in the company of authors

alt tag goes hereToo many TV food shows affect our ability to actually cook. This was just one of the thorny issues about English food raised at The Bloomsbury Institute discussion last night with Lawrence Norfolk and Kate Colquhoun.

Media of John Saturnall's Feast

The event was held in Bloomsbury Publishing’s Georgian offices in Bedford Square, London, in the heart of Bloomsbury. The Bloomsbury Institute was set up about a year ago as an events programme of monthly live author talks with leading fiction and non-fiction writers. 

Bloomsbury is an independent publishing house with a highly impressive list of authors, including William Boyd, Anthony Bourdain, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Howard Jacobson and Heston Blumenthal, plus Louis Sachar, Benjamin Zephaniah and JK Rowling.

We were shown into the conservatory, offered drinks and were able to look at the books before the talk. Once the talk got underway, the
engaging Lawrence Norfolk read some of the brilliant text from his book, the words sparkling  like brightly coloured diamonds. It was thrilling to hear the passages and I immediately wanted to rush out of the room and grab a copy of his book to keep close. Norfolk writes historical novels and in a nutshell this is about a village boy who starts as a lowly skivvy in the great kitchens of Buckland Manor, and his trials and tribulations before he rises to culinary fame and acclaim. Norfolk says that his friend Kate Colquhoun’s book Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking, was one of the catalysts for his book. We enjoyed some lively chat between the two, with Lawrence Norfolk giving us vivid descriptions of growing up in rural Gloucestershire and some episodes of the family sheep crowding so tightly into a small hut that it exploded cartoon like around them. They also discussed how writing about food can be very difficult as we have very few adjectives in English to describe fully the eating experience.

I didn’t have much time to look at the books, as I was too busy chatting but the look and feel of John Saturnall’s Feast is very pleasing. The design is good and printed on very high quality paper. It would make an excellent Christmas gift for someone interested in the roots of food and it’s history. That someone would be me, but my husband somehow missed the hints I was throwing his way. Next time I will stick around for the book signing and buy if for myself.

Cook.Taste.Autumn.Smile – Review

Cook.Taste.Autumn.Smile by Alex Yandell

Recommended to me via the Guild of Food Writers member’s forum, Cook.Taste.Smile is a series of books for use on the iPad. The author, Alex Yandell, has produced two in the series so far, and I was curious to discover a new form of cookbook. If you are unsure what an iBook is, it as an e-book application by Apple for their operating system and devices. Cook.Taste.Autumn. Smile is available to download via iTunes. See details below

I would normally review a book for the accuracy of the recipes and quality of writing. With this format, I have reviewed both the content and the ease of use.

Content

www.cooktastesmile.co.uk

Once I’d sorted how to view the book (see below) I set about leafing through it. The book is divided into 10 chapters,(30 recipes) which is about right for this style of book. Chapter Four gives three Autumn menus with a wine recommendation for each, and tips on how to make the menu cheaper and healthier. The photographs in the book are stunning and far better viewed on the iPad than in any conventional cookbook. It is this that gives you the urge to replicate the food. The recipes are well written and easy to follow and based on classics with a twist.

Recipes:

Some highlights include Shredded Duck and Roast Plum Salad with sesame, soy and pomegranate dressing,  Roast Cod with Puy Lentils and Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette, Porcini and Chestnut Mushroom Soup, Beetroot soup with horseradish crème frâîche, Pan-fried Sea Bass with potato rosti and tapenade sauce, Slow-roasted Belly of Pork with braised fennel, caramelised apples, and cider gravy and Honey and Five-spice Duck Breast with carrot and cardamon mash and red wine jus.

These demonstrate the style of the book, for keen cooks wanting to impress their friends at weekends. Further Autumnal suggestions are for three preserves, three warming desserts, three afternoon indulgences and three savoury baking recipes. Savoury baking includes a couple of breads, and Mature Cheddar Twists

Do they work?

I tried the Porcini and Chestnut Mushroom Soup with Parmesan Crisps and Sticky Stem Ginger and Prune Cake. Both the recipes were well written and easy to use with clear instructions. The results were excellent, and delivered perfectly judged flavours and textures.

Ease of use

For those of us who have become visually challenged, the real advantage is not having to wear glasses to read the recipes whilst cooking. However it takes a bit of time to get used to. Looking back at the “How to use this book section” right at the beginning, I realised that portrait or landscape modes differ in their presentation. The portrait mode shows whole recipes, as in a print book, so you can view the ingredients and instructions on one page prior to cooking. The landscape mode is designed for reading the large (without glasses!) step-by-step instructions guiding you through the recipe. It is advised to set the screen to full brightness and to switch on the ‘Auto-lock’ setting to ‘Never’.  You can also make notes and highlight parts of text and also add a shopping list, which you can then print or email to yourself. Once you get used to not flipping pages, the user interface is very easy to use and there aren’t too many buttons or confusing functions. In fact, Alex says the book is very attractive to older buyers, as well as the young professionals they originally aimed the book at.

You can see a demo of the book being used here:http://www.youtube.com/user/CookTasteSmile

About the Author

Rather impressively Alex is still a student at Durham University, studying French and Classics. Alex is in the process of writing and testing recipes for the final two books in the series (‘Winter’ and ‘Spring’) which will be launched over the next nine months. He is also working with Edward Taylor (the series designer and photographer) to bring the books to the iPhone.

Follow Alex on Twitter @cooktastesmile

To sum up:

This is a stylish, good-looking book with recipes for indulgent treats. It is a perfect book for those who enjoy taking time and care with their cooking. The joy of cooking is to use good produce in season to it’s best advantage. This book embraces this philosophy with aplomb. It is not a whizzy app, but strives to produce a beautiful book which is easy to use, and offers helpful functions not available in traditional book form.

Would I recommend?

Most definitely. I can think of a number of iPad-wielding friends who would love it and I will be trying more recipes from it very soon.

How to buy:

The book is now selling for £2.99 on the iTunes store and is an excellent price for the amount of work that has gone into it and much cheaper than the majority of iBooks on the store. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/cook.-taste.-autumn.-smile./id556390316?mt=11

Going to the dogs in St Dogmaels

When getting together for a family party, there was no room at the inn for me and my husband, and Chester the dog. A google search for “boutique, dog friendly B&B, Cardigan” found us the newly opened Oriel Milgi http://www.orielmilgi.co.uk/ in the tiny village of St Dogmaels. Home of the ruined St Dogmaels Abbey, the village has one of the last working water mills in Wales, Y Felin Mill which produces fabulous bread and flours. 
http://yfelin.co.uk/

IMG_0366

I always stop by and pick up some of their wholemeal rolls to fill with local crab bought from Mandy, the local fisherman’s wife, who is two doors down from Oriel Migli. I use their wholemeal flour to make soda bread, but you can buy a handy soda bread mix, which is ideal for holiday cooking.

Chester on pre-breakfast walk at 7am, Poppit Sands
Chester on pre-breakfast walk at 7am, Poppit Sands

Since St Dogmaels is near to the popular Poppit Sands, we were able to get up early and walk the dog on the beach to work up an appetite before returning to Oriel Milgi for one of their special cooked, and locally-sourced breakfasts. When we were there their daily special was scrambled eggs with smoked sewin, which was a revelation. There are plenty of walks and activities in the area, and Helen and Anne are keen to recommend the best place to eat. The bed was the most comfortable we have ever slept in and the furnishings and restoration of the house are impeccable.

I can’t recommend the place highly enough; Helen and Anne made the three of us very welcome and nothing was too much trouble. It is the kind of place you desperately try to find an excuse to return to. We even enjoyed walking on the beach in the rain…

Chester, Tom and Matt on the beach at Poppit
Chester, Tom and Matt on the beach at Poppit

IMG_0336

West Wales Foodalogue

Gorgeous healthy breakfast
Gorgeous healthy breakfast
Just a little drop of red
Just a little drop of red

WELSH FOODALOUGUE 2012

There were yet more food treats to discover discovered on our August trip to Ceredigion. We always find an excuse to stop at the welcoming Wright’s Food Emporium in Nantgaredig

http://www.wrightsfood.co.uk/ where they serve great coffee, fantastic food and sell all kinds of delicious things. We topped up our wine carafes from the barrels they have and had a fantastic breakfast of grilled halloumi and heirloom tomatoes. If you time it right you might be lucky enough to sample one of their freshly baked Portugese custard tarts. These are heavenly and we once came away with a whole tray to share with the family; they didn’t last long as they are impossible to resist.

Heather's Harissa Lentils with Welsh Haloumi
Heather’s Harissa Lentils with Welsh Haloumi

This time we left with  some amazing Welsh Haloumi, made by Cothi Valley Farms in Talley, Llandeilo http://www.cothivalley.co.uk. Their produce is available at most of the farmers market in the region so we were able to pick up some more while we were there. I made a great dish of Harissa Lentils with Grilled Welsh Haloumi which is, as all my recipes, the tastiest and easiest dish to achieve.

It doesn’t really need a recipe, but it is basically chopped onion, sweated until soft, along with finely chopped celery and carrot. When soft, stir in a couple of teaspoons of Harissa, lots of chopped flat parsley and a packet of already cooked Puy Lentils. Drizzle with some fruity olive oil and top with freshly grilled haloumi.

Christmas Comes Early!

Christmas Event

Sainsbury’s

Last week, I walked into Christmas, as envisaged by Sainsbury’s. Invited along to their as a member of the Sainsbury’s Family Blogging Network, I found myself in some beautiful rooms packed with new ideas and innovations. Here is my pick of the range I saw:<

MAKE YOUR OWN

The British love affair with baking continues, and although I usually make everything from scratch I can see the sense in a little helping hand for busy times. Therefore I thought the new Gingerbread Dough Block would be a great boon for baking with the very young. My youngest son was always very impatient and leaving the dough to rest for 30 minutes before the rolling stage meant that he would wander off having lost interest. Why didn’t they think of this easy dough when my kids were small?

IMG_1691

These Make Your Own Macaroons in raspberry or chocolate flavours will also be making their way into my shopping basket. Macaroons need time and patience, and it is a great way of encouraging new bakers to try something other than cupcakes for a change. I would make a batch of these to serve as finger food pudding, with a sprinkle of edible glitter, or for handing around at the end of parties. Likewise, even the very pushed for time might have a go at the Sainsbury’s Make Your Own Gingerbread House kit. This would be great fun to make as part of the run up to Christmas celebrations.

For keen bakers there is also a new range of edible decorations, including mini chocolate champagne bottles, cute cherubs, pretty snowflakes and tiny holly leaves, plus silver and gold cup cake cases. I remember painstakingly making my own holly leaves to decorate hundreds of mini Christmas pudding truffles;  now I’ve discovered these it will save me masses of time.

To make home baking more fun check out the new range of  bakeware coming out this winter
To make home baking more fun check out the new range of bakeware coming out this winter

SAVOURY CANAPES

IMG_1679I’m a bit of a canape expert and I love to serve one or two savoury canapes as a relaxed first course. It is a great way of experimenting with my new recipes and none of my friends has ever complained about being a guinea pig! As a professinal caterer, I would only serve bought in foods if they were at least as good as the ones I make myself, and some of the new range on offer this year at Sainsbury’s definitely fit the bill. The most original in the Taste the Difference chilled range are these Prawn Noodle Skewers in Banana Leaf Cones, which are due in stores on 7th December. These are bound to be a big hit at parties all over the festive period. Other things to look out for in the chilled canape range are the Chilli and Chorizo Muffins, due in store 23rd November and some yummy sounding nibbles such as Baked Ham & Marmalade Crisps. Another idea to try is to top some home made soda bread with Taste the Difference Whisky Smoked Salmon for another fabulously tasty canape or starter. Serve with a swanky cocktail or two and you’ll be the most popular host in town.

TALKING TURKEY!

Anyone who thinks that turkey is dull will have their thoughts confounded by the fabulous Norfolk Black Turkey in the Taste the Difference range this Christmas. I felt very privileged to meet Mark Gorton, the genial turkey farmer who explained how his method of breeding results in succulent and full of flavour birds. Allowing all his birds to roam free in woodland and open fields follows the traditional way of rearing turkey and produces birds far removed from the dry and tasteless turkeys we have been led to accept. Aside from his whole birds, there is a more exotic sounding fig and orange stuffed crown.  Either opt for the already stuffed crown with some of the mixed flavour cocktails sausages, or team the traditional turkey with the Pork and Pomegranate wraps which serve as an interesting alternative to stuffing balls. Whichever you choose you will be on to a winner, and even the turkey doubters won’t complain.

CHEESE & STUFF

I managed to avoid eating Christmas pudding or chocolate, but I couldn’t resist trying some of the specialist cheeses on offer. The 10 month Manchego sourced from a new supplier in La Mancha didn’t disappoint. In fact I was transported momentarily back to a particular little shady square in Tarifa where they serve Manchego with a well chilled glass of fino. The big surprise was the Extra Mature Gouda which would make a much more welcome sight instead of Stilton on my cheeseboard. Unlike the waxy version we are used to in the UK, this one is really noteworthy with a deep yellow colour encased in black rind with a harder texture and an intense nutty flavour.  It came very close to some of the cheeses we sampled in a recent trip to Amsterdam where they take their Gouda very seriously.

For a stylish addition to a well chosen cheeseboard look out for Whole Kentish Cobnuts from the Taste the Difference.  I am also interested in trying Blacksticks Premier Cru, which is a creamy and unique British soft blue made using Jersey milk that is exclusive to Sainsbury’s. A sip or two of the Taste the Difference Vintage Port would be the perfect thing to round off the Christmas Feast.

There were many, many new things to try and I wish I’d had more stamina as I had to pass on many of the products.  For the sweet toothed there are plenty of new treats, among which the Mini Lemon Cheesecakes or the Mini Belgian Chocolate Melt in the Middle Puddings were the perfect canape size.

Aside from the abundance of food products being introduced, there was also a fab range of well made Nordic furniture and some great gifts. Mostly I enjoyed chatting to the Sainsbury’s staff and was impressed with the enthusiasm for the produce they all showed. It is also very encouraging to note the commitment of Sainsbury’s to offering British produce as much as possible when it is in season, as this is where supermarkets can really help both suppliers and customers get the best of what Britain has to offer.