Finally, the clocks have gone forward and it seems that Summer really is just around the corner. This winter has seemed to last an age and has been particularly harsh in many senses of the word, especially the bitterly cold weather. Summer for me means taking advantage of any opportunities to mix fresh air and food – ice cream on the beach, BBQs, fishing trips, food festivals, picnics and garden feasts.
A few family birthdays fall over the Summer months and my mum always impresses with her fabulous cakes. The one below is particularly summery, with fresh strawberries and raspberries and crystalized violets too.
I have already started as I mean to go on, and had a rather chilly BBQ a few weeks ago. It was the first one my boyfriend and I have had in our new house, where we have a lovely little patio area. We have a wonderful fish monger who is just a couple of doors along from us. He smelt the charcoal from our BBQ and shouted over the fence that he would get something for us… A few minutes later he returned with a bag with two thick swordfish steaks marinating in olive oil and herbs and passed them over our wall. Lucky us!
I love picnics and take advantage of any opportunities to have them. One of my favourites was last year where the highlight of a trip down to Dorset was a spot of fly fishing, accompanied of course, by a picnic. It was a gloriously sunny day and we drank lovely wine and elderflower presse which we kept in the lake to keep cool.
Ice Cream is my favourite foodstuff over the Summer – the best I’ve ever tasted is from Scoop, who have branches in Soho and Covent Garden. Last week I had a meeting in Covent Garden, so treated myself to two scoops of Scoop! I chose two flavours – Menta (with peppermint from Pancalieri, Piedmont) and Noccoila (with Tonda Gentile hazelnuts from Piedmont) and I think I was treated to quite a generous serving!
If you visit the Covent Garden parlour I would recommend taking a short walk to Neals Yard, which is one of my favourite places in London. It is so pretty and Neals Yard Dairy is just round the corner so you can buy great artisan cheese at the same time!
The past week or so has been particularly busy with social events and food shows and this has led me to encounter quite a few new and exciting things. I have eaten mulberries for the first time (courtesy of my graze box), enjoyed a cocktail in a tea cup, nibbled on a savoury macaron, been wowed by some freeze dried fruits, savoured chocolate cheese and have been persuaded to sport a moustache! Random, educational and enlightening!
I have a graze box delivered every Friday, which for those that don’t know about is an awesome little box of nibbles posted to arrive on your desk on your preferred date. The concept sprung from the genius minds of the Love Film team, and I am lucky enough to know one of the founders who keeps me updated with new products and developments… that reminds me, I must arrange a trip to visit the HQ! (to my disappointment, I have been warned not to expect a magical Willy Wonka style factory where the workers skip around picking fruit and nuts to put into the boxes). In this weeks box one of the snack packs was a mix of mulberries and raisins. Initially, I was a little disturbed by their likeness to grub worms, and was a little cautious taking my first bite. They have an unusual dry texture and to be honest, didn’t really think they had a huge amount of flavour. Apparently there are special giant mulberries that have a sticky toffee like flavour and are really delicious, so I will hold my final judgement on mulberries until I try these.
A visit to the Squires Kitchen Cake Decorating, Chocolate and Sugarcraft Exhibition is becoming a bit of an annual outing for my colleague Emily, her mum and I. We go to look at the beautiful cakes that have been lovingly entered into competitions, add to our collection of sugarcraft kit (mine is currently a little dusty) and we also go for a little bit of drama…
There are truly some of the most amazing cakes I have ever seen. There were a number of competitions at the event including a novelty ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme, cupcakes for an engagement party and lots of wedding and anniversary cakes. Below are some of my favourite cakes and effects from the day…
Alice in Wonderland Cakes
It seems that every time I go back to Suffolk to visit my mum (Jane Wren), that she has a new addition to her little chicken family. She started a couple of years ago in order to make the very best cakes she could to win the cookery class in the local flower show*, and now she gets up to 8 eggs a day! She supplies her neighbours for a small fee and customises the egg box with a hand written note to say ‘From Jenny Wrens Happy Hens’.
She has a lovely selection of chickens, and they really are like her little children. For those that are interested I have included her inventory (or should I say brood?!) below, otherwise you can just skip to the pictures!
4 Smooth and 1 Frizzled Polish Bantams (2 were sent all the way from Wales as eggs!)
3 Golden Black Polish Bantams
3 Light Sussex Bantams
3 Barred Wyandots
1 Buff Pekin Bantam
I can understand why my mum was so keen to get her own eggs for her cakes, the chickens deliver the most golden, yellow yolks I’ve ever seen! The eggs add a ‘midas touch’ to everything that they are added and you really can taste the difference both on their own and as an ingredient.
A light, fatless sponge…
Cheese scones ready to be baked…
Pancakes too, which I made using Doves Farm wheat free flour (which worked surprisingly well) and Crush Foods rapeseed oil…
Unfortunately eggs from ‘Jenny Wrens Happy Hens’ aren’t available to most, but it is definitely worth trying to find someone in your local area that rears their own chickens – or even consider getting your own if you have enough space. I certainly would if I had more than just a little patio!
*Preparation for this baking competition is stressful business, but mum continues to win year after year!
I am back in North Norfolk this weekend, which is where I grew up and regularly go back to visit family. My sister had planned a visit to her local farmers market in Aylsham, where she buys most of her meat for the month ahead and various other bits too. Obviously I tagged along, and also persuaded the rest of our party (the brother-in-law and my Dad) that it would be fun to visit the Creake Abbey market too.
We were all glad we made the effort as the North Creake market has really grown and improved since the last time we went about 5 years ago. I met some great new producers such as Crush Foods (rapeseed oil, pesto and dressings), Fielding Cottage (goats cheese) and Mr Kew’s Pies.
We bought a little more than we should but got some great stuff. So, back to London I will be taking racks of both mutton and lamb, some stewing mutton, some rare breed smoked bacon, smoked chipolatas, rapeseed oil and dressing, rosewater (from one of the great little shops in Creake Abbey), some posh pork scratchings and a little yellow soap duck. The picture below shows our haul – my sister’s prize buy was a giant (6kg!!) chicken that she will be roasting tomorrow with friends.
Tim Kinnaird was looking very happy (as always) and had a tempting stall full of macarons, marshmallows, brownies and delicate little cakes too. We couldn’t help but buy some salted caramel and violet and blackcurrant flavoured macarons which were delicious. I also discovered that Tim is thinking about selling his cakes at the BBC Good Food Show Summer which would be awesome!
I was delighted to find that Bray’s Cottage‘s famous ‘Crackle’ hadn’t yet sold out and that I had a chance to try all the posh pork scratching flavours too – Fennel and Juniper, Lemon and Pepper and Smoked Paprika and Rosemary. Really naughty but REALLY nice. The guys in the BBC Good Food Show office will be pleased on Monday with my souvenirs!
Let me know if you would like to know more about either the Aylsham or Creake Abbey Farmers Markets, or any of the produce or producers mentioned here.
It is a miserable grey, wet day here in Teddington. To brighten things up I thought I would post a few of my most colourful foodie pictures that I’ve taken recently.
Boxing Day Birthday Cake
My mum’s boyfriend has a birthday on boxing day, so she always tries to make a non Christmassy, light and refreshing birthday cake. The cake below is layers of fatless sponge, freshly whipped cream, homemade strawberry jam and fresh strawberries layered throughout and on the top.
I was lucky enough to visit the Salone De Gusto in Turin last October, It was an amazing experience that I will certainly eventually write about. The bright and colourful packaging drew me in, and although I didn’t actually try any I thought they looked amazing.
My colleague, and good friend, Emily Phillips has asked me to help make her wedding favours for her wedding in September. We are aiming for 3 beautiful, bright macarons in a box for each guest. Our first practice, just a few weeks ago, went really well and the macarons laid out on their trays ready for baking looked so pretty!
I hope you enjoy the spash of colour to brighten up such a dull afternoon.