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 🙂

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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.

Foodies Festival – Brighton

One sunny afternoon in May, myself and Ben had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Foodies Festival, on Hove Lawns in Brighton. It was an unseasonably warm day, and strolling around tasting food and drinking wine was pretty much my ideal scenario. We visited the London Foodies Festival last year and had a really lovely day so we were hoping for a repeat experience!

We arrived about 1pm and started exploring all the different stalls and stands. On first glance it seemed to be smaller than the Hampton Court one, but we soon realised it stretched down the Lawns a lot further than we thought and there really was plenty to see.

We immediately saw a stand we wouldn’t be able to bypass. It was probably the loudest stall in the festival, with two Jamaican guys loudly singing and shouting about the product. Which was…rum filled coconuts!! I’m not even joking.

I love Ben’s hair in this photo. Unfortunately it’s not actually this Elvis-esque, it was just fairly windy down on the seafront.

Each coconut cost an eye-wateringly 8 which I was finding quite difficult to come to terms with, until I saw the amount of rum we were given! The guy very cleverly sliced the top off the coconut and twisted the knife so it created a ‘lid.’ He then stuck two straws in it and handed it to us to ‘make room for the rum”! I love this guy! We sipped some of the liquid and it really was the most intense, fresh coconut taste. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to put rum in it because it tasted so amazing! But Ben was having none of that and handed the coconut back to the man who poured a VERY generous slug of rum into it. He asked Ben if that was strong enough and handed it to him, who quick as lighteneing said ‘a bit more wouldn’t hurt!’ Oooh he’s a cheeky boy. So we then got another slug of rum. It was super strong but you could still taste the lovely coconut juice. Great way to kick-off our afternoon of eating and drinking!

We finished our coconut in approximately 30 seconds and began our logical walk around the stalls, planning to see every single one and sample anything we could!

There were a tremendous amount of samples available which was fabulous and we were able to try lots of new and exciting food items we may not have bought or ordered in a restaurant.

One stall we visited no less than 3 times was the lady selling freshly squeezed lemonade. Ben got one first and I scoffed at him because it was non-alcoholic and one of the reasons we went to the Brighton festival rather than the London one was because we could get the train so I could have a drink! However, the sun was beating down on us, it was absolutely boiling and my need for liquid refreshment was becoming a regular thing. So having tried Ben’s lemonade and experiencing the wonder for myself, I doubled back and bought one. And then another one an hour later. The lady had an old-fashioned lemonade press and I chatted to her for a while about where she got it from as I decided I needed one in my life! Unfortunately it seems she had it specially made and shipped over from America so I’m guessing it’s not in our price range. The lemonade was fantastic though, consisting of freshly squeezed lemons, sugar syrup and ice. Amazing!

This stall was selling the most amazing combo salad dressing / marinade / dipping sauces! We dipped some french bread into a couple of the varieties and immediately placed an order for both bottles! I bought the lemon and black pepper and Ben got lime and ginger. I’ve used the lemon and black pepper one as a marinade on barbecued chicken and it was delicious. Good buy!

Now, this next stall was one of the highlights of the day. It was a guy called Pete who specialises in hot chilli sauces. Hence, Chill Pepper Pete. Genius!

Pete was flaunting his wares and offering the crowd samples of the various levels of hot sauce. Ben is a bit of a chilli-head and if there is the option to add spice to an edible item, he will take it. He went for the hottest sauce, ‘Devils Blood.’

This was moments before it all kicked off. I’ve never seen him react so violently, or so quickly! His face immediately went a concerning shade of maroon and his eyes started watering profusely. I was quite alarmed and guided us away from the chilli sauce stall and over to a free spot of grass where he could regain his composure. Trouble was, the chilli sauce was clearly still reacting quite dramatically with his body and he didn’t fully recover until a good half hour later! He kept saying ‘my tongue is still on fire. still, on fire.’ Bless!

He needed something to soothe his burning face and an ice cold sorbet seemed like it would do the trick. He got a scoop of raspberry and I was very impressed as it matched the shade of my nail varnish perfectly! Which warranted a photo, obviously. Girls, eh!?

We finished up our stroll around the stalls, picking up samples here and there, notably this little lovely which was a cheese and spinach empanada! Delicious.

We then decided to make the effort and check out the star of the day, Mr Lloyd Grossman himself, who was doing cooking demonstrations throughout the day in a marquee in the middle of the festival. We tried to book seats for the event when the booth opened at 1pm but the queue was snaking round back through the entrance so we left it. When we walked past just before the demonstration was due to start, there were free seats! Score! I was so excited to see the legend that is Lloyd Grossman that I took a ton of photos just of him, before the cooking had even started. I will share just one, for your viewing pleasure. He was wearing a stunning hat!

The cooking was done by what seemed to be Lloyds right-hand man, a lovely guy who was genuinly passionate about Lloyd’s range of supermarket products. He cooked spinach and ricotto gnocci and mushroom risotto, both of which we got to taste at the end and were declared delicious!

As the cooking demonstration came to an end we made our way out of the marquee and back to the stage to check out what was happening. As we got closer I nearly wet myself as I could see a figure on the stage who had the potential to make this Foodies Festival one of the best days of 2012!

MARILYN MONROE!!

Or, a lady who looked a LOT like her and was an excellent all-round performer. She sang, she danced, she chatted with the crowd and got everyone singing along. She was brilliant! She was also joined on-stage by none other than ELVIS PRESLEY who performed some songs with her and also did his own set. The atmosphere was brilliant and I was absolutely loving life – if you haven’t guessed I absolutely love all things Elvis and Marilyn so it was such a treat to see these two tribute acts…especially when I wasn’t expecting to!

We grabbed some snacks and drinks and settled down to watch the show.

Strawberry and Lime cider! A must-have.

This was Ben’s snack of choice! A delicious grilled halloumi salad from a stall specialising in exciting and unusual salad combos.  The lovely recycled cardboard box was stuffed with a plethora of yummies including edamame, watermelon, cous cous and seeds. He really enjoyed this and it was the perfect antidote to his hot-sauce hangover.

I was absolutely stuffed from all the nibbling and lemonade-downing I’d been doing so opted for a lighter choice – satay chicken skewers. Anything that is essentially marinated in peanut butter is a winner in my book so these went down a treat.

This was our view! It was such a gorgeous day, we were very lucky.

Finally, the cherry on the top of my day…I got to meet Marilyn!!

Perfect summers day – great food, great drink and fabulous entertainment. We will definitely be attending the Foodies Festival again next year!

Mr Miles Tea Rooms – Taunton

We recently went to visit some friends for the weekend in Taunton, Somerset. The friends in question, Victoria and Ian, are equally Disney and Florida obsessed and myself and Toria in fact met on a forum for people planning their Florida holidays…cooo-el. We planned to meet up in Florida last year as we were out there at the same time and wanted to watch an Orlando Magic basketball game together (they also LOVE basketball!) Unfortunately the NBA lock-out happened and the basketball game didn’t but we arranged to meet up for dinner anyway….we got on like an absolute house on fire and the rest, as they say, is history! Fast forward to modern day – I’m a bridesmaid at their wedding next year, Ben is an usher and we’re all going to Florida again after the wedding! What a beautiful story. So, now you know the background and you can feel like you were in the tearooms with us.

They wanted to give us a real ‘taste of Somerset’ and the obvious choice for this was a proper cream tea in a lovely quaint setting. The chosen venue was Mr Miles Tea Rooms on Taunton high street. I was very excited!

(Photo taken from the Mr Miles website, I forgot to take an exterior shot!)

We arrived at the tearooms about 1.30 and there was a queue out the door! Eek! The team at the door was taking peoples names and asking them to wait inside the shop (cunning!) until a table became available. It seemed to be all kicking off a bit and in fact the gentleman in front of us got quite shirty when he was asked to stand aside, declaring he wanted to be ‘next in line actually!’ The lady explained he really was next in line and she wasn’t asking him to leave. Awkward. We gave our name and shuffled into the teeny tiny giftshop adjacent to the tea rooms. It was really lovely inside with lots to look at and keep us amused while we waited.

I pretty much fell in love with everything and made mental notes about a few potential ‘new flat items.’ After about 15 minutes of shop browsing and stomach grumbling a very nice lady came up to us and said she had a table just about to be free if we didn’t mind sitting on comfy chairs. Was this a trick question!? We enthusiastically agreed and were led upstairs and through the tea rooms to our table. On our way through I couldn’t help but notice a man tucking into a huge slab of cheesy, toasted bread that looked pretty incredible. I decided to figure out what this was and order it myself.

We got a great little spot in the corner; a long coffee table with four comfy armchairs overlooking the high street! We were very pleased and it didn’t feel like we waited long at all really.

We were bought menus that I was immediately taken with – tall, thin pamphlets in Tiffany blue with lovely typography and gold embossing, they bought out my inner graphic design geek!

We ordered drinks that included diet cokes, tea and organic cider and perused the menu. I immediately spotted the dish I had seen earlier so was able to make possibly my quickest menu decision to date. The other guys chose their dishes and we sat back and waited for our feast to arrive.

And a feast it was! We were impressed with the portion sizes here for what were very reasonable prices.

I ordered Mrs Miles Rarebit – Doorstep whole-grain bread topped with a blend of Somerset ham, local mature Cheddar cheese, brown ale, mustard and brown sauce, grilled until golden, served with mixed green salad and seasoned roast potatoes. Obviously, you can see why I ordered it. There was also a veggie version minus the ham but I seized the opportunity to meatify it.

The rarebit was really lovely with a rich, cheesy sauce and strong mustard flavour. It was a huge portion with a really quite deceptive amount of bread. I really enjoyed the side salad too which had a sweet honey mustard dressing drizzled over.

Ben ordered Hummus and Vegetables – Lime and coriander houmus topped with a selection of warm roasted vegetables, which came as an open sandwich and looked very impressive.

He loved this and said it was flavourful and well seasoned and made a change from the usual veggie fare he receives in places not really geared up for vegetarians.

Victoria was the only one who actually ordered a cream tea! Shame on the rest of us! She went for the classic Cream Tea – two homemade fruit or plain scones served with local preserves and a pot of clotted cream served with tea or coffee. The scones were generously sized with lots of plump sultanas which went perfectly with the jam and clotted cream. (They weren’t as huge as the ones at my Dad’s tea rooms, Pollys Pantry though I’m afraid 😉 )

Ian chose the Brunch Sandwich – A hearty artisan roll layered with Grilled English smoked bacon, local ‘Proper Job’ sausage and a free range eggs served with seasoned roast potatoes. As is the recurring theme in this post, he really enjoyed his dish too. It certainly looked like an impressive sandwich and I almost wish I’d chosen it myself!

We also ordered two servings of garlic bread to share amongst the table and I’m afraid there isn’t a photograph of these, as they were eaten within about 10 seconds of being placed on the table. We all like our garlic bread. A lot.

By the time we finished our lunch, Mr Miles’ was a lot quieter and more relaxed so evidently their busyness depends on the time of day you go – Saturday lunch time is very busy! Mine and Ben’s share of the bill came to about £20 which we thought was very good for the quality of food served and the pretty surroundings. All the food was home-cooked and fresh and we all liked that the meat etc appeared to be sourced locally, always a nice touch. If you do visit, make sure you check out the gift shop too as they really do sell some lovely bits in there.

Felicity’s Farm Shop

Sunday had arrived, the weekend was over and we were on our way back from Paignton *sob.* It was a long old drive, just over 3 hours, so we needed to stop at some point to refuel and stretch our legs. As we drove along the A35 we both spotted an awesome looking sign for a Farm Shop and decided to stop even though we’d only been driving about 45 minutes. Sometimes you just have to seize these opportunities and we could tell this was going to be a corker of a motorway stop.

We’re actually quite spoiled as we’ve been to the ‘best service station in the UK‘ numerous times, the infamous Tebay Services which is on the way to Ben’s grandparents house in Cumbria. If you haven’t been to this amazing place Google it, it’s a life-changer! We always spend ages in there trying to decide what to get because there’s just so much choice – a hot buffet with soup, roast dinners, casseroles and lasagnas; a sandwich bar with freshly made baguesttes and paninis; deli counters, an olive bar and a cheese counter! Not to mention the huge shop which sells pretty much every type of organic packaged food you could ever want! It is seriously the best place to stop on any motorway EVER, a far cry from a stale Ginsters pasty and a bottle of coke!

Right I need to calm down and focus on the place we actually visited. Felicity’s Farm Shop is located, according to their website, on the A35 between Bridport and Charmouth West Dorset. We parked in the big car park outside and were immediately wowed by the incredible view. They really have got a great spot here!

We walked into what seemed to be a huge barn and I could tell we were going to love it here because they had free samples of crisps on a counter right by the entrance. Free samples = living the dream.

We just wandered around for a while checking out all the cool stuff they had. I swear I prefer looking around food shops more than clothes shops sometimes. It’s very odd.

They had lots of cute little organic and local brands that we hadn’t seen before, alongside some of the bigger, usual brands. There was a section of fresh fruit and vegetables if you wanted to do your weekly shop! Nice place to do it! They also had a garden centre attached to the shop! Seriously covering all the bases here.

There were fridges filled with local cheeses, pate, pies and cuts of meat. I spotted a peanut butter chocolate cheesecake which was pretty much all my Christmasses as once! I refrained from buying it though as few things are more diet unfriendly than peanut butter chocolate cheesecake.

We then got excited because we saw the range of ready-to-eat snacks and it was game on! We’d only had our Travelodge buffet breakfast a few hours before but it was definitely time for lunch. Ben chose a roasted vegetable pasty which was huge and delicious. He loves a good pastry-based snack and this offering was one of the best.

I chose an item from the hot counter at the back of the shop – caramelised tomato and feta tart tatin. This was under 2 pounds which I thought was very reasonable and I really fancied something warm (obviously, being a June afternoon in England, the weather was freezing.)

This surpassed all expectations though! The pastry base was buttery and flaky with just the right amount of grease seeping through the paper bag, yum! The tomatoes were INSANELY sweet, I couldn’t tell how they had been cooked but they were incredible! Maybe a tomato confit type affair? I may have to actually email Felicity herself to find out. The feta had been browned on top through the cooking process and it had taken on that nutty quality that I love in feta. Amazing how two simple flavours had transformed and worked so well together. I really would love to try and recreate this, it’s tragic that I only have my photos to remind me of the flavours!

We sat in the car cradling our goodies and spent a happy 10 minutes stuffing our faces and enjoying the spectacular views, before heading back onto the road to continue our journey home. Felicity’s is an excellent place to grab a bite to eat and a few minutes rest if you happen to be passing through that way and make sure to take in the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.

TJ’s Bistro – Paignton

On our first night in Paignton we arrived at our luxury hotel (Travelodge) and freshened up before heading out for dinner. I had hoped we would eat at The Boathouse restaurant which has a lovely, inexpensive menu and is literally across the road from the Travelodge but unfortunately they were too busy to seat us. Onwards, then, to town!

My second choice for dinner was TJ’s Bistro, the number 1 restaurant in Paignton according to Tripadvisor which offers a choice of main meals or tapas style dishes. I generally treat Tripadvisor reviews as the gospel if there are a lot on any one place – we’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants this way and have never been disappointed! So, although TJ’s didn’t look a lot from the outside (which I had also been warned of by the reviewers!) we decided to go for it. You enter the restaurant through a little door to some stairs which take you upstairs to a lovely outside verandah with lots of chairs and tables. The view from here was spectacular!

There is a large, airy conservatory area behind the verandah and the indoor section holds the kitchen, bar and a waiting area with sofas and comfy chairs. There were a couple of tables in this bit that I am glad we didn’t get as it was pretty dark in there.

A lovely man asked us if we were looking to stay for a meal and we said yes. He said if we waited 5 or 10 minutes he’d have a table for us as a group was just finishing. Perfect! We wandered over to the bar area and ordered drinks before realising there was no-where to sit. The man noticed this and after giving us our drinks informed us that we could sit out on the verandah and he’d come and get us. Doubly perfect.

It was really lovely sitting outside in the warm air with a beautiful view of the harbour below and I was almost disappointed when the guy called us a few minutes later! Almost. We grabbed our drinks and were led to a lovely big table in the conservatory area where we started to peruse the menus. There wasn’t much on the main menu that tempted us so we decided to order a selection of Tapas dishes as we don’t often get to try Spanish food.

We actually ordered rather a lot of food but, in our defence, we were starving. It was almost embarrassing telling the waitress what we would like…almost.

We started with the breads and assorted dips. We love a bit of carb to start a meal so ordering this was a no brainer.

We were impressed with the presentation and the actual food was delicious! There were two types of bread which we only realized when we stopped stuffing it in our respective mouths for just a second; a plain ciabatta and a strong olive flavoured crusty number. The dips were olive oil, dark, sticky balsamic and a slightly random combination of what we thought was sweet chilli dipping sauce and mayo. Nice! But probably our least favourite of the three.

After we’d finished our starter, our main courses started to come out and pretty soon our table was full. I had to move the candles over and our waitress removed our excess wine glasses…embarrassing! We each ordered three dishes and shared the perennial tapas favourite, patatas bravas.

For my first dish I ordered deep fried goats cheese. Deep. Fried. Goats. Cheese. How could this not be amazing? The cheese was encased within a dense, hearty batter that would have been quite at home in the fish and chip shop, none of this ‘light tempura’ nonsense thank you very much. It was drizzled in honey and topped with a juicy orange slice. This was possibly the richest thing I’ve ever eaten and it ticked all the boxes – sweet, salty and tangy with a complex combination of textures – I sliced it like a pizza and nibbled on wedges in between my other courses because it didn’t really go with anything else. This was a dish with flavours unlike anything I’d experienced before though and it did work well amongst the more savoury dishes I had ordered. A palate cleanser, if you will!

My second dish was one of the most expensive on the menu, oops! I chose the bacon wrapped scallops and my excitement levels were almost uncontrollable when they arrived.

Unfortunately, as you can probably tell from the photo, they weren’t great. I was expecting a real crispy bacon wrapping but it was undercooked and flaccid. In the end I pulled it off because it was actually detracting from the scallops which were beautifully cooked. It’s not like me to turn down bacon! This was probably best though because it saved valuable tummy space for all the other delicacies on the table.

Ben ordered a few veggie dishes to enjoy with the patatas bravas – vegetable fritters, jalapeno poppers and spicy lentils. The spicy lentils looked slightly uninspiring but tasted delicious with a deep tomato flavour and strong hit of chilli.

The poppers were jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese and battered. You really can’t go wrong with that combination and this effort from TJ’s was lovely. I was reluctant to try them at first as I’m a chilli wuss but Ben persuaded me and I thoroughly enjoyed my sample.

His favourite dish though was the ‘vegetable fritters’ which came out completeley different to how we were expecting – he was pleasantly surprised to see that they were tempura battered whole vegetables like aubergine, courgette and pepper. This was a huge portion and he was unable to finish it even with my added valiant efforts! The fritters were served with a minted mayonnaise which we were initially sceptical about but which actually went really well with the dish.

Our patatas bravas was a good sized portion with perfectly cooked potatoes and a nice, tangy tomato sauce. But, is it wrong that we missed the ‘con queso’ version that we normally have at La Tasca? You can take the kids out of a chain restaurant but you can’t take the chain restaurant out of the kids!

My final dish came out a few minutes after the others. I have to say I was quite disappointed when it was served, mainly due to the size which was a far cry from the amount I would expect to receive for a dish that cost £7. This was ‘lobster thermidor’ and it consisted of 3 king prawns and two thin medallions of lobster meat in a creamy cheese and mustard sauce.

Hmmm. It was nice, but I was expecting a hot, bubbling cheese crust and a slightly larger portion size. Had I known, I would have ordered a different, cheaper king prawn dish as this was not what I expected when I chose lobster thermidor.

That said, everything else was delicious and we really enjoyed our meal here. The service was lovely and the views can’t be beaten – get here early to enjoy a few drinks out on the balcony before your meal or better yet, pick a warm evening and eat al fresco! We really did feel like we could have been in a Mediterranean harbour whilst we were in TJ’s and I think the food and relaxed eating style enhanced this. Our meal came to about £60 with a couple of drinks each and it was a lovely, relaxed way to kick off our minibreak. TJ’s, we will be back!