Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: food (page 1 of 3)

CarFest – the perfect family festival?

It was late on Saturday afternoon at CarFest South, we’d had a long but happy day wandering around the festival and were ready for dinner. We sat and ate pizza fresh from a wood fired oven while Henry and Matilda laughed and sang along with a kids theatre group doing a country and western play. It was one of those rare moments where everything is right in the world, the sun was just starting to fall towards the horizon, the children were all happy or in Rupert’s case asleep and we had that contented tired feeling you get from a day spent outdoors. It was also the moment I realised that buying CarFest South tickets was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Now if that’s not enough to convince you that CarFest is the perfect family festival then read on!

Eating pizza at CarFest south

The lady of the manor and I had talked a few times about going to a festival but had never been brave enough to take the plunge. I liked the idea of it but wasn’t sure if the reality would be the same or actually a smelly, tiring, stressful experience. But listening to Chris Evans one morning as he announced tickets were being released I grabbed my credit card and took the plunge, after all how bad could it be going to a festival with a 4 year old, a 3 year old and a 10 month old? Maybe I wasn’t thinking straight due a lack of sleep or maybe the first cup of tea hadn’t quite kicked in but either way I’m so glad I did and here’s why we’ll be back again this year:

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Grana Padano competition – round 1

One of my bucket list goals is one day to buy a whole wheel of Parmesan and keep it in my cheese store at home (obviously I’d be in my dream country house that has a cheese store) so I can shave a bit off whenever I have the urge for some cheese. So it is perhaps no surprise that I was quick to accept an invite to take part in a cooking competition featuring the king of cheeses. The premise for this first challenge is simple; create 2 courses of my choosing that capture the taste of Italy and where Grana Padano is the star ingredient using the selection of food sent to me plus any store cupboard items I wanted. The competition is being judged by Francesco Mazzei and the second round takes place in London where we get to spend a day with the man himself.

With a pizza oven in my garden and the forecast for a weekend of glorious September sunshine I of course opted for pizza for one of my courses, plus parmesan is a key ingredient in the greatest of all pizzas; Prosciutto Crudo. I love this pizza because it’s the perfect combination of flavours, you have the rich tomato and mozzarella base which is then offset by the peppery rocket and the salty parmesan. I actually prefer it with English ham because I think prosciutto adds too much salt to the mix but either way it’s delicious.

I’m not sure there are any deserts that feature Grana Padano so for my second course I decided on a starter and something that would be perfect before quite a rich pizza. Butternut squash soup in my mind perfectly captures the Autumnal feeling in the air now in an Italian dish, it’s light and full of flavour and can be easily made in the time it takes to get the pizza oven up to temperature.

Butternut squash soup

Butternut squash soup

Ingredients

Large butternut squash, skinned, deseeded and chopped into chunks

Couple of sticks of celery, roughly chopped

Large onion, diced

Chopping veg for soup2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock

A large pile of grated Grana Padano

Method

  1. Put a good chunk of butter into a large saucepan and melt, once melted add all the vegetables and slowly sauté until the onions are beginning to soften.
  2. Add the stock to the pan and simmer for 60 minutes with the lid on.
  3. After an hour the vegetables should be really soft, pop the mixture into a blender or food processor and give it a blitz until the vegetables are broken up but not so it’s completely smooth. I like to have a bit of substance to a soup rather than something completely smooth.
  4. Serve piping hot with a big pile of Grana Padano in the middle, the cheese slowly melts into the soup as you eat it and is delicious!

Butternut squash soup close up

Prosciutto Crudo pizza

Ingredients

For the dough;

250g Strong white bread flour

250g 00 grade pasta flour

6g dried yeast

5g salt

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

325ml warm water

For the topping;

Passata

Mozzarella

Rocket

Ham or prosciutto

Grana Padana shavings

Pizza oven fired up

Method

  1. If you happen to have a pizza oven then the first job is to get that going, light a small fire with newspaper and twigs before adding some thicker sticks and small logs. My oven takes about 2.5 hours to get up to pizza cooking temperature so needs to be lit nice and early.
  2. Red Kitchenaid mixing pizza doughThen it’s time to make the dough, my recipe is based on a River Cottage one, but I’ve started using half fine pasta flour on the recommendation of a guy at a food festival who was cooking and selling pizzas. It gives the base a really delicate, thin crust which makes all the difference. For the dough I use our KitchenAid; simply mix the water, yeast and oil together and leave for 5 minutes for the yeast to get going, mix the dry ingredients together in the mixer then slowly add the yeast mixture. Once all combined you just leave it to mix for 10 minutes on a medium speed.
  3. Leave the dough to prove for an hour somewhere warm. Keep feeding the fire with logs so the temperature gradually builds up.
  4. After an hour knock the dough back and separate into 4 equal sized balls. If you’re using a conventional oven now’s the time to turn it on at the highest temperature it will go to.
  5. My oven was now up to temperature so I pushed the fire to the back and threw some smaller logs on to keep it burning.
  6. Now it’s time to make the pizzas, I prefer using a passata on the base rather than tomato puree and if I have time I make my own so I can cram a load of vegetables (courgette, onion, carrot, tomato, mushroom) into it without the kids knowing. Roll out the base until nice a thin, I use semolina flour to roll onto as it seems to really help stop the pizza sticking to the worktop or the pizza peel.
  7. Spread a layer of passata on the top, sprinkle with chunks of ham and then break up a ball of mozzarella and spread all over the pizza. Cook the pizza like this until the base is crispy (2-3 mins in my oven. 5-6 in a hot conventional oven).
  8. Take the pizza out of the oven, sprinkle the top with the rocket and a healthy covering of Grana Padano shavings.

The perfect ham parmesan and rocket pizza

There you have it, my idea of the perfect afternoons cooking and eating. All 3 children loved the soup, particularly having the melted cheese stirred through it, but the pizza was less successful ‘I don’t like this green stuff daddy’. They had a salami pizza instead plus my famous garlic pizza which is always the first pizza to go in the oven. I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this challenge, a great excuse to fire the pizza oven up for perhaps the last time this summer, now I just have to wait and see if the amazing Francesco Mazzei agrees with my menu choices.

Weber grill academy review

I’d meant to write this post about a month ago but got a little distracted by running and building my pizza oven (more of that to come later this week) so I thought it was about time I shared my experience of the Weber grill academy. As you know I attended the grill academy with Cancer Research UK to help launch they’re Burger off Cancer campaign. But what I wanted to share here was a few thoughts on the grill academy itself (it was awesome) and more importantly all the barbecuing tips that I picked up.

Weber BBQ lined upIf I’m honest the grill academy would have had to have been pretty bad for me not to enjoy it, after all it’s an afternoon involving food (already a great afternoon) AND cooking on fire. What more can you want? The 2 chefs helping us were great, both clearly passionate about the way of cooking and thankfully wanted us to spend as much time hands on which is after all the way that you learn isn’t it?

We spent a couple of hours preparing and cooking a 3 course meal using various techniques on both gas and charcoal barbecues. I’d tried to keep track of all the tips while also paying attention to the cooking, not an easy task but despite this I did manage to capture some great words of advice. So here’s my top 9 tips (who needs round numbers?) for awesome barbecue cooking:

Basting chickenThe quality of the charcoal is important; cheap charcoal is cheap because it’s been bulked out with sand amongst other things. This means it doesn’t burn for as long and therefore you use more. It also means that the period where it’s at the right temperature to cook on is smaller. I’m sure there is some balance here between cost and cooking time but maybe think twice about that bag of charcoal from Poundland?

Choose the right type of charcoal for the cooking you’re doing; now that I know this it’s pretty obvious but I’ve never specifically chosen briquettes over lump wood charcoal because of the type of cooking I was going to do. But lump wood burns hotter but for a much shorter period, so great for cooking steaks or for hot smoking some salmon but not so great for a big family BBQ. Briquettes on the other hand doing get quite as hot but do burn for much longer. Perfect for cooking chicken or when you’re hosting a big BBQ and need to cook lots of food.

Roasting potatoes on BBQUse a chimney starter to get the charcoal going; these chimney starters aren’t just a fancy gadget they do actually help with lighting the BBQ. To light place a couple of lit firelighters on the bottom of your BBQ and sit the chimney on top. This gets the charcoal lit evenly and can then be tipped out into your BBQ once the coals start to glow.

Direct vs. Indirect cooking; again fairly obvious but something to think about depending on what you are cooking. Direct cooking means simply directly above the coals while indirect is next to the coals. Direct is really grilling and is a faster, hotter way to cook. While indirect can be used for slower cooking and for larger pieces of meat. Weber barbecues have baskets in the bottom that allow you to keep the coals to one side so you can cook right next to them or on the grill but not directly over heat. We cooked some small roast potatoes this way which were amazing, all smokey and crunchy.

Hot smoking salmon on BBQUse metal trays to make cooking fish etc easier; you can buy metal trays with holes in the bottom that make cooking fish on the BBQ much easier. Simply play on the grill while cooking and then take off using an oven glove. Avoids sticking the fish to the grill while not losing any of the flavour etc of cooking on a BBQ.

Hot smoking is delicious!; we hot smoked some salmon on the day and it was amazing. The coals are kept to the side using the baskets mentioned above, we then placed a bowl of water between them and some soaked wood chips on the coals themselves. Then the fish (on a metal tray) goes on the grill and you put the lid on. It gives such a soft, smokey flavour cooked this way and something very different to simply grilling. You can also buy a box that sits on the burners of a gas BBQ to achieve something similar when cooking on gas rather than charcoal.

Smoke box on gas BBQUse a thermometer; this is one I’m definitely going to start doing, use an instant read thermometer to check if food is cooked or not. Particularly useful for joints or fish and saves you taking things off that aren’t cooked.

Put the lid on when cooking; we’ve all got a family member who when barbecuing looks like they may need to call the fire brigade to put the flames out. It doesn’t lead to food that is cooked well and means ever burnt to a crisp or under done. But if you close the lid when cooking it slows the feed of oxygen so stops the flames building and cooks your food all the way through due to the increased temperature all the way around it

Cook asparagus in a fish basket; if you like grilled asparagus (and who doesn’t?) put it in a fish basket to save you having to turn every single stalk individually.

Hot smoked salmon and asparagus

There you have it, my top tips for awesome barbecuing. If you have any of your own to share feel free to leave a comment. Now I’m off to bankrupt myself buying Weber BBQ products.

Pizza my heart

A pizza oven has been on my dream house wish list for a long time and no I don’t mean one of those attachments you can put on a Weber barbeque. I’m talking roaring wood fire in a domed oven in the garden, long handled pizza peel in hand deftly whisking out the perfect thin and crispy pizza. But it’s always stayed a dream just like having a ride on lawn mower and a kitchen with a stable door. That is until now.

After extensive negotiations and many hours of internet research the lady of the manor has given me the green light to try to build a pizza oven. Because of course I’m not going to do it the easy way and just buy an oven, no that would be far too straightforward (and bloody expensive to be fair) so I’m going down the DIY route. On the face of it it doesn’t appear to be too tricky a task, providing my dome building skills are ok the rest is actually pretty straightforward.

I’ve found a great guide for building one that I spotted on another blog and I have now got most of the materials needed. Having a load of random bricks spread around the garden turned out to actually be quite useful! I’ll try to write at least a couple more blogs about it in due course but the intention is to turn this pile of building materials into the greatest pizza making machine outside of Northern Italy in the next few weeks. Wish me luck!

From fork to fork

There has been one too many articles about how to cut corners with your Christmas dinner and take short cuts so you can spend more time watching your children play with their toys and I’ve had enough. There is one very simple solution here dear reader so that you can spend more time with your children on Christmas day. Are you ready?

Veg box

COOK DINNER WITH YOUR CHILDREN

On the one day of the year when you don’t have to be anywhere, where nothing is open even if you did want to be somewhere why rush things? Why not on this one day take the time to involve your children in what you’re doing when you aren’t trying to fit it around your working day and other commitments?

Use it as an opportunity to teach your children some cooking skills, show them how food is prepared and what you do to get the meals on the table every day of the year. Get them peeling carrots or stirring the bread sauce, heck if they’re old enough they could carve the meat for you. Make it a family event and not only will you teach them something you’ll also get to spend time with them.

Matilda checking the meat boxI love showing Matilda and Henry where food comes from, they help me dig potatoes from the garden and then take them into the house to cook and eat them. When we visit it the chickens down the road we talk about where their eggs come from and what a roast chicken is.

Get them excited and interested by food and I think you have a much better chance that they will develop a good diet. It gives you a very relaxed and easy way to get them to try new things, if they see you preparing food let them taste it as you go along so in small amounts they experience new flavours without it being on a plate in front of them.

I know not everyone finds cooking a big Christmas dinner easy, but the pressure is really in getting it on the table. Start your prep work in the morning hours before you start cooking even and then you have time to let them help you. It may also  be the one day of the year you can offer them a mince pie or chocolate to eat in the morning as a treat while they help you.

So why not make this Christmas the one where you show your children how food travels from fork to fork?

Review: The handpicked foodstore

Disclosure: This is a review post, I was sent the products free of charge but all views are my own

I’ve had a little flurry of food related review offers recently and quite honestly it’s rare that I say no when someone offers to send me food, especially when it involves a tasty bit of cheese.

The handpicked foodstore is right up my street, they ethically source the best food possible from predominantly UK producers and then deliver it direct to your door. The food that is stocked is chosen by a panel of experts and ranges from smoked salmon to oils and vinegars and even complete hampers.

Handpicked foodstore food

I choose to try the following to get the perfect ingredients for a supper with the lady of the manor, especially when combined with some of my sourdough bread and a glass of wine.

  • Lancashire Strong Bomb cheddar
  • MacGilvray Smoked Mackerel Pate
  • Trealy Farm Monmouthshire Air-Dried Fennel Salami
  • Ouse Valley Red Chilli Jelly

The cheese was awesome, strong but creamy which is a surprisingly difficult thing to pull off. The chilli jam had a nice kick to it without being too hot, also tasty with a bit of cold beef in a sandwich I discovered.

I’ve had fennel salami before so had high hopes for this one, it was really quite tasty, I love the combination of salty, peppery meat and then the aniseed taste of the fennel. Finally the pate was great on some toasted bread with a bit of lemon juice drizzled on top.

We spent a very happy 30 minutes munching away once the children were asleep, with lots of mmm’s and ahhh’s as we tried each thing. Such a treat to eat luxuries like this and was perfect as it came just before we went to Scotland so had a very empty fridge.

If you’re looking for some artisan products for yourself or to send a gift to a foodie friend then the handpicked foodstore is well worth a look. Oh and if you order over £75 it’s free delivery, you can get a lot of cheese for £75 *tummy rumbles in anticipation*.

Wild thing, you make my loaf spring

Ok, first an admission, I stole the post title from the lovely people at the real bread campaign. But I’m not sorry, it’s an awesome title and I just had to use it. You see this month is officially Sourdough September, Britain’s first celebration of the mighty Sourdough.

There seems to be weeks and months dedicated to all sorts of random causes these day but finally one that is truly a worthy cause.

You all know how much of a fan I am of making bread with those magical little natural yeasts and if you follow me on Instagram you are no doubt already bored of my regular loaf photos at the weekend.

Once you get into the routine of feeding your starter and making a loaf every day or every weekend it’s really the easiest thing and with just 15 minutes work in the evening you can have an awesome fresh loaf the next day.

I’ve blogged a few times about making Sourdough and you can find my recipe here which is taken from the Fabulous Baking Brothers. There seems to be a few variations out there on making a loaf but this one has worked well for me and is simple to use.

So why not join me in celebrating Sourdough September and get your own starter bubbling away in the kitchen? Once you start you really won’t regret it and I can assure that a fresh Sourdough loaf makes the most amazing bacon sandwich. If I can help at all then let me know. If you do make a loaf I’d love to see some photos too.

You can also get more information on making sourdough and finding bread making courses near you by checking out the real bread campaign website here.

I’ll leave you with some bread porn as inspiration.

Sourdough loaf

Sourdough bread porn

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