Blenheim Palace Food Festival

Blenheim Palace Collage

The food festival season is truly upon us. You could probably spend every weekend from now until the end of the autumn at a different food festival somewhere around the country. And I for one intend to get to as many as I can possibly can.

I spent last Bank Holiday weekend in the Cotswolds, in the beautiful market town of Woodstock, home to the rather magnificent Blenheim Palace, residence of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, which this year played host for the first time to its very own food festival. Continue reading “Blenheim Palace Food Festival”

Calling all bakers: tell your best children’s stories in cake!

Official C&B Show logo

With four shows in four new venues, the Cake & Bake Show is bigger than ever this year, and includes a BAKING COMPETITION on the theme of ‘Children’s Stories’ taking place at each of the venues: Harrogate, London, Manchester and Edinburgh.

The Cake & Bake Show is calling on all cake makers to create a fabulous cake that is an interpretation of a children’s story. Each cake creation can be inspired from any children’s story or film, (there’s lots of inspiration in the cinemas this summer with new releases Minion, Peter Pan and Jurassic Park); or it can be a combination of your favourite characters or stories from over the years! Continue reading “Calling all bakers: tell your best children’s stories in cake!”

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.

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