Sunday, 26 July 2015

Culinary Captures - July 2015


With Culinary Captures now in full swing, here is my round-up of foodie finds that I have encountered on my travels this month:

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Wimbledon may have ended, but the love for strawberries is still shining through well into July.
 
Photo:  Courtesy of The Highfield
Photo:  Courtesy of The Highfield
 
On the back of their successful Dip Your Own Asparagus dish this spring, The Highfield (Birmingham) has adopted the same stance for summer but this time with strawberries sourced from Lower Ruele Farm in Staffordshire. 
Dip Your Own Strawberries come with dipping pots of Valrhona Chocolate Sauce and Chantilly Cream and form part of the restaurant’s dessert specials priced £5.75.  It is available on the menu until the end of July! 
 
Photo:  Extracted from www.ottolenghi.co.uk

Appreciating that strawberries are seasonal, the Ottolenghi brand have launched Freeze Dried Strawberries which are available all year round for those that want them outside of summer. 
 
They can be served whole, lightly crushed or blitzed into a powder, these are wonderful sprinkled over vanilla ice cream or layered with cream in a simple sponge cake.

 
Alex Claridge
Photo:  Extracted from www.foodbynomad.com
For those in the Midlands area, you may have heard of local chef Alex Claridge whose mission is to break the boundaries of cooking, especially for vegetarian food.  In recent years, having developed the menu for Bistro 1847 in Birmingham, he is now in-situ (until August at least) at Kitchen Garden Café in the city’s Kings Heath area where his supper club NOMAD has taken off with a wonderment of plaudits. 
Creating menus for vegetarians and separately for meat eaters, he challenges the tastebuds with his ‘No Rules Menu’ where diners are asked to arrive with an open mind and he promises combinations and ingredient inclusions to rival no other. 
A sample from one of his recent vegetarian menus includes:  Sea Buckthorn Doughnuts or Burnt Cauliflower, Hay Infused Curds, Ash Dumplings with Sea Herbs. 
For details of future NOMAD events, contact Alex via www.foodbynomad.com
 
 
The Cotswolds is a stunning place to visit, especially this time of year when everything is in full bloom and the weather (all being well) is sunny and clement.
 
Taking a trip to Cotswold Lavender earlier this month, Mum and I enjoyed taking in the fresh air and a walk round their lavender farm.   The vivid purple rows of lavender bushes were a spectacular sight against the horizon of rolling countryside and sandy coloured Cotswold stone houses.


Although most people think lavender is only suitable as a pot pourri component or to fragrance toiletries, it has recently been become en vogue to use it for culinary purposes. 
Over at Cotswold Lavender, they sell culinary lavender (which are sold as lavender kernels) and they can be sprinkled on salads or used in cake mixture.  There is also lavender sugar which again, can be used for baking or to be used as you would use sugar ordinarily.  
As a little trial, you could always buy a slice of lavender shortbread from the farm’s tea room to see if you like it!  To see the lavender at its peak, the flowering season ends early August so there is still time to go and visit – check out www.cotswoldlavender.co.uk for details.

Photo:  Extracted from www.liberty.co.uk
 
If you love the coveted Emma Bridgewater kitchenware collection, then you will love her new range which is exclusively sold at amazing department store Liberty’s of London. 

The design focuses on the gorgeously colourful pomegranate fruit bearing its crimson seeds and pretty stalk.  It is a delight for all Emma fans and those who are lovers of kitchen crockery!   Is it too early to start a Christmas list and put this on it I wonder??!!   

Mugs, teapots and bowls etc all feature with prices starting from £19.95 .  See www.liberty.co.uk  for more details.


 

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Note:  All items/services featured have been personally selected and I have not received any incentive or compensation to feature them. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Lunch at Cherry Red's


There is a lot of love on the Birmingham food scene for Cherry Reds, for both their original Kings Heath site and their café on John Bright Street in the city centre.
 

Needing a pitstop on a recent visit to Birmingham, I decided to sample Cherry Reds for myself.
 

Walking in, was like walking into a kitsch emporium (but in a good way).  1960’s drinks cabinets played the function of a centralised ‘condiments table’ where you collect your cutlery and sauces from and the sugar bowls on each table featured 1970’s-esque orange floral patterns (and reminded me of my parents’ friends’ houses when I used to visit them back in the day)!  But they are the genuine articles and not the mock-vintage goods that you get these days.   Board games from yesteryear are available if you fancy a quick round of Kerplunk or Operation whilst you’re waiting for your order to come through.   I found it all very comforting, but then again, I am extremely nostalgic.
 

Real ales form part of the bar selection, something which in My Carnivourous Husband’s  (MCH) viewpoint is a big plus.
 
 
Jenny the owner happened to be onsite that day and it was good to meet her and hear about how Cherry Reds began and her visions for the café.
 

We ordered from the menu, both going for a sandwich option.  I had the Grilled Halloumi Cheese & Chunky Roast Vegetables and I paid an extra 50p to have a roll instead of bread (total:  £4.50).  MCH decided to re-ignite the spirit of his youth and have a Fish Finger & Tartare Sauce sandwich (£4.00).  Both came with a little salad garnish.  


My roll was a nice balance of salty halloumi and the vegetables were soft and tasty - an excellent filling combo, although the roll itself was a little smaller than I thought it would be.  MCH said his sandwich was pleasant and he enjoyed it but he would have liked to have something else on the sandwich to go alongside the fish fingers just to give it a little variation.  As a suggestion, a side order of fries or crisps would have been welcomed to pad out the offering and I would’ve been willing to pay a little extra for it to make it a fuller lunch.  But focusing on the sandwiches themselves, they were enjoyable, freshly made and were ideal for our scenario of needing a quick bite to eat.
 

However, I have to say that the veggie burgers I saw being brought out looked fabulous and note-to-self to try one of one of those another time.

 
Cherry Reds is definitely one of those place that has you feeling sentimental about the past (certainly for those that can remember the 70’s/80’s) and with lots of veggie options dotted throughout the menu it is a great place to meet, have some food and perhaps a game of Yahtzee to while away the afternoon…..

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Note:  We paid in full for all our food and drinks.
 

 

 



 

 

 

 



 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Review of Veg Out Cafe


 
 
Much love has been expressed for Kings Heath’s Veg Out Café which offers 100% vegetarian food with choices for those observing vegan and/or gluten free diets as well.
 
   
 


Having taken over from the former occupants – Manic Organic, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review Veg Out Café’s evening menu and to see how the venue had changed.
 
 


Do take a look at the review I conducted for eatery/dining directory Dine Birmingham and I hope it whets your appetite to make a visit yourselves!
For review, click here.
 
 
 


 
 
 
Disclosure:  This post was written following a kind invitation to sample the evening menu at Veg Out Café.   This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

PHOM Tea - One Cup At A Time...........


I came across Phom Tea not quite by accident but in a ‘need-for-refreshment’ way rather than ‘I’m-looking-for-a-new-tea-product’ way.

Menu at Foodies Festival


Whilst having a good old perusal and mooch at the Foodies Festival in Birmingham in May, Mum and I (in a bid to quench our thirst) found ourselves at the Phom Tea tent ready for a brew and a little sit down.

PHOM Tea Tent at Foodies Festival

Purchasing a pot of Phom breakfast tea to share and cooing over the lovely teapot ensemble, once we began drinking it, we commented on finding the taste cleaner and more palatable than the conventional teabag-in-a-mug standard.  Plus, we found you don’t need as much milk to dilute it with as you are not having the overwhelming strength as you can get from the average teabag tea.  The more we had, the nicer taste that came through and we were somewhat smitten with it by the time our cups were empty.

Table Arrangement using a
PHOM Tea Carton

So, I went over to find out more from the vendors and I met one of the co-owners of Phom, Philip.  He explained that he and his business partner Omar, (hence company name PHOM) met at Liverpool Business School and whilst talking about their shared love for loose teas coupled with the fact that Philip was missing the teas his mother sold in her tea shop in Germany, they decided to set up their business.
 
PHOM Tea Selection
 

Using Ethical Tea Partnership sourced growers for their supplies, their initial business mission was to 'get people drinking loose leaf tea, one cup at a time' and as word spread around Liverpool and beyond of their venture, their popularity grew and they began supplying delis, specialist food shops and restaurants.

As my conversation continued with Philip, I began to recognise him and he indeed confirmed that himself and Omar were on the BBC2 programme ‘Dragon’s Den’ and negotiated a deal to work with renowned Designer/’Dragon’ Kelly Hoppen to take the business further.

I have written about the divine luxury of having the time for making tea from loose leaves before and I still stand by my case that it is indeed the best way to consume tea both from a taste point of view and to embrace the wonderful ritual of tea making itself.

What started as a simple need to recharge one’s batteries at FoodiesFestival has turned into us getting acquainted with Phom and making that resolve that we must drink more loose leaf tea when we can. 
 
Making PHOM Tea at Home
 

With a little box of loveliness to take away with us, we have been able to continue to enjoy the PHOMomenon since Foodies Festival at home -  ‘one cup at a time’…….

 
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Disclosure:  This post was written following kind receipt of  a complementary pack of PHOM Tea at Foodies Festival Birmingham.   This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Culinary Captures - June 2015


Welcome to Culinary Captures! 

This will be my monthly (or thereabouts) round-up of food and/or food related goodies that  have come my way or that I have seen on my travels and want to share with you!
I hope you will enjoy reading about them and that it will give you a snapshot and flavour of different things to investigate or try!

 

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Whilst in Herefordshire recently, one of England’s cider counties, I enjoyed a rather smooth yet appley pint of Robinson’s Cider.  Nothing beats a chilled drop of cider in the counties that it is made in!

 

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With so much emphasis on protecting the bee population right now and labouring the rather sober fact that without bees we won’t have crops, it was nice to see a positive side. 
At one of Herefordshire’s National Trust properties Croft Hall, I saw they were having a honey tasting session whereby you could sample of the local honeys for sale at their gift shop.  As well as being a functional spread or baking ingredient, it was nice that the honeys were being sold in aid of a good charitable cause.

 

 

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New Shirley/Solihull eatery Frais Living is renowned for its gluten-free menus and of being purveyors of healthy food in general at their Parkgate Centre outlet.  They were recently testing out a potential new item for their drinks menu which is the Jellynut. 
A tropical fruit (same principle as a coconut but more mango looking) which when you slice away the top and piece the pith with a straw, you can drink the refreshing nut water.  A great alternative to a soft drink and much fun to consume!  I hope their trial was successful and that they add it to their menu as a standard item.

 

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Now then.  This funny, spikey little fruit when prepared resembles something that could be mistaken for a Bushtucker Trial item in ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’! 
These are known as Rambutans.  When you cut them open, you will see they are quite small, a white ball with a stone in the middle.  This Thai specialty is lychee-esque surprisingly sweet when eaten and I chose to have it with my cereal which against the crumbly granola granules, it makes for a contrasting texture.
I purchased my pack of rambutan from my local Tesco supermarket but they can be purchased at speciality food stores also.


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When attending last month’s Asparafest (see my post), one of the stallholders I came across was selling Croome Cheeses, a Worcestershire company that specialise in different flavoured cheeses.  Many flavours were for the taking, but I have to give a special shout out to the Worcestershire Honey & Fig one. 
On a Cheddar-esque base, the sweetness from the honey and fig comes as an aftertaste and is truly scrumptious.  I used it as a topping for my aubergine parmigiana this week and it worked a treat.  But to have it on a cheeseboard arrangement will have you receive plaudits at any dinner party you host!


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How I smiled when I saw the Bhangra Bus!  As one of the catering vendors at the Lunar Festival in Tanworth In Arden Warwickshire this month, I loved their attractive decoration and their Indian inspired food and drink. 
As festival season is now in full flow, I hope you come across it yourselves and if you do, then try their mango lassi or if you want to warm your bones then a nice cup of chai!


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Walking past my local Le Creuset store in Solihull, I was greeted by one of their team who presented me with a very vivid Le Creuset shopping bag with a number of recipe booklets inside. 
Noting their new aqua coloured ‘Cool Mint’ range, a contrast to their trademark orange, the booklets highlighted the various recipes which could be achieved using their dishes/pots.  With a number of vegetarian offerings to try, it’s tempting to purchase one of their orange (or cool mint) beauties to road-test the recipes in!

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Everyone is going mad for spirilizing their veg right now and with the mighty success of the carb-free ‘Courgetti’ (courgette-spaghetti), the guys at www.lovesweetpotatoes.com have introduced Spoodles which using the same principle are sweet potato noodles!  With some recipes online, take a look to see what you can make.  What are your thoughts on spirlizing?

 

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New Indian restaurant Umami has opened its doors in Harborne Birmingham.  Mandeep Bajwa, formerly of central Birmingham restaurant Itihaas has taken over the reins as chef and is a welcomed addition to the ever growing food scene of Harborne!  
 
 
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Note:  All items/services featured have been personally selected and I have not received any incentive or compensation to feature them.

Demoing on the Wot's Cooking Trailer - Asparafest


Regular readers of my blog will know that I love all things asparagus and I have, over the years, written about my days out at the Asparafest event.

Asparafest is a food and music festival held near Evesham in Worcestershire and has grown from being a small community festival at The Fleece Inn celebrating the asparagus season to it now being held on farm premises in Badsey (on the outskirts of Evesham town centre) with live music and camping.

The festival falls right in the middle of English asparagus season (which is from St George’s Day (24 April) to Midsummer’s Day (21st June) and the foundation and heart of its purpose remains focused on championing one of Evesham’s most hailed crop – asparagus. 

At the event itself you can buy locally grown asparagus and some of the other food vendors have asparagus inspired goods for sale as well.  And to really maximise getting the most out of your asparagus purchases, the food demonstration sessions are on hand to give you some inspiration.

Whilst in previous years, I’ve watched the demonstrations eagerly, however this year, I was centre stage on the ‘Wot’s Cooking’ trailer with local restaurant owner (of Fusion Brasserie) and renowned Worcestershire chef Felice Tocchini helping him conduct his demonstration.   
Felice & I on the trailer
 

Scheduled in for 12pm on the second day of the festival (Sunday 31st May), Felice suggested we cook steamed aubergines, mushrooms and of course asparagus using different seasonings and to show how they could be cooked in a low-fat method which doesn’t compromise on taste.

Some suggestions he made during his demonstration were:
  • Eat asparagus spears raw – full of vitamins, they taste of peas bizarrely – lovely!
  • Keep the ends you trim off your asparagus bunch, dry them in the oven, then blitz them in a food processor.  It will give you an asparagus powder that can be used for stock for risottos or soups anytime!
  • Wet fresh herbs in cold water, then chop them.  Herbs benefit from the water’s oxygen and brings their flavours out.
  • Use cheese that has been out of the fridge for a little while, it will taste better (although be mindful of food hygiene rules at all times).
  • Don’t wash mushrooms as they soak up all the water.
  • Place mushrooms in a bowl with a sprinkle of sugar for a little while before using them, the flavours will be enhanced.
 
 
Talking through what we were making


Being part of Felice’s session I enjoyed not only helping him with the food preparation but also chatting through each step of the meal and exchanging food tips.   

Felice made me feel very welcome and despite the inclement weather, we enjoyed cooking up a delicious vegetarian feast albeit we were somewhat windswept during the process!

At the end of the Demo with our finished goods!

It has certainly given me the taste for more food demoing in the future so do come by and say ‘hello’ if I appear at a festival near you!

In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of the English asparagus crops around and put the dates in your diary for next year’s Asparafest on 4th/5th June 2016! 
 
 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The One Pot Gourmet Gardener


There are plenty of cookery books on the market right now that feature recipes only and so I was intrigued with the twist within this book when I was given the opportunity to review The One Pot Gourmet Gardener (written by Cinead McTernan & Jason Ingram – published by Frances Lincoln Ltd Publishers).


How it differs is that the recipes featured are supported by recommendations and instructions how to grow the ingredients to make them, thus giving you a 100% full cycle experience.

The book recognises the differing garden spaces people have and that not everyone has a huge plot of land to create a vegetable or orchard arena in.  There are suggestions for those predicaments yes, but also there are ideas for those with more modest garden arrangements or even those with just plant pot areas/window sills.

There is plenty of information present on how to prepare for the crops you want to plant, sowing techniques, compost types and things to be considered (eg: how much light you would get in the garden, what crops work well together in the same plot etc).  A nice, topical touch, is that those crops that encourage visits by the bee population are highlighted in the book.  Encouraging bees is something many are considering these days when planning a garden layout.

The recipes are sub-divided into ‘Grow Me’, ‘Harvest’ and ‘Eat Me’ categories.  As would imply, the ‘Grow Me’ section concentrates on how to plant and nurture the ingredients, ‘Harvest’ advises the best way of reaping the yield and ‘Eat Me’ provides the recipe of how to cook a dish using those ingredients. 
 

The recipes are predominately vegetarian, although for strict vegetarians, do check the ingredient listings as in some of the recipes not all items are totally veggie-friendly.  There are some firm favourite recipes within such as Gazpacho or Beetroot Soup, but there are some lovely contemporary ones such as Sage & Broad Bean Custards or Lemon Verbena, Rose Geranium & Thyme Posset to try.

 
 
 
Whilst it may be too late to action some of the gardening ideas for this year, the book will prove a useful reference guide ahead of next year when thoughts turn to crop planning again.

Ideal for Father’s Day this year, this is a delightful book which encapsulates the opportunity of having a ‘Good Life’ experience, however your home dictates and provides food for thought (literally) on how to maximise your harvest with some gorgeous ideas what to do with it once grown and kitchen bound.

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Disclosure:  This post was written following kind receipt of a complementary copy of:  The One Pot Gourmet Gardener by Cinead McTernan & Jason Ingram published by www.franceslincoln.com.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.