October, 2011

Oct 11

Wimborne Food Festival – the recipe!

Well. we all had a fantastic time at Wimborne Food Festival at the weekend. Fortunately, the weather was kind, and the event was packed out as ever.  It was such a great opportunity to catch up with other interesting and inspiring food writers, particularly Josceline Dimbleby and Lucas Hollweg.

As it was National Baking Week, I just had to demonstrate a cake, and my cake of choice was a very tasty Chocolate & Pear cake using lovely local, seasonal conference pears. I was thrilled to hear that so many people in the audience went home and made this cake straight away, to great success. For those of you who wanted the recipe, it is below. Hope you like it!

Chocolate & Pear Cake








·        85g butter
·        85g dark chocolate
·        85g caster sugar
·        1 tbsp brandy
·        3 eggs, separated
·        85g ground almonds or hazelnuts
·        4 very ripe pears, peeled, halved and cored


1)        Grease and line a 25cm springform tin
2)        Preheat the oven to 180 / Gas mark 4
3)        Melt the chocolate and butter together
4)        Stir the brandy and leave to cool
5)        Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until pale and thick.
6)        Fold the melted chocolate and hazelnuts into the egg and sugar mixture
7)        In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peak
8)        Fold one tablespoon of egg whites into the chocolate mixture, followed by the rest of the mixture in two additions.
9)        Gently pour the mixture into the prepared tin
10)        Lay the pear halves into the mixture in the tin
11)        Bake for around 40 minutes
12)        You can dust with icing sugar and serve with crème fraiche

Oct 11

A little pearl of wisdom

One of the greatest pieces of advice I can give for living with food intolerances, is very simple. Get to know your local health food shop.

I have been visiting mine for as long as I can remember. Really. I have probably been going there all my life. I have very early memories of visiting this shop as a child. An aladdin’s cave, selling big jars of all manner of spices, huge tubs of dried fruit and nuts. The smell of delicious spices which hits you as you walk through the door takes me back instantly. Fortunately, this shop still exists, largely unchanged and is such a wonderful resource to have. Spill the Beans, in my home town of Wimborne in Dorset, is a very special health food shop. Set up by the wonderful Maggie Drennan in the 1970s, it was originally viewed as a bit wacky, but how times have changed since then. They clearly were, and still are, doing something very right.

As a nation, I think it’s fair to say we have a growing obsession with health and health foods. As more and more people develop a greater awareness of food intolerances, independent health food shops are an ever valuable resource to tap into.

I recently popped into Spill the Beans on a Saturday morning, mid-morning. The shop was bustling with customers after all manner of foods and Maggie, who still runs the shop to this day was offering knowledgeable, impartial advice to customers. It really does make me happy to see such a great independent shop.  I urge you to seek out your local gem. It probably carries an interesting range of freefrom foods. Health food shops are often great for different types of pastas and noodles, flours, baking ingredients and often fresh dairy free and vegan ingredients, such as dairy free cheeses and tofu.  But I don’t urge you to visit any old health food shop. In my opinion, the health food chains are stuffed full of foods which I wouldn’t really class as health foods or whole foods. They also sell an alarming number of supplements, which I am wary about taking without proper advice. Furthermore, the staff are frequently unable to assist in my experience, as they don’t appear to have a grasp of all the products they stock and their uses. Your independent health food shop is likely to be run by knowledgeable people who really care.  I will get off of my soap box now, but I cannot tell you what a difference this makes.

Spill the Beans for examples sells a fantastic range of gluten free flours. Better than anywhere else I have found. It sells the really hard to find flours that you wish you could find so you can try out a great recipe you have found. And if they don’t have it, they can order it in. As much stock as they can is sold using minimal packaging, too.

Walking around the shop, Maggie is roasting spice to make a delicious homemade garam masala. Not only does this smell wonderful, but Maggie shows people how to try out some different ideas, which are easy to recreate at home. Spill the Beans really is an important part of the local community.

This weekend, I will be cooking at Wimborne Food Festival. 3.30pm in the Demonstration Tent, to be precise. I’ll be making healthy, seasonal cakes using some lovely ingredients from Spill the Beans. I’d love it if you could make it. For more information, please see the below link:


Oct 11

Tetbury Food Festival

We’ve had a very busy time lately. I hope to be able to share news with you soon.

This time, it was Tetbury Food Festival. Tetbury is a great food festival. A real celebration of local produce.

Tetbury is a lovely Cotswold town based in the south Cotswolds. With strong links with its royal neighbours, it is well worth a visit. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall’s country retreat, Highgrove, can be found on the outskirts of town, and they participate in a number of local events in the town. Apparently Camilla is a member of the local Women’s Institute, and strolling around the church, you will see a tree which she planted recently to commemorate the William and Kate’s wedding earlier this year.

In preparation for my cookery demonstrations, I made it my mission to suss out the best local freefrom produce I could lay my hands on. And there were rich pickings.

I really strongly believe in trying to shop locally where possible, especially as I run a small food company myself, so I know what a difference it makes to small businesses. However, I am realistic and appreciate that most of us can’t get by without popping to the supermarket from time to time. Especially if you live in an urban area.

So, with a wealth of local suppliers on the doorstep, I decided to pop down to the local butchers in Tetbury, Jesse Smith & Co. based on Long Street, one of the main streets running through this ancient market town. The delightful manager, John, showed me some beautiful, local venison he had in, farmed near Cirencester by a gentleman named Arthur Whitchell. I picked up a loin of venison there, very lean and tender meat, and it’s actually great value meat. Much cheaper than beef fillet. I decided to make a seasonal dish of venison with blackberries, thyme and port. In keeping with the local theme, I hopped on my bike and headed down the lanes nearby to pick some fresh blackberries. I managed to collect an excellent haul. Wild blackberries are so much more delicious than bought. They have a wonderfully intense flavour, and even better, are totally free! You will find my recipes below, by the way.

Turning to dessert, I decided to use my local buckwheat flour which I had picked up at Shipton Mill near Tetbury. Many people following a gluten free diet find they get on with buckwheat flour, so it may be worth a go. And it is beautiful locally milled flour. I made a lovely quick dessert of buckwheat pancakes, with a blackberry compote. Really local and really delicious – it went down a treat with the audience!

One of the best things about the food festival was discovering so many great food producers in the local area. I met Tom Herbert, who runs Hobbs House Bakery who have a shop in Tetbury amongst other branches in the area. Their bread is fabulous, made with traditional methods passed down through the generations of this family-run business. I highly recommend trying their superb bread – they deliver nationwide in boxes which come complete with a bread bag and a freezer bag. The rye sourdough is a favourite of ours. Tom, who has made several television programmes for the BBC was running his stall…

Another great find at Tetbury was Aunt Addie’s farm project, a local farm project which grows and sells a wide range of excellent vegetables.

They sell fantastic quality, beautifully fresh vegetables, which are really reasonably priced, including outstanding vegetable boxes for just £5. Mine fed me every day for over two weeks (just me on my own, mind). Do take a look at their work if you can, and why not try and see if you have a local scheme doing something similar? I can’t resist including some photos of their produce.

Venision loin with blackberries, thyme and port


Serves 2 (approximately)

This recipe does not rely on exact quantities, below is just a rough guideline

2 Venison steaks or 4 slices of venison loin

1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly

1 large handful of blackberries

1/2 a wine glass (medium) port

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

A knob of butter

2 tablespoons Olive oil (appx)

Ensure you have a plate warming before you begin

1) Place the olive oil in the pan and start to heat it

  1. Add the venison steaks or loin. Fry in olive oil (you can adjust how much you use to taste) for roughly 4-5 minutes on each side.
  2. Remove the steaks from the oven and place on the warmed plate. Cover with foil to keep warm
  3. Add the port, blackberries and redcurrant jelly to the pan you have used to cook the venison and bring to the boil. Make sure the redcurrant jelly is well incorporated.
  4. As the sauce starts to thicken, add a knob of butter, the thyme leaves and stir
  5. Serve the venison loin or steaks with sauce poured over them. I like this dish served with garlic sautéed potatoes.


Shipton Mill Buckwheat pancakes with blackberry compote

Makes18-20 pancakes

Ingredients for the pancakes:

500 ml whole milk or soya milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
80 g melted butter
70 g Buckwheat flour
105g plain flour or gluten free plain flour
3 large eggs

  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl
  2. Heat a large frying pan on the hob.
  3. Drop a tiny piece of butter or sunflower oil in the hot pan and wipe it around with a paper towel.
  4. Pour enough of the batter in the middle of the hot pan, swirling the pan to distribute the batter quickly and evenly. The batter should start cooking within a few seconds, giving you just enough time to swirl it.
  5. After about a minute, flip the pancake over.
  6. Let the pancake cook on the flip side for about 30 seconds, then slide it out onto a dinner plate. Repeat.


Ingredients for the blackberry compote:


200g blackberries

4 tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

For the compote, simply combine the blackberries, water, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan.

Heat slowly for around 20 minutes until the fruit has softened and the liquid is thick and syrupy. Sweeten further to taste, if required.

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