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The Real Food Festival

Real Fod Festival

Real Fod Festival

My passion for food is well known, and as a result, many leaflets for the Real Food Festival made their way to my desk in the last few weeks. It seemed anyone that knows me thought of me when they saw this festival advertised, and, came bearing leaflets or emailed the details.

I am not generally a fan of big exhibition-type events, but the Real Food Festival intrigued me with it’s promised offerings of products from small and artisan producers. It promised:

The very best line-up of produce and ingredients, incredible wines and drinks from small, unique producers, restaurants serving carefully sourced dishes and a comprehensive programme of entertaining and educational workshops where visitors will discover some of the best food and drink in the world…

Regular readers will know that I am extremely passionate about produce from small producers, particularly local producers, and this seemed like an opportunity to see a generous selection of what the UK & Ireland had to offer, a chance to sample and purchase this produce, with the bonus of having an oppurtunity to meet and chat with the producers.

I had to go check it out.

I didn’t have much time, which was a real shame. I would have loved to have a whole day to interview producers and spread the word, but, my week has been packed with activity, work and otherwise, in advance of a long weekend in Ireland. I haven’t even had a chance to indulge in London Restaurant Week, but, I had to go to this, so I squeezed in a trip between work and packing for my trip home.

Earl’s Court, for those of you that don’t know it, is an enormous exhibition hall in West London. Enormous. Lots of things go on there including gigs, my other passion. When I first moved to London 6 or so years ago, I was given tickets to a trade food fair there by friends, that had planned to go but couldn’t make it. I had really been looking forward to it, but, found the experience a little underwhelming so was not sure what to expect this time.

On approach from the station it started to hail, nightmare, so I ran and rushed indoors. On entrance to the hall, I saw an enormous Whole Foods Market stall, and, while I like Whole Foods Market, my heart sank a little, I was worried that this might be a corporate affair. Within a few minutes it was clear that this wasn’t the case, as, while there were heavy hitters there like Wholefoods, the majority of stalls were small producers, farmers, fish & meat smokers, wineries, food importers with delights like Spanish meats and Italian cheeses, and much more. I was excited and proceeded to dash around to take in as much as I could.

What can I say? I was impressed and delighted. The food that I sampled was wonderful and the selection vast, why isn’t all of this stocked somewhere I can buy it every week? Beautiful sausages and hams, beef, mutton, game, exotic meats, wonderful smoked salmon (including Kinvara which I blogged about recently), wines, juices, real cornish pasties (gorgeous), pastries and on, all dished up with pride and enthusiasm. The restaurants serving included a favourite of mine – the Duke of Cambridge organic pub from Islington, and one I’ve yet to try – Konstam in King’s Cross although I used to frequent Konstam Café before it was closed so that they could focus on Konstam at the Prince Albert.

I was very sorry to have to leave and would urge all of you to go. Support and encourage these fantastic producers and farmer’s, we need more of them. Had I chance to go back, and I very much regret that I can’t, I would spend hours, so get there early, you might want to too.

Lots more details on their website: http://www.realfoodfestival.co.uk

Tickets cost £15 in advance or £18 on the door. The ticket price was used to subsidise the costs for the small producers, so your ticket will directly sustain small producers.

Earl’s Court, London, 24 – 27 April 2008.

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Smoked Salmon with Brown Soda Bread & Pickled Cucumber

Smoked Salmon, Cucumber Pickle & Brown Soda Bread

Did someone mention smoked salmon?? Oh, that’s right – I did! On Sunday and on flickr last week. Shall I let you in on a secret? I’ve discovered that Selfridge’s (in Oxford St, London) have started selling Frank Hederman’s smoked salmon from the Belvelly Smokehouse in Cork. Haven’t they always done that? Well, yes but now, it’s available not only at the Oyster and Champagne Bar as a dish, but, by the side and fillet at the, well, smoked salmon counter.

It’s not cheap, but I’ve been staying with friends for a bit and wanted to leave with a splash (decadent, moi?). Besides, it’s worth every penny and more. The texture is supple and firm with a delicate flavour and a beautiful smoky aftertaste from the beechwood chips. There’s a wonderful quote from the NY Times - Mr. Hederman smokes fish, which is a little like saying Steinway makes pianos. It’s just wonderful.

We know, I hear you roar! I blogged it when I had it in Selfridge’s last year and I mentioned it recently while in Ireland. I saw the man himself when I visited Midleton Farmer’s Market in Cork and I very much look forward to my next trip so that I can sample his smoked mackerel and smoked eel.

So, what to do with this beautiful smoked wild salmon? I prefer to keep it simple and let the smoked salmon sing. A simple accompaniment of good brown bread and cucumber pickle is all it needs – no cheeses, no cream, just the salmon, smoked with such care and attention.

The recipe for each is very straight-forward, there are more complex recipes with more delicate and elaborate flavours, but my quick, simple recipe was given to me by a friend that was a chef and it works for me. I love cucumber pickle, I love the sharp, tartness and intense sweetness of the pickle, it makes my mouth tingle, and in a very good way. As for soda bread, I grew up with it, and it’s something that I should make more often. I prefer a wholemeal soda bread, some people do half wholemeal/half white or white, but for me it’s wholemeal all the way.

This will make a large jar of cucumber pickle and a small loaf of bread. Soda bread is quite dense so it goes a long way.

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Smoked Salmon, Watercress & Potato Hash

This morning called for a speedy brunch prior to the rest of what promises to be a hectic day. Something of sustenance that can be made from what resides in the fridge, I simply couldn’t face getting out of my pj’s and accepting that my Sunday morning was over. Healthy would be good too although not too much so, it’s my indulgent Sunday morning afterall.

I settled on a delicious Smoked Salmon, Watercress & Potato Hash using charlotte potatoes, boiled, sliced and fried in olive oil. To accompany this some gorgeous Frank Hederman smoked salmon and a handful of chopped farmer’s market watercress. I added the salmon and watercress off the heat so that it wouldn’t cook.

You could tart this up by first of all marinading the smoked salmon in some cream, or adding some cream cheese on the side, but for me, this morning, it was perfect.

Enjoy your Sunday!

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Tagliatelle with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Anchovies and Pecorino

I made a long overdue trip to the farmer’s market at the weekend. It was Islington Farmer’s Market this time and quite by accident. I was meeting friends for a Sunday roast lunch and, despite rigorous planning, turned up an hour before the pub opened. So, we wandered off in the snow, after they had really sweetly let us in and allowed us to have a coffee in the warmth even though they were closed.

Snowy London

I love the snow. Well, that’s not quite true, I like the idea of snow. Until, after about half an hour out in it, I remember that it’s cold and wet and uncomfortable. Then I want to get out of it. Then there’s the snowball fights. Not such a problem as an adult, the last time that I was in one was about 5 years ago when I ran screaming into the house with one deposited in my hood. So, I love the snow, if there’s no threat of a snowball fight, and I don’t have to touch it but can just walk about in it and admire how pretty it looks.

Snowy London

So that we did, and we happened upon Islington Farmer’s Market. The last time that I was there was some years ago, when it was in Islington Green. It has moved further north now, nearer Highbury at William Tyndale School (behind the Town Hall), and has alot more space. There was quite a few nice stalls there, alot of the regulars on the London Farmer’s Market scene – Alham Wood Farm with their buffalo cheeses and meats, Chegworth juices and others I haven’t seen so often like Two Fishwive’s. In my rush, there was one stall that particularly impressed me: Kingcup Farm, they had a fantastic variety of leaves, herbs and heritage products that I have been looking for like candy beetroot and parsely roots. There was also a producer selling a fantastic range of potted herbs and salads, I’ll be going back to sample some of them and the other wares that I had no time to investigate.

Kingcup farm produce

One of the things I bought from Kingcup Farm was purple sprouting broccoli. This is a wonderful seasonal vegetable, more tender and flavoursome than the green broccoli (calabrese) that we are more familiar with. The ones on offer from Kingcup were very young and tender with slender shoots and small heads of purple broccoli.

I wondered what I would do with it, often like to serve it in a salad with a cheese like feta or pecorino shavings, simple dressed and still crisp having been briefly fried or blanched. This time I wanted to do something different so had a browse around to see what it’s paired with frequently. My searches quickly threw up the following: capers, anchovies, garlic, chilli and pasta with herbs like rosemary and parsley.

I decided to go down the pasta route, most recipes went with orechiette, rigatoni or penne. I fancied trying a taglliatelle recipe as the shoots were so tender it would be a nice complement. Having had an enormous roast yesterday, I wanted something light, so I steered clear of cream and kept it simple. It was tasty and light, I think perfect for lunch or a light summer supper. The anchovies imparted a wonderful savoury flavour and depth and the chillies some warmth, all topped with the lovely purple sprouting broccoli.

This served two.[Read more]

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Prawn Curry (again)

So, round about the time I started this blog, just under a year ago, I blogged one of my favourite dishes – Prawn Curry. We were eating it about once a week, it’s tasty, healthy and quick, and fit in perfectly on those evenings where you’ve had a long day in the office and all you want is something quick and tasty with a glass of wine. On some of these evenings, the wine may even be the most important part ;)

Now, when I like something, I tend to talk about it, and friends of mine were hearing alot about this prawn curry. Then they started to think that perhaps I was making it up! How can she be making a curry from scratch after work when she only leaves the office at 7pm? How?! So, to salvage my reputation I had to gather some of them together and cook it for them. Then they would see!

The recipe is based on a Goan recipe I found online some years ago. It requires using masses of fresh tomatoes and a fresh coconut. I urbanised it by using a tin of tomatoes and a tin of coconut milk, which makes it quick and convenient – almost a storecupboard dish. It really is super quick once you’ve ground the spices, I would estimate no more than half an hour, although try to buy peeled prawns to save your self time. I vary the amount of coconut milk depending on whether I want the fruity flavour of the tomatoes or the creaminess of the coconut milk to dominate. This time I went with the tomato so used one tin of tomatoes and half a tin of coconut milk. It works well 50/50 though if you prefer that.

The recipe serves 2 hungry people. [Read more]

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London Restaurant Week

Two fools – me and my winning photo

Following a tough week last week, packing and moving once more, this week has started on a fine note. One of my photos (Rhubarb Fool) was chosen to be exhibited at the launch party for London Restaurant Week last night along with food photos from celebrities (Amy Winehouse, Jodie Harsh, Jean Christophe Novelli to name a few) and members of the public like myself. I was invited, and with a friend attended, quite excited at the prospect of attending such a high profile event.

The champagne flowed and lovely small bites were provided, I indulged in the Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Green Peas and the Fish & Chips – greedy as I am, fear not, they were mini portions. I wolfed it down so quickly, I forgot to take a photo, which frankly, is unheard of. This was followed by a mini chocolate pudding and knickerbocker glory, delicious, and I do have photos of these :-)

All the while, there was much people watching and speculation, always fun. After a couple of hours, Jean Christophe Novelli took the floor and gave a speech, thanking everyone for attending and supporting the event. Then came the time to announce the winner of the photography competition. I wasn’t paying much heed as, really, the other photos were fantastic, so I continued to drink my champagne and nibble. Imagine my shock and surprise when he called out my name! So exciting.

So, here I am, the proud winner, with a fantastic prize: a dinner for two at a michelin starred restaurant. I really can’t wait to indulge. And indulge further I will, for those of you that don’t know of it, London Restaurant Week (actually two weeks this year) is an opportunity to eat at up to 100 of London’s leading restaurants for much less than normal. This list includes no less than 10 michelin starred restaurants. These 100 restaurants include some I’ve been really keen to try: Lindsay House, Bentley’s Bar & Grill, Tamarind, Quilon & The Cinnamon Club. Added to this, a charity benefits, lastminute.com has partnered for the second year running with Capital 95.8’s Help a London Child and 20p from each booking will be donated to the charity. It starts on the 14th April, but you can book now, so, get in there early and make the most of it! I will be. More on http://www.londonrestaurantweek.co.uk.

I’ll leave you with a very cheesy pic of me & Mr Novelli. Haha! What a nice man! Really charming and friendly, even with people like me approaching him with my little camera in hand looking for a photo :-)

Thanks to Sophie and all the guys from lastminute.com for organising a wonderful and fun party, and, of course, for my lovely prize!