Very Early Sloe Gin – Recipe

sloe berriesIt was only after I got back from a long walk out to The Peacock, having gathered a box-full of sloes and with a thirst for G&T, that I discovered in Richard Maybe’s ‘Food for Free’, sloes for making sloe gin are best “after the first frost”. Oh well, I wouldn’t want to see them go to waste, so here is what I did with them…

I started by pricking the skins of each sloe with a skewer (a painstaking task with 750g of the things) to mimic the effect that the frost has in breaking the skin open. This will help the gin soak through the sloes and draw out all the flavour.

pricking skins of sloe berries

Next I added to the sloes Continue reading Very Early Sloe Gin – Recipe

Daylesford Organic Cookery School – Exclusive Preview!

daylesford organic cookery schoolBefore any big-media even got their quills inked to review this new foodie destination, Loaf had the privilege to preview the hotly-anticipated Daylesford Organic Cookery School. Through the generosity of an old Uni chum, Loaf managed to wangle itself an invitation to the first trial day of the brand-spanking-new cookery school.

The cookery school has been 9 months in the making and is the brain child of Vladimir Niza, a passionate and extremely talented chef-nutritionist (and said Uni chum), who was senior tutor at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School until recently. Vladimir has expertly directed this project from it’s very inception and has taken care of every detail from floor (Cotswold-stone tiled), to ceiling (oak-beamed), and secured a bunch of sponsorship to boot.

The place is absolutely stunning (this iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice); a converted barn on the Daylesford Estate, adjoining the butchery and fishmonger, and adjacent to the restaurant and farm shop. Loaf saw it when it was an empty shell just 3 months prior: the architect, a co-pupil, threatened to get his own back on Vlad for the last two and a half months of stress in converting it to this! Strung-up onions adorn the walls, and wicker baskets full of herbs and cresses are always at our finger-tips. Infact a lot of the produce we use during the day was grown about 500yds away, as we discover on our lunchtime garden-tour with head gardener Jez. The place is packed with state of the art equipment, and has a nearly-complete library as an entrance lobby (next to the famous Daylesford cheddar maturing room), complete with shelves of normal books, and macbooks for guests to surf the net or do some research.

The food, of course, is stunning too. The twelve of us ‘guests’ pack out the room as Vladimir talks us through the ‘Seasonal Dinner Parties’ programme. We cook, or are demonstrated, gazpacho, salad nicoise, pan fried pollack with chorizo oil and borlottis, bean soup, roast shoulder of lamb, raspberry tart, summer berry crumble, and poached flat peaches. Everything breathes freshness, and the cooking and eating is interwoven with nuggets of Vladimir’s encyclopaedic knowledge – from the nutritional value of eggs to who invented custard (the English of course!). Vladimir is an enthusiastic and inspiring tutor – his eyes literally glint with passion. And for a moment he is able to make you believe that with a little guidance, you too can be a Michelin-starred Chef. Of course you can’t, but who cares, for a day it’s a great feeling!

The cookery school launches on the 17th of September. There’s an exciting programme of courses coming up – everything from Field to Fork to Classic English Cooking to Butchery. Much more information can be found on the cookery school website.

Taste the Wild – Review

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but the fact that I took shower gel and a mobile phone charger probably gives a few clues away. Taste the Wild’s ‘wild food weekend’ was, well, a bit wilder than I thought. That’s not a bad thing though – I think the lack of a hot shower, a flushing loo (composting is better anyway), and electricity actually helps urbanites like me to get out of city-mode pretty instantly, which is the point really.

taste the wildTaste the Wild is run by husband and wife team, Chris and Rose. Chris is a designer by training, and chef by passion, Rose a wood sculptor (with a chainsaw no less!). They own an 18 acre wood in Yorkshire, which Chris and Rose have nurtured like a newborn since taking it over 5 years ago – they’ve started to coppice, dig ponds, thin out dense areas (planted by the military), and encourage young broadleaf trees to develop the biodiversity that it once had. They’ve created a clearing where we spend much of the weekend, complete with tipi’s and an amazing bush kitchen, the centrepiece of which is a 15 foot handmade table for all the kitchen preparations (chef’s do like their space).

Friday evening was a laid back affair, a hearty beef stew, and chats round the camp fire with Chris and the other four foragers-in-training. Saturday morning begins at a respectable 9am (after porridge prepared over an open fire), and I discover that my instincts were correct, the mushrooms are out in force, and by 11am on our first wild food walk, we’d collected enough edibles for a filling starter. wild mushroomsMushrooms are enthralling, and despite Chris trying to teach us about wood avens, chickweed, and sheeps sorrel, not much of it sunk in as our eyes surveyed the forest floor for little humps of joy (Bay Bolete’s) and of pain (Fly Agaric). We paid much more attention on our second foray though as Chris tactfully ignored the mushrooms, and shared his impressive knowledge of well over 20 edible plants. I was like a kid in a sweet shop, excited by what culinary delights these weird green things could offer, and often trailing behind the group taking copious notes in my moleskine.

After lunch, and a brief lesson in skinning a rabbit, we were put to the test, and sent out with a woodland shopping list to find our dinner. We all had moderate success, but I think it’s the slowest i’ve ever walked in my life – eyes fixated to the ground, mind daring me to try things that looked vaguely like what we’d identified earlier. Still, at least I could find my way back by following the puddles of bitter-spit. As the night drew in, Chris expertly pulled together a wild food feast – wild mushrooms on a garlic crouton with sorrel salad, followed by pan-fried rabbit with mash and wilted wild greens. The wild berry compote had to be saved for breakfast we were so full.

On Sunday, Rose came into her own as we concentrated on pickling, processing, and preserving all that woodland goodness. We made delicious dandelion and burdock, tangy corn mint pickle, and surprisingly delightful rowan jelly (*must make this again, Birmingham is full of rowan trees*), and sampled many of Rose’s concoctions – fortunately many of them contained a good amount of tipple too! My personal favourite was beech leaf noyau, a mixture of young beech leaves, gin, sugar, and brandy – a pure taste of the woods, and a nice kick to boot. Sunday lunch, and the finale of the weekend, was smoked trout (which we’d ponassed ourselves) and flat breads (baked in the earth oven), followed by a beautiful meadowsweet panna cotta (made by yours truly).

melilot sourdoughI left the weekend with a fistful of herbs and a headful of ideas, and have already made my first wild bread, melilot sourdough, which tasted great, and have a meadowsweet brioche planned for later this week. This stuff can definitely be applied in the big city, I even stepped over a bunch of wood avens on my front step as I arrived home, so watch this space for more wild food and urban foraging action, right here in Birmingham.

Do check out Taste the Wild, as they run a plethora of other courses too – bushcraft, survival, mushroom days, coastal foraging etc, and next Spring they’ll be running a build-an-earth-oven weekend. Who knows, there might even be a loaf/taste wild-bread collaboration in the future – watch this space!

Tom.

Local Food Labelling Scheme

Loaf is investigating the possibility of a food labelling scheme to help customers identify food produced locally to Birmingham. This might involve stickers on food packaging in independent shops and logo’s on menus, along with a comprehensive online directory linking up all the local food producers with the shops and restaurants where you can buy their produce. We’d love to hear what you think about it – please answer the poll below, and leave a comment if you have any other thoughts or ideas. Thanks!

[poll id=”4″]

Taste the Wild

taste the wild

Packed and ready to go, with knife in one hand and field guide in the other, Loaf is leaving the city and heading to the woods for a weekend of wild food foraging in North Yorkshire. Fortunately, as a wild food novice, Loaf is not alone, and will be guided through the woods by the (hopefully) very knowledgeable guys at Taste The Wild. Left to my own devices I’d probably be blissfully munching on a hemlock and death cap salad, thinking I was the new Bear Grylls and dreaming of my first TV series! Hopefully I’ll more than just stay alive though – I’m hoping to be picking roasted squirrel out of my teeth, and have a belly-full of wood sorrel come Sunday lunch time (though too much of that stuff isn’t great for you either!). I’ve noticed a few mushrooms around recently, I’m wondering whether the changeable weather has brought an early start to the mushroom season again this year? Who knows, might get some fungi-action in too this weekend.

My foraging essentials (aka teachers pet kit)
My foraging essentials (aka teachers pet kit)

I’ve ticked off the kit list, and trying not to look too much of a teachers pet, have packed my foraging essentials (none of these on the kit list!): the foraging bag passed down the family-in-law (Used as a ‘scrumping’ bag by successive generations), my French Nontron knife, Richard Maybe’s pocket-size ‘Food for Free’, a ‘Field guide to mushrooms and other fungi’, and a moleskine notebook and pencil. I am leaving my Dordogne mushrooming-basket at home though, don’t want to seem too keen…

There’ll be a full review early next week, and if my battery lasts and signal-allowing, a few #wildfood tweets over the weekend. I’m hoping to bring a few skills back to apply in the woodlands around Birmingham (Sutton Park, Balaams Wood, the one at Earlswood lakes…), and who knows, maybe pick up some urban-foraging tips to use here in Brum – I did forage loads of Jack-by-the-Hedge and wild garlic earlier in the year, as well as nettles, blackberries, and plums so far.  More next week, but follow me on twitter for updates and photos over the weekend.

Tom.

Local Food Directory

Following a nice stroll around Kings Norton Farmers Market on Saturday chatting to the local producers about loaf online and the local food directory, we thought it’d be a good a time as any to get the directory going. So as you’ll see over in the directory, there are listings for some great local producers and places in Birmingham that sell their produce. It will be an ever-evolving directory, and there will be an accompanying interactive map coming soon. In the mean time, if you’re a food producer, retailer, or restaurant, or would like to recommend one for the directory please get in touch with us by sending us an email or leaving a comment below. Lisitings are free.

Dreaming of an earth oven – part 4 (the final act)

I’ve made it! Today is Lammas, the 1st of August, and the earth oven is completed! Well it’s nearly completed anyway, the final touch is to scrape out the sand from the cavity, keeping finger and toes crossed that it keeps it’s shape and doesn’t cave in! I’ll do that later today, so if you never hear another word about the earth oven, you know why…

In the last few days since part 3, the following things have happened: I completed the first layer and started adding the second, which had straw added into the mixture to help it bind. It was about 2-3 inches thick:

earth oven 2nd layer

Then, I cut out the door from the second layer, and added the final (cosmetic, not structural) layer, which is a finer mixture made with soft building sand rather than sharp sand, and has 1-inch long strips of straw in the mixture (couldn’t get hold of the preferred goats or horses hair, although I contemplated sacrificing my nieces violin bow for the cause):

earth oven - outer layer

Finally it was time for a few finishing touches. I found some nice tiles from a salvage yard down in Stirchley and inserted them into the final layer: Continue reading Dreaming of an earth oven – part 4 (the final act)

Dreaming of an earth oven – part 3

The race is on for Lammas now, Just 4 more whole days to finish the bread oven in time for the ancient harvest festival. Over the last couple of days, I’ve finished the brickwork for the plinth and filled it with clay and rubble:

earth oven plinth

This was filled nearly to the brim, and then the last 2 inches was just sand. Next I used block paving blocks to form the eventual oven floor, making sure it was nice and level;

earth oven blocks

Drawing a chalk line to mark out the perimeter of the oven cavity; Continue reading Dreaming of an earth oven – part 3

In praise of chard! And eggah!

chardI nearly came to blows over chard today. My colleague insisting it was disgusting and that you might as well “eat mud”; me waxing lyrical about the virtues of chard stalks (“the worst bit!”) fried in sage butter.
In a way she was right; for me the beauty of chard is that it does remind me of mud – earthy, minerally, nourishing loveliness. And every bite of the vibrant stalks is a mouthful of sunshine. Argh, how can she not like it?

Plot No. 85 has been producing a lot of the stuff recently, we can’t pick it fast enough, so there’s been a lot of chardy-dinners lately; barbecued marinated stalks at the big lunch on Sunday; pizza Fiorentina yesterday, and tonight, eggah!

eggah

Eggah is a middle-eastern solid omlette/tortilla, perfect for the mezze table, and eaten for hundreds of years to sustain pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

For my eggah, I added the blanched stalks and wilted leaves to some whisked eggs, with a pinch each of salt, pepper, and turmeric, and a sprinkling of chervil, and cooked the whole lot over a low heat in a frying pan for 20 mins – delicious!!! Made with eggs from our hens, and served with sugar snap peas from the lotti, it was virtually a free dinner too.

Dreaming of an earth oven – part 2

I’m rubbish at laying bricks. That’s my overall conclusion from the last few days of oven-building. ‘Leave it to the professionals’ would have been a good mantra, unfortunately I went for ‘rustic’ instead – perfect applied to bread, worrying when applied to load-bearing structures. Ah well, I’m sure it’ll hold, and at least it’s level. I’m not quite there yet, got a couple of courses to go until I can fill the middle with rubble and start building my oven on top – it’s been cheap so far though, only £50 to get the entire foundations and plinth built (i’ve been skip-diving for bricks for several weeks now)!

plinth nearly there
plinth nearly there

Next week comes the big push – I’ve got the week off work to build the actual oven, and with help pledged from a couple of people, that should be plenty of time. I’m still hoping to get finished in time for the Lammas harvest festival on 1st August, although I won’t be able to bake in it right away, it needs a few weeks to dry out. Though I will start the hunt for some local flour and recreate the effect of an earth oven by baking a ‘local loaf’ on a slab of granite in my regular oven. Check out the Real Bread Campaign for more details of the ‘local loaves for Lammas’ initiative and to check other festival celebrations near you. In the meantime if anyone knows of any good locally (to Birmingham) grown and milled flour, please leave a comment below…

The Big Lunch in Birmingham

biglunchMonths of anticipation and now only a few hours to go – The Big Lunch is nearly upon us! If you haven’t heard of the big lunch it’s basically an excuse to throw a good old-fashioned street party for the sake of it – For the sake of sitting down and breaking bread with the people that live around you. There seems to be thousands of these happening across the country tomorrow (Sunday July 19th), and looking at the interactive map, there seems to be a decent few in Birmingham – the biggest one will probably be the one in Ward End park thrown by Birmingham East and North Primary Care Trust.

Loaf is gatecrashing a big lunch in Kings Heath as we haven’t got round to organising one ourselves (*hangs head in shame*). If you’re going to a big lunch, are organising one, or just end up at one by accident, send a photo and brief description to info@loafonline.co.uk, and we’ll get a gallery and roundup up on here next week!

Dreaming of an earth oven – part 1

www.earthovens.co.uk started it – a Sunday afternoon’s lazy random browsing on the internet clicking from link to mindless link, and all of a sudden I’d found my new project – I wanted an earth oven!!! So I enrolled on the course, last May, on a rainy Herefordshire weekend, and spent two days with 8 fellow dreamers learning how to build a traditional bread oven out of mud. A fab weekend it was too, despite the inclement weather – excellently facilitated by the knowledgeable and laid back Richard Scadding, and hosted in a friends idyllic converted chapel in the Marches, complete with existing bakehouse and earth oven, which produced some fine baked goodies throughout the weekend.

digging the foundations
digging the foundations
mixing concrete
mixing concrete
tapping and smoothing
tapping and smoothing
the finished foundations
the finished foundations and bakehouse

Anyway, that was 2008, enough deliberation. I have been champing at the bit for over a year now, and finally my own project is under way – I’m aiming to finish in time for Lammas, the ancient harvest festival celebrated by baking a loaf with autumns first grain, on 1st August. Check out the Real Bread Campaign for other events happening in celebration of Lammas.

I’ll be hijacking loafonline to chart the highs and lows of the project over the next few weeks, and if anyone wants to get involved then drop me a line at info@loafonline.co.uk – any willing feet for puddling, or bricklaying expertise will be gratefully received! I’m also hoping to share the finished oven too, not just keep it to myself, perhaps get some community baking going – so if this sounds up your street, do get in touch.

This weekend, with a little help, the foundations got dug, and the concrete got poured. I’ve also had a shelter/bakehouse built by a carpenter friend, which eventually will have a sedum roof on top. The foundations are a foot deep as I think the plinth and oven combined will potentially weigh a couple of  tons! As the photos show, the plinth is circular and about 4 foot across. The concrete was poured on Sunday and is nice and hard already so I should be all set for starting the brickwork this weekend, I’ll let you know how I get on!

Tom.

Taste of Birmingham 2009 Review

The OrientalThis was loaf’s first year at Taste of Birmingham. We went on opening night (Thursday 9th July), with a small budget, on the hunt for real food from Birmingham and the Midlands. Cannon Hill Park was sunny and inviting, though the atmosphere was a bit like a high-powered networking event – packs of after-work suits stood around sipping champagne on expenses; loaf feeling a little out of place like we’d forgotten to get dressed.

Anyhoo, the hunt began after loaf exchanged it’s meagre funds for the equivalent in crowns (the official event ‘currency’ – £1 = 2 crowns). There seemed little point in having crowns (a variable exchange rate might make it more interesting) and some of the stall holders were unofficially ignoring it and taking cash with raised eye-brows.deli - taste There are 16 or so local restaurants represented, serving out three dishes each – the busiest were the big names (Simpson’s, Filini, Cielo), and those with the most descriptive menu’s (Thai Edge, Lasan, Fushion Brasserie). Mal Maison were twiddling thumbs most of the night – their menu (‘Mal Burger’ et al) could have fitted into one SMS to the organisers the night before the event. Disappointed by the absence of Turners and Purnells (loaf was assured they’ll be present on Saturday and Sunday), loaf opted for Simpson’s delicate and sweet carpaccio of sashimi tuna with summer fruits scented with basil and verjus syrup, followed by Thai Edge’s hearty lamb penang with jasmine rice.

The Small Producers Market uncovered one or two local producers – Just Oil producing rapeseed oil in various forms from it’s farm in Staffordshire, and the excellent Purity Brewing Company from Warwickshire, but the most exciting producer was Freedom Lager, a Staffordshire brewery claiming to be the only lager-only microbrewery in England. Both their organic lagers were smooth and enjoyable, and the company owner was selling the stuff, and clearly passionate about his product. With the strong influence of Heart of England Fine Foods on the festival, loaf hoped to have seen more  local producers than there were, but then the festival is more big business than earthy and organic, so maybe that was a turn off from some of the smaller artisans.

ticket

The entertainment highlight of the night was watching ‘Bobby’ sing Georgia on the BRMB stage, accompanied by the Jam House band – Bobby was a regular punter over here on holiday from LA, and was plucked out of the crowd to strut his stuff, a magical moment!

There’s still time to head down there for the Saturday or Sunday sessions, and it’s certainly worth a look around.

Photos courtesy of Greensnapper Photography

Taste of Birmingham 9-12 July 2009

taste birminghamTaste of Birmingham food festival starts tonight in Canon Hill Park, and runs until Sunday. It’s supposed to be a celebration of Birmingham and the region’s food culture, with 17 local restaurants taking part, and a host of food producers from the region exhibiting. Loaf will be there for the opening session tonight, and is equally hopeful and sceptical about what awaits. We’ll be on the hunt for local ingredients among other bits – a bit of research for the soon to be launched local food directory!

In previous years the cost has been somewhat prohibitive, but this year it’s much more reasonable (£10 advanced tickets), and is being launched by local agency Marketing Birmingham, so hopefully will be more in-tune with the local scene, and we’ll have less of the helicopter-travelling slebchef nonsense.

Expect a full review in the next couple of days, and some twitter action from the fest tonight – another reason to follow @loafonline on twitter! If anyone else will be twittering from the event tonight, leave you’re twitter name in the comments below.

La Banca Review

Bill for four including wine
Bill for four including wine

La Banca is a brand new Italian restaurant in the heart of Cotteridge village. It’s home is the old bank (hence the name) opposite the corner of Pershore Road and Watford Road. Opening night was the 30th of June, and loaf was there to soak up the atmosphere…

La Banca has little competition in Cotteridge – the clean but classical decor is a far cry from Greggs or Subway – and provides a buzzing, excited atmosphere whilst loaf awaits it’s dinner guests. The welcoming and obviously experienced manager, belied a noticeably nervous front of house, with the understandable opening night jitters: uncollected cutlery, unpoured wine, bill mistakes, and longer than usual waits for orders etc. The menu is probably a bit too large for a single cuisine restaurant, but with a notable absence of pizzas – perhaps investment in a proper oven will come at a later date. Pasta predominates, but there’s an enticing range of non-pasta ‘secondi’ too – the tuna steak with cold tomato salsa was tempting, but at £13.95 (the most expensive item) loaf couldn’t stretch to it in these credit-crunch times.

The menu is spattered with seasonal treats – chard, peas, mint; but there’s no claim that this is intentional, nor is there any indication of where they are sourced. Nevertheless, the food was good – homemade canneloni was executed well and served in a deliciously fresh salty-sweet tomato sauce, and the tirimasu was smooth and luxurious, if lacking a little of the expected alco-kick. There were appreciative noises coming from round the table and the portion sizes were about right if you’re having more than one course. The wine list is excellent, and extensive, with great descriptions for those as ignorant as loaf!

Overall La Banca serves good, well presented, fairly priced food, in a nice environment, which is an overdue treat for Cotteridge. The owners also run Pangaea in Kings Heath which is also worth checking out for a posh curry. For address details and menu etc, see their website at: www.labanca.co.uk

3/5