Foodies Festival 2013

Another year, another wonderful day out at the Foodies Festival!

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This is the third year in a row we’ve been to a Foodies Festival! Last year we went to Brighton and in 2011 we went to Hampton Court Palace for the first time and absolutely loved it.

This years second May Bank Holiday (seriously, what was all that about?) loomed quickly and without warning and I completely ran out of time to arrange any fun activities for us. We’re a bit skint at the moment as 90% of our disposable income is whisked away into our Florida savings account every month, so we aren’t left with very much. Obviously I’m not complaining about this as a Floriday is the number 1 thing to save for, in my humble opinion, but it does leave us with very little leeway for doing anything else the rest of the year. (In case you’re wondering, the other 10% of mine goes on ribeye steak and Ben’s probably goes on Strongbow.) So the Bank Holiday was stretching out ahead of me, three looooong days of sunshine, with the slightly depressing knowledge that we had absolutely nothing planned. We managed to scrounge together some friends on the Saturday and had a very enjoyable day but Sunday dawned with nothing planned and I was still keen for some proper Bank Holiday fun. Straight onto Twitter and Facebook it was then and by 10am I’d found what I thought was the perfect solution – Foodie’s Festival was tweeting a link to their ticket website! However, 10am was a smidge late to be getting up, getting ready and driving to London for the day with enough time to make the most of the tickets. Sunday was promising the better weather but Monday was looking a lot more feasible for us so we plumped for that. Two tickets were purchased at a 2 for 1 rate thanks to my extraordinary ability to find cheap tickets for events online and we were all set!

We had a really lovely day at the festival and I was so glad we’d got cheap tickets. The weather was gorgeous, the crowds were at an acceptable level and most importantly, there was an absolute ton of free food. Winner!

I took my new SLR like a real food blogger to document the day. Here are some highlights!

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Car slash bar. Can’t go wrong. Unfortunately I was driving so couldn’t partake in any alcoholic beverages but Benj, bless his soul, took one for the team and forced a few down.

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He looooooved this Dorset Cider. I loved the rudimentary signs!

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One of the many, many cheese tasting stalls. You could tell which ones were most generous with the samples by the amount of people swarming around in the front like milk-starved puppies.

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Raclette! Always wanted to try it but never have! It looked delicious but I just wasn’t feeling the price tag. Anything that involves meat, potato and melted cheese is a sure winner though, no?

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This was the tagine stall. There was a mixture of stalls selling products and offering free samples, versus the actual food vendors who were just selling ready-to-eat food. I loved them both equally, in different ways. We chuckled at this one as it was painfully obvious which of the massive pans of tagine were vegetarian! Bless them for trying 😦 I told Benj to get some because I felt bad for the guys cooking it but he wasn’t feeling it.

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One of the many, many, MANY oil stalls. These were my absolute favourite genre of stall; I could quite happily just eat bread and oil/balsamic vinegar for the rest of my life so I was a happy bunny whenever we stumbled upon one of these. Ben, on the other hand, was pretty much over oil by about 3/4 of the way through the festival and said he might be physically sick if he had any more. Oil fatigue. It happens.

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This was the English Provender Company stall and we got really excited when we realised we actually had some of these chutneys in our fridge! We’ve tried the caramelised onion one and the fig and pear one at Christmas and we loved both, so delicious! Chutney was probably second after oil in terms of market saturation at the festival but again, I’m a big chutney fan so I was all over it.

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We were passing the Baking Theatre at about 12pm and I dragged Benj to a couple of seats after realising the next demonstration involved savoury baked goods! We aren’t really sweet people so I wasn’t expecting to get involved with the Baking Theatre but I could not pass up the chance to get involved with savoury food. Excitement levels were quite high as we waited for it to start and I excitedly whispered to Ben, ‘it’s like Food Network right in front of me!’

Our demonstration was run by a really lovely lady called Christine Videl who owns Made In Provence, a company that sells jams, chutneys and other traditional produce, handmade by local artisans in a small area of Provence near where she grew up. Christine cooked cheesy twists, strawberry and rosemary pavlova and rosemary biscuits in the short time she was in the theatre. I loved listening to her stories and seeing her prepare the food and the smell of the cheesy twists baking was just incredible! I thought the demonstration was really well set up too, with TV screens behind Christine showing her work surface so we didn’t miss anything. I was impressed by how quickly she whipped up the three items and we will probably recreate the cheesy twists at some point; shop-bought puff pastry, gruyere cheese and olive tapenade were all united in about 4 minutes to create a really rather majestic savoury nibble. We were invited to try the recipes Christine created and it was a bit of a bunfight but I managed to snag the last piece. Result!

We ended our day with a little sit down on the lawn near the front entrance of the festival, where they had bands and singers performing on the stage.

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Although I wasn’t technically meant to be spending any money, I really am powerless in the face of posh food and money seems to be no object when it comes to trying new and exciting culinary treats. Here are the goodies we purchased throughout the day, lovingly arranged on our kitchen counter when we got home.

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From left: Chan Cham hot sauce (Ben’s contribution) BLACK TRUFFLE OIL, garlic oil, Joe and Sephs Feta and Italian Herb popcorn (!) and our evening snack, the oils arranged on a plate with olives and pita.

Can you tell from my description which item I was most excited for? Tough, isn’t it!

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I’d never tried truffle oil before but I’d aaaaalways wanted to and I was so excited to see it on one of the oil stalls. I dipped a cube of bread into the little dish and pretty much died and went to heaven. I’d never tried anything like it, what an incredible taste! I bought a tiny bottle of it for £5 which I thought was quite reasonable as it will last a long time. I chatted to the guy for a while about the different uses for the oil and he recommended a few drops in mashed potato which sounds fantastic! I do need to buy a potato ricer before I try that though, lumpy mash with truffle oil!? Sacrilege!

We had a fantastic day at the Foodie’s Festival and will no doubt be returning to one of the locations next year. We’re actually off to London tomorrow for the V Delicious Vegetarian exhibition (exciting!) and the FF is on Clapham Common! Tempting to pop in for a few samples but hopefully the V Delicious exhibition will keep us busy 🙂

Water Margin Chinese Restaurant and Takeaway – North Baddesley

We have been going to this Chinese restaurant for a few years now and have yet to have a bad experience. The food is always hot and tasty, the service is adequate and although I have to drive and can’t have a drink with dinner, the restaurant is not too far away. Every lunchtime and evening (apart from Fridays and Saturdays) the restaurant serves a ‘Grand Buffet’ which is £16.95 per person for dinner and a bit cheaper at lunch. Considering all the food is cooked fresh and brought to your table (none of this getting up out of your seat nonsense!) we believe this is a bargain. In most Chinese restaurants the food has been sat out for an unimaginable amount of time and you have to just grin and bear the luke-warm spring rolls, cold noodles and vomit-inducing film across the top of the sweet and sour sauce. Ergh. At Water Margin, you sit on your bottom for a pleasant couple of hours and people will just bring you food, it’s fantastic. It’s eat as much as you like, but they prefer you to finish all the food you’ve got before you order more, which is fair enough and avoids the ‘eyes bigger than belly’ symptoms I often suffer from when visiting buffets.

We did actually have one very awkward experience with this restaurant, which has remained a secret between myself and Benjamin for many months now…but it is time the world knew.

So we rocked up one Friday night, craving prawn gyoza and salt and pepper mushrooms and ready to have a bloody good time. We were welcomed into the restaurant, seated and handed the menus. The waiter took our drinks order and disappeared to bring back our delightful non-alcoholic beverages. What followed is something that to this day we absolutely crack up at, but also makes me shiver in a mortified, kill-me-now kind of way. A few moments passed as we perused the menu before Ben piped up ‘Where’s the buffet menu, I can’t see it?’ My whole life flashed before me as I realised the buffet menu was nowhere in sight and we were in fact looking at the A La Carte menu, currently showing prices of around £30 per person. My mind racing, I remembered it was a Friday and the horrible realisation that they DO NOT DO THE BUFFET ON FRIDAYS hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew we had mere moments before the waiter returned and as embarrassing as this is, we were absolutely skint and could not afford £30 each for dinner – we could barely afford £16 each but we’d had been saving up for this special treat 😦 My mind was made up, we had to leave. I looked at Ben and I could see he was on the same page as me. I chucked the menu full of expensive food on the table, grabbed my coat and bag and power walked out the restaurant, avoiding any eye-contact with staff. We hopped in the car and revved out the carpark, pausing only when we’d gone a safe distance down the road to discuss our options. We ended up driving home, parking and walking to the local pub where we spent £10 on two burgers. CHEAP. SKATES.

That was a couple of years ago now though and although I couldn’t say with all honesty I wouldn’t have done the same a month ago, we are slightly more accepting of expensive food now and in fact recently spent £1o0 on dinner at JW Steakhouse in London for my birthday. This is a fantastic restaurant by the way and probably my favourite dinner in the UK 🙂 (American restaurants always top this list and I imagine will continue to do so as we continue to visit!!)

ANYWAY. A couple of weeks ago we decided to treat ourselves to dinner here one Sunday night, having not spent a penny for the previous 2 or 3 weekends due to buying stuff for our new flat. We arrived for dinner about 7.30 and were seated immediately in a pretty empty restaurant which grew increasingly busier during our visit.

We ordered a diet coke and a beer from our surly waiter – the service here is not at all fantastic and generally, grumpy is as good as you’re going to get. It doesn’t bother us at all as we go for the noms but you have been warned! There is a bowl of prawn crackers on your table as you sit down which I try very hard not to nibble at and generally fail.

Our attention then turned to the Grand Buffet menu which really is a beautiful sight. I absolutely LOVE seafood and they have all manner of king prawn and squid dishes. If you come for lunch though, most of these aren’t included 😦 So go for dinner!! Alternatively, if you aren’t a cheapskate like us and want a little treat, the non-buffet menus include scallops, seabass, lobster and oysters! *makes mental note to save up* They also have looaaads of meaty and veggie options so something for everyone really. The idea is that you order a number of starters to share, then a mid-course of crispy duck pancakes or similar, then your main courses. It is a lot of food and a few times we’ve been, I’ve got so carried away with the starters that I end up too full for my main course. A hazard of the game but one I struggle to avoid.

We each ordered 4 starters, specifying that Ben was vegetarian so they wouldn’t come all jumbled up on one platter, chicken splayed on top of tofu and meat juices soaking into seaweed.

I ordered (clockwise, from top) Grilled Pork Dumplings, Chinese Style Spare Rib, Salt and Pepper Squid and Salt and Pepper Prawns. The chunk of green on the right is just a garnish, obviously I didn’t eat that.

This was all wonderful, as ever. My favourite is the salt and pepper squid, SO GOOD!! Everything was crazy hot and tasted fresh and I was very pleased with my choices.

Benji ordered (clockwise, from top) Crispy Seaweed, Vegetable Spring Roll, Salt and Pepper Mushrooms and Vegetable Wonton. Ben would like me to add that the mushrooms are ‘the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten.’ Quite the accolade! If I ever want to go to this restaurant, I mention the salt and pepper mushrooms and he’s instantly keen.

After we had finished our starters, we have a brief conversation about ordering more. I wanted to, as messing about with loads of different little bits and bobs is my perfect meal. However, it is a shame I can never order a main course at this restaurant and I was feeling quite satisfied. So, I very bravely resisted the urge to order more salt and pepper squid and instead we turned our attention to the next course, variations of duck pancakes.

I chose the Mongolian Lamb with lettuce wraps, AKA the light option! Well not really, but I can kid myself. Benji ordered his usual, Mock Duck with plum sauce and pancakes. It’s very cool that they do mock duck here and he really loves it.

Our waitress bought us a serving tray with a lit candle underneath, to keep the food hot. Our intermediate courses arrived a few minutes later.

Mock Duck on the left, crispy lamb on the right.

The lettuce wraps and sauce for my lamb.

I really enjoyed this course and was glad we’d ordered it. The lettuce wraps were crisp and fresh and the perfect shape to wrap tightly around the lamb and sauce. It was a bit messy as the sauce is thin (in a good way) but I just went with it and ate each wrap slightly quicker than the last, to avoid it all falling apart. Ben enjoyed his wraps too and it was nice for him to have the lovely flavours of crispy duck wraps without the meat. I’d love to recreate this at home one day but I’ve not had much luck tracking down mock duck – I can only find the tinned stuff which is rubbery and glutinous and not really what I’m aiming for.

Next, we quickly ordered our main courses as we were becoming painfully aware of our dwindling stomach space. I should really have called it a night here as I was already feeling very full but I cleverly managed to ignore this and order 2 dishes anyway. Plus another appetizer on the side. And half of Ben’s rice and noodles. Good one Lib.

I chose Honey Roast Duck which was amazing, and Satay Chicken which was also lovely but has somehow managed to avoid being photographed. Slippery devil that Satay Chicken. I also ordered a serving of Smoked Chicken from the appetisers menu because I quite fancied it.

I instantly realised my error when the duck arrived and it was an entire breast. A huge, beautiful, glistening breast of duck. In normal circumstances this would have been a fantastic turn up for the books but instead I started worrying about getting told off and possibly charged for all the duck breast I was going to leave. Eeek!!

Doesn’t it look magnificent though?

Ben ordered Sweet and Sour Vegetables with cashew nuts, and Bean Curd with Green Pepper and Black Bean Sauce. Bean curd is tofu, and it is delicious at this restaurant. We can never achieve that texture at home so it’s nice to have it out sometimes. We also got noodles and egg fried rice to share which you can see in the backgrounds! Both lovely and nice to break up the meat and veggies a bit.

My alarmingly coloured Smoked Chicken. It was very nice though!

I feel pretty knackered just writing up this multi-course feast so I can only imagine how we were feeling at this point. This really was a lot of food, but what a bargain for £16.95 each! I’m sure you can see why we go to this restaurant. The bill came to under £40 and we left feeling absolutely stuffed and about ready to cry, but very happy. I love this restaurant and whole-heartedly recommend the buffet if you fancy some delicious, fresh chinese food at a great price.

Remember, don’t visit on a Friday or Saturday though!!

Ode To Steak With Blue Cheese Sauce

I’ve got a serious, chronic, all-encompassing addiction to steak, with blue cheese sauce.

Steak without blue cheese sauce, is, at this moment in time, unfathomable. It has to have blue cheese sauce. It’s got to the point now where not only am I ordering it every time I see it on the menu, but I am also only choosing to eat at places if they have it on the menu. Not ideal when I share my meals on my food blog, as they are all starting to look verryyyyy similar. I’m not sure how long this addiction will last but it’s been about a year now and my need for SWBCS (see what I did there?) is still relentless. I’ve pretty much just embraced it and accepted that the moment will pass, in time.

I never used to like blue cheese. Ironically, I often find that I don’t actually like the cheese itself, on it’s own. I much prefer it in sauce form. Sometimes I find it too strong and overpowering – obviously when combined with cream it becomes milder and much less ‘blue.’ This was confirmed in a sandwich I bought in America last year –  the ‘beef and bleu’ sub from the Artists Palette quick service restaurant at Saratoga Springs Resort in Disneyworld. I took one bite and tragically had to throw it away because the cheese was strong and almost bitter, overpowering everything else in the sandwich. Yuck! Guess I’m not as big a blue cheese fan as I thought.

The first time I had steak with blue cheese sauce was at The Barleycorn Inn, in Bishops Waltham. They used to have an ever-changing menu of exciting dishes and the steaks in particular always featured different toppings and sauces. I didn’t fancy anything else off the menu that evening so took a gamble on the ‘bacon wrapped, blue cheese topped’ variety, figuring I could always scrape the blue cheese off if it was a disaster. I was pretty excited for the bacon wrapped concept though, how often do you get the chance to eat bacon wrapped steak!? When it arrived and I started eating, I was blown away. The steak was wrapped in a generous portion of thickly sliced back bacon, seared to perfection while keeping the steak inside juicy and tender. Slabs of blue cheese were nestled underneath the bacon, infusing the steak with melted, cheesy goodness. The whole dish was also topped with a creamy, mild blue cheese sauce. It was ALMOST a blue cheese overdose but I was so enamoured with the flavours that I ate the whole thing, squealing with joy at every bite. Everytime we went back to the Barleycorn I hoped to order that dish again but unfortunately, their ever-changing menu meant I never got the bacon-wrapped version again, only the blue cheese sauce topped. Still delicious, but not the same! Although that does make my memory of that one meal extra special, in a nostalgic, reminiscing kind of way.

Since that first experience, I’ve ordered SWBCS a LOT.

Here are some of the S’sWBCS I’ve enjoyed 🙂 There are more not pictured!

The Orange Tree, Paignton

Shamblehurst Barn, The Hungry Horse (not good…)

Piccola Roma, Bishops Waltham (#1)

Piccola Roma, Bishops Waltham (#2!)

Enzo Italian, Weymouth

Slack photo taking but this was from The Ship Inn, Weymouth!

Last but not least, SWBCS cooked by my own wonderful father! He knows how keen I am on the combo so fired up the BBQ one night last month when the weather was nice and surprised me with my favourite meal. What a treat! It tasted amazing and I had deep discussions with him about how to achieve a restaurant quality steak, at home. I was starting to realise how expensive my addiction was becoming and while I believe in treating oneself once in a while, going out especially for one dish was becoming a bit excessive! The average cost of a SWBCS, in my experience, is £16/17. Oops! He cooked our steaks on the BBQ so the heat was high enough to sear the outside while keeping the meat tender and juicy. Perfectly medium rare, just how I like them, with delicious sweet potato wedges on the side. Pretty much my ideal summer meal!

One Saturday night a couple of weeks ago, I decided the time was right to attempt SWBCS at home. I purchased a Tesco Finest ribeye steak which cost about £5, not bad I thought considering how much they cost in restaurants. I was just nervous about potentially ruining such a lovely piece of meat so tensions were running high! I was googling blue cheese sauce recipes on my iPhone whilst wandering around Tesco to buy ingredients, when I came across the answer to all my problems. I never know which blue cheese I’m not keen on – I think I like dolcelette so was preparing to buy that. However, I was ever so slightly dreading making the sauce whilst simultaneously ensuring my steak was cooked perfectly, it was all getting to be a bit too much for my first ever steak attempt! Multi-tasking in the kitchen doesn’t normally bother me and in actual fact I enjoy the challenge of bringing a meal together so I think it was just the fact that I’d spent £5 on this steak that was affecting me…

While I was Googling, a hit appeared for possibly my favourite food item on earth, Creme de St Agur, explaining that a simple blue cheese sauce could be made just by heating the dip up! GENIUS! I can’t believe we’ve never done this before, we always just serve it cold with crisps and nibbles. It was like a whole other world of warm, cheese based snacks was suddenly introduced to me. Decision made, I dumped the dolcelette and grabbed a tub of my good friend Mr Agur.

Back home, preparations began for the steak. We were actually staying in my brothers flat for the weekend to look after his kitten and I was slightly concerned at the lack of ventilation as I knew things were going to get smoookkkeeeyyy! We placed the kitten in the bedroom for the few moments the steak was cooking so that we could crack the window right open. I heated up a grill pan to the very highest it would go and watched it smoke, trying to ignore the fact this goes against everything I’ve ever been told about cooking. The steak went on the pan with an almighty sizzle and I let it cook for 2.5 minutes before flipping it over. It had impressive sear marks which I was pleased with and it was smelling great. I heated up the St Agur in a pan and served my potato wedges onto the plate. Once another 2.5 minutes had gone by I bit the bullet and placed it on the plate. I’d rather have it slightly too rare than overcooked and I knew it’d keep cooking once it was on the plate. I spooned a very generous amount of Creme de St Agur over it and left it to rest for a couple of minutes while we let the smoke disappear. It actually didn’t get as smokey as I’d been led to believe through reading online, so that was great. I still wouldn’t recommend doing this in a tiny enclosed kitchen though and it would definately be easier on a BBQ. Once the smoke had all but gone I left the extractor fan on, closed the window and let the kitten back in. We were ready to eat! Obviously, Ben politely declined the steak and instead opted for wedges and Quorn meatballs, with BBQ sauce. A winning combination.

I was so excited and nervous to cut into my steak and see how it had fared during the cooking process. The result? An unprecedented success!

These photos are awful because I was so eager to eat that I didn’t really play about with angles or shots or anything…but you get the gist.

The sauce was INCREDIBLE but the blinding white colour was ever so slightly off-putting – I think I’d prefer a pale, creamy yellow if I was being really picky. The flavour was spot on though, the best blue cheese sauce I’ve ever had I think. Probably because it was just melted cheese and cream. Or liquid fat, if you will. Using Creme de St Agur is an excellent lazy-boy option for blue cheese sauce and I really recommend it. The website advises using a microwave but I heated it gently in a saucepan and it was perfect.

    

I tried valiantly to show the colour of the inside and how tender the meat was but the urge to pick it up and shove it in my face was too strong. Trust me when I say, it was medium rare. Success! So, 2.5 minutes on each side of a 1.5/2 inch piece of meat really will produce a medium rare steak. You can see in the below photograph how juicy and moist it was – the juices mingled with the sauce to create a really quite magnificent meeting of meat and dairy.

This meal was OUTSTANDING. I am thrilled that I can now recreate almost-restaurant quality steak at home and it really is very easy. Obviously I’ll still be ordering it when we go out to nice restaurants but perhaps I’ll be able to order something different if we go to a bog standard pub, as I now know I can make it at home just as well, if not better.