Precision Baking Time!

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Precision Baking Time for a Battenburg

I tweeted about this the other day, when I was catching up on the Hairy Bikers Mums Know Best. I’ve written about how much I have a soft spot for them before, and watching them bake continues to confirm why. Especially when they teach me new things.

Like the fact that there is a special baking tin for making a Battenburg in. I always thought it was down to precision slicing of cake after the event, but it appears not. You bake four perfect stripes, in a divided tin, and then sandwich together. Just in time for tea.

Headcook have one from Silverwood that looks very durable, that would last you a lifetime of Battenburg baking, and then some. Happy days and teatimes! (UPDATE, sadly no longer available from this website)

Great photo by Henry Cooksey on Flickr.

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The Friday Five – Even Greater British Baking

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I think it’s fairly well documented that a) I am quite keen on cake b) I like to bake and c) I have a terrible cookery book addiction! So the new crop of baking orientated books is like the most dreadful temptation to me. Here’s what I am trying to resist!

British Baking from Peyton & Byrne – this is the most beautiful looking book cover I’ve seen in a while, and Peyton & Byrne at St Pancras is my guilty indulgence for delicious baking. I’m hoping the recipe for the fig rolls is in here, as well as the coconut and raspberry cupcake. Not due out until 17 March, but quite sure will be very worth the wait!

The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days: Recipes to make every day special by Tarek Malouf – not sure if this is a sign of the cupcake phenomonen waning, but this book is about so much more than just little cakes. Full of teatime treats, and going to test your decision making powers on which one to make first!

Jamie’s Monster Bake Sale – I think I can excuse myself buying this one, as this is all for a great cause. Yes, it’s Comic Relief time, and a great bake sale will always be a good way to raise some cash. Thirteen sweet treats that will be bound to go down a treat, including Sea Salt and Caramel Chocolate Cake, Carrot and Honey Cake and Sticky Toffee Cupcakes. So I’m going to break my embargo and buy this one.

Cakes River Cottage Handbook – Hugh always seems to have a good cake or two going, and every one I’ve made has been well received. This is a great collection, and I’d say particularly good for someone who hasn’t done a lot of baking before. Or just someone who wants great traditional recipes that will taste fabulous.

Great British Food Revival: 100 delicous recipes to celebrate sensational local British produce – not just about baking but I love the basis of this book, so wanted to include it. It’s about our best ingredients, at the best season, and creating the best recipe from it. Some great contributors including Michel Roux Jr, James Martin and the Hairy Bikers, all people that I would be very happy to have help me with my baking!

So, forget the winter blues with a good afternoon of baking!

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The Friday Five – The state of British food

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Home thoughts from abroad? Is this really the food we crave when away?

 

One of the great joys of being in France was the daily choice of which market to go to, and then to see great looking food to choose from, from small producers, local producers, French producers. Which made us debate how we managed to lose that in the UK.

I mean, the French had rationing and worse, so we can’t blame it all on the war. Why did we embrace the supermarket and ready meals much more readily and rapidly than the French? How did we lose our markets for so long?

No idea of the answer, but these writers all have a view or take on the British relationship with food:

 

Bad Food Britain: How A Nation Ruined Its Appetite by Joanna Blythman – an interesting analysis of the nation’s dysfunctional relationship with food. Whereas Shopped was more about the supermarkets, this is about the total food industry, plus the role of the government and indeed the family. It also compares our food culture with that of other European countries and the US. Thought provoking and accessible.

Sausage in a Basket: The Great British Book of How Not to Eat  by Martin Lampen – this is not a serious discourse into the subject, but will make you laugh out loud, at just how bad some of the stuff is that we have. Of course other place have these things, but you have to think about how far these are into the national psyche and palate. Enjoyable bit of fluff.

Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking by Kate Colquhoun– this is interesting around how there has always been innovation and interest in food in the UK since the earliest of times, well before Ready Steady Cook and Masterchef. This is entertaining and informative, although reviews suggest the parts on early food history are better than the later stuff.

British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History by Colin Spencer – This book talks about the high points of English cooking from 1100 England right up to the mid 19th century and also sets out to find out how did we throw all that away. Not only throw it away but forget about great food for so long. A comprehensive view with plenty of interesting information, the stuff you may never have known before, and will amaze your friends with down the pub at a later date.

Sold Out!: The True Cost of Supermarket Shopping by William Young – well, had to get the supermarkets in there somewhere, as they’ve most definitely had a part to play. And of course I accept not all supermarkets are the same, but this gives a good view on what the full implications are of our reliance on supermarkets and the changes they have brought about.

There is so much to enjoy about the British food scene, but there is also a lot of bad years to overcome, at every level in our society I guess. We’ve only to look at some of the reactions to some of the things that Jamie Oliver has done. Whilst you may not agree with his methods or approach, it revealed some deeply held beliefs about food, some not the best. It will take some time to change, but we have to keep working towards a better food future for all, not just a foodie elite.

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The Friday Five – Shaking up the picnic

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Always time for a picnic

 

Wimbledon, Glyndebourne, cricket at Lords, Party in the Park…the picnic season is well and truly upon us. And lets face it, we’re in the 21st century, which means either go full on modern update to your picnic, or go retro. Need some ideas? Here’s 5 books that might help liven things up.

The Great British Picnic Guide by Mark Price – great mix of fabulous recipes not to mention 20 great places to pack up your picnic and head out to. Mark also gives you a guide on how to transport certain foods to ensure that they arrive in a great state.

Picnics by Hilary Heminway – I love how this book is put together. The contents include Picnics for One or Two, Aerobic Picnics (who knows) and, particularly important for the British weather, the In Case of Rain Picnics. Sounds like a perfect back up plan!

Retro Beach Bash: A Sun Lover’s Guide to Food and Fun – this is part of a range of books that is not easily available, but I’d love the whole set.  This one sounds perfect for planning a vintage Americana trip to the beach. Count me in.

Picnics and Other Outdoor Feasts by Claudia Roden – this is an expanded version of the original 1981 version and gives a whole range of options from traditional to exotic. As you would expect it does include street food from the Middle East and Mediterranean, so would really pep up a dull picnic.

The Urban Picnic: Being an Idiosyncratic and Lyrically Recollected Account of Menus, Recipes, History, Trivia, and Admonitions on the Subject of Alfresco Dining in Cities Both Large and Small – ok, so I just included this one because I think it has to be the longest title I have ever featured, but it does  sound interesting. I would imagine it making a great read as well as having some interesting menu options. If there’s room after the title!

Happy picnicing!

Fabulous retro shot of picnic by the lake by Lamerie on Flickr.

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Bring on the picnic!

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I am not looking how long this weather is going to last, but it makes me think that picnic season is well and truly upon us. Which means digging out all the picnic gear, and finding out what’s missing. And if I find our picnic blanket has gone missing, or has a big hole in it, then I’d like this one from Cath Kidston please:

 

My new picnic blanket, please

 

I love the retro look, the badges, that set me in mind of old suitcases and travelling. Which can be no better state of mind to enter a picnic with. All I need now is a decent coolbox, and some great weather, and I will be happy to have every meal as a picnic for the next few weeks!

What else do I need though? What makes the perfect picnic for you?

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Derbyshire Food Fair in photos…kind of

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Choices, choices...

 

We had a great time yesterday at the Derbyshire Food & Drink Fair, although slightly relieved we did go yesterday, which was warm enough, as I imagine today will be a real scorcher. Here’s a few thoughts and photos, in case you are wondering either whether to go, or what you missed!

 

Glorious day for a food festival

 

This was about 11, with a reasonably quick queue. It got very hectic!

 

Good food and sunshine...perfection

 

As you can see, perfect summer’s day, perfect location and surrounded by great food and drink. See, you can keep Earl’s Court, this is a food festival. Yes, you’re right, one day I must stop being bitter about not going…!

 

Queue for Brian? Not when I can sit here in the shade, thanks.

 

Every show had them queueing round the grounds. I like Brian Turner, but I like shade on sunny days more.

 

But he still pulled a crowd, and onlookers

 

Not to mention the sensible lot that sat at the back of the tent in the shade!

 

The empty spaces tell their own story!

 

It was fantastic to meet Wendy and her husband from Quirky Cookies, and great to hear what a busy day they were having. There’s a digger missing as that went home with us.

 

The spoils we bore triumphantly home!

 

Loved everything on here, except Yumberry, which wasn’t my taste and I really don’t need a juice packed in China. I loved the ice creams from Yee Kwan, and found Yee really engaging and knowledgeable. My prize for sheer enthusiasm, though, goes to The Chilli Jam Man. Knowledge, passion, enthusiasm and great tasting products, even for a wimp like me on the chilli front. And expect reviews of the Spicentice packs as I work my way through them.

But all good things have to come to an end…

 

What our feet needed to do by the end of the day!

 

Love to know if you went and how you found it. What did you get?

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Dartmouth – my choice for a foodie Whitsun

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Eat your way round Dartmouth

 

So the spectre of the volcanic ash cloud returns, combined with BA cabin crew, ready to disrupt the plans of many to get away for Whitsun (ourselves included). Seems should have made plans that didn’t involve flying, but who knows, may get lucky.

If I was planning a treat of a trip that wasn’t going to be disrupted by strikes or Eyjafjallajokull, then I would choose to head to Dartmouth. Again, as it’s a trip I’ve done quite a few times, and there can be no more perfect meeting of food, wine and scenery anywhere. What’s not to love? Well, other than the crowds in summer, but if I could get round that I would be busy trying to fit in the following:

* Starting as many days as possible with breakfast at Cafe Alf Resco, with a strong cappucino and their cinnamon toast. No juggling of days now, as they have gone to being open every day, but that possibly just means more days to have trouble getting a seat. Still, if you’re happy to share, you can normally squeeze in. And you never know who might share with you (Kevin McCloud last time I went). Sadly, they have stopped opening in the evenings other than for private parties, but there are plenty of other choices.

* Buying scones from the Sloping Deck, ready to get covered in clotted cream and jam later.

* Buying pasties from Pasty Presto. I know the Sloping Deck do pasties but have always found these to be slightly more tasty.

* Eating fish. Now,usually this has involved buying fish from Moby Nicks and cooking it myself, which I would still be very keen to do. Great choice, very fresh and always good advice on what’s best that day. But of course now there’s the Seahorse. Choices, choices… I think the answer is to do both. Or buy fish, and have more fish at the Seahorse, or else whatever meat is on the grill that day.

* Deciding yet again not to eat at The New Angel. And after Giles Coren’s legendary review, am even less likely to do so. This is one of my favourite reviews ever, and I love the fact that the Seahorse used it on their website. The twist of the opening paragraphs still make me laugh out loud. Read it, then book the Seahorse.

*Being a bit more active and heading out to Slapton Sands for a bit of kite flying. Followed by lunch at the Rocket Cafe. If it’s raining, skip the kite flying. If you really want to wake up to the bracing air of the coast, then book one of the rooms at Seabreeze and you’ll get lungfuls of the stuff. Decor is delicious, as is the homemade soup. Or if you want to go a bit further on, then Blackpool Sands is thankfully nothing like its namesake, but is great for pebble collecting. Rubbish for sandcastles though. Lunch can be taken care of by The Venus Cafe, who have a great local and green food sourcing policy, which makes them very popular. You never know who might be in the queue behind you (Kevin McCloud last time I went. Yes, I was beginning to get a bit twitchy). Great wine choices too from Sharpham.

* Upping my veg intake by having lunch at Riverford. You may know that there is a slight sense of jealousy in this household as MGG has done this already, for me it just remains as a dream for my next visit. She waxed lyrical about pretty much everything, except the rhubarb. You can walk the farm, or do a tour, and stock up in the shop for everything you need for your next meal. If you’ve got any room. Very popular, so you’ll need to book. And of course being family style dining, you never know who might be sitting at the table with you. Yes, I’ll be watching out for him.

* Heading down Foss Street to buy something from Simon Drew. His sense of humour appeals to me and I have quite a lot of pieces on my tables and in the kitchen.  I am still rather fond of Shepherd Spy and Cat a Meringue.  Not to mention Cod Moving in Mysterious Ways.

* Squeezing into the DA for nachos and pizza. Because all that fish and veg needs a counter balance, and this is where I would choose to do it! Usually heaving, but worth it.

* Eating with MGG at Kendricks. This still remains one of our favourites, and if you’re travelling with kids of any age then this is a great choice, without being a “child friendly” downgrade of the eating out experience. For those of you wanting to be away from kids, don’t worry, they are corralled upstairs. Not exactly fine dining, but great eating, great atmosphere and always worth a return visit in our book.

There are many choices of places to stay, although we have always tended to book a house. After all, with all these great places to eat and shop, why would you want to be limited? We usually book through Coast & Country Cottages, who have a great choice of places in Dartmouth and the surrounding area, and I’ve also been grateful for them having a nearby office on a few occasions. Amongst others we have stayed at Lake Street Mews, which is extremely central with its own garage (although a very uncomfy bed at that time).  But if I could stay in any house, then it would be 12 Horn Hill. Fabulous views, lovely inside and straight downhill to the Cherub. Perfect.

In fact, there are only two things wrong with Dartmouth that stop it being my perfect foodie break. One, it’s a five hour journey from here. And two, the (now ex) father-in-law lives across the river. In every silver lining…! Still, that shouldn’t stop the rest of you! Oh, and unless you have access to a boat, avoid Regatta Week.

Atmospheric photo of the Butterwalk, home to the Sloping Deck, by Neosnaps over on Flickr.

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Buzzing about National Honey Week

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Save the Bees

I missed this last week by being in Hong Kong, but honey and bees seem to be a very hot topic at the moment. I love that Harry Eastwood was working with the Honey Association on recipes for the week, as I’m a huge fan of hers (as my well thumbed copy of Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache would testify!).

Everyone wants to talk honey and preserving the bees, it’s definitely one of the foodie causes de jour. Want to support the cause or get involved? Here’s a few of the things that have caught my eye:

* For the urban wannabe(e) beekeeper, then they’ll probably be lusting after a Beehaus. From the people who brought us the Eglu, the Beehaus makes some parts of beekeeping modern and cool. Although not the outfits. And they’ll sell you the bees too. Don’t underestimate this service, ours is still a virtual hive as we are bee-less.

*Check out the limited edition from Innocent which is Lemons, Honey & Ginger, noticeable for the hive picture on the front. This is their “buy one get one bee” campaign, which will help to install beehives across the sites of the National Trust and the Federation of Irish Beekeepers. It also comes with a packet of bee friendly seeds for you to make your own garden a bit more bee friendly. Personally, I didn’t like the smoothie, as it mainly tastes of banana and a little honey, and I’d have liked a bit more of a ginger kick. But, hey, the bees are happy!

* If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, then I highly recommend a read of A World Without Bees. The stats are frightening, both in terms of how quickly they have been dieing out, as well as the impact on the environment, agriculture and the economy. Not the happiest read, but interesting.

* Probably the most famous urban beekeepers are those at Fortnum & Mason, where there are famously hives on the roof. You can buy honey from the rooftop of the London store, or the more rural bees of Salisbury Plain. They also have honey from around the UK, from Scotland to Wales, as well as New Zealand and the Pitcairn Islands. I imagine the carbon footprint is quite high on the last two!

* Manuka honey is supposed to have huge health benefits. Whether this applies when you use it in vodka I’ve no idea, but I would imagine I might feel a bit better with a shot of 42 Below’s Manuka Honey Vodka. I’m rather liking the sound of Honey on the Rocks, a bit like a more interesting version of Beechams by the sounds of it!

* Many beekeepers are very small producers, so you are most likely to find their produce in your local shops and at your farmer’s market. Keep a look out for them and do what you can to support them. Remember if you are shopping anywhere else to look for a named country of origin on your honey, as everything just labelled honey can be made from blends of honey from all around the world. Or from cheapest sources available. Honey isn’t cheap, but it’s worth paying that bit more for to support the systems that support great beekeeping practices.

* If you don’t want to go down the whole beekeeping route (I’ve seen the outfits, it’s not for everyone) then you could just do your bit by making whatever space you have for growing things more bee friendly. Most of the seed companies have caught onto this trend and give you some good views on what to buy.  Crocus have Bee Attract Seed Mix, Sarah Raven offers a great option with Garlic Chives (bees love them and you can eat them) and Thompson & Morgan have 61 different bee friendly options.

So, you might be like me and missed National Honey Week, but it’s never too late to get involved and support our beekeepers, and our bees.

Bee campaigner snapped by Kevin Krejci over on Flickr.

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Why I’m not sorry that I’m not going to the Real Food Festival

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Would I lie to you? Where else would a food lover be going?

 

Can you imagine how hellish I would find the Real Food Festival? Running from this Friday (7 May) through to Sunday for us mere mortals, it is billed as the UK’s most exciting food festival. Why on earth would I want to go?

And really, I didn’t want to.

I’m not at all bitter and twisted that I shall spend most of the first day high in the sky, most of the second day wiped out and the third day trying to remember where I am.

And I am also not at all sorry to be missing out on:

* Playing voilà bingo whilst watching Raymond Blanc do a demonstration. Or seeing Thomasina Miers cook anything. Or Richard Bertinet making bread. Dull.

* A whole section devoted to chocolate. Proper chocolate from people like Artisan du Chocolat, William Curley and Paul Wayne Gregory. I’ll be home with a bar of Dairy Milk for sure.

* The chance to eat from the Riverford Organic Field Kitchen. Why do an hour on the train to eat with them at Earls Court when I could drive there in 5 hours, and have to put up with the father in law?

* Finally meeting  Kate from Gower Cottage Brownies face to face.

* Having to work my way through 400 fantastic producers of great food and drink from around the UK. This way I don’t have to choose between them, no one will be offended when I don’t buy and I won’t have to carry it all home again. Or resist the temptation not to eat it on the way home.

* Chuntering away to myself as I read the show catalogue at the number of firms who still have no form of website.

So, if you have nothing better to do, then you could continue to book in advance and make a large saving over what you would have to pay on the door. But really, why would you?

Fabulously appropriate photo by The Wolf on Flickr.

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And the Pimms is open!

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Anyone for Pimms? Definitely time to crack that bottle of Pimms open

To me, you can keep your swallows, because summer’s not underway until the Pimms is open. And given the glorious stretch of weather we’re having, that day has come. Is there a more English taste than a long tall glass of Pimms with which ever mixer you prefer (tonic for me please).

I realised though that I know nothing about the origins of the drink, how it came to be part of a British summer. It goes back to 1823, invented by one James Pimm, a farmer’s son from Kent who definitely done good. As the owner of an oyster bar he created the concoction to help take away the bitter tang  of gin. Whilst based on gin, mixing it with quinine and a secret blend of spices made it much more palatable.

The No 1 cup comes from the small tankard that it was originally served in. Which doesn’t explain the origins of the other 5, but over its history there have been up to 6 different blends of Pimms, some of which are still in production.  The No 3 cup was based on brandy, with a version currently being available on a seasonal basis as Pimms Winter Cup, and the other cups were variations on a theme, with just the base spirit changing.

It’s not clear when the strawberries, mint, orange and lemon got added into the glass, but I’ve always loved the alcoholic fruit salad you end up with. I love this idea over on Served Raw for a DIY Pimm’s Cart, which I may try this summer. I remember having lunch at Morels at The Grove in LA and being struck with the idea of the Bloody Mary cart, but I don’t like tomato juice so was just something to look at. A Pimm’s Cart, now that’s something I could get stuck into!

There’s some interesting additions in the article to the cart, like Limoncello and St Germain elderflower liquer. I can see a whole raft of new possibilities opening up to my Pimms repertoire! There’s also a great recipe over on the BBC for a Buttermilk Pound Cake with Pimms-Soaked Fruits. Sounds fantastic.

Of course I can imagine that given the garnish of strawberries and cucumber that this would also work well with a slug of  Hendricks gin. Which would really make the summer seem great, even if it’s a washout! What’s your favourite way to serve it? Other than just regularly!

Great Pimms photo by Mooganic over on Flickr.

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