Whats in store for 2012?

So its that time again when we are bombarded with food trend predictions for the coming year – so here are mine. Some predictions, some wishful thinking but ones that are relevant to my life.

1 Cupcake Fatigue

I don’t know about you but I am sick to death of seeing cupcakes everywhere. What Bridget Jones did for Chardonnay a decade ago the onslaught of TV baking programmes have done for the cupcake.  Even the lovely Edd Kimber the 2010 Great British Bake Off winner who dislikes cupcakes “reluctantly” included 2 recipes for them in his book The Boy who Bakes.  At this years Leicester Winter Food and Drink Festival there were stall after stall of women making cupcakes that looked pretty much exactly like the next, and the next, and the next.  While I love the fact that people are taking the bowl by the horns and setting up food businesses from home, it did make me feel sad that they were all basically cookie cutter copies of each other: Bunting: check. Cutesy name: check. Vintage looking tableware bought from Argos: check. Disappointment that everyone else has also made that Lemon & Poppyseed cupcake: check. And like the ABC backlash (Anything But Chardonnay) that soon followed the Bridget Jones booze boom, I am keeping my fingers crossed for Anything But Cupcakes.

2: Own a Pig Schemes

Where last year was definitely the year of the home chicken keeper I think this coming year will see a rise in more people opting for this method of meat purchase.  If you haven’t heard of these schemes the basic gist is you pay a pig farmer for a piglet that the farmer then takes complete care of.  The pig will be a traditional, slow growing breed that you can go and visit and feed and then when it is ready (about 6-7 months) the pig is slaughtered and butchered to however you fancy and you know that you are eating meat that has lived a happy life and will taste all the better for it. Neighbours can club together for one, pubs, community groups or you can just keep all the meat for yourselves! Personally I think if you are planning on getting married this summer and want a hog roast then this is definitely the way to go!

A few Own a Pig schemes: HerePigPig, Samphire Shop, Chater Valley, Emmas Pigs, Chalk Newton. There are several dotted about the country so just google it and find one near you.

3: Chocolate

Where 2011 was the year of the salted caramel chocolate, I’m hoping 2012 will see many more experimental chocolatiers such as the wonderful Paul A Young and Boutique Aromatique appear and hopefully the high street start to catch on so more people start trying new flavour combinations.  People at home will start experimenting with making chocolates using flowers and herbs from their gardens and raiding their spice jars. Well, I will be anyway. If you are up for experimenting I have it on good authority that Global Harvest’s wild Fennel pollen is incredible in a chocolate truffle!

4: Kombucha

2011 was a big year for sourdough and now homes all over the country have a jar of sourdough starter (most likely named) in their fridges.  Well, for me at least, my new starter is going to be a Kombucha tea.  While it may look like an alien creature has been captured and preserved in formaldehyde it is actually really easy to make and keep alive once you have got your hands on a starter culture.  I first came across Kombucha tea 17 years ago on the window sill of the most wonderful hippy lady and I was completely engrossed in this brown living entity inside the tea filled jar.  She said I could have one of its “babies” if I wanted but seeing as at the time I was living in the woods in the Forest of Dean with lots of other hippies it seemed somewhat impractical! These days I have a cottage complete with a kitchen so theres no excuse but to give it a go.

5. Sheep’s Curd Cheese

This year I discovered Homewood fresh Sheeps curd and it was a revelation. It is just the most wonderful lemony, soft, creamy cheese that has that beautiful sweet sheep’s milk taste. Perfect for deserts and the cheese board alike this is a definite winner.  Soft fresh sheep’s cheese is really hard to come by in the UK as it has such a short shelf life.  I picked mine up from Neston Park Farm Shop just outside of Bath but Abel and Cole also deliver it and Tim can be found at Bath’s Farmers Market. I really hope this style of cheese becomes much more popular in 2012 so that it becomes much more widely available!

6. Better Farmer’s Markets

Earlier this year I contacted the organiser of a Farmers Market about having a stall.  I was met with the response: “sorry, we already have a stall selling those”. I was stunned. I receive emails from this Market that travels around our area that always ask for street performers to turn up in order to make the market more vibrant.  Its the stalls themselves that should be the vibrant element! Only allowing one artisan bread stall, one organic veg, one chutneys and jams, one cake etc is why the market looks so small and depressing.  Farmers markets in this country can be incredibly limited whereas if you wander around a Farmers Market in somewhere like France or Spain you find a buzzing cornucopia of stalls to excite your senses and tickle your fancy.  Times are hard for our small producers and they need all the support that we can give. You may be lucky enough to have a fantastic, vibrant Farmer’s Market that offers the shopper plenty of choice but if you don’t, perhaps ask the Market Manager why.

7. Slow Cookers

Our purse strings are tighter therefore our cuts of meat are tending to be cheaper. My kitchen has always been a lovely safe haven for underrated cuts of meat to take pride of place on the plate, but thanks to TV chefs popularising these cuts they are now (rather annoyingly for those who have always loved them) becoming more expensive! The muscles that work the hardest taste the best in my book but as a result of all that hard work they tend to need a long, gentle cook. Our time, however, is becoming more heavily demanded upon and with energy prices rocketing the Slow Cooker is the perfect solution. Oxtail stews, Beef cheek casseroles, Mutton curries, Partridge tagines, poached Ox tongue, my slow cooker revels in them all!

8. A fresh look at Ale

Ale is traditionally seen as the domain of men but according to Sara Barton, founder of Brewsters Brewery, brewers up until around 1600 were predominantly female and were called Brewsters. This year I discovered the deliciously floral Brewsters Pale Ale made down the road in Grantham by Brewsters founder Sara. This was another joyful taste discovery of 2011 and has become a firm favourite of mine.  I like my ales golden, floral and light and this was just perfect.  Also this year we made several trips to Burrough on the Hill to the Parish Brewery to stock up on Trudy’s Tipple, a beautiful Elderflower Ale brewed right next door to their pub Grants Free House.  Morrisons has been experimenting this Christmas with small batch releases of more unusual ales. Their Chestnut Ale one sold out almost immediately and they are currently selling a Chocolate and Vanilla Stout which I didn’t expect to like but actually really enjoyed.  There is a slight shift happening in the world of ales and more and more women are getting back into the craft including Claire Monk, head brewer at another local Brewery The Welbeck Abbey Brewery.  There will always be the traditional brews out there but its fantastic to see some fresh flavours coming through for palates like mine. 

9. Sweet Chestnut Honey, Dukkah, Lapsang Souchong

Ok so these are just ingredients that I really hope become more popular in 2012!  I am a huge fan of Sweet Chestnut Honey and use it in stews, deserts, drizzles, dressings you name it.  Its a powerful flavour so use sparingly.  I’m particularly fond of it on toast with a thin layer of Marmite but hey, thats just me.  Dukkah is another underrated kitchen staple.  Its ridiculously easy to make and roasted new potatoes or bread dipped into your favourite oil then into a crunchy Dukkah dip can’t be beaten.  I love making my own and throw plenty of nuts and seeds into the grinder with the spices. If you can’t be bothered to make your own then check out Gourmet Spice Co for some ready made pots of their Pukka Dukkah. I have also been having a bit of a love affair with smoked tea.  Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea that has been smoke-dried over pinewood therefore giving it an intense deep smokiness that is just wonderful in cooking.  A few strands make a world of difference to stews, spirits, deserts etc.  It really is worth spending the money on a good quality tea with thick strands.  A little goes a long way and stored in an airtight jar it lasts ages.

10 A few things I’d like to see the back of in 2012

Anything thats referred to as “deconstructed” on a menu. Keep the dish  but lose the name.

Restaurants pretending to love local, seasonal food but actually sneakily buying the vast majority in from abroad (a whole separate blog post coming soon, grrr).

Cupcake craziness (also Cakepops…why?).

People making restaurant reservations and then not bothering to turn up – wishful thinking to see the back of this one but Australian restaurants are making a Twitter stand against it by naming and shaming the offenders.

Sliders. I want my burger to be roughly half the size of my face thanks.  Keep mini-food to the canapé tray please.

Restaurants putting things on the plate that you can’t eat just for decoration.

So thats my 2 pennies worth of musings for 2012. I also think Dorset and Norfolk are going to be the really important food destinations outside of London in 2012 and people are going to be getting really heavily into home charcuterie. If you fancy trying your hand at it well I can’t recommend anyone better than Marc Frederic and his book  Le Charcutier Anglais. Overall I think its going to be an exciting year for food and drink.  Happy New Year! x

Wild Pollen and Jerusalem Artichoke Veloute

Someone said that the difference between Twitter and Facebook is that whilst Twitter makes you realise that there are loads of like minded people out there, Facebook makes you realise how different to you most of your friends are.  One of my favourite things about using Twitter is connecting/following/stalking/getting inspired by other people who share the passion for food as I do and I recently was introduced (on Twitter obviously) to @GlobalHarvest01.  I had planned on finding him at the BBC Good Food show but got somewhat waylaid by Compass Box Whisky and things were a little fuzzy after that. So, David Mason from Global Harvest being incredibly passionate about his wild pollens and being a really nice chap sent me a sample of each of his Wild Fennel and Wild Dill pollens to play with.

I have always been a fan of using the flower heads of fennel and dill in my cooking but had never thought about just using the dry pollen which has the really pure, intense flavour of its plant. Having virtually mugged the postman for them this morning (and scaring an elderly neighbour who was just posting a Christmas card through our letterbox)  I fancied a Jerusalem Artichoke veloutè as the experimental vehicle as I wanted to play around with some other ingredients too.  I decided upon the following core: Jerusalem Artichoke veloutè, Sweet Chestnut Honey, Truffle oil, the Fennel and Dill pollens.

For the veloutè I used:

6 very large Jerusalem Artichokes

1 pint chicken stock

3/4 pint milk

knob of butter

salt and pepper

Peel and chop the artichokes (pop them in lemony water to stop them turning brown whilst doing this) then add them to a pan with a knob of butter and sauté gently until soft and starting to caramelise. Add the chicken stock, and milk, bring back to just boiling then remove from heat and using a stick blender puree until all the artichoke lumps have completely gone, pass through a sieve then season to taste and blend again this time making sure you get plenty of air into the mix and the liquid is light and frothy. Thats my really simple version anyway.

Then the fun of playing with the different flavour combinations.

Truffle and wild Fennel pollen, Sweet Chestnut Honey and Dill pollen, Fennel, cream and Mustard cress.

I tried quite a few different variations of the 4 toppings to the earthy, frothy loveliness of the veloutè, for me the winners were the Truffle oil and Fennel pollen and the Sweet Chestnut honey drizzle and Dill pollen.

So that was today’s experiment. David assures me that the Fennel pollen is incredible when combined with a chocolate ganache so will be having a play with that too and the Dill pollen is screaming out for a cured salmon partnership so thats on the list too as is a gin based cocktail!

Rose and Cardamom Membrillo

I finally managed to visit the wonderful Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire the other day, what a great place! Among their fantastically stocked Farm Shop goodies were some of their own Quinces. I’m a huge fan of Membrillo (or Quince Cheese as its also known) but had never got around to making it so bought 3 large and 3 smallish quinces for this very purpose. It was only a flying visit as I was on my way to pick my other half up from hospital so will write more about this amazing place soon. Anyway, back to the Membrillo…

Having had a browse online for the various Membrillo recipes I figured the principle was simple: rinse and chop the quinces (skins, stones and all as this is where the pectin is) and put in a pan and just cover with water. I then added a cinnamon stick and wanting to add a vanilla pod, but finding that way too extravagant for this experiment (and my pocket), I added a cap of really good vanilla extract then brought the concoction to the boil and simmered for about 40mins until everything was mushy.  I tasted a spoonful of the water whilst this was going on- it was amazing so I had a hot cup of that whilst waiting. The smell of this quince mixture simmering away made the house smell far more Christmassy than I was prepared for and immediately prompted a quick Sherry. Once I was happy with the mushiness I got out my trusty stick blender and blended it to within an inch of its sticky life, pushed it through a sieve to get rid of the stones then popped it back in the pan with about a kilo of sugar (I tried weighing the mix as you should add roughly the same amount of sugar but my scales are rubbish,I never use them, so just guessed).

This then bubbled away for about 45mins and reduced until it was quite dense. I also managed to sustain a couple of vicious molten lava spits of sugary quince goo during this so just be aware of this and turn the heat down a bit rather than drinking too much Sherry and coating your hob, walls and self with orange burning splodge.

It was right about this point that I decided I would form a splinter pot of Rose and Cardamom Membrillo as it just seemed to make sense, so put a few ladles of the orange goop into a smaller saucepan, added a capful of rosewater, crushed a few cardamom pods and added the crushed black seeds to the mix. It instantly smelt amazing! I had a Sherry to celebrate my ingenuity.

This Sherry further inspired a third splinter goop pot.  Ages ago I had tried a baked fig ball and decided that this seemed like a great cheese accompaniment so raided the pantry and found figs, pistachios, some flaked almonds, walnuts and a few hazelnuts too.  I chopped up the figs then this all went into the mortar and was pestled until just broken up. Then I found a bottle of Ameretto and a glug of that went in, just because.

Splinter group nut and fig mix

So Quince Goop 1 was reducing and bubbling away nicely, spitting fiery venom around the kitchen, so I took a ladle full of this and mixed it in with the figgy mix and then squashed the mixture into a silicone mould that I had oiled. 1 down.

The Rose and Cardamom mix was getting really sticky so poured that into little silicone moulds too. 2 down. Had a Sherry to congratulate self.

I left the original mix to bubble away a little more. I was on a creative roll now and decided to sprinkle some edible glitter and a few walnut halves in the bottom of a few of the remaining silicone cups as I was feeling oh so Fabulous after all.

Once I thought things seemed OK-ish in went the bubbling quince paste and I left them to set overnight.  I would love to say the following morning that they were all beautifully set but my slapdash sugar antics meant that they were still a bit soft so I decided to just pop them out of their moulds back into the pan, add another half bag of sugar and bubble them away.  This is what I love about stuff like this, if you get it wrong it really doesn’t matter, just fix it. It did mean however, that the edible glitter was now scattered throughout the quince paste which I actually kind of liked.This then carried on gently bubbling for 30minutes then I poured the mix back into the cleaned and oiled moulds and this time they set perfectly. Phew. Sherry?

Mini Membrillos

So, I am left with 3 wonderful batches of quince goodies, The Figgy Quince Amaretto Nut Loaf which is not just great on a cheeseboard but I’m pretty sure you could probably survive on it if ever stuck on a mountain somewhere and its a lot nicer than Kendal Mint Cake.

The wonderful Rose and Cardamon Membrillo:

Figgy goodies and Rose Cardamon Membrillo

And the plain Membrillo ones are staying in their moulds until tomorrow when I wrap them and give them to my neighbours for Christmas. I’m nice like that.

The Plain Membrillo

Poached Ox tongue with Green Sauce and Lentils

I was getting a bit sad as I was buffeted along by the crowds of pushers and shovers that descended upon Melton Mowbray Victorian market yesterday.  Even a cup of overpriced mulled wine failed to cheer my spirits (possibly due to the 10minute wait for half a cup of gritty, dodgy drink).  Then from the corner of my eye I spotted the Robert Bowring stall, and on it a large “pickled Ox tongue” and my mood was instantly lifted!

The Butcher had already cured the tongue so after a few rinses I popped it in trusty slow cooker with a quartered onion,couple of carrots, garlic cloves, celery sticks, peppercorns , bay leaves and thyme and left it to work its magic.

Whilst the tongue was gently poaching I raided the herb garden for the green sauce. Lots of parsley, some fennel fronds, some mint and as my garden is still full of nasturtiums a good handful of leaves went in for a bit of extra punch.  4 cloves of grated garlic, a tin of anchovies in oil and a tablespoon of capers were added and everything pounded together with zest and juice of an unwaxed lemon, a good couple of glugs of olive oil and salt and pepper completed the sauce.

I am also addicted to celeriac remoulade at the moment so made a batch of that too. Just use a V-Slicer to turn a head of peeled celeriac into matchsticks and combine with mayonnaise, your favourite mustard (I go for a mixture of hot english and a mellower Djion), salt and pepper and chopped parsley.

Once poached the skin was peeled off and the tongue thinly sliced and served on a bed of Green Lentils. I ended up stirring a spoon of the green sauce through the Lentils and eating the tongue with the remoulade, that combination was just so good!

My partner's plate (flower just to annoy him)

Slow Cooker Smokey Ox Cheeks

Ox cheeks are another massively underrated cut of meat.  A good butcher will order you in some (they don’t get the beast’s head anymore). Generally muscles that do the most amount of work have the most amount of flavour but are tougher as a result of all the work they do, hence why a Beef fillet is very tender but low on flavour in comparison to say, a Rib Eye.  The cheeks need long, slow cooking so all that delicious flavour just melts in your mouth and it creates an unctuous gravy.

This is another really lazy recipe that lets the slow cooker do all the work. I get quite a few Ox cheeks in at a time and freeze them.  I find that if I put the frozen cheeks in the slow cooker then the onions and chickpeas still retain their bite despite the long cooking time, which is perfect, so I have written the recipe down exactly as I did it.  You can always use fresh ox cheeks dredged in seasoned flour and fry them (and the onions if you like) before you pop them in the slow cooker but I prefer the way that entails the least amount of washing up!

3 frozen ox cheeks

1 large onion

4 cloves garlic

1 x 400ml jar of passata (or tinned tomatoes if you prefer)

1 can cooked chickpeas

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 pinch good quality Lapsang Souchong strands (I had run out of Smoked Paprika)

1 pinch ground coriander

pinch cayenne pepper

salt and pepper

Squeeze of tomato puree (double concentrate)

1 tablespoon cornflour mixed to a paste with a little water

2 tablespoons Sweet Chestnut Honey (or any honey/golden caster sugar)

Cup of good beef stock to top up the slow cooker

Capful of good Balsamic vinegar

Just throw it all in your slow cooker in the morning and by dinner time the ox cheeks will be meltingly gorgeous and the sweet, smoky gravy will be divine! If just before serving you want your gravy more concentrated just ladle out some of the liquid into a pan, reduce to intensify then pop back in the slow cooker.

I served it with homemade wholemeal Dukkah bread and an almond Chermoula dip:


Chermoula is a Moroccan marinade but for me its an amazing dip for bread as I really love strong, punchy  flavours.  Sometimes  I mellow it out with ground almonds as today:

6 cloves garlic finely grated on a microplane

zest and juice of 3 unwaxed lemons

heaped teaspoon ground coriander

heaped teaspoon ground cumin

pinch of ground Sumac

pinch cayenne pepper (depending on hot you like things)

teaspoon sweet paprika

Pinch of Rose and Coriander salt (From Gourmet Spice but any flaked sea salt will be fine)

Ground black pepper to taste

finely chopped fresh coriander

2 tablespoons ground almonds

Enough olive oil (rapeseed if you prefer) to loosen the mix

I add a couple drops of water just to get the right consistency without using too much oil

Just, mix everything together in a bowl and you are done!  I usually sprinkle the top of the dip with some of my homemade Super Dukkah (recipe also features in the January issue of Great Food Magazine) to give a bit of crunch.  All the quantities can be varied to suit your taste and what dish its accompanying, no rules just make what tastes good to you really.


Sprats are one of our most underrated fishy treats and whats even better is they are ridiculously cheap (about £2.99/Kg) which really appeals to me!

Sprats are so easy to prepare, just cut behind the head from the backbone almost all the way then pull your knife and the head away to the side and this will then pull the small amount of innards out.  No worries if they don’t all come out you can still just slit the belly and remove that way. Then just coat in seasoned flour, dip in beaten egg then into breadcrumbs and deep fry.  They are so small they only take about 30 seconds.

Serve with some homemade Tartare Sauce, crisp green salad, a wedge of lemon and a glass or two of chilled white wine. A Cheap, easy and bloody lovely supper.