Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Can you smell bacon?

I have a feeling Tim spent most of our visit to the Wirral Food and Drink Festival with one eye on the police on duty, hoping they'd stand next to Shaw Meats so he could do his bacon joke. That didn't happen, but our utility room does smell of bacon, because we've hung a hunk of their Cumbrian pancetta above the washing machine so that the air can get to it. It beats Fairy.

The Wirral fest, held at Claremont Farm, has been going for five years, and it's grown hugely since the first one, where I mumbled my way through a talk about what it's like to be a restaurant critic (answer: fattening). I know the farm well because it's where chef and good egg Brian Mellor has his cookery school, and Andrew Pimbley, the famously fanciable farmer, has kindly contributed to more asparagus features than I care to remember. This year there were two demo stages, a loud folk band and a huge beer tent as well around 100 exhibitors. What was very noticeable was - and this might sound a bit off - the crowd. At a lot of these things there are just hands blindly grabbing the samples and disappearing without so much as a by-your-leave. People are rude, they don't buy much and they don't even seem to particularlylike food. Here, everyone was asking questions, tasting with interest, giving it a bit of the old please and thank you and, crucially, putting their hands in their pockets.

We came away with a haul including but not limited to chicken liver pate from Katie's Proper Pate, some Wirral watercress, lovely organic vine tomatoes, a couple of steak burgers, strawberries, kippers straight from the on-site mini smoker, a great loaf of sourdough from this lot and sweetcorn from the inimitable Vorn the Corn, who laughs fruitily when he hands a cob over to the ladies, growling, "I thought size didn't matter?". And, of course, the pancetta, which you can smell before you see.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Field of dreams

If your dreams involve raspberry sponge with white chocolate icing and pink wafer roses, that is. And whose don't?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Gregg Wallace: what a pudding

Gregg Wallace was to be heard giving Libby Purves plenty of sugary love on Radio 4's Midweek last Wednesday, which coincided with the thump of a new book, Gregg's Favourite Puddings, on the Hale and Hearty doormat. The baldy one is much associated with dessert, and the new collection contains 106 recipes for them, with cheery intros from the man himself.

Judging by the small print, it would be doing Gregg a kindness to describe the recipes as his. Some of the recipes in Gregg's Favourite Puddings have appeared before in other books published by Hamlyn, and since Wallace's other books are about veg and published by Mitchell Beazley (same publishing group, different imprint), I'm thinking he didn't spend hours slaving over rather housewifely recipes for strawberry crumble flan or chocolate roulade. I looked into the author absence issue for Fire & Knives recently, so I know what goes on, and I'm not entirely comfortable with it.

Nevertheless, we had friends staying, I had a new baking book, and the rest was inevitable. After a just-serviceable foray into 'his' take on the famous Portuguese custard tarts, I was looking for something more reliable from the book. On page 44, of the New York cheesecake, Gregg observes "I just can't help myself. Every time I see one I think of tall buildings and hum Gershwin." I couldn't help myself either. It's a simple recipe which uses a kilo of cream cheese and plenty of sour cream, but which is, unsettlingly, stabilised with flour. I expected its presence to be horribly obvious, but what we got was a decent texture and rich-but-clean, slightly lemony flavour. Without the involvement of a bain marie the cheesecake developed a deep three-crevasse split which looked like a T and gave Tim the right to demand the first slice. He needn't have rushed in: since the recipe serves 10, we'll be singing Gershwin every time we open the fridge.