Get ready for the Guernsey Food Festival

Proud and passionate, the Guernsey people have more than a beautiful island to showcase. The ten-day festival in September is one any keen foodie should be heading out to. Nick gets a preview.

Rock Samphire. Free food

Rock Samphire. Free food

It’s salty and citrusy, juicy and crunchy, it’s plentiful and it’s free. I’m eating a handful of rock samphire that I’ve plucked from the ground not twenty feet from the road and it’s delicious.

The sea is the larder

The sea is the larder

Unlike the samphire you find in the fishmongers, this Guernsey rock samphire is much fresher and almost needs no cooking at all.

I stick some in my pocket to nibble on as I watch the local kestrels hovering effortlessly on the wind, keenly scanning the ground for their own free food to appear.

As the car weaves inland through the narrow lanes on this small island, toward a goat farm I’m off to visit, another form of foraged food reveals itself, the Hedge Veg. Continue reading

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Digging Badger Beer At The Brewery

What’s black and white and drunk all over? Badger Beer. Nick digs deep at the Dorset Brewery to unearth some of their award-winning secrets.

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Short sighted people are catered for

“The naturally occurring water we pump up for the beer could be easily sold as quality bottled water, but that would be such a terrible waste!”

Mark Woodhouse, current representative of the family that has run Hall & Woodhouse for seven generations, chuckles amiably. Next to him his Head Brewer Toby Heasman smiles too, he’s probably heard that one before. Continue reading

Oiling the kitchen wheels with Borderfields rapeseed oils

Forget olive oil, corn oil, vegetable oil and any other old oils because rapeseed oil is the new frying choice and what’s more it’s 100% UK sourced and bottled. Nick Harman goes to see how the seeds become liquid gold..

Bottled with love

Rapeseed oil, known as Canola oil in America perhaps for obvious reasons, has had a relatively short history in the UK but has been going  from strength to strength with supply sometimes being outstripped by demand. Especially when endorsed on the TV.

‘Well, Greg Wallace mentioned how good it was on Masterchef a few years back and the next day sales went through the roof,’ says Jon Hammond, Executive Director of Hammond Food Oils as we duck through plastic curtains into another section of the rapeseed pressing and bottling plant near Nottingham. ‘It was like the old Delia effect, do you remember when she recommended that saucepan?’ Who could forget?

Rapeseed genuinely is a seed, a tiny black round seed that s identical in look to the mustard seed used in Indian cooking, or the cabbage seed we plant in vegetable plots. This is because it’s a part of the same brassica family and even smells rather the same. Today its unmistakable bright yellow flowers are a familiar part of the UK’s colour palette all summer long.

It’s harvest time comes in August and the seeds are arriving at the factory in their millions where they are quickly sieved and sorted to remove unwanted flower and stalk debris before heading to the cold presser. The woody debris goes to be used as biofuel for heating, nothing is wasted not even it seems the waste

Chicken feed, no waste

Chicken feed, no waste

‘Chicken feed!’ says Jon showing me a sample of squidgy green material left after the pressing, it’s perfect for chickens, full of nutrients and gooey with the last traces of the oil that couldn’t be extracted by the relatively (compared to hot pressing) less efficient cold press method. ‘Cold pressing though preserves more of the goodness,’ explains Jon ‘and we press and filter the seed five times, that’s more than any other brand on the market, for the purest product

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Gold standard

The oil pours sinuously down pipes to be refined ready for bottling, gradually going from green to gold in the process.

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The machine marches on

This is a small factory with a small workforce where the bottling machine chugs away cheerfully, occasionally stopping and being tended by its minders, before lurching back into clinking life again. The bottles are wrapped with their date marked labels and pass out through a catflap affair to be hustled into boxes by hand ready for dispatch.

Not just plain rapeseed oil either, much of the produce is flavoured with things such as lemon, basil, chili and garlic to meet increasing demand.

The natural oil is relatively neutral in flavour,  it has a slight nuttiness that’s warm and embracing and not the assertive pepperiness of so much olive oil as well as half the saturated fat and and a near perfect blend of omegas 3, 6 and 9.

The neutral flavour makes it ideal for frying, as does its high smoke point that means that unlike olive oil it can be made to go very hot indeed without choking you out of the kitchen.

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Cooks’ choice

A big fan is Michelin starred chef, Kenny Atkinson who first won a Michelin star at St Martin’s on the Isle Hotel  and then at his own restaurant, House of Tides in Newcastle. He’s been a big fan he says since he was obliged to find a substitute for olive oil when cooking for the Great British Menu. ‘Everything had to be sourced from the UK obviously, so that meant no olive oil. But I fell in love with rapeseed oil and now that’s all I use in my restaurant kitchen.’

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Grate for any dish

To prove how good it is he gets busy and cooks Grilled Mackerel with salad of fennel and an orange, brown shrimp and ginger vinaigrette, whips up a vibrant Watercress Pesto Sauce and then Lemon and Thyme Cake Bars. Follow the links for the recipes.

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Mayonnaise made easy

All delicious I find,  as I eat the dishes under a clear blue sky out in the Nottinghamshire countryside just a mile or two away from where the oil was produced.

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Ready to fry

Rapeseed oil is one of our island’s most perfect products it seems and is slipping ever deeper into the clued-up chef’s toolbox.Try some yourself and get the golden touch.

The full Borderfields range includes:

Borderfields British Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil (500ml and 250ml)

Borderfields Scottish Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil (500ml and 250ml)

Borderfields Chilli Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Basil Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Garlic Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Lemon Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Garlic & Ginger Stir Fry Oil (250ml)

Available at Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda stores nationwide, as well as selected Tesco stores and www.amazon.co.uk – with RRPs ranging from £1.99 – £4.50.

Worth its salt

Nick goes to Anglesey to earn his salary (sic) by seeing Halon Môn salt created and how Green & Black’s chocolate is making new use of it.

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David Lea-Wilson, co-founder

‘Every day whatever the weather I come down to the water’s edge and use this device,’ says David Lea-Wilson co-founder of the Anglesey Salt Company waving a curious kind of measuring instrument that looks rather like the thing doctors poke in people’s ears.

It is in fact a  refractometer and accurately measures how much light bends, or refracts, when it enters water. The more salt dissolved in the water, the more resistance the light will meet and the more it will bend.

This device is crucially important because the seawater here is what goes to make Halen Môn salt, widely regarded as one of the best sea salts in the UK if not the world. And it’s the salt Green & Black’s have chosen to go into their new Dark Sea Salt THIN bar.

Continue reading

Go Dutch for great food at sea.

Today’s cruisers attach massive importance to the quality and variety of food on board. Nick Harman sees what Holland America’s newest ship has on the menu.

home-bgHolland America is one of the most venerable of cruise lines, but perhaps not the best known in the UK. Founded in 1873 for many years it ran regular passenger sailings from Holland to New York.

In fact when Rotterdam was the gateway to a new and better life for European emigrants in the early part of the last century, it was mostly on Holland America ships that they sailed.

I was invited to Rotterdam to sail and eat on the ms Koningsdam, the newest addition to the Holland America Pinnacle-class cruising fleet, and the largest as well. It was about to be dedicated by Queen Maxima of the Netherlands before we sailed to Amsterdam overnight.

All aboard for ‘free’ food Continue reading

The Wilderness Festival is my kind of festival

blanc2The love the mob feels for Raymond Blanc is remarkable. He emerges from the back of the Banqueting Tent at the Wilderness Festival looking, as usual, eerily like Dudley Moore but in chef whites and the crowd immediately goes bananas.

He becomes the epicentre of a horde, dare we say a swarm, of phone-toting fans keen to get selfies with the grinning Raymond. As many of horde are young girls and women scantily dressed to allow for the day’s heat, his grin becomes even wider. My wife grabs her phone and disappears into the crush as fast as anyone else and eventually emerges triumphant with her own personal memento of what has been a very memorable occasion. Continue reading

Sing to me of summer. A picnic at Glyndebourne

Ex 70s punk and eternal fan of indie music, I’m lured down to Glyndebourne by the promise of a picnic in the sun and an aria or two.

IMG_0098They call it an earworm in Germany, the song that won’t get out of your head even if you don’t actually like it. Well I’m stuck with Toreador from Bizet’s opera Carmen and I’m actually finding myself making up my own words to it. ‘Stupid iMac, why won’t you pick up speed. That’s what I need. That’s what I need.’ It’s the result of just seeing Carmen at Glyndebourne, a magical afternoon and evening in the heart of the most beautiful English countryside, one spent in blazing sun and adorned with a superb picnic from Leith’s

I had never thought of going to Glyndebourne before, I had vague ideas of it being somewhat elitist, expensive and as far as opera went somewhat incomprehensible too. I have now changed that opinion radically. The audience was wonderfully mixed, the price not too bad considering the wonderful time we had, and opera, at least in the case of the accessible ones like Carmen, a magical thing to behold.

IMG_0088Glyndebourne is unique; a self-sustaining and self-financed, by ticket sales and private sponsorship, modern opera house attached to a stately home, the creation of John Christie back in the day as almost a hobby. It has grown since then to have a state of the art opera house, built a short while back, and has gained an international reputation for excellence while still retaining its uniqueness and is run by Christie’s descendants.

Situated a couple of miles outside Lewes in East Sussex, Ringmer is the nearest village, the opera house is powered by its own wind turbine and made almost entirely of natural, recyclable materials. It’s big enough to house a reasonably sized audience yet small enough to be intimate for performers and audience alike.

IMG_0070Outside the gardens and countryside of the South Downs sprawl languorously away from view, begging to be enjoyed with a glass of chilled wine and fine food, and that is exactly what the majority of Glyndebourne goers do. The men in evening dress, the ladies merely in dresses, they lie on picnic blankets or at folding tables with their cool boxes pouring forth food and drink, to be taken before the performance, or during the long interval as the sun slowly slides behind the great house.

Well we didn’t have to bring our own picnic because Leith’s had it all laid on. Recognising that in the week many people come straight from work and have no time to prepare food, but at the same time don’t want to eat in the range of indoor restaurants, Leith’s have a range of options that can be collected on arrival.

IMG_0073The choice is wide and tempting but must obviously be made in advance. We went for a sharing platter – three courses, porter service and picnic furniture option. This provided us with a sturdy chap to carry the cool box and set up the table and two chairs in a nice spot in the Sunken Garden, but there are lots more lovely spots to choose from. Here we gazed out over the lake, a cheeky breeze occasionally threatening to blow us in, but in England one is grateful for the fact the sun is blazing down, or indeed shining, at all. Glyndebourne does have plenty of sheltered spaces to eat when the weather really acts up though.

IMG_0093We ate the shared starter platter first, after a bit of a struggle getting it out of the cool box. The platters were very tightly wedged in and so very prettily laid out that it would have been an awful shame to tilt and mess them up on extraction.

Underneath came the crockery, the linen napkins, a range of glasses and cutlery of very classy kind and we tucked into the starter platter accompanied by a bottle of wine from the bar: Chargrilled asparagus, mange tout, pea shoot salad, smoked tomato mayonnaise, Langham cured smoked salmon & mackerel salad, Heritage beetroot, horseradish dressing Confit chicken & duck terrine, Dukkah crust, artichoke, orange & mint salad.

IMG_0095All very nice and as I say, excellently presented. Others looked on with what I feel was justifiable envy as we ate and then it was off to the opera house for the show.

This is not an opera review site so all I can repeat is that it was superb, quite superb. We came out for the long interval, around ninety minutes, to eat the main platter and dessert with the sun now fading and the grounds looking even lovelier.

The main grazing platter was a selection of continental sliced meats, glazed figs, pressed quince, marinated olives, dehydrated plum tomatoes, chargrilled artichokes, parmesan shavings

1jpgCheesecake with herby goat’s cheese, caramelised balsamic red onions, rocket leaves, all again excellent and despite not looking all that much, very substantial.

A trio of dessertsofdark chocolate black cherry dome, pistachio custard, Kent strawberries & cream, salted caramel panna cotta, gingerbread crumble were delicious.

Coffee and chocolate came forth; we finished off the wine and wandered back to the opera house for the last acts. One of the very big advantages of the Leith’s picnic is that somebody else clears up after you.

IMG_0065And so an hour later, still humming the tunes, and with dickey bow loosened, we headed happily home.

Glyndebourne is quite magical, well worth the money for a once a year treat and Leith’s have the picnic sorted superbly as you might expect

Now all together, ‘Toreador, L’amour t’attend! Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant’.Discover more about Glyndebourne and Leith’s picnics at their website

www.glyndebourne.com