Friday, 24 May 2013

Taste Bud Time Travels

Photo: aussiegall / everystockphoto
I've always been fascinated by history, in fact I preferred factual books to fiction when I was at school, which probably explains why I did better at my History O Level exam than I did in English Literature.
My love for the past and how it has shaped the modern world is still strong. Food throughout history is a particularly enthralling subject.

You could say that my kitchen has become a little time travel machine or maybe even the Tardis. I may not be like Doctor Who saving worlds across the universe but I have been making some new discoveries through culinary activities.

Just over a year ago I met Alan Coxon at a food and craft festival in Woburn. Some of you may remember him as the television chef who had his own show 'Coxon's Kitchen College', he also appeared on Great Food Live on UKTV Food. Alan is the food archaeologist, so for him food history is his passion. Alan Coxon is a mine of information when it comes to food, he loves facts, details. Mention an ingredient or a recipe and he will tell you where it comes from, the history and any weird and wonderful fact you care to imagine.

Photo: © childsdesign

Alan's passion led him to create three vinegars based upon and inspired by ancient recipes. He took cues from three very different cultures – Medieval, Roman and Ancient Greek. From these, Ale-Gar, Roman Vinaigre and Ancient Greek Vinaigre were born. It wasn't a simple process or quick development to make them. From start to finish it has taken Alan 10 years to perfect the recipes as well as the bottles.

So back to my time travelling. I have been using these vinegars with abandon in my cooking. Although they are vinegars, they are not sharp and mouth puckeringly sour, so don't think of them as a malt vinegar that you splash on your fish and chips. The flavours are complex, yet subtle and soft and much more like a fine wine, in that respect.

I have used the vinegars in all manner of ways from dressings to marinade, in sauces, casseroles, stir-fries, even in sweet dishes, they really are that versatile. The Ale-Gar is based on a 15th century recipe, the vinegar being created from chocolate stout malt which has a unique flavour with a slight taste of cinnamon. I've used this in just about everything! Simmer a quantity until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency and you have a wonderful drizzle for duck.

The Roman Vinaigre is made from quality wine and distinctly herbal in character. I noticed the chamomile flavour first which is quite unusual but quickly grew on me. Try it drizzled over fresh sliced peaches with prosciutto, it is wonderful.

The Ancient Greek Vinaigre is also wine based, bitter-sweet and fresh. There is a hint of coriander which I found makes it ideal to use in Asian recipes, particularly oriental stir-fries.

These vinegars are a truly wonderful addition to the kitchen, not only do they taste good they look good too in handsome bottles. They are very nearly ousting the balsamic and rice vinegar in the cupboard, not to mention the Worcester sauce.

You can buy online from foodbyalancoxon.com

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Edible Market Food Festival is coming!

Please forgive me but I'm about to give a shameless plug! (You probably already saw the advert in the sidebar).
I want to tell you about a brand new food festival that you must add to your events to visit this year.

The Edible Market Food Festival will be held on 12th October at the UK Centre for Carnival Arts in Luton, Bedfordshire. www.ediblemarket.co.uk

So why is it a shameless plug? Erm, it's something I am involved in when I'm wearing my The Artisan Food Trail hat. Yes Mum, if you're reading, you and Dad are coming, I mean invited! ;-)

The festival website went live just last week and already it has sparked a lot of interest – I'm very excited as well as a teensy bit apprehensive but I am working with the best of people to make sure all goes to plan.

There's going to be some great food to buy and eat, all of the highest quality – no mass-produced nonsense – it's all pretty special and not run-of-the-mill high street fayre.

If you want to know more, take a look at this article on The Artisan Food Trail blog.

Thanks for reading this little advert and I hope you can make it along!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Put to the test: Raw Nibbles Caramel Slice

Photo: © childsdesign

When someone offers you a slice of cake, it’s pretty hard to refuse, so when I received an email from Raw Nibbles asking if I’d like to review one of their products, it was a done deal!

You may have noticed that I haven’t been reviewing products very much lately, on my blog. There’s a simple explanation for this – I am very picky now, which I hope is a good thing.
Emails regularly drop into the Cheeky Spouse inbox from PR companies, in a bid to get me interested in reviewing various products for them (for free, I might add!), but I’m always looking for things that are a little less mainstream in favour of something different.

Raw Nibbles products certainly fit the bill. They’re from a (very) small Norfolk company, made by hand in small batches and everything is raw. I don’t know much about gourmet raw food and I am making an effort to learn, I promise you, but what I do know is, that it isn’t just carrot sticks!

Up for the test was a Raw Caramel Slice. It looks just like a gorgeous hunk of Millionaires Shortbread but there’s no butter in there and being dairy free it is perfect for vegans.
You don’t miss the butter though as the biscuity base is rich and nutty tasting that more than makes up for that.

On top of the biscuit is the caramel, all oozing and soft, just as it should be, but not made from cane or beet sugar, as you would expect. I noticed the ingredients list contains coconut sugar, agave nectar and dates, so I suspect that is what gives the sweetness and toffee-like flavour. Clever stuff!

The final layer is raw ‘milk’ chocolate. Again, no dairy. Raw chocolate isn’t so strange and the more types I’ve tasted, I’ve found it to be extremely delicious with such a smooth texture that doesn’t cling to the tongue – an altogether pleasant sensation.

That generous hunk, which was enough for two to share, most definitely gets a thumbs up and I’m not even a vegetarian/vegan. Even the most ardent dairy lover wouldn’t miss the butter, cream or milk.

Could these type of raw food indulgences be the way forward to treating yourself more healthily? I’ll let you decide after you’ve had a look at the Raw Nibbles website www.rawnibbles.co.uk

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Lemon Polenta Cake with Rosemary Syrup

Photo: © childsdesign

Is it a cake or is it a pudding? I’ll let you decide, but it is so moist and delicious and you need a fork to eat it… or a spoon so I’m electing it for pudding. Aside from the obvious chocolate cake, this is another baked delight that has the ability to assuage any intense cravings for comfort food. In my case, anyway.

Juicy with the full flavour of refreshing lemons and a texture which is pleasingly crumbly, moist and sticky, all at the same time, I can never refuse a slice. And there’s the temptation to lick the plate! 

Rosemary may seem an unusual ingredient in a sweet cake, but I can assure you that it really works.
Do use fresh rosemary though, for a real fragrant flavour.

Rosemary seems to be the only herb in the garden that can survive the ravages of winter. The others have died back and gone to sleep, or look forlorn and lack the essential oils of the summer season.
So if like me, you can’t wait for the return of the full flow of spring, rosemary will always be at the rescue.

For the cake
175g polenta
50g plain flour
11/2 tsp baking powder
good pinch salt
5 tbsp natural yogurt
5 tbsp rapeseed oil (use extra virgin cold pressed)
2 lemons, juice and grated zest (see my tip on how to get more juice from your lemon)
3 eggs
200g caster sugar

For the syrup
200g caster sugar
200ml cold water
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 4. Prepare a 20cm round cake tin by oiling it and lining with baking paper.

Sift together the polenta, flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

Put the yogurt, oil, lemon zest and 2 tbsp lemon juice into a jug and stir well to combine.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they achieve a creamy consistency. Then beat in the yogurt mixture until smooth. Stir in the dry ingredients until just combined being careful not to over-mix.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and place in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. The best way to tell if the cake is cooked all the way through is too insert a skewer into the centre which should come out clean when you pull it out.

Meanwhile make the syrup. Put the sugar in a saucepan with 200ml water and the rosemary sprigs. Heat gently until the sugar completely dissolves and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool and then strain through a sieve into a jug.

When the cake is cooked, place it on a cooling rack for 15 minutes, then invert and remove the baking paper.
Place the cake on a plate and prick all over using a skewer. Drizzle over half of the rosemary syrup and allow the cake to cool completely.

To serve, slice the cake and drizzle over more syrup You can also serve with a scattering of raspberries and a dollop of Greek yogurt.
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