York – Hungry Buck on tour

These past few weeks have honestly been very eye opening for me. I have always thought of the south of England as the place to be for the discerning foodie to get their ‘rocks off’ as it were and I am not ashamed to say that I wasn’t entirely right.

I still think that the south stylises food trends in a way that is hard to match, for instance; The traditional sleepy Devonshire seaside town with its cream tea’s and fish bars, the fashionable edible universe that is Brighton, Food markets and street food gems of London and everything else that incredible big city has to offer. However the UK has thrown me a curve ball in the shape of the walled medieval city of York, and what a place it is indeed.

First of all I will say that I know Yorkshire has a lot to offer but I have always just been more drawn to the in vogue south as all of us textbook, cliche foodies are, so apologies to Yorkshire for ever even remotely underestimating your produce. From the moment I got their I was completely and utterly spoiled for choice when it came to choosing our plan of action in terms of where to visit, the vast and rich history seeps out from under every cobble and brick. The Minster has a fantastic presence in the city as its Gothic architecture pierces the skyline from every direction, the walls mark the outskirts and whisper the tales of hundreds of years of marauding invaders with its visible battle scars, weathered but ever present. So many battles that have since been forgotten by the modern world happened in the city, a person would be forgiven for stopping in their tracks while walking the walls, running their hands across the ancient wall and wonder just how many people have done the same over the thousands of years it has existed.

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All this makes for an incredibly dramatic backdrop for a gastronomically motivated tour of the city. Speaking of which, I guess I should show you some of what we found. First of all, we arrived needing to find something to eat quite badly so it was very much a case of diving in and seeing what we could find. Now there is a LOT to get through so I will give a few mini reviews and tips regarding what to do and where to eat in this post, then finish off with two more thorough, extensive write ups about the top marking places that we discovered during our stay.

Bagel Nash

We arrived early afternoon in York and checked into our bed and breakfast with food already on our minds. We walked around the city scoping out everything available and came to a place called ‘Bagel nash’, a brand that I wasn’t familiar with until I did a little digging. They are predominantly a northern based chain who operate from their Leeds HQ and prepare bagels while you wait, in a sort of ‘Subway’esque way and also have a range of smoothies to go with their extensive bagel and filling options.

We went for the mozzarella and pesto bagel and the smoked salmon, cream cheese and olive (New york) both on wholemeal, with a fruit smoothie each. It wasn’t a cheap meal for the amount of food that we had but it was very enjoyable filler and it certainly serves its purpose. The decor was modern and quite interesting without being over the top or soulless. Luckily, It also didn’t have any underlying guilt factor like most fast food and it felt like we were only putting good, positive things into our system after a fairly lengthy drive. Overall it was a very pleasant experience and I would encourage you make a visit to them if you get chance.

Visit rating: Give it a try

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The Shambles

Following this we went for a bit of an exploration around the Shambles, which is a series of lanes, market stalls and eateries that have a more independent feel to them. What a hidden gem the shambles is, although a diamond in the rough in comparison to say The lanes’ In my beloved Brighton, the shambles has a lot to offer. There is so much going on down there its hard to keep track of but its certainly worth a look, every turn of the head presents a new cafe, pub, sweet shop or another foodie oasis in a beehive of cobbles and hungry punters. We didn’t end up eating anywhere around the shambles in the end as we were spoiled for choice and seemed to be a little overwhelmed with choice, while also being short on time trying to pack so much in to a few days. The Shambles is a place well worth a visit and there is a lot available to see, eat and drink.

Visit rating: Essential.

Wild boar pies, found at a pasty and pie shop in The Shambles.

Wild boar pies, found at a pasty and pie shop in The Shambles.

Cafe Concerto

Walking around for a while and taking in some of the culture on offer (such as the best busker I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across playing a full on piano int he middle of the street) I developed a need for coffee and cake. As some of you may know the need for coffee and cake is an insatiable one and in my experience can lead you into two types of places. Really good ones that leave you feeling as happy and satisfied as a ‘pig in muck’ as they say, or alternatively leave you fuller but no more satisfied than if you’d eaten a bowl of dry porridge. It might fill you up but its not good for the soul.

Luckily on this occasion it led us to a little place by the Minster called ‘Cafe concerto’ that comes with tag line of ‘Truly independent -The ultimate neighbourhood restaurant’. This appealed greatly as we saw there was a few attractive options on the dessert menu and tea/ coffee was available too, so we sat down and I ordered the Vanilla and chocolate cheesecake and a cup of coffee while my fiance ordered a tea and a banoffee pie. After a few minutes the desserts were dropped off at our table by a pleasant member of staff and we got stuck in.

The cheesecake was a baked new york style vanilla cheesecake with little flecks of chocolate running through it, I find cheesecakes can be a little too much towards the end but this one was enjoyable all the way through. I found it wasn’t overly dense which is usually a bit of a bug bear when it comes to cheesecakes and the biscuit base was pretty good too to be fair, even better when paired with a coffee. My partners banoffee pie however was just too sickly for me as it was just a bit too sweet, if you like a lot of cream and to take sweetness to the next level then that is the best choice for you. Just a bit too rich for my blood I think.

Decor was a bit ‘woody’ but it was really a nice place to be. Its a little bit out of the sun so it can feel a little dark in there but its certainly not dingy, the wooden chairs aren’t the most comforting but the service and food on offer is warming enough, paired with the cool ‘chalky’ drawing of the Minster and the sheet music used as wallpaper it provides a very intriguing, jazzy feel to the restaurant which I love, being a musician myself. Very much enjoyed our visit here and would recommend you give it a try, its got a real individual personality and should be appreciated for it. Support the real independents!

Visit rating: Essential

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The Fudge Kitchen

One for the sweet toothed confectionery hunters out there, The Fudge Kitchen uses their own take on fudge to provide something a little bit different. They provide plenty of choice in terms of interesting flavours and even have a viewing area in the back of the shop so you can watch them make it.

In terms of the quality of their fudge I must say its very good and is well worth poking your head around the door for a sample. We went for the dark chocolate and sea salt. Very creamy and quite moreish but you will have to go in and see them if your a fudge fan, well worth a look. You can also buy online (go to the bottom of the page).

Visit rating: Worth a look

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These are a few of the notable stops that we took while in York and would genuinely recommend you have a look at if your in the area. The historical atmosphere and bustling city streets is a real treat for anybody who decides to visit, it is a fantastic place that really should be seen to be appreciated. I have two more reviews to go but I will be putting that into a ‘part two’ post this week, as this post is getting quite long and I want to go into a lot of detail on the final two restaurants. Nobody wants readers fatigue after all!

The final two big hitters that I have left to write about that really impressed me were La Vecchia Scuola and GBK: Gourmet burger kitchen. Keep your eyes peeled for comprehensive reviews on them both at a later date, In the meantime here are a few useful links if you are interested in traveling to York.

http://www.visityork.org/

http://www.fudgekitchen.co.uk/

http://www.cafeconcerto.biz/

http://www.insideyork.co.uk/what-to-see/shambles.html

http://www.lavecchiascuola.co.uk/

http://www.gbk.co.uk/

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Simple cod burger with gnocchi sardi salad

So, its now April apparently and it very much seems like March was one of those months that disappeared faster than a horse running at the national. The months seem to fly now that the clocks have changed and even though it is incredible to be having some lighter evenings to relax outside, it just seems like time goes a little bit faster when your enjoying yourself in pub gardens and having barbeques at home.

All the more reason to make the most of all this sunshine were currently having! The bank holiday was an absolute beauty weather wise and there certainly was no shortage of people taking their chance to have a pint by the canal at my local, the Fox and Anchor near Coven.

It is not very often I rave about a chain pub but I do love the Fox as it has a great ambiance in the winter when they light the log fires and even more so when they are buzzing with summer beer garden seekers. I even got a little bit sunburned. Which is not exactly hard as I burn like an ant under a blow torch.

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Now that we have all emerged from our wintery cocoons its time for some lighter food to compliment the bottles of Corona on the lawn (slice of lime optional but advised). White fish comes to mind as its quick, fresh and light on the pallet while being full of protein and really satisfying, paired up with this pasta salad which is the true star of this dish,makes a great meal. Enhanced further by the fact that its full of all the good stuff you can fit in without it becoming unbalanced, you’ll be feeling very pleased with yourself afterwards. No guilt. No hastle.

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Try this recipe on for size next time your feeling lazy on one of these warmer evenings.

Serves 4

For the burger:

  • 2 cod loins. Both halved.
  • 4 wholemeal buns.
  • Tartar sauce.
  • Soy sauce.
  • Pepper.
  • Few salad leaves of your choice.
  • Olive oil.

Pasta salad:

  • 400g gnocchi sardi.
  • 1 small box of cherry or small variety of tomatoes, all halved.
  • 1 courgette, diced.
  • 1 red and 1 orange pepper, diced.
  • 1 small can of sweetcorn.
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped.
  • handful fresh parsley, finely chopped.
  • 5 tablespoons of zero fat Greek yoghurt.
  • 5 tablespoons light mayonnaise.
  • 1 tablespoons dijon mustard.
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

  1. Cook the pasta to pack instructions.
  2. Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl and stir in all of the other ingredients apart from the courgette.
  3. Preheat a frying pan on a medium heat, add a tiny bit of oil and fry the courgette until it starts to brown a little, then remove and mix into the salad.
  4. Give a good few turns on a salt and pepper mill.
  5. Chill for 20 minutes.
  6. Use the preheated pan and add a little more oil.
  7. Add the cod loin halves and fry on a medium heat for around 4 minutes. Turn over and repeat.
  8. Turn the heat up to high and add a tablespoon of soy sauce, give the pan a shake so it reaches all of the fish, do this for around 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  9. Cut the rolls and put around a teaspoon of tartar sauce on both halves. Lay a few leaves on the bottom half, followed by the soy fried fish, along with anything else you want to add. (Go crazy, its a blank canvas).
  10. Finish with one big sprinkle of black pepper, cap it off with the top half of the bread and serve with a big spoon full of the pasta.

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Its another very simple but very effective recipe to fill a void after a hard day at work when the evening is best spent enjoying the sunshine outside!

Peanut butter pie (And the discovery of Brighton)

During the transitional period from the old blog and my change in circumstances that forced me to have some downtime from writing, I visited Brighton to see my fiancés best friend and her partner in Brighton. Id never been there before and thought it would just be the usual sort of British seaside town brimming with rock shops, amusements and novelty gifts, albeit with a more southern twang in the dialect. I usually despise being wrong but I must say I’m quite happy to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong about Brighton.

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Barring London, I genuinely don’t believe I have been to a better melting pot of modern, youthful culture, foreign flavours, gastronomic innovation and classic heritage. It just boggles the mind as to how diverse Brighton is when it comes to the people, the food and the experiences available to you. You can have fish and chips if your looking for the traditional seaside Heron gull enticing flavours or you can go crazy and have chilli and lime fish with sweet potato fries, a plethora of vegetarian restaurants (which were fantastic!), confectionery you have never even thought of before and vendors that push the boundaries of what you think you can buy from a stall. Not forgetting that this is the spiritual and physical home of choccywoccydoodah. Spell check is going mad at me for that but if you haven’t seen the TV show it’s a business that build the most ridiculous chocolate creations you have ever seen. http://www.choccywoccydoodah.com

When we arrived the weather was, in a word, horrific. I have never heard thunder like it and the rain was hitting the window so hard it was like a swarm of furious birds frantically scratching at the window to get at us as we tried to sleep. However we were blessed to wake up to beautiful blue skies and a heat that had the potential to burn my ridiculously sunshine shy skin to a level that can only be compared to a well-done baked potato. The combination of the amazing food that surrounded me during my trip combined with the crisp, blue sky and crystal clear seas left me with a lot of inspiration to come home with. Summer in Brighton had taken me from someone who had a few ideas to someone who was ravenously clamouring to create….with a sweet tooth to satisfy. This recipe is the perfect fit for someone who wants to give their family a treat for a day or give themselves a treat for a few days!

So we made the following recipe. A peanut butter pie sounds a bit rich and chewy doesn’t it? Don’t worry you don’t just tip a jar of peanut butter into a flan case! See below for the recipe for this funky little number.

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What you’ll need:

For the base –

  • 25 oat based biscuits (Finely crushed) but any plain biscuit will do!
  • 70g melted butter

Tip: Preheat your oven at 170 degrees.

For the filling –

  • 225g peanut butter (We used smooth but nothing wrong with using chunky)
  • 225g cream cheese
  • 175g icing sugar
  • 225g double cream (Well whipped)

Method:

  1. In a food processor blitz the biscuits into a fine sandy texture, add the melted butter and whiz into a lumpy consistency. Ensuring all biscuits and butter and mixed together.
  2. Put the mix into a medium pie dish and cover the base and sides well. Bake for 5-7 minutes in the oven.
  3. Mix the peanut butter and cream cheese together until its smooth. Add the icing sugar and mix well until combined.
  4. Once this is done, add the cream to the peanut butter mix and stir through until again, well combined.
  5. Pour the filling into the base (preferably by now it has cooled) and spread evenly.
  6. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Note – Always mix the ingredients for the filling separately and not at the same time to achieve the best consistency!

The Honu burger

As some people are aware I am very much associated with burgers. Everybody always asks me if I have any new burger recipes or if I still cook the recipe I took to the battle of the burgers final in 2013, this in fairness is completely justified as I do love making and eating a nice burger! There are so many flavour combinations that can be slotted under an equal amount of buns or breads, its the gift that keeps on giving.

 

I have a huge passion for food as you can guess, but I also have an equal amount of passion for animals and wildlife. Birds and sea life in particular. I have been reading for the past few years about the decline in the sea turtle or “Honu” population and it was heart breaking to come to terms with the fact that they had got to a point where they were near extinction. Such a gracious, docile and beautiful creature driven to the precipice of oblivion, not surprisingly accelerated by the western world starting to haunt the shores of Hawaii. However there is an upside, populations are making a gradual recovery thanks to designated conservation sites and a huge effort from the sort of people who don’t want to see the beautiful gifts the earth has given us disappear.

You can read more about this here if you wish: http://www.wildhawaii.org/marinelife/turtles.html

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So its for this reason I have decided to write a recipe and name it in honour of an icon of Hawaii. A symbol of conservation in the western hemisphere and a wonderful creature that deserves our attention to keep it around for the next generation to appreciate. The fact it is slightly easier to pronounce than the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a burger also is a contributing factor! (The Hawaiian state fish)

Which brings me onto the ‘Meat’ of this sandwich. The recipe. It uses the zingy fresh tang of tropical pineapple to cut through the luscious beef patty and salty smoked bacon, creating an all round enjoyable experience that should hopefully bring a little bit of sunshine to meal time! Recipe should cover approximately 4 people.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 medium wholemeal buns.
  • 600g beef mince.
  • 12 pieces of smoked streaky bacon.
  •  4 rings of canned pineapple, chopped.
  • Your choice of salad leaves.
  • 4 slices of Emmental cheese.
  • Worcester sauce.
  • Salt and pepper.

Method:

In a bowl combine the mince with a tablespoon of Worcester sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper. Mix well with clean hands until well combined however try not to overwork it as the burgers will become tougher to eat. Get both hands in the bowl and work into a ball.

Break the ball of mince into 4 and squash into round shaped patties of equal size (around 1cm or so thick). Leave in the fridge for a minimum 30 minutes to rest. Make a small thumb print in the middle of the burger to stop it popping up too much during cooking.

pre-heat a frying pan and a griddle pan on a medium heat, lightly oil both sides of the patties. Add the burgers to the pan 2 at a time and fry for around 4-5 minutes a side. Pop the bacon in the griddle pan and dry fry until crispy on both sides (or to your own preference).

On the last turn of the beef, add a tablespoon of chopped pineapple, toped with the cheese. Turn the heat off and allow them to rest for a minute or two in their own juices. The cheese will relax and spread over the fruit, locking it to the top of the patty.

Remove the bacon and leave on a piece of kitchen paper to absorb any unwanted grease or fat.

Cut the buns, add a dollop of mayo or ketchup on the bottom half (your choice, go wild!) and a few of the leaves. Cross 3 pieces of bacon over the salad and sit the burger on top.

Pin it with a skewer so it doesn’t all try and escape…And your done! I served mine with roasted new potatoes for a healthier option to chips or fries.

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So there you have it. The “Honu” burger! A burger that in my opinion makes meal time a little sunnier. A tip of the hat to an ancient and very awesome member our oceanic heritage. Here’s to you turtles!

BBC good food show winter 2013

December 1st 2013 marked my first visit to the BBC good food show winter at the NEC in Birmingham, offering a day full of food and drink and a chance to meet some great people with similar passions for the edible delights our world has to offer.  There were plenty of celebrity chefs rolling around the halls to grab a quick chat with some real giants of the food entertainment industry, and it was quite surreal to meet some of my own media influences.

Me and Cyrus Todiwala CBE

We purchased the tickets fairly early at a charge of around £25 each with a ticket to the super theatre show with the Hairy bikers, two of my favourite TV chefs (also quite easily a two of the nation’s nicest people, as I found out). We got their early enough to park relatively easily and made our way down to the main NEC halls, accompanied by a growing hoard of other tired looking hungry people. We entered the hall at around 9:30 on the button, this being fairly early for a Sunday morning everybody’s heavy looking eyes and drooped shoulders in the queue were absolutely justified. The perfect tonic however was the smell of the supreme sausage stall cooking their wild boar and apple sausages www.supremesausages.co.uk, The smell crept around the peripheries of the show, right by the exit, for the entirety of the day making it possibly my favourite place to stand throughout the day.

Before we had chance to start trying any food we had to dash to the super theatre to catch our early morning appointment with Si and Dave, the Hair bikers. I initially thought it would be a lot more intimate and was a little concerned with how back our seats were, but I have to say it was set up perfectly. Having the monitors behind them so you didn’t miss a trick was great and the sound work was great meaning you could hear it all happening, it really was worth the ticket price just to see them work their magic with the crowd and the food. They really are more than just talented cooks, they are natural entertainers and made everybody laugh while really getting people involved in their show, it really was an enjoyable experience.

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After around 40 minutes, the show finished and we were released upon the rest of the show to view the stalls and start getting some decent food in for our late breakfast, so naturally we made a break for the supreme sausage stall again. Upon browsing the range they have to offer it was apparent we had come across something special, but I will go into this in more detail later. I had a million and one ideas that I could use the sausages for (check out the recipe in the prior post for a good one), and we really weren’t disappointed with what we tried. We ended up buying two packs the wild boar and apple with a pack of the venison, pork and mushroom sausages and at £10 for the 3 I can’t complain at all.

The W.H.Smith stand provided an opportunity to buy and get your books signed by some of the celebrity chefs in attendance, but their strict ‘one book to one person’ rule was a bit harsh but I do understand why it was in place as the queues got a little bit hectic.

 

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The show was huge and to go through everything we saw would be a rather mammoth read so I will give you my top 5 stall highlights from the show and then fill in any details afterwards if I miss something, so to get us started we have:

5: I am not known to be a drinker but towards the end of the show we uncovered a stall doing a variety of flavoured alcohol, there was a few flavoured vodka’s and a really refreshing limoncello which I enjoyed quite a lot. The star of their range was raspberry vodka, which I must say tasted amazing, but dangerously not like alcohol! A definite winner though and I would recommend them to anybody, unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the company and I cannot find them on the exhibitor list so I will update this if I find out who they are.

4:  Coopers gourmet sausage rolls. I can pretty much sum these up in 2 words really, yes and please. These babies are probably among my favourite sausage rolls that I have ever had, the mixes they came up with looked great but between me and my girlfriend we had pork and leek and I had black pudding and pork. They were really tasty and to back up the size they packed some really big flavour, we bought a couple to take home and heat up for our dinner. It was a really hearty end to our day back home. Good stuff coopers! www.coopers-sausage-rolls.co.uk

3: Napton water buffalo. When you find yourself feeling hungry at a food festival or food show, there’s either something wrong or you’re not trying hard enough! We spent so long walking around taking everything in and going to book signings that we neglected to really fill up that much, luckily for us Napton’s caught our eye. Fresh water buffalo burgers, made with their own animals reared on their farm. The meat was cooked to perfection, Just the right side of rare with a nice bit of bite to it. Was a great little treat that we would be able to eat it over and over! They produce a whole host of buffalo products not just meat, including milk, cheese and ice creams. Mainly available local to them or at the shows they attend. Find out more at www.waterbuffalo.co.uk

2: Pie mania. These guys are a Banbury based gourmet pie producer and have a small but strong showing of handmade pastries that are good value for money and are very pleasant, while not being too heavy which I find some pies can be. We opted for the Goats cheese, sweet potato and spinach variety. Upon arriving home we reheated it in the oven for about 25 minutes and when warmed through it became a completely different animal and we loved every mouthful, only downside was we thought it would have been nice to have been able to buy them warm at the stall. Apart from that they were incredibly moreish and look forward to seeing them again so I can nab another one.  www.pie-mania.co.uk

1: Already mentioned and deservedly so, Supreme sausages. Amazing. This company provides some of the best flavour combinations found in sausages that I have encountered, being somebody who loves game and other alternative meats they really do cater for my tastes. We both agree that they deserve the number one spot purely down to the fact that eating that first sausage kept them on our minds all day. Not only did the initial sausage make us marginally fall in love with their produce but the ones we took home created some great meals that pushed us further over the line. Their range includes (As mentioned above) the venison, pork and mushroom, the wild boar and apple along with the Toulouse, Cumberland, the fire sausage, pork with tomato and black pepper, pork with honey and mustard and also lamb and mint to name just a choice section of their range. They also offer an online delivery service guaranteed delivery within 24 hours of despatch, packed with icepacks in polystyrene boxes to guarantee they maintain their freshness en route. Visit www.supremesausages.co.uk to order yours or to find out more.

 

 

Other honourable mentions are, the Cheshire cheese company, the Snowdonia cheese company, the arm and hammer soda mixology stand, Lakeland, the world cheese awards (never seen so much cheese!), The potted game company.

Overall the show worth every penny of the entrance fee and I would recommend it to anybody who loves food. The next one is in July just in time for all your summery gluttonous needs, Fingers crossed ill see some of you there, in the meantime visit the links and help support these great companies!

Introducing our new contributor!

Hello Gecko readers, I would like to firstly thank Phil for asking me to be a guest blogger and secondly I’d like to introduce myself.

My names Naomi and I have had a passion for food ever since I can remember; my dad often tells me that as a little girl I’d be asking what was for dinner whilst eating my lunch.

I grew up spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my grandma, who is from Jamaica, cooking was always based on using fresh ingredients and putting love and care into the food, not just throwing something in the oven or microwave. Cooking wasn’t about just about filling the hunger; it was about getting together as a family and sharing the love put into the food. The pleasure I got from watching my grandma put wonderful food together and the enjoyment I had from tasting the food and sharing the experience with my family was what really drove my passion for food in general.

My passion for baking (especially cakes) came when I was in primary school and I entered a Halloween cake competition; I made a cake that looked like Medusa, even down to the snake hair and I guess this is when I figured that baking was my thing.

The Skittles cake

The Skittles cake

What do I love about baking? EVERYTHING! I especially love cupcakes, maybe because I’m a girly girl and they can be made to look very cute. To me baking cakes is firstly about the taste, but they also have to look good, as they say we eat with our eyes first. The main thing I enjoy about baking is the enjoyment it gives to others. I love the reaction I get when people see something I have made then I wait for the reaction on their face when they bite into it.

I would like to share some of my work with you and hope that you enjoy it. I would like to show you how easy it can be baking for yourselves, its much more satisfying that buying from the supermarket and trust me, it will taste much better.

One of the first recipes I will be sharing is one of my favourites for this time of the year. Gingerbread and Nutmeg Cupcakes! The warmness of Ginger and Nutmeg is perfect for these colder days. Keep an eye out for the recipe… coming soon.

Naomi

Operation: Eat bunny

Hi all and welcome to the start of my personal mission. The aim of which is to convert people to a different way of thinking about what goes into their food.

I am an adventurous eater and I take an enormous amount of enjoyment in trying new things, while taking even more joy in introducing other people to new things. This has led me to what I am writing about now, as not nearly enough people can really appreciate the kind of great produce our country has to offer if they are limiting themselves to what is available at the supermarket meat counter. This is not the consumers fault, but supermarket’s specialise in providing people with products they think sell well, which includes the usual cuts of beef, lamb, pork and a sprinkling of ‘acceptably fresh’ fish and I see it as a real shame that butchers are closing down all over our country because we are preferring the corporate convenience to the art of providing real, local produce in a butchers shop. The supermarket chains are forcing us to not have an option, due to killing off all of the independent businesses in local areas around their stores with mass produced (and sometimes low quality) meats. They mostly care about profit margins not quality of produce, the recent horse meat scandal is a good example.

I have no issue with using supermarkets for things and I am certainly not saying they aren’t great ways to get a half decent range of foods and ingredients on your doorstep on short notice, especially when they are open 24 hours a day. My only gripe with it is they limit the opportunity to try new things because they have set products that they stock in every store, unlike your local butcher. who can give you what you ask for or maybe offer you something new, because they prepare it right in front of you with their vast knowledge of the animals they use.

My granddad was a butcher for a number of years so I have an appreciation for the trade, a trade that is dying. This is why I am concerned, not because I am standing on my soap box and hopping on my high horse trying to feel superior to people because I like to try new things and they don’t, what I am saying however is that because we are becoming so detached from the process of the butchering of animals, it is changing the way we see our food. Nearly gone are the days you see the pig hanging from the hook in the window as you go in to buy the joint for your Sunday roast, now all you see is the rows of air tight packaging and labels. There is no connection to the fact it has been reared on a farm, cared for, put down and cut into that form by fantastic, skilled people. I believe this is slowly changing us into fussier eaters. Which is not a problem but it is a real shame. As I really don’t like the idea of people missing out on some truly great food just because it is not on the shelf at ASDA due to them deciding it’s not what you want. Ultimately, there are less options out there for us as consumers without the family butcher physically being able to offer you different options and sticking to what we know from the shelf.

It’s for this reason certain animals and former staples in the UK are fading away and causing people to be desensitised to what actually goes on to produce what ends up on their plate. A perfect example is when I stated I was on the hunt for a few rabbits to experiment with and was met with absolute shock and awe by my friends. ‘That’s just wrong’ or ‘I couldn’t eat a rabbit its just plain sick’ and even ‘Your evil’ which really got to me, as I am not evil!. Less than 50 years ago it was possibly on par with chicken as one of the more commonly eaten meats in England. There are estimated to be over 40 million rabbits in the UK and getting your hands on one isn’t really hard, I got a whole jointed rabbit for £3.50 at my local butchers (Chandlers, Stafford road, Wolverhampton). The meat is darker than chicken, having much more depth in flavour and being more gamey. Although very similar to the untrained tongue, given to any unknowing chicken lover and I am pretty sure I’d get the thumbs up.

If you haven’t tried it yet I would encourage you to give it a go at least once, and if you don’t like it, fair enough, But….

 

The biggest problem in peoples thinking is this:

20090417-wild-rabbit-1-1

I love animals. I do. I have a pet dog and I’ve had many pets in the past so I can, in one sense understand that the picture above has a certain warmth to it. He’s cute, nobody can deny it. But he still tastes pretty great and in these times of apparent austerity people don’t have the money they used to, while still spending on expensive cuts of meat and overlooking perfectly good alternatives because they used to have of rabbit as a pet when they were 7. I just don’t understand the logic when people eat lamb, but say rabbit is too cute to eat. Its well worth a go, it really is. Rabbit is just one option too, there are a vast range of game birds out there that are less popular today that make great eating like Grouse, Pheasant, Partridge, Wood pigeon or my personal favourite niche bird, Guinea fowl.

Your Lamb shank used to look like this!

Your Lamb shank used to look like this!

Something else that has been a point of discussion between me and a few friends is my willingness to get out there and physically find and hunt wild game, which was also met with mostly negative views of how I could kill something. I don’t have a problem with that view but it’s certainly how society has conditioned us to be. As I said above, we no longer look at a joint of gammon or pork and see a pig, we see its shiny plastic wrapping and the thick piece of fat that we all love and fight over when it’s roasted in its crunchy, golden glory. I believe knowing where your food has come from is a great way to get the best out of it in the kitchen, so this post is the beginning of my journey to do all the leg work so you don’t have to.

I am becoming more and more interested in being a part of the journey from field to plate and will be going to great lengths to experience hunting and producing the food we eat in the coming months from Signal Crayfish to game birds, visiting farms and butchers. Hopefully I will be able to give you everything you could ever wish to know, accompanied by some great recipes for you to try too. Expect a lot more on this very soon…

So to start off, here’s my recipe for all the culinary braves out there willing to try to battle their preconceptions and try eating some really great wild rabbit!

This is a brilliant but simple little recipe for you to enjoy with your family or to scoff all by yourself, with a changed attitude towards rabbit and genuinely bring a big food induced smile to your face. This can serve around 3-4 people.

I served this with black pudding and really luscious mashed potato, which I do also cover below.

Stewed wild rabbit. Using a slow cooker.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Whole jointed wild rabbit (available from a good butcher at under £5)
  • 4 large rashers of un-smoked bacon, chopped into lardons.
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 125ml white wine
  • 1.5 pints of vegetable stock
  • 8 chantenay carrots, tops cut off but left whole
  • 1 whole medium white onion
  • 2 celery hearts, chopped roughly into chunks
  • sea salt
  •  black pepper
  • Olive oil

additional ingredients:

  • 8 Large potatoes great for mashing, peeled and cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of butter
  • salt, white pepper
  • 6 even pieces of good black pudding

Method:

  1. Add the olive oil to a pan and bring to a medium heat. Pre-heat your slow cooker ON ‘High’,
  2. Add the rabbit to the pan and brown off evenly on all sides. You may want to do this in batches of 2 pieces at a time, then remove from the pan and put to one side.
  3. Add the bacon and garlic, cooking them in the rabbit enriched olive oil until the bacon starts to brown. Then remove the bacon.
  4. Turn the heat up to a medium-high heat and pour in the wine and 500ml of the stock, stirring well. This will bond all the lovely juices and fats that have escaped the meat with the liquid. Simmer for 5-6 minutes.
  5. lay the rabbit evenly in the bottom of the slow cooker, covering it with the remaining stock.
  6. Add the carrots, chopped celery, bacon, onion, big pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Followed by the reduced pan liquid.
  7. Give it a quick gentle stir without disturbing the underlying rabbit, pop the lid on and leave to cook for 4 hours.
  8. Around 40 minutes before the rabbit has finished its lazy 4 hours in its golden bath of yumminess, fill a large saucepan with water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil.
  9. Add the potatoes and boil until they slide from a skewer and are soft and fluffy, but not crumbling into the water. (Usually about 30-35 minutes give or take on high)
  10. Mash well with the butter, yoghurt, cream cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper to season. Pre heat your grill.
  11. Grill both sides of the black pudding until crisp and warmed through.
  12. Removed the rabbit from the stewed vegetables and stock and rest for a few minutes. Strip the meat from the bones with a fork. Be careful as there are some tricky little ones hiding in there.
  13. Serve the now shredded rabbit with a big ball of mash and a few pieces of black pudding.
  14. Add the carrots from the slow cooker on the side (which should now be beautifully tender and flavourful)
  15. Finally, take a few cups of the liquid from the slow cooker and add to a pan on a medium-high heat and reduce for a few minutes until it thickens slightly. (I do cheat sometimes and add a heaped tablespoon of onion gravy granules to thicken it up and create something quite unique and a little more intense) Add a few spoons worth over the rabbit, and the potato. Finishing it off nicely. It truly is heavenly.

I hope the recipe is to your liking and I will close with this, the only reason I have written this is because I care. I care about great food. I care about people making the most of what we have. I care about people not missing out on great produce and finally I care about great, skilled people being wasted and fading away. Don’t be scared, go to your local butcher or green grocer and buy something you wouldn’t usually buy and try something new. You might love it.

Phil