Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Category: Food Heroes (page 1 of 2)

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*.

Kitchen helpers

You already know that baking sourdough is at least a weekly occurrence in this house and normally I start the process once the kids are in bed. But yesterday I was working from home so had time before they went to bed to make the dough.

The second I started gathering the ingredients and a bowl a little voice piped up “what you doing daddy?”. Then moments later a chair was pushed up against the worktop and a little child appeared for a closer look. Of course as soon as Matilda was up there Henry also wanted to be and who am I to say no? I love getting them involved with food already and letting them see how their meals are created. Plus of course making bread is a lot like playing with Play-Doh which they do oh so well.

So I give you my new commis chef’s, not a bad kneading technique for a first attempt 🙂

P.S. Not the greatest photos, took them on my phone and the kids were constantly moving!

Matilda and Henry kneading bread

Matilda and Henry kneading

A new approach to eating

I can talk a good talk about buying locally and eating ethically but it’s all too easy to get sucked in by the Tesco machine and find yourself buying strawberries imported from Chile. So when we moved home at the beginning of March the lady of the manor and I made a deliberate decision to do something about it.

Veg boxWe finally got our arses in gear and arrange a weekly veg box from a local supplier just outside of Swindon. We did look at the well known national suppliers but decided against them for a number of reasons, they seemed to contain imported vegetables fairly regularly and still generate food miles given where the main farms are based. There wasn’t any difference in price so buying from a local supplier felt like the obvious choice.

The objective of having a veg box is to force ourselves to both eat seasonally and also eat more variety of vegetables. When you buy from a supermarket it takes some work to check where the vegetables have come from and to see what’s in season with many vegetables available all year round. A veg box ensures you are eating whatever is available at that point of the year which will be a combination of freshly picked and taken from storage. This should of course also mean the veg is at its tastiest best!

July meat box contentsIt’s definitely been a learning curve to adapt our meal planning and eating habits to this new setup to avoid having lots of wastage at the end of the week. We’ve now got into the habit of planning our meals on a Tuesday night when the contents of the veg box is published on the suppliers website. We tick off each item from the list so that we know we’ve used them all, it challenges you to find new recipes to use them all up and not just make the same old things.

Twitter is your  best friend here, the greatest cook book you can ever have, a simple tweet of ‘how can I use this’ and within a few minutes you will have at least 5 suggestions!

The final addition to this new approach is we now also get a monthly meat box from the same supplier. At the beginning of each month we get a box full of meaty goodness delivered that we pop in the freezer. It’s great quality organic and free range meat that is mainly from their own farm so again ticking the local box. The box changes our eating habits in the same way as the veg box, we are forced to eat more variety and think of ways to use up each item brings new dishes to our repertoire each week.

Matilda inspecting the meat delivery

So far we’re loving it, sure we may have too many potatoes sometimes but the box we’ve chosen includes a good variety without too many of the more exotic things that never get eaten. Cost wise I don’t think it’s any more than we were spending before; the veg box is £15 a week and the meat box £80 a month. A reasonable price for the standard of food you get and something we’re happy to pay, preferring to sacrifice elsewhere to ensure we eat well.

It’s also fun getting Matilda involved in food (and Henry soon), whenever it’s delivered she helps unpack and asks us what every item is. So we tell her and try to link it to what she see’s in the fields etc. I want her to know that she’s eating a chicken, the same ones she feeds grass to down the road and what it looks like once it’s been plucked. Then she can see that we choose to buy meat from animals that have been treated well and what a piece of meat looks like.

Has anyone else made a change in this way or have any top tips for eating seasonally?

Let me introduce you to the other woman in my life

You may have noticed things have been a bit quiet on this here blog over the last week or so. Mainly because we’ve been trying to sell our house and quite honestly the combination of that and work has been all my brain can handle. But amazingly our house sold in less than a week and we’re pretty close to buying a house also, all of which means I now have the brain power to tell you about the other woman in my life.

This, ladies and gentlemen is Susie, or to give her her full name Susie the sourdough starter. The new love of my life, a woman who makes me salivate just at the thought of her.

She is my latest obsession, a never ending mission to make the perfect sourdough loaf. It’s truly fascinating being able to make bread when no yeast at all is added, just some water, flour and magic fairy dust from the air. I think it also appeals to that little boy scientist inside making a magic potion, mixing and stirring and then watching as it bubbles away to itself in its jar.

Of course the main reason for doing this is that sourdough bread makes the greatest toast in the world, add a couple of rashers of bacon and a poached egg and you have the perfect sunday brunch.

Susie is now 2 weeks old and spends weekdays relaxing in the fridge, then on Friday morning she’s awaken from her slumber with a nice feed ready to make the dough on Friday evening and then baked in a loaf on Saturday morning. In theory if you keep this process going your starter will last forever and just gets better with age, plus if you keep the routine going you have an awesome fresh loaf of bread every weekend. What more could a man want?

Food porn photos to follow on Instagram….


The Fools Food Heroes – October

I’ve taken a break from this series for a couple of months due to our big adventure in New Zealand but it’s back this month with another trio of drool worthy food companies. If you have any suggestions for companies to include here I’d love to hear them.

Tea Pigs

For a nation that seems to live on tea we don’t half serve up some crap sometimes; weak, anaemic looking tea that appears to have had all the flavour removed. One option to avoid this is to use tea leaves but let’s be honest it is a bit of a faff which you don’t want to have to do every time you fancy a brew. Tea Pigs make tea bags, but not your bog standard Tetley tea ones, oh no they’re packed full of flavour and made from a much softer nicer material than normal (that’s the technical description in case you wondered). But I don’t really care about how they are made, it’s the flavour that matters and these deliver. I love the Earl Grey in particular, a deep aromatic flavour without being bitter or too strong as can be the case. So if you’re a tea drinker and want to try something different check these out, available mail order and in delis etc nationwide.

Wye valley growers

This is a new company to me and one I read about only this week and have yet to try, but I wanted to share nonetheless. I LOVE asparagus, I love that it’s such a seasonal thing here, I love that the British stuff tastes better than anything imported, I love that it makes your wee smell funny (if you’re one of the 50% of the population it does of course) and most of all I love eating it. But the season inevitably passes oh so quickly and then it’s another year before it’s available again. However I read in the Guardian newspaper that these guys have developed a variety that produces the goods right now, a second wind for the asparagus season.

The proof is in the tasting of course, but if it’s good then how amazing will it be to eat Asparagus with a roast chicken or hearty stew now that autumn is coming and the nights are drawing in? I shall valiantly lead the way and taste some on your behalf dear reader to save you the effort, a public service if you will. (P.S. I’ve since discovered that Marks and Spencer is the best place to source this late seasons asparagus)

White Row farm shop

My latest farm shop discovery in the area and definitely my favourite, amazing veg as you would expect, an impressive and well stocked butchery, bread from Hobb’s House bakery and the icing on the cake a cafe that makes an awesome bacon sandwich. What more could you ask for? Unlike many farm shops they make the vast majority of the cakes, pies etc on site rather than the mass produced made to look like homemade stuff you often find. Situated in Beckington just outside Frome in Somerset I thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in the area.

The great New Zealand adventure – wine valley

Driving up the south island we of course made time to stop in the Wairau valley near Blenheim to sample a few wines. Both the lady of the manor and I are big fans of Kiwi reds so this was the perfect opportunity to indulge ourselves, a fair reward for sleeping in a campervan I reckon. However we wanted to make sure that we didn’t just go to the well known names, most of them you can buy in the UK anyway so what’s the point in wasting valuable time tasting them here?

Despite this our first stop was Cloudy Bay, which no doubt many of you have heard of and is probably the most famous vineyard in this area (which doesn’t of course mean they make the best wines). We started with their whites and the bulk of the white they will sell is Savignon Blanc, which as with pretty much all the Savignon Blanc in this region is full of fruit and often tastes of gooseberry. These were good but nothing exceptional, the most interesting white we tasted was a late harvest Riesling which is a sweet, almost sticky wine. Very tasty.

We also tried their reds and did a comparison between their blended Pinot Noir and a single vineyard one. I have to be honest and say that the difference was too subtle for my taste buds to really distinguish between but enjoyable to tasted all the same. We purchased a bottle of the single vineyard Pinot Noir and also one of the late harvest Riesling. Hopefully these will survive the trip back to the UK and we can pair them with some roast Beef (or maybe venison) and then some good cheese for desert with the sweet wine. I’m actually salivating a little at the thought of that already.

Then next 2 stops were smaller vineyards that we hadn’t heard of but that the people at Cloudy Bay recommended based on our wine tastes. I will only write about one here because quite simply it was amazing. Hans Herzog is run by a Swiss couple who moved there to grow grapes that they couldn’t in Switzerland and what was most interesting was that although they do grow Pinot Noir and Savignon Blanc as you would expect they also had a large number of much more unusual grapes. We tried a selection but the ones that stood out were the Italian grapes Montepulciano and Nebbiolo , we were lucky that they had a 2004 Nebbiolo open that was so smooth and deep in flavour after just a few years in the cellar.

We didn’t have the room to buy anything from here but we plan to try and source some when we’re back in the UK. They also had a very nice looking restaurant (they used to have a Michelin starred restaurant in Switzerland) and a holiday cottage if you feel like some pampering, perhaps not with a 5 month old?

The wine valley here is easy to get around and very short distances between vineyards, I also noticed that a number of people had been on tours that collected them from the campsite, a good way of solving the designated driver issue!

The next stop on our magical mystery tour is Nelson and then on to the Abel Tasman national park.

Oh and Matilda had her first go in a high chair while we had lunch in one of the vineyards, most exciting and she loved it to.

The Fools Food Heroes – July

Yes, yes I know, this is the post you have been all waiting for right? Screw the humorous musings and serious debate what you really want is posts about food, correct? Ok well true to form I have managed to do it just before the end of the month and I once again have 3 fabulous foodie firms for your reading pleasure

Thoughtful Bread Company

There is a little café called Troughs next to the canal near where we live, that just happens to be conveniently placed about half way around one of our favourite dog walks. For the princely sum of £2 this café offers unlimited toast. They simply have a couple of toasters on the side along with loaves of bread and you help yourself. So there we were eating our own body weight in bread which was amazing and it turns out that it’s made by the Thoughtful Bread company in Bath. A small company, but making bread of the finest quality. I’m not on a mission to get into Bath on one of the days they are at the market there so I can stock up the freezer.

Wiltshire Chilli farm

Now chillies aren’t really something you associate with the West of England are they? This local farm came to my attention recently as the producer of a quite staggering range of chillies. Now I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to hot food most of the time, but used correctly you have to love the almost fruity warmth of a good chilli. These guys have a great variety of chillies covering the entire Scoville scale and they can be bought either online or at a number of farmers markets. It’s quite amazing really the type of food that can be grown in England with a bit of effort and certainly a good way to cut down on food miles. They also sell chilli plants in case you fancied having a go at growing your own.

Quoins Organic Vineyard

English wine has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, potentially one of the positives of global warming, so when I discovered there was a vineyard close to me recently I was intrigued. Not only that but they have won awards from the UK Vineyards Association for the last 4 vintages. Sounds pretty impressive so I am on a mission to try some, they’ve just started opening on a Sunday for tours of the vineyard so I’m hoping to get up there this week and find out more. Wine buying in the UK has been increasing year on year, so if you have any interest in reducing food miles this is another great way to do. I shall report back later after the all important tasting.

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