Why do I write a food blog? It’s a question I’ve been pondering quite a bit recently but one for which I don’t really have a straightforward answer. Continue reading
England might be out of the World Cup but as I’m not all that into football, I can’t say I’m particularly devastated. But I am rather into food though – funny that as I write a food blog… So I thought this infographic of The World Cup of Food was much more interesting than the World Cup itself.
It showcases dishes from each of the countries that have been competing in the tournament. Each dish has been selected by a different food blogger, including the very lovely Helen from The Crazy Kitchen who has chosen good old steak and ale pie for England’s dish.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.
We’re almost there. Only two more sleeps until the big Ho Ho. I don’t know what it’s like in your house, but the excitement here is reaching fever pitch. My daughters are crazy about Christmas and are permanently busy with some preparation or another, be it a festive treasure hunt or their attempt to break the world record for the longest paper chain. By twelfth night, I swear every square inch of floor space in our house will be covered in paper chain…
It can be a bit of a juggling act on Christmas Day to keep the children entertained and occupied while you take care of lunch. The kind people at Waitrose have come up with this ingenious infographic to help you keep on top of your timings, which all very cleverly tie in with key points in the Tim Burton film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. We just happen to be huge fans of Tim Burton here at Chez Bangers, so this couldn’t be more perfect.
So fellow parents, you can now snuggle down to watch a great film with your kids and by keeping an eye on this handy infographic you’ll know exactly when to pop back into the kitchen to baste the turkey and put on the sprouts. And if you’re after useful tips on cooking your Christmas turkey, you’ll find plenty more on the Waitrose website.
Happy Christmas everyone – eat, drink and be merry!
Disclosure: Waitrose provided me with a complimentary copy of The Nightmare Before Christmas and a selection of festive snacks and treats as thanks for featuring this infographic.
It’s less than a month until the first ever Wells Food Festival and I’m rather excited at the prospect of a big foodie event practically on my doorstep.
The festival promises to be a marvellous celebration of the finest food and drink Somerset has to offer. Taking place on Sunday 20 October, the same weekend as National Apple Day, the organisers have timed the event for when Somerset’s produce is at its most abundant and glorious.
Centred around Wells’ historic market square, the festival will feature a whole host of fabulous foodie events and activities. There will be an artisan producers’ market, a ‘Question Time’ style Milk Matters debate in the Bishop’s Barn, a cake competition, cookbook talks and signings, a foodie pub quiz; a vintage tea party; cider, beer and wine bar and a tempting choice of great Sunday lunches showcasing local ingredients served up at restaurants and cafes across the city. Take a look at the full line up on the Wells Food Festival website.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring interviews with some of those involved in the festival here on the blog to find out what makes Somerset food so special and to get their advice on cooking with local ingredients.
To kick things off, I popped into one of my favourite and most regularly frequented shops in Wells, the family butchers F Griffiths & Sons, who have been selling meat and poultry to locals since 1953. It’s a wonderfully welcoming shop where customers can ask questions and learn about food without feeling overwhelmed.
Pretty much everyone who knows Wells will know Gerry Morris. He is the ever-friendly, smiley face behind the counter at Griffiths, always able to provide you with knowledgable advice and top tips on what cuts of meat to buy and how to cook them. I asked him how Griffiths will be getting involved in the food festival.
“Wells Food Festival will give us a chance to cook and sell our new range of award-winning pies to a wide range of local people who will be there because they love food,” Gerry tells me. “The pies are made from scratch, including our own secret recipe pastry, in our Street branch. As well as selling the pies through our own shops we are supplying pubs, shops and hotels from Taunton to Bristol.”
I’m a sucker for a good pie and so are the rest of my family, so we had to put The Humble Pie Co. range to the test. Well, it would be rude not to. And I am pleased to report that they are very, very good. They taste just like a proper homemade pie, with a lovely crisp pastry and delicious fillings, using only shredded meat rather than chunks to ensure you get a meaty mouthful every time. If you happen to be in the West Country and come across them, you must give them a try.
But back to Gerry. What does he think this new festival means for Wells and the food and drink of Somerset?
“Food and specifically the provenance of our food has become much more important in recent years,” says Gerry. “The festival will give local producers and suppliers the chance to show people from all over the county the vast range of high quality food that is available on their doorstep. It is also a chance for traders to get together and exchange ideas and have a chat to see how they can improve products and service to their customers.
“Somerset produces a surprisingly varied array of food and drink. Obviously there is the locally produced meat and poultry (most of our meat comes from within a 20 mile radius of Wells), as well as wonderful cheeses, cider, artisan bread but there’s also a huge list of produce you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the West Country but is made right here in Somerset. This is what we’ll be able to collectively showcase at the festival.”
So which are Gerry’s favourite local retailers and restaurants in Wells?
“Shops like Sante Wine and Queen Street Deli are a real asset to the city and bring people from all over to come and shop here. We are spoiled for choice as far as restaurants are concerned and, particularly as we supply many of them, I couldn’t possibly nominate a single favourite!”
Finally I ask Gerry to suggest a cut of meat for me to cook at home; one I probably haven’t tried before. Without hesitation he suggests the ‘gastro steak’.
“The gastro beef steak is carefully cut from a very specific and small part of the calf of the animal,” Gerry explains. “It can be cooked as a traditional braising beef but I think it’s amazing when you cook it very quickly on a high heat and serve it rare. It eats like a very tasty fillet steak, but costs just one-third of the price. It only needs a pepper or hollandaise sauce, some green vegetables and new potatoes to make a stunning meal.”
If you’re interested in seeing how this cut is butchered, Gerry recommends taking a look at this video. “Although we didn’t invent the actual cut, we did come up with the name ‘gastro’ steak. It seemed appropriate as the specific muscle it comes from is the gastrocnemius.”
And so I did exactly as Gerry suggested and took home a couple of gastro steaks for my husband and me to put to the test. I seasoned them with ground black pepper and fried them very quickly, just for a few minutes on each side, on a very high heat. As you might have gathered, I’m a bit of a mashed potato fiend, so I served them with mash and steamed green beans and a simple peppercorn sauce.
And the verdict? Simply divine. Believe me, I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to hurt Gerry’s feelings. These gastro steaks really are packed full of flavour, as tasty as a sirloin but with the cuts-like-butter texture of a fillet. And since they’re a fraction of the price of a fillet, I think I’ll be buying a few more of these delicious meaty morsels very soon. I’d recommend you do too, but I’m slightly concerned that if more people start buying them Gerry might be tempted to put the price up. So on second thoughts, steer clear!
Thanks so much to the lovely Gerry for his time and advice last week and I look forward to sampling more of his gorgeous pies at the festival.
Look out for further festival related posts in the coming weeks, including cake baking tips from Royal wedding cake maker Fiona Cairns (who is judging the cake competition), and Somerset cheese recommendations from Dan Holland at the Queen Street Deli.
Disclosure: Griffiths provided me with complimentary pies and gastro steaks for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.
Only connect! … Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.
E M Forster, Howard’s End
It might seem a little odd but I recently gave up one of my weekends, one of the hottest of the year, to be at a conference in London. In the run up, when friends asked me what I was doing at the weekend, their sympathies were all too obvious as they pictured me in a stuffy lecture theatre, forcing myself to concentrate on one dull lecture after another and missing out on all the sunshine and fun. But they couldn’t have been more wrong. I really could not have been more in my element. Thinking about, talking about, looking at pictures of, tweeting about, photographing and, most importantly, eating food. I was like a pig in the proverbial.
Food Blogger Connect took place at Battersea Arts Centre in London at the start of July. It’s a major annual and truly global event, attracting food bloggers from all around the world. I hadn’t actually heard of it until back in the autumn when the lovely Louisa from Chez Foti mentioned it on Twitter and then suggested we attend as ‘buddies’ to take advantage of the two-for-one delegate offer. And I am indebted to her for doing so.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from Food Blogger Connect, but whatever expectations I might have had, they were certainly exceeded. There was something extremely exciting and inspiring surrounded by more than 150 other food bloggers, writers, photographers and food professionals, all there because we share the same passion – food. So many of my friends and family can’t get their heads round why I spend so much of my spare time writing this food blog, which in all likelihood is never going to make me much (if any) money, but at Food Blogger Connect I didn’t need to explain my motives to everyone. People just understood and took great pleasure in sharing ideas, recipes, experiences and advice.
There was an impressive line up of speakers on offer to fill us with the confidence, as well as the tips, tools and a few industry secrets to take our blogs to the next level. Sadly I had to miss the Friday as I was at the wedding of some good friends in Bristol; of course there was no way I was going to miss a wedding, and it was a truly beautiful affair. But I was a little disappointed to miss hearing from food blogging supremos David Lebovitz and Niamh Shields on that first day. Plus I’ve heard tell of some incredible cheeses from La Fromagerie, including a to-die-for cheese from France layered with truffle. I hope my friends Jake and Kat realise the sacrifice I made for them…
But I did get to hear from many fantastic speakers, who have given me a whole stack of ideas I look forward to incorporating into Bangers & Mash in the coming weeks and months. I will only mention a few here as I don’t want this post to turn into a lecture itself on food blogging and so many other bloggers have already shared their learning much better than I can. If you’re after a few tips, check out Fiona Beckett’s Matching Food & Wine blog, where in the course of three separate posts she brilliantly summarises much of what was shared during the three days. Sally from My Custard Pie has also written an excellent post on Food Blogger Connect. And here’s another excellent top tips post from Laura at How to Cook Good Food. I am in awe at how well they all have captured the essence of the conference in their posts. I’m still mulling and processing…
Branding was a particular area of interest for me. As a PR consultant, I totally get the need for a strong brand in order to stand out from the ever-expanding crowd that is the food blogging community. I have a lot of work to do with Bangers & Mash to create the brand I want it to be, much of which won’t be possible until I take the leap and so self-hosted. But I have lots of ideas whirring away up there, so watch this space. Some of them may come to fruition at some point in the not-so-distant future.
Regine Wilber of Essence Design took us on a practical tour of what makes a distinctive brand, emphasising the fact that a brand is so much more than a logo and must permeate every element of what you do.
While I might have found the über confident Regula Ysewjin of Miss Foodwise fame a little awe-inspiring initially, I thoroughly enjoyed her very different talk on branding. She is a physical embodiment of her brand, or rather her brand is a graphical embodiment of her persona. Ultimately, she argues, it all comes down to the simple question ‘Why do you blog?’ – answer that and you’re practically there in determining your brand.
And it was a real delight to hear from Kerstin Rodgers aka Ms Marmite Lover, the originator of the Supper Club, who managed so beautifully to cut through all the formulaic advice on how to monetize your blog by sharing her personal story of making a living from her blog by staying true to her passion and instincts and never selling her soul to the corporate devil.
Kerstin was followed on ‘stage’ by Denise Baker-McClearn of Moel Faban Suppers talking about her experience of setting up her own take on a supper club up a mountain in North Wales. I’d always assumed living in a small village out in the sticks in Somerset that a supper club could never work here, but who knows? Surely if you can run them up a mountain, you can run them anywhere. But then again, not everyone has the sheer passion and commitment that Denise has. Anyone who can tell that good a story when the presentation equipment throws a wobbly is a bit of a star in my book.
But don’t worry, the weekend was all about sitting in a large dark room being talked at. There were plenty of breaks to chat to others and, of course, eat and drink. As well as morning and afternoon breaks, there was a two-hour lunchtime strEAT party, with another strEAT party at the end of the day, featuring a whole host of food stalls and pop up kitchens tempting us with their wares.
The event was admittedly pretty ‘brand heavy’ but that isn’t really a criticism. Many of the brands I hadn’t come across before and it was such good fun and a delicious treat to sample their goodies. Eddie’s Chilli Jam was one of my favourite finds – as you probably know I’m a bit of a chilli fiend – and it was such a pleasure to meet its founder, Mo Ellis, who developed the product to capture her West Indian father Eddie’s love of hot chilli peppers. It is her father’s face that appears on every jar. What a fantastic tribute to pay to your dad.
I was also rather taken with the Peppermongers‘ offerings, especially their Indonesian Long Pepper. It’s fantastic with sweet, ripe strawberries and as an unusual flavouring for ice cream. I want the recipe. Now.
Chobani had a massive presence at Food Blogger Connect. I’d never come across their strained yoghurt before but I fell for it hook, line and sinker. They say it’s 100% fat free, but I don’t believe them. It tastes far too good. Pots and pots of it were available at every break and for days afterwards I found myself pining for it during my tea breaks at work. I’ve heard it’s available in Tesco so I might be paying the store a visit very soon.
Brunch on Sunday was also sponsored by Chobani, where we saw the yoghurt featured in pizza muffins and scrambled eggs (decadently served with smoked salmon), as well as with plenty of fruit and granola.
Other delicious new products I came across during the weekend and will be keeping an eye out for include the amazingly refreshing Jax Coco coconut water, heavenly Moose Maple Butter (spread it on hot toast and I challenge you not to make noises you’d normally only hear in the bedroom), Joe & Seph’s surprising popcorn flavours (I was taken aback to find I actually rather liked their Cheddar & Paprika version, but wasn’t so impressed by the Gin & Tonic variety) and Luchito’s addictive range of products made with smoked Mexican chillies – yum!
I heard from some who’d been to previous Food Blogger Connects that the amount of food on offer during the numerous strEAT parties wasn’t as much as in previous years. But for one who’s never been before, I wasn’t complaining, although I was glad not to be vegetarian as meat, and particularly barbecued meat, featured heavily.
The curry served up by Lovedesh Curry cooked over a wood fire was ever so good. Shame the portion size was so small but I guess there were a lot of people to cater for. And I loved the way Yasmin’s young daughter was on hand to demonstrate her skill in crushing the spices.
The artisan cakes from Petit Gateau were every bit as good as they looked and I somehow found myself beside their stall for quite some time. Regrettably I didn’t manage to get a photo of their pretty macarons – my focus was clearly on eating them rather than photographing them.
Thai food is one of my favourite cuisines and I could have eaten the deliciously hot and spicy Thai street food on offer from Pig a Chic all weekend long. As you can see from the queue they were rather popular. If you happen to be in North London at the end of the month, you can catch Pig a Chic at the Islington Summer Fayre from 26 to 28 July.
Bethany Kehdy is the impossibly beautiful, young and talented force behind Food Blogger Connect and founder of Taste Lebanon. Somehow she has also managed to find time to publish her stunning cookery book The Jewelled Kitchen Souk, officially launched at Saturday night’s strEAT party. Of course I had to buy a signed copy to add to my ever-expanding collection – just don’t tell the other half! Bethany cooked a selection of sumptuous dishes from her cookbook for the party and I can’t wait to try my hand at her incredible Venison & Sour Cherry Nests – see bottom left below.
And finally a few more mentions must go to the Funky Chicken Van – don’t you just love their van?, Vegan Tart, creators of a mind-boggling array of tarts and cakes you’d never guess were free-from gluten, nuts, dairy and eggs, and last but not least African Volcano, whose spicy peri peri sauce I simply couldn’t get enough of, especially when served up with pulled pork in a bun. Oh dear – I’m drooling on the keyboard…
At the final party, the winners were announced for the various giveaways that had been running all weekend. Like the airhead I am, I completely missed the giveaways but was so chuffed for Louisa when her name was read out as the winner of the Kitchen Nomad recipe box, full of lots of Greek delights. I didn’t feel too jealous as I was sent a box recently and spent last weekend cooking up lots of amazing Greek dishes. Watch this space for the review and recipes. But I did feel slightly jealous when another blogger won a trip to Canada. How on earth did I miss that one?
So what was the best thing about Food Blogger Connect? My daughters would say the goodie bag I brought home…
It certainly was rather impressively full and we’re still working our way through the contents almost a fortnight later. A tin of vegetable soup was a rather incongruous inclusion though…
But as so may delegates have already said before me, the best thing about Food Bloggers Connect was meeting other bloggers. As the name says, it’s all about connecting. I’d been chatting to many of these people across the ether over the last year or so and it was dead exciting to meet them in the flesh and discover they were absolutely every bit as interesting, inspiring and downright lovely as they’d come across online.
While I spent much of the time feeling like a rabbit in the headlights and fighting in my head with my silly shy self, I did manage to ‘connect’, and a glass or two of wine in the evenings certainly helped. In particular it was fantastic to finally meet Lou from Chez Foti and Karen from Lavender & Lovage, who were two of the first bloggers I started following and whom I’ve always found so supportive.
What rounded the whole weekend off perfectly was going for drinks at a new Italian restaurant in Battersea called The Lavender – very fitting for Karen of course. It was pure serendipity. As we turned up on the doorstep they weren’t yet open, but when they heard we were in need of refreshment, they asked us to wait 10 minutes before warmly welcoming us in. It turned out it was their opening night and couldn’t believe their luck when they discovered we were a group of thirsty/hungry food bloggers! They looked after us wonderfully, serving up beautiful platters of antipasti and delicious glasses of some sparkling orange concoction I’ve completely forgotten the name of. It looked a little like Tizer but tasted much more grown up. If you’re in the Lavender Hill area in Battersea, please do check them out.
And do also check out the blogs and latest recipes of some of the wonderful bloggers I met that weekend…
Sunday 9 June is Open Farm Sunday, a special day to celebrate British farming and offering the public a fantastic chance to see for themselves how the food and farming chain works and, in many cases, see it in its entirety for a whole range of foods from fresh produce to dairy. Visitors to the hundreds of farms opening across Britain will get to meet the people who grow and produce their food and also to understand more about how and why farmers care for the countryside and why that matters to us all.
Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to visit a local farm taking part in Open Farm Sunday for the first time this year. Wookey Farm is a couple of miles from Wells in Somerset. Overlooking the beautiful Mendip Hills, this 42 acre goat farm is run by Sarah and Ian Davies with their two young sons.
As well as goats, they have a donkey called Pickles, 20 sheep, seven hens, three pigs and a friendly Springer Spaniel called Jake. They are also hosting a couple of WWOOFers called Claire and James who are staying on the farm for three weeks to pick up valuable hands-on farming experience.
One of the fields at Wookey Farm provides the most idyllic setting for a campsite. With 15 pitches for tents, caravans and motorhomes, the campsite is particularly popular with families with young children looking for an environmentally friendly way to get away from it all. The children staying on the campsite get to help out on the farm and during my visit it’s lovely to see so many children in the barn lending a hand, pointing out all the different goats and telling me the names they’ve come up with for them. Legend and Burn Mark are particular favourites.
Sarah and Ian have been at Wookey Farm for three years. Both hailing from farming families, farming is in their blood and their passion for what they do is clear for all to see. As little Alistair runs ahead as his parents show me around the farm, chasing the donkey or throwing stones in the river, I must admit to being more than a little envious of the way they live. A farmer’s life is certainly not a glamorous one; it’s full of early starts and sheer hard graft. But the perks are truly wonderful ones.
With currently 150 goats (including 75 adorable kids), the rhythm of Ian and Sarah’s day is set by the milking of the herd twice a day in the morning and evening. They sell the milk to campers and at the occasional farmers’ market, along with their other produce, including homemade cheese and fruit smoothies, goat meat and sausages, eggs and delicious Moroccan goat tagine ready meals lovingly prepared by Sarah.
Sustainability is incredibly important to Ian and Sarah. Their barn is built entirely from wood with 42 PV solar panels on the roof, providing electricity for the farm and campsite during daylight hours, with the excess feeding into the national grid. The campsite is a low impact site with no roadways or concrete shower blocks and all the toilets are compost loos. They recently planted 2.5 acres of native woodland trees (around 1,600 trees) and everything on the farm and campsite that can be recycled is.
Sarah and Ian are very excited to be taking part in Open Farm Sunday and they are planning lots of fun activities, including:
- Meet the animals
- Milking demonstration
- Tractor trailer rides
- Seed planting
- Produce to sample as well as the grand opening of their new farm shop
- Nature treasure trail
- And even welly wanging!
Wookey Farm will be open on Sunday 9 June from 11am to 4pm. I’ll be taking my family along as I know Jess and Mia will love meeting the goats, especially the cute little babies, and wanging a few wellies, while I’m keen to stock up on goat’s cheese and try some goat sausages too. So maybe we’ll see you there? Or if Wookey is a little far, visit the Open Farm Sunday website for details of farms in your area that will also be opening their gates to the public.
Open Farm Sunday is organised by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) the leading organisation delivering sustainable food and farming.
What a difference the sunshine makes. For the first time I can remember in a very long time, we got to enjoy fine weather on a bank holiday weekend. We spent as much time as we could outdoors and it felt like we were on a mini holiday. The whole of nature seemed to have jumped into action with the trees, hedgerows and fields bursting into spring flower.
For our breakfasts we’ve been enjoying homemade fruit smoothies. My husband Jason concocted indulgent blueberry smoothies with vanilla ice cream and sprinkles on top…
… while I got the children making slightly healthier smoothies with mango, passion fruit and apple, along with some special edition mango and passion fruit flavoured Actimel we were kindly sent to try out. A deliciously fruity start to the day.
On Saturday my parents came to stay. They arrived just in time for lunch and we tucked into spring lamb that had been slow roasting in the Aga all morning, served with homegrown purple sprouting broccoli and an Ottonlenghi-inspired aubergine and courgette risotto (a recipe I’m going to be making again and again), all washed down with a light, sunshiny rosé.
To walk off lunch we took a leisurely stroll around the tranquil Bishop’s Palace Gardens in nearby Wells. I’m working at the moment in Wells so it makes a lovely change to visit the city as a tourist. The children loved dressing up as bishops (perhaps by the time they’re grown up the Church of England will actually allow women bishops?), climbing trees, playing Pooh Sticks with Grandad in the palace moat and trying to wake the sleeping willow dragon. I was rather taken with the community gardens – what a wonderful place to have an allotment.
On Sunday we took Nana and Grandad for a walk across the fields behind our house, carefully skirting around the protective cows and their calves, to go and feed the two local nanny goats. One of the goats was so heavily pregnant she could barely walk; it made me wince to look at her. We also visited the field of sheep and their dainty lambs, whereupon Mia decided we should buy ourselves a pet sheep and lamb and keep them in the garden so that Daddy doesn’t have to mow the lawn anymore. Grandad tried to teach Mia to make duck noises by blowing on grass (unsuccessfully) and we foraged for wild garlic in the hedgerows (successfully).
On Sunday afternoon, possibly the warmest day of the year so far, I decided to do some baking. Crazy I know! I rustled up some zingy lemon mascarpone cupcakes and we decorated them with these pretty wafer butterflies from Dr Oetker. Perfect for an impromptu garden party underneath our apple tree that’s just beginning to bud – hopefully we’ll actually get apples this year. Jessie normally hates butter icing as it’s so rich, but loved this mascarpone topping because “It’s lovely and lemony!”
And then on Bank Holiday Monday, along with seemingly half of Somerset, we climbed up Glastonbury Tor to enjoy what are arguably the finest views in the Westcountry. The girls had great fun pretending to be the tor monsters when we reached the top. We really should have taken a picnic with us, but instead found ourselves in the fabulous Hundred Monkeys bistro in Glastonbury afterwards for a well-earned late lunch of deliciously meaty burgers served in artisan bread rolls, local Somerset cider, ice cream coke floats and ever so tempting homemade cakes. If you’re ever in Glastonbury, I heartily recommend it. While we were waiting for our food, the children invented a new game of napkin dot-to-dot; I rather like our arty creations…
So that was how we spent our bank holiday. What did you get up to this weekend?
Disclosure: I was sent samples of the new limited edition Mango & Passionfruit Actimel to try out, along with fresh fruit and a smoothie maker. I also received samples of Dr Oetker’s Wafer Butterflies to see what I thought. No money exchanged hands and the views expressed here, as they are throughout my blog, are completely my own.