A very fishy Devonian Christmas and easy cranberry sauce for leftovers

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Christmas came early in North Devon this year. A week early in fact, as I planned to visit my in-laws up in Yorkshire to celebrate the real Christmas day.

Our first stop for our pre-Christmas weekend was the farmer's market at the Big Sheep, in Abbotsham - the perfect place to pick up veg for Christmas dinner and some last minute Christmas presents (sheep's wool mittens for my niece and brother-in-law). 

The Big Sheep's farmer's market also has an incredible selection of locally sourced fresh fish - crab cakes made with Lundy Island crab, sea bass from the coastal waters, herring from Clovelly and mussels from the estuary. As a proud part Pole (my Mother's side is Polish) we of course had a traditionally fishy (and huge) faux Christmas Eve supper, including some of the crab cakes we picked up at the market.

My Mum also made an incredible open lobster and spinach lasagna with fragrant, aromatic lobster and star anise bisque. The lobsters (of course) were also local... that's one of the things I miss so much about living in Devon - the access to so much fresh seafood on a daily basis. 

Right, I promised a simple cranberry sauce recipe for your leftovers (if you still have any!)...this one, which accompanied both our faux and real Christmas day dinners, is so easy to make and encapuslates traditional Christmas flavours perfectly. I made a batch as soon as I got back to London to jar up and wrap prettily... the perfect Christmas present. It also goes amazingly well with any leftovers you have... perfect in sandwiches, with a ploughman's or just with cheese and crackers.

Makes two 8oz jars, plus a little extra. 

350 g) fresh cranberries(chopped)
1 large cooking apple (cored, peeled and chopped)
Zest and juice of 1 large orange 
1/2 tsp ground ginger 
3oz caster sugar 
1 Cinnamon stick
4 cloves 
4 tbsp Port

Add all the ingredients (apart from the Port) to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer with the lid on for five minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Port. Place in jars while still hot. 

See, I told you it was easy!

I'm in The Alps at the moment, drinking vin chaud and eating lots of cheese... more on my Alpine adventues to follow soon... Happy New Year everyone!

London Supper Clubs - Ferdie's Food Lab

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The popularity of supper clubs is booming and there are new supper clubs popping up in people's front rooms left right and centre. The Friday before last, I made my first foray into this elusive underground world at Ferdie's Food Lab in East London.

The idea behind the supper club craze is to eat interesting, high-quality food (at reasonable, non-restaurant prices) in a low key environment, surrounded by like minded people. Ferdie's Food lab gets this spot on. The brainchild of Simon Fernandez, this supper club is held in a rather grand looking hall in the shadow of the city and offers fantastic (and unusual) food in the company of other gourmets, gourmands or people just up for trying somewhere new and different.

All supper clubs encourage you to bring your own booze and Ferdie's Food Lab is no different - Simon sends through suggested wine pairings a couple of days before the event. However, the menu is not shared before the evening so I had no idea what to expect from our culinary experience - I was anticipating great things though having perused Simon's photos online earlier in the day.

It turns out it was a fish-themed evening and we kicked off with a salmon parfait forest, served with rosemary bread. The bread arrived first and we all fell upon it like gannets, only to realise later it was supposed to go with the parfait. Luckily, Simon provided us with extra crackers (for the supper club virgins) to scoop up the mousse - which was bedecked with gherkin, pea shoots and roe to form the 'forest'. First supper club lesson learnt...wait until all elements of the dish have arrived before tucking in.

Once the bowls of parfait were cleared away, some big trivets were brought in and put in the centre of the table. As this was a supper club, we were seated how you would normally expect to be seated when going round to a friend's house for dinner - all round the same large table. The platters that were subsequently brought out were all sharing platters (something I'm not normally very good at so I had to restrain myself!).

The first wooden platter was filled with butterflied prawns, topped with fermented garlic and served with lemon oil, savoury churros and pimenton dip. It was by and far my favourite course of the evening. Fermented garlic was not something I'd tried before - blackened, sweet and sticky it went fantastically well with the savoury churros (like long thin donuts without the sugar).

The next (sharing) platter was a smoked salmon terrine, layered with a mild cheese (salmon and cheese, who knew this flavour combination would work so well!) and served with green cockscomb sauce, edamame and cherry plum tomatoes. Luckily, there was more than enough to go around so we didn't have to fight it out over who got seconds. Smoked salmon and cheese are normally such rich and filling ingredients. However, the green cockscomb sauce (again, not something I'd tried before, the night was all about the new flavours!) really cut through the richness and the resulting dish was surprisingly light. Something that would be perfect served on a Summer's evening.

The scallop shell pies with rainbow trout and diced aubergine served in the next course were inspired and something I will be replicating at home. Serving mini pies inside scallop shells just looks so pretty - and I am always up for making my food look beautiful.

Dessert was a millionaire cheese cake with orange syrup - the toffee layer chewy and delicious and the perfect compliment to the semifreddo-style cheesecake. The meal was rounded up with two types of petit fours. The first - an unusual black olive ganache - tasted just like a salted caramel. I didn't realise it contained olive until Simon sent me the menu the next day! A salted lemon fudge finished things off nicely. I was well and truly stuffed when we left East London and made our way back down South.

Supper clubs are definitely a culinary adventure - something very different to the usual restaurant experience. For starters you are sat on a table with strangers, and at Ferdie's Food Lab, share food from communal platters in the centre of the table meaning your experience is often just as much about the people you meet as the food you are served. So not the kind of event to book if you're after a romantic table for two but I'd recommend checking one out as an alternative to the traditional restaurant vibe and for a different way to spend your evening.

I'm planning to eat my way round the finest supper clubs London has to offer (in the name of research of course) - I'm off to Leluu's supper club next month and am on a wait list for James Ramsden's Secret Larder so watch this space for future reviews (and perhaps a supper club or two from Cornflower Kitchen!)

Vauxhall Food Bank - spreading the festive cheer

Saturday, 3 December 2011

At this time of year, it's so easy to get caught up in the fripperies and festivities surrounding Christmas. We're bombarded with marketing from companies offering a whole host of delicious treats and it doesn't take much to get caught up in the excesses.

It can be easy to forget about the hundreds of people in London (and across the UK) who are literally living hand to mouth. They are not homeless, but are living in a 'hidden poverty bracket' - with incomes so low that a family illness, drop in benefits or an unexpected bill could mean the difference between eating an evening meal and not. That's where food banks come in.

I've just returned from Vauxhall Food Bank - it's been running since June this year and they've recently partnered with Sainsbury's Nine Elms to encourage shoppers to buy an item or two off the food bank list when doing their weekly shop - you just drop the food off outside the store and they take it to those most in need, how easy is that?!

Vauxhall Food Bank gives three days of emergency food to individuals and families in crisis. So far, the customers of Sainsbury's Nine Elms have donated 4,012kg of food  - enough food for over 6,000 meals. That's pretty impressive.

There's food banks across the UK, so when you're next doing your weekly shop - or your big Christmas shop - pop an extra bag of pasta, jar of sauce or rich tea biscuits in your trolley and drop it off at your local food bank. For location information, visit The Trussell Trust.
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