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.

Only Connect

Battersea Arts Centre

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.

food blogger connect

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.

Essence Design Collage

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.

Miss Foodwise Collage

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.

Ms Marmite Lover

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.

Eddies Chilli Jam Collage

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.

Peppermongers Collage

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.

ChobaniCollage

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.

Brunch Collage

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!

Fave Products Collage

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.

Love Desh Collage

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.

Petit Gateau CollageThai 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.

Pig A Chic Collage

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.

Bethany Collage

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…

Curtain Call CollageAt 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…

goodies

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…

goodies

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.

Bloggers CollageWhile 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.

Lavender CollageWhat 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…

paella6

The Diary of a Cake Maker: Seafood Paella

Tinned Tomatoes: Mango Lassi with Cardamom & Cinnamon

Tinned Tomatoes: Mango Lassi with Cardamom & Cinnamon

key lime pie

Slice Off Me: Key Lime Pie

Potatoes-with-minced-kale

The Daily Spud: Colcannon a la Spud

salmoncarbonara

Chez Foti: Smoked Salmon & Courgette Carbonara

Recipes from a Pantry: Banana & Nutella Pops

Lavender & Lovage: Chocolate Peppermint  Squares

Lavender & Lovage: Chocolate Peppermint Squares

Happiness is Homemade:  Banana and Chocolate Muffins

Happiness is Homemade: Banana and Chocolate Muffins

The Hedge Combers: Pork Tenderloin

The Hedge Combers: Pork Tenderloin

Well Worn Whisk: Chargrilled courgette and purple sprouting broccoli with feta

Well Worn Whisk: Chargrilled courgette and purple sprouting broccoli with feta

How to Cook Good Food: Summer Berry & Elderflower Cobbler

How to Cook Good Food: Summer Berry & Elderflower Cobbler

On Top of Spaghetti: Chicken & Egg Salad

On Top of Spaghetti: Chicken & Egg Salad

London Unattached: Low Calorie Tarragon Chicken

London Unattached: Low Calorie Tarragon Chicken

Celebrate British farming this Open Farm Sunday

wookey farm goats

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.

wookey farm

Sarah and Ian Davies with their two-year-old son Alistair

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.

Claire and James who are staying on Wookey Farm on a WWOOF UK placement, making friends with Pickles the donkey

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.

wookey

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.

Wookey Collage

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.

Goat CollageSustainability 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
  • Barbecue
  • 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.

wookey

Fruit smoothies, lemon cupcakes and sunny bank holiday antics

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…

BlueberrySmoothieCollage

… 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.

ActimelSmoothieCollage

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.

AubergineRisottoCollage

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.

WellsCollage

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).

SpringWalkCollage

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!”LemonCupcakeCollage

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…

TorCollage

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.

kids-in-the-kitchen-banner

 

I’m linking this post up with this week’s Kids in the Kitchen hosted by Look What Mom Found – it’s a great way to share ideas and recipes for involving this little ones in the kitchen.

Ten things I learned at Bristol Blog Summit

Last week I attended a fantastic workshop in Bristol’s M Shed along with around 60 other bloggers from Foodies100 and Tots100.

In the space of six short hours I successfully managed to quadruple my blogging know-how, and at the same time got to meet a whole host of very lovely and down right inspirational food and family bloggers.

There’s no way I could share here all the tips, gems and nuggets I picked up, so instead I’m whittling them down to the top ten things I learned at the Bristol Blog Summit…

1. If you’re paid to promote a brand, use no-follow links

The whole question of whether links should be ‘follow’ or ‘no-follow’ has been one I’ve been meaning to get my head around for a while now. The main thing I took away from Tom Brennan’s talk was if you’re paid to promote a brand in any way on your blog, then the links you include to their website should be no-follow, otherwise your Google ranking could be affected.

Being paid by a brand refers obviously to financial payment but can also be interpreted to mean payment in kind, such as complimentary products provided for review purposes. So my next task once I’ve finished this post is to go back through all the review and giveaway posts I’ve featured to convert all the links to no-follow. Now while this is a bit of a grey area, I think I’d rather err on the side of caution.

If you’re a blogger but all of this sounds like gobbledygook to you, it’s probably a good idea you read this Tots 100 article on the subject or this post on WAHM-BAM Features.

2. Use tabs effectively on your Facebook page

I picked up so many great tips from Cathy James from Nurture Store on using Facebook and Pinterest to build audience and boost traffic to your blog. The first is to make sure you’re putting the tabs on your Facebook page to best use and use these to direct people to your blog and  your Pinterest page. Woobox is a very helpful app that allows you to do this easily. Likewise are you promoting your Facebook page via your blog, Pinterest and Twitter?

3. Ask questions on Facebook

Questions are a wonderful way to engage with people on Facebook. For some reason Facebook gives high visibility to questions and they’re more likely to show in people’s news feeds. I tried this out recently on my page and was impressed by how much interaction it generated.

4. Schedule posts and pins

It’s easy to schedule Facebook posts. Simply click on the little clock in the bottom left-hand corner of the status update box. This is ideal if you want to share timely posts with US audiences – a good time to post is between 2am and 4am. And if you want to schedule pins, Cathy James recommends PinGraphy. I look forward to giving this a whirl!

5. Share photos from Facebook to Twitter

Use the neat IFTTT service to auto-share the photos you post to your Facebook page to your Twitter stream.

6. Pin to blog board first in Pinterest

In Pinterest, your first board should be your blog board. Whenever you pin images, pin to your blog board first and then repin later to your specialist boards. I can’t believe I didn’t even have a blog board on Pinterest, so I’ve got a bit of catching up to do here!

7. Optimise images specifically for Pinterest

Increase your chances of repinning by optimising your photographs and graphics so that they look good on Pinterest. Look at any board and you’ll see portrait images stand out most. Text also works really well and it’s useful to include a watermark with your blog name. Picmonkey is an easy and versatile way to create beautiful collages, while I like using Picasa to add text.

8. With charities, make it personal

Many bloggers are approached by charities to get involved in their latest campaign, be it to raise money or awareness. But if all bloggers end up including the same stuff on their blogs, readers are quickly going to turn off and it’s not going to do you or your charity any favours.

So if you do decide to support a charity through your blog, make it personal and creative. As Christine Mosler from Thinly Spread said, make sure there’s a tie-in with the issues you’re already writing about, retain your own voice. And in the words of Annie Spratt from Mammasaurus, you know your blog and you know how to create a buzz with your readers. If there’s a charity you really like, don’t wait for them to approach you. Take your ideas direct to them.

9. Use a halogen light when photographing food

It’s a common problem for food bloggers that by the time you’ve served up your delicious meal, there’s no natural light available for taking good photographs. The advice from the wonderful Becky and Tom Arber is to invest in a halogen light, which you can get from somewhere like B&Q for just £12. You then bounce light off a nearby wall onto your dish to create a natural lighting effect. Alternatively you can use a desk lamp or even a torch. Also you should experiment with the white balance setting on your camera or use a photo editing tool like Picasa or Snapseed.

Becky and Tom Arber - thanks to this fabulous couple I'm going to save myself a small fortune as they helped me realise I don't need to invest in a posh camera!

Becky and Tom Arber – thanks to this fabulous couple I’m going to save myself a small fortune as they helped me realise I don’t need to invest in a posh camera to get professional looking food photos!

10. Blogging events aren’t scary

I can’t believe I was actually feeling quite nervous on my way to the Bristol Blog Summit. Everyone I met was friendly, interesting, down-to-earth and at the same time really rather inspirational, and I enjoyed playing the game of matching people to their blogs and Twitter handles. This was my first proper bloggers’ networking event and I can’t wait for the next one.

There is so much I haven’t covered in this post. If you want to find out more, take a look at this very useful summary of the proceedings over on Tots100, which also includes a linky to the other posts bloggers have written about the event.

A huge thank you to the uber-talented Sally Whittle and all at Tots100 and Foodies100 for organising the workshop, as well as sponsors Actimel.

Me and the very lovely Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog

Me and the very lovely Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog

January Herbs on Saturday blog challenge – win a copy of ‘Your Kitchen Garden’

Well, here we are in 2013 already. How on earth did that happen? I know I say it every year but 2012 really did feel like it was over in a flash. I hope you enjoyed a delicious Christmas and had a wonderful time seeing in the new year. Ours was lovely. Christmas was a whirlwind of visits from family and friends, while we spent New Year’s Eve very quietly, enjoying steak and chips, good red wine and Jools Holland on the telly. Splendid.

I’m extremely pleased to be welcoming in the new year here on Bangers & Mash by hosting the Herbs on Saturday blog challenge for Karen at Lavender & Lovage.

I first hosted Herbs on Saturday back in July and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The challenge is a fabulous way to share delicious recipes that celebrate cooking with herbs, and I was fortunate enough to meet so many new and talented food bloggers as a result of hosting it last time. I can’t wait to see what comes in this month, particularly after seeing the recipes submitted last month.

To take part in the challenge, simply submit any recipe using fresh or dried herbs by emailing me with the URL for your post. And they don’t only need to be recipes made on a Saturday. At the end of each month, a ‘special blogger’ will choose their favourite recipe from all the entries, and the winning blogger will receive a fantastic cookbook as their prize. The full entry guidelines are below.

January’s prize is Your Kitchen Garden: Month-by-Month by renowned gardening author Andi Clevely.

Highly practical and easy-to-use, with clear illustrations and seasonal charts, Andi Clevely’s book is invaluable for creating a  well-managed kitchen garden providing a plentiful supply of vegetables, fruit, salad crops, herbs and flowers throughout the year. Each chapter focuses on one calendar month, setting out the tasks to be done and featuring crops that will be ripe for harvesting.

Herbs on Saturday for January – guidelines on how to enter

  1. Send your recipe URL to me at vanesther-at-reescommunications-dot-co-dot-uk, including your own email address and the title of your recipe or post. The closing date is Thursday 31 January.
  2. Display the Herbs on Saturday badge (as shown above and below) on the relevant recipe post, with a link back to this post  and also to the challenge page over at Lavender & Lovage.
  3. Email me as many recipe links as you like, there is no limit and the recipes and posts can be from any day, not just Saturday!
  4. If you tweet your post, please mention #herbsonsaturday, @BangerMashChat and @KarenBurnsBooth in your tweet – I will retweet all that I see.
  5. The recipe can be one of your own or one you’ve seen elsewhere. You are welcome to republish old recipes/posts but please add the information about this challenge as listed above with the Herbs on Saturday badge.
  6. As entries come in, links to these will be added to this page and at the end of the month there will be a round-up of all entries received.
  7. A guest blogger will choose their favourite recipe at the end of the month, and the winner will receive a copy of Your Kitchen Garden: Month-by-Month.

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line. I’m really looking forward to receiving your entries for Herbs on Saturday!

January’s entries:

  1. Nigel Slater’s Hangover Salad from London Busy Body
  2. Herbed Cheese and Bacon Souffles from Caroline Makes
  3. Cumin Spiced Chicken with a Puy Lentil and Chargrilled Courgette Salad from How to be a Gourmand
  4. Mushroom, Onion and Thyme Focaccia from Lancashire Food
  5. Swamp Juice from Tinned Tomatoes
  6. Parsley Pesto from Chez Foti
  7. Slow Roasted Pork Neck in Thyme, Rosemary & Bay with Mint Flatbreads from Bangers & Mash
  8. Creamy Lemon Butter Beans from The Garden Deli
  9. Roast Chicken with Bulgur Wheat Stuffing and Roast Butternut Squash from Food Eat Love
  10. Bacon-Wrapped Salmon from Fab Food 4 All
  11. A Really Useful Asian Broth with Awesome Add-Ins from Food to Glow
  12. Rosemary and Thyme Chickpea Pancakes (Socca de Nice) from Food to Glow
  13. Saltimbocca alla Romana from Rita Cooks Italian
  14. Spicy Pork Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Beans from Farmersgirl Kitchen
  15. Parsley Pesto from The Botanical Baker
  16. Chicken, Sausage and Vegetable Hotpot from Lavender & Lovage
  17. Dukkah & Sun Dried Tomato Muffins from Fuss Free Flavours
  18. Fridge-Raid Smoked Salmon Spaghetti from Crumbs and Corkscrews
  19. Tiger Prawn Curry with Basmati Rice from Lavender & Lovage
  20. English Parsley, Walnut and Stilton Pesto from Marmaduke Scarlet
  21. Easy Shakshuka (Spiced North African Tomato and Eggs) from Food to  Glow
  22. Carrot Ginger Lime Soup with Sweet Potato Hummus from The Taste Space
  23. Butternut Risotto with Butternut Crisps from Chez Foti
  24. Middle Eastern Chicken Salad with Hummus Dressing from Bangers & Mash
  25. Chicken Breast Fillets with Sage from My Little Italian Kitchen
  26. 5:2 Diet Minestrone Soup from Tinned Tomatoes
  27. Rillettes de Canard from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  28. Cauliflower & Pear Soup from Elizabeth’s Kitchen
  29. Croustade de Canard (Duck Pie with Figs) from Delicieux
  30. Roasted Mushrooms with Rosemary from Cherrapeno
  31. Zero Effort Spicy Carrot Soup from Dinner with Crayons
  32. Thyme, Black Garlic and Tomato Flatbreads from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  33. Bresaola Spirals from Leeks and Limoni
  34. Shakshuka from Exploits of a Food Nut
  35. Peashoot, Bacon & Ricotta Penne from Anne’s Kitchen
  36. Nigella’s Chicken Tagine from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  37. Kroppkakor – Swedish Style Dumplings from Delicieux
  38. Belleau Minestrone from Belleau Kitchen
  39. Sicilian Style Tuna with Salsa Verde from 8&Ruth
  40. Smoked Mackerel Salad with Yoghurt, Horseradish & Dill Dressing from Recipe Junkie
  41. Lemon Chicken with Cannellini Beans and Rosemary from Lavender & Lovage
  42. Cheesy Chorizo Flatbreads from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  43. Goats Cheese Souffles with Thyme from Maison Cupcake

Birthday bangers

This time last year I had absolutely no idea what I was about to launch myself head first into.

Yes, it’s a year ago to the very day that I summoned the courage to hit the Publish button for the first time and with it created Bangers & Mash, complete with hand drawn pictures and dubious photography. (I do cringe a little when I look back at those early food shots.)

So I would like to take this opportunity to wish Bangers & Mash a very happy first birthday! I hope you like my little cake in honour of the occasion.

In my first post, I attempted to justify why we need another food blog? If you’re interested, and I haven’t already bored you senseless on the subject, you’ll find this post lays out my ethos of cooking wholesome, family food using good quality, seasonal ingredients, without it costing you a fortune. I also talk at length, as I am prone to do in a verging on obsessive way about meal planning, particularly how it has helped dramatically reduce our shopping bills and food waste and encouraged us to eat a much more varied, healthy and adventurous diet.

The first recipe I posted on Bangers & Mash wasn’t actually one of mine. It was my husband’s fabulous carrot cake. But in a way, that’s very appropriate, as I hadn’t a clue about cooking until I moved in with my other half. It’s funny to think back to my early 20s when I had no idea how to cook anything really and no inclination to really bother. How things change!

While I would by no stretch of the imagination consider myself a fully fledged food blogger quite yet, I do believe I have come a long way over the last 12 months.

My recipes and photography are improving all the time. The main reason for that is the feedback and support I get from friends and family, but perhaps most importantly other bloggers. That’s what has surprised and impressed me most – the support network provided by the enormous blogging community out there, through both our blogs and Twitter (a platform I avoided like the plague for quite a long time).

When I started out, I pictured blogging as a rather solitary pastime, sitting alone at a PC and broadcasting thoughts and ideas to an invisible audience. But what I’ve discovered I enjoy most about blogging is the interaction and conversation. I didn’t realise just how much I would learn from others as a result of writing a blog.

But that’s enough of that. The children will be getting up soon – as usual, I’m writing this in the early hours of the morning when the house is still and quiet – and my day must start properly. I’ll be back soon with my latest concoction. And I look forward to hearing about yours!

My weekend in chocolate heaven… plus your chance to win a raw chocolate making kit

Isn’t the sight (and smell) of melted chocolate one of the most beautiful things on the planet? When I see melted chocolate, I want to jump right in, just like Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

In case it you hadn’t heard, here in the UK it is Chocolate Week (8 – 14 October 2012). And in preparation for this, I successfully spent much of the weekend in blissful chocolate heaven.

We had a rare lie-in on Saturday morning as Miss Bangers has had a bit of a cough all week so we didn’t want to chance her with her 9am ballet lesson. In celebration we breakfasted on pain au chocolat, dunked into hot chocolate.

The kids had their usual stuff from the supermarket but J and I went for Fiery Raw Hot Chocolate from Elements for Life. It’s a very grown up hot chocolate, with a tasty kick to it. Despite the name, it’s not overly hot. I love it as an occasional alternative to my morning coffee. So, as you can see, a rather indulgent start to the day.

Once we’d got our Saturday chores out of the way, we headed over to the wonderful Lipsmacking Pop Up Chocolate Shop in Frome, open all this week until Sunday 14 October from 10am to 6pm. The Pop Up Shop in Frome’s Paul Street is a great little venue, and has been home to all kinds of in businesses in recent months, including a tapas bar and a children’s arts and craft workshop.

As well as selling all things cacao, the Chocolate Pop Up Shop is running a number of chocolate-themed events, from chocolate making workshops (see below) to meeting chocolatiers and even creating chocolate-inspired jewellery!

The Pop Up shop is very much a precursor to the Lipsmacking Chocolate Festival in Frome on Sunday 18 November 2012, which as you can imagine I am looking forward to. A lot!

The children enjoyed chocolate milkshakes, while J and I indulged in yet more hot chocolate – this time a warming spiced number featuring cardamom, definitely my spice of the moment.

But the main reason we were there was to meet up with Paula from Elements for Life for a lesson in making raw chocolate.

Based just over the border in Wiltshire, Paula and Dan, the lovely husband and wife team behind Elements for Life, produce a wide range of handmade raw chocolate products. They are all dairy, gluten and wheat free, free from refined sugar, with no artificial additives, and packed full of goodness.

According to Paula and Dan, raw chocolate is much better for you than normal chocolate in so many ways, and having tried a number of their products I can certainly vouch for the fact that it tastes incredible.

The award-winning Yummy Scrummy raw chocolate brownie – one of my personal favourites

With normal chocolate, the cacao bean is roasted, destroying much of its nutritional value. Add to that all the refined sugar, fat and the myriad of other things added to it and you end up with something that’s bad for you. Raw chocolate on the other hand is actually said to be good for you. It is one of the richest sources of magnesium, essential for a healthy heart and clear mind, and contains much higher levels of anti-oxidants than either green tea or red wine. It’s packed full of essential amino acids, feel good chemicals and vitamins, and what’s more it is an appetite suppressant!

But health benefits aside, it tastes fantastic and that is essentially why I jumped at the offer to find out more about making my own.

Paula from Elements for Life melting the cacao butter – the smell was so good!

What surprised me most was just how easy raw chocolate is to make, particularly since, unlike normal chocolate, there is no fiddly tempering required. It’s simply a case of melting the raw cacao butter, mixing in the raw cacao powder, and sweetening with a low GI fruit sweetener.

It didn’t take too long for my two girls to get in on the chocolate-making action!

Once the melted chocolate has been poured into the silicone mould, you simply place it in the fridge for an hour and a half, or in the freezer if you can’t wait that long. Paula’s tip was to pour it into a small jug before attempting to pour into the mould, otherwise it can get very messy indeed. But then when you’re cooking with my children, nothing you do can prevent the mess!

Making raw chocolate would be the perfect activity for a children’s party, or even next time you have your friends over for a couple of glasses of wine. Or as Paula suggested, how about serving the melted chocolate in a hollowed out pumpkin for a Halloween fondue?

Paula shared with us all some chocolates she had prepared earlier and the end result is really very, very good. It’s ever so smooth and creamy, and despite being a dark chocolate, it isn’t nearly as bitter as most dark chocolates I’ve had before.

Paula’s demo made it all look very easy. Question was though, would I be able to recreate the same quality chocolate experience back at home with the kids? That was to be our challenge for Sunday morning.

So on Sunday, once we’d got breakfast and homework and Christmas card making (I know! our school PTA is über organised!) out of the way, our adventures in chocolate making began as we put the Elements for Life starter kit to the test. Simply grating the cacao butter filled the kitchen with the sumptuous aroma of pure chocolate.

The scent increased to even headier heights when we started to melt it.

Holding the little ones back from immersing themselves in the melted chocolate was the only tricky bit!

With one of Elements for Life’s raw chocolate making starter kits, I can categorically say that making your own chocolate is child’s play. It took us less than half an hour to make, and just over an hour later we were scoffing these little beauties:

I added a little sprinkle of confectioner’s glitter to the moulds before pouring in the chocolate. Pretty eh? As we had some leftover chocolate in the jug, I poured the rest out in a metal tray lined with greaseproof paper and sprinkled with some chopped nuts and currants to create my own chocolate slab. Isn’t that such a great word? Slab. Love it!

So there you have it. If I can make raw chocolate, then anyone can. As I mentioned before, raw chocolate isn’t as bitter as the normal stuff, and the other good thing is you don’t need so much either. Just a couple of mouthfuls and you’re satisfied. And coming from me, that says a lot. I can usually eat chocolate until I make myself sick. Trust me, this is good stuff. The kids loved it too, but for them the best bit was licking out the bowl. Isn’t it always?

While the kits themselves would make an excellent gift for the chocaholic in your life, my personal plan is to experiment a little with additional ingredients (such as more nuts and fruit) and give the chocolates themselves as Christmas presents.

During Chocolate Week (8-14 October 2012), Elements for Life is offering 10% off every product bought via their website, so now is a great time to stock up.

Win a raw chocolate making kit from Elements for Life

Now it’s your chance to win a raw chocolate making starter kit from Elements for Life worth £14.99. The kit includes everything you need to make a batch of gorgeous chocolates (and an extra slab too if you like!):

  • 100g raw cacao powder
  • 120g raw cacao butter
  • 300ml bottle of Sweet Freedom, low GI natural sweetener
  • reusable heart-shaped silicone mould
  • information and recipe card.

To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is provide a comment below saying why you’d like to get your mitts on an Elements for Life chocolate making starter kit.

Double your chances by tweeting about this competition, linking through to this post and including the hash tag #MakeRawChoc and my Twitter name @bangermashchat. I’ll keep an eye out for your tweets but make sure yours doesn’t slip through the net by also mentioning you’ve tweeted in your comment.

The closing date for competition entries is midnight on Sunday 4 November. The winner will be the first name randomly drawn after the closing date.

Please note: this competition is only open to UK residents due to shipping costs and there is no cash or other product alternative.

Disclosure: I was provided with two complimentary raw chocolate making kits by Elements for Life; one for review and one for a competition prize. No money has exchanged hands, but honestly – would you expect me to want to be paid to review chocolate?