A double helping of foodie feasts

Love Food Collage

We’ve had a good food day today. A lovely Sunday roast followed by homemade cherry pie and ice cream. But it doesn’t compare with what we got to tuck into last Sunday. (Although I must say the cherry pie was pretty top notch. You’ll be able to judge for yourself, as I’ll be posting the recipe on the blog soon.) But last Sunday was rather special on the food front, as we were well and truly spoilt for delicious delights with not one, but two foodie feasts. Firstly an afternoon spent at the Love Food Festival in Bristol, and then an incredible five-course Italian meal in the evening, cooked by the marvellous Valentina Harris, for all those involved in the Wells Food Festival.

The Love Food Festival is the brain-child of Lorna Knapman and takes place throughout the year in venues in and around Bristol, showcasing and championing local producers from across the South West. Lorna has been described as a “food loving mum on a mission to create a sense of community and pleasure in food wherever she goes.” I like the sound of this woman! Dubbed Bristol’s Creative Quarter, The Paintworks on Bristol’s Bath Road is a fantastically vibrant location, and it regularly plays host to Love Food and that’s where we whiled away many happy hours last Sunday, talking to local food producers, growers and cooks and blissfully tucking into some of the best food and drink the Westcountry has to offer. That’s what Love Food is all about after all and we took full advantage of all that was on offer.

After devouring their Burger Theory burgers and Rib Street hot dogs (despite my best efforts to bring them up as adventurous eaters, meat in a bun is still their favourite form of street food – and my husband’s too for that matter), my daughters had a brilliant time making paper lanterns and dragons for Chinese New Year, as well as cute little yarn-wrapped sheep, perhaps in readiness for Shaun the Sheep’s imminent arrival in Bristol.

When I asked them what their favourite activity of the day was, both girls agreed it was making their own Chinese spring rolls and wonton dumplings with a little help from the head chef from the cafe at St Werburgh’s City Farm. They prepared them using those little wraps you can pick up at any Chinese supermarket and filled them with lots of fresh veggies. We took them home to cook for lunch the following day. They were so easy and very tasty too, especially dipped in sweet chilli sauce; the kids were so proud of their culinary creations and I’ll definitely be enlisting their help to make more again soon.

My personal highlights of the Love Food Festival were a beautifully spiced South Indian vegetable curry and parsnip and ginger pakora from Gopal’s Curry Shack, Henny & Joe’s rather wonderful homemade masala chai infusion (which I’m told also works a treat in a fruit cake – look forward to trying that out), and the gorgeously addictive Turkish delight from MKS Food Distribution. And it was so good to bump into Sarah again from Wookey Farm, just down the road from us in Somerset, who I was so pleased to see was doing a roaring trade with her goat’s meat, milk and cheeses.

The next Love Food Festival at the Paintworks will be on Sunday 29 March. To keep up-to-date with all their latest news and events, visit www.lovefoodfestival.com.

If that wasn’t enough, we then headed back down to Somerset for a special dinner hosted by Paddy and Judith O’Hagan who are both involved in the organisation of the now annual Wells Food Festival. A gathering of volunteers and supporters of the festival, we were treated to five mouth-watering courses by Italian cook Valentina Harris, chef and author of nearly 50 cookbooks and the chef behind last year’s stunning Italian Feast. Valentina created a whole host of beautiful canapes, followed by various pasta dishes (including macaroni cheese, which I devoured but was delighted when my daughter told Valentina it was good but not as good as mine!), then a delicious risotto, all kinds of naughty puddings and finally cheese and biscuits. Phew!

Valentina's puddingsI was far too busy scoffing and chatting to take any photographs, but I did manage to get a quick shot on my phone of the puddings – a chocolate torte, orange cake and pears poached in red wine and spices. Bang went my diet!

Valentina promised my daughters she’d send us her recipe for the poached pears as they loved them so much. Watch this space – I’ll share it with you once I’ve had a go at making it myself.

There was lots of talk that night about plans for this year’s Wells Food Festival, which returns in October. As soon as the details are firmed up, I’ll bring you news of that too. But rest assured it will be a joyous and delicious celebration of all the very best that Somerset has to offer in terms of food and drink.

My ten favourite things about the Food Reader Awards 2015

Food Reader Awards 2015

Photography by Guy Harrop.

On Monday last week (26 January) I was thrilled to join a whole host of foodies from across the South West at Yeo Valley HQ in Blagdon, Somerset, all of us finalists in the Food Reader Awards 2015. Accompanied by my husband Jason, we were excited (and slightly daunted) to be joining a dazzling line up of tasty talent from across the region to feast on delicious West Country fare served up by Yeo Valley’s kitchen team at Fodder and celebrate the winners of this year’s competition.

Here are my top ten highlights from the night…

1. And the award for Best Blogger goes to…

Me! So yes, that’s got to my number one highlight. I honestly almost fell off my chair when my name was read out. I’d completely convinced myself I really didn’t have a chance and was simply overjoyed to have made it to the awards dinner. Scooping the Best Blogger trophy, particularly with such strong competition from Hells Belles’ Bites and Wuthering Bites, was absolutely the icing on the cake and I’ve been having to pinch myself all week.

Thank you so much to all my blog followers, fellow food bloggers, friends and family who took the trouble to vote for me. You have absolutely made my year. All those late nights “just finishing off one last post” and putting up with the moans from my family waiting to tuck into dinner while I take “just one more photo” of their food have been worth it!

2. The venue

Yeo Valley HQ provided a splendid setting for the night’s festivities. The Fodder restaurant is a beautiful space, and apparently boasts fabulous views over Blagdon Lake, although it was too dark for us to appreciate these sadly. We’ll have to take the kids there for lunch one weekend to see these for ourselves. And I loved the way the venue was decked out with vegetables, from carved sheep to dirty parsnips suspended above our heads.

veg

3. The music

Whoever selected the music for the night has great taste. There was lots of chair dancing going on around our table. If only there’d been a dance floor… And I love the fact different tracks were carefully selected to play as the winners of the different categories were announced. I went up to collect my award to Paperback Writer by the Beatles.

4. The canapés

There’s nothing like some delicious nibbles to get the party started and the canapés really set the standard high for what was to come later. Jason and I strategically positioned ourselves close to a large trayful when we first arrived. His favourite were the very moreish Exmoor Blue cheese biscuits (got to have a go at baking some of those myself), while I couldn’t get enough of the pickled vegetable arancini (deep-fried risotto balls) and steak tartare crostini.

canapes

5. Severn Project salad

I first heard about the Severn Project on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme last year. Set up by Steve Glover in 2010 on a disused plot of land in Bristol, the Severn Project is a fantastic social enterprise producing and supplying salad to food-lovers and restaurants, training and employing people from ‘socially-excluded groups’, such as those recovering from drug abuse, or those with mental-health or offending backgrounds. I was delighted to see their salad on the menu accompanying the hot smoked Blagdon trout. Urban leaves are gert lush!

severn project salad and smoked hot trout

6. Holt Farm beef

The dinner served up by the talented kitchen crew at Yeo Valley HQ was a truly fantastic feast. Well, it had to be really, with all those discerning and very hunger foodies gathered together. For me the star of the show was the main course, a gorgeously succulent roast fillet of beef from Holt Farm, the original family farm in Blagdon where Roger and Mary Mead started farming back in 1961 and the Yeo Valley story started. Now you can’t get much more local than that. Or delicious.

beef

7. Sharp’s Dubbel Coffee Stout

Each course was matched with West Country beers and ciders. Sharp’s Dubbel Coffee Stout paired with the dark chocolate pudding was an inspired combination; the rich, bitter stout balancing perfectly the deep, dark chocolate and sweet clotted cream from Rodda’s (who picked up the gong for Best Foodie Product).

stout

8. Thatcher’s Rose

Also matched with dessert was Thatcher’s Rose Cider. A crisp, light and refreshing cider made from rosy red Katie apples, it couldn’t be more different to the Coffee Stout, yet also worked oh so well as a sweet pudding tipple. As Jason was the nominated driver for the night, I got to sample both. Lucky me!

rose

9. The Loos

I’d heard so much about the ‘facilities’ at Yeo Valley HQ ahead of the event, and they didn’t disappoint. Jason and I even ended up taking selfies for some bizarre reason in the wonderfully kitsch and decidedly eighties disabled loos! At least I can blame the alcohol…

loo

10. Johnny Depp

Someone told me that all the pictures on the walls in the corridor leading down to the restaurant at Yeo Valley HQ were chosen by the staff. Fab idea! And good call to whoever it was that picked this Rolling Stone cover featuring the sex god that is Johnny Depp. Cue another selfie! Anyone who knows me from my schooldays will understand.

johnny

11. Helen Upshall

OK, so I realise I was only supposed to be bringing you my top ten highlights, but I’ve just got to squeeze in one more. I have to give a big shout out to Helen Upshall from Hells Belle’s Bites, who I was sat next to during dinner and who was also up for Best Blogger. I was convinced the award was hers. Helen has a beautiful blog, creates amazing dishes and has such a strong connection to the West Country in that every recipe celebrates at least one local ingredient. If you’re not following her already, then I strongly urge you to do so.

A huge thank you once again to everyone that voted for Bangers & Mash, and got my 2015 off to one helluva start. To get the low down on all the other winners, take at look at the Food Magazine website.

Last chance to vote in the Food Reader Awards

food mag reader awards2

That’s me on the right receiving my finalist certificate from Belinda Shipp from Rodda’s, sponsors of the Best Blogger category

If you haven’t voted yet in the Food Reader Awards and given your support to your favourite food heroes in the South West, there are just a few hours left to do so. Voting closes tonight (Wednesday 14th) at 11:45pm (GMT) and here’s where you can register your support.

I’m a finalist in the Best Blogger category and would dearly love your vote, although I have to say I am extremely thrilled simply to have made it to the finals. All the finalists met up on Monday for afternoon tea at the beautiful Combe House Hotel down in Devon, which was just wonderful, and I really enjoyed meeting fellow finalist Helen Upshall from Hells Belles’ Bites, as well as Belinda Shipp who is marketing manager for Rodda’s, the makers of Cornwall’s famous clotted cream and also sponsors of the Best Blogger category. You can see photos from the event over on Food’s website.

And in a couple of weeks, I’ll be hob-nobbing with the region’s top foodies once again when I attend the awards dinner over at Yeo Valley’s HQ right here in Somerset. So you can see why I’m more than chuffed to have made it this far. But having said that, any last minute votes would be very, very gratefully received!

Thanks so much for your support – it means a great deal.

At the special afternoon tea for finalists in the Food Reader Awards with fellow blogger Helen Upshall

At the special afternoon tea for finalists in the Food Reader Awards with fellow blogger Helen Upshall

 

The World Cup of Food

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.

Your Christmas Day cooking guide – with a little help from Waitrose and Tim Burton

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.

NightmareBeforeXmas

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.

Wells Food Festival and a new food discovery: the gastro steak

griffiths

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.

griffiths

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.

humble Collage

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.

gastro steak

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.

wells-food-festival-logo

Disclosure: Griffiths provided me with complimentary pies and gastro steaks for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.