Moyaux than meets the eye…

Travel broadens the mind. Travel provides us with the opportunity to see, hear and most importantly eat things that we wouldn’t be able to experience at home, making it as far as I’m concerned a very important part of life. So why is it then that I have not been abroad since I was 12? The simple answer being I am terrified of flying and cannot bare the thought of getting on one of those tubular winged terror machines.

Luckily France is not too far away and a ferry can get me there in no more than a few hours dependent on which port you arrive at. Huzzah! And I must say that driving off the ferry and onto the somewhat alien road system was an interesting experience but one that now seems like easy work after staying there for just shy of two weeks. We stayed in a small town called Moyaux, not too far from Lisieux in Normandy, on a a site called Le Colombier which was situated on an old apple orchard. The French countryside provides a really lovely base of operations for an exploration of the north western part of the country and Normandy provides a brilliant source of local produce to explore. Moyaux is a small town or even a village that doesn’t seem to have a lot going on in it but provides a true look into how French people really live, as opposed to a place that is hopped up and bloated to keep up with a bloated feeling tourism demand that pushes it’s inherent “Frenchness” onto the back burner to conform to what people want to see. It represents quintessential Normandy life and is a place build around its Church where everything closes from around 12pm until at least 2pm. For help with the mental image see the village in the film ‘Chocolat’ but without the pouting, pony tailed and guitar brandishing Johnny Depp and replaced with a fairly average looking food blogger in a Vauxhall Astra.

There were a few things that really stood out to me that seemed to represent the produce of the area that included but were not limited to; apples, which they used to create tarts, ciders and a distilled cider brandy called Calvados.  The local cheese’s and dairy produce such as the thick and rich creme fraiche, camembert which is said to have originated in Normandy in 1791, Pont-l’Eveque which is very much like a squared brie which I find slightly firmer and Neufchâtel which boasts a smooth, creamy texture with a flavour that lands somewhere between a young and fairly well aged taste. It is certainly a region worth visiting for the cheese-o-philes among us, great with fresh bread and a selection of cured meats that are not so good for the waistline but extraordinarily super for the soul!

Lisieux offers a market on a Saturday that really doesn’t seem to hold anything that special when walking into it from the side of the Basilique where we parked, as it seemed to just be full of clothing and cheap watches which tend to not really interest me if I am really honest. However when you turn the corner just to the left of the library you see just what you need to see in France. Wall to wall food. Vegetables, fruit, seafood (Not a cloudy fish eye in sight) including some lovely Moule/mussels that we enjoyed that night in a paella, fresh crepes, bread, some awesome fresh, cured and very living meats, preserves and pretty much anything you could think of that you would want to see in France when looking for a feed.

I wandered around for a few hours in awe of just how good it was and feeling very lucky to be able to see it frankly as at the time we visited the farmers of France were on strike in relation to the price of meat and milk being paid to them by the large supermarket chains. I had heard about the French supermarkets as something to behold in comparison to what we have in the UK and unfortunately it took a few days for us to get to the closest one due to the roads being closed due to farmers parking their tractors all around the hypermarket. We got around to it somehow one day before the strike moved on to Le Havre and found burning piles of cow feces, agricultural waste strewn all over the place and angry farm workers waving us off the exits which led to the store. An interesting experience to be in but if I am honest I totally support their cause and wish them luck in their endeavor’s, farms work damn hard to keep up with supply in countries all over the world and they deserve to be fairly reimbursed for their incredible amount of hard work.

Drink. Something that you need to cover when giving a run down of Normandy it seems as they are famous for their production of Calvados brandy, which is a really smooth drink for even me who is not in any way shape or form a Brandy drinker. It is actually very good when added to fried onions and put on top of a heftily loaded burger, however that is an expensive and wasteful practice to a true connoisseur! I basically lived off Grimbergen while I stayed there which seems to be a staple beer in France, It is available in some really tasty varieties such as poire/pear, kriek/berry, ruby, blonde and white to name a few that I can remember.

In summary, France offered some incredible experiences and I can’t wait to go back again. While there we visited the Bayaux tapestry, the landing beaches, Monet’s garden and the camp site was a wonderful place to relax offering a lovely little creperie just past the pool that offered take away food which I have to be honest, wasn’t perfect but it certainly filled a void if needed (heres to you Croque monsieur). Normandy is somewhere that I would recommend visiting to any person who loves food, drink and culture to visit as it has all three categories covered in droves, just don’t be scared to run off the beaten track and go somewhere other than the hypermarkets as Normandy in particular has so much to offer to reward your exploration. So if travel really does broaden the mind, consider my mind broadened.

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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/

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!

What makes a great christmas dinner for me?

Every year in my house (and possibly thousands of homes across the world) a debate ignites as to what is and isn’t traditional when it comes to the Christmas dinner.  Clearly the place to start is the bird. Everybody loves a Christmas turkey, it insights memories of home with the family, however well or badly cooked it is and will always be a symbol of Christmas in the western world, in my opinion. There are however, some factions that prefer to go slightly different and roast a goose or a duck. I see no problem with this but I find it difficult to imagine my own personal Christmas without a turkey on the table. I tend to sway towards two meats, the first being the turkey and the second, a roasted joint of gammon to go with it, I feel it really gives an additional dimension to the meal as a whole and helps to diversify the experience a little. So for me it has to be turkey, but doing something else to accompany it never hurts.

But what about the veg? I hear absolutely nobody cry, well, this is the subject which can fuel the debate from your first nibble of a sprout all the way through to the obligatory Christmas special soaps. From my point of view there are a handful of things that are ESSENTIAL to a Christmas dinner. These things are; Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, carrots, mashed potato and roasted parsnips. Not everybody will agree with that I know but for me that’s Christmas veg in a (chest) nut shell, but this is challenged with a vast array of other peoples ideas of ‘traditional’ like cauliflower, broccoli, pea’s and even though not vegetables the addition of Yorkshire puddings still just puzzles me. But the more I ponder this the more I come to the same conclusion.

 

It doesn’t matter.

 

It doesn’t matter what goes on the plate at the end of the day, all that matters is what that food means to you. the taste of a dried out turkey that mom forgot to  get out because she was picking up the Christmas tree that the dog knocked over, or the smell of the fluffy goose fat roasted potatoes filling your nostrils, everybody has their own idea of what Christmas means to them and what represents that in terms of food. What makes A Christmas dinner for me? that’s a really easy question to answer. whatever me and my family feel will make a memorable meal and a dessert that just about fits in before we burst. the contents don’t really mean anything.

I love cooking for people and Christmas dinner just gives me another opportunity to do what I love and feed people with the results of some hard graft in the kitchen. So ultimately weather your roasting a goose, turkey, duck, leg of lamb, baking a potato or having ham and cheese toasties, if that’s what Christmas is to you, go for it. Enjoy it and have a great time with your loved ones like I intend to this year. I cant wait!