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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Posh Pickles and Preserves: Christmas Comes Early

Much as I love Christmas, I've always been of the school of thought that it shouldn't really start before December - all this Christmas-in-November business has always felt just a little premature, like eating all the chocolates from one's advent calendar and then suffering from a potent mixture of shame and gluttony. Every year it gets harder to resist though; take last Saturday morning as an example. I was already vulnerable, having forbidden myself to watch The Muppets Christmas Carol on the Sky Christmas Channel, and when the parcel of Christmas goodies arrived from Cheshire-based Posh Pickles and Preserves it really seemed a sign that I should wait no longer.

I'm an absolute sucker for festive food. I love all the flavours of Christmas and would eat them all year round if I could - sprouts, chestnuts, cinnamon, booze-steeped fruits...I honestly get excited just thinking about such things. And as if decreed by fate, the first jar out of the box was the Mulled Wine Christmas Punch Preserve, a loosely-set jam made with plums, apples, red wine, orange juice and peel, and a whole host of Christmassy spices; in short, it was my idea of heaven, and I'd like to pretend that I didn't eat a good portion of it straight from the jar with a spoon. Other Christmas treats included the Cranberry Sauce with Juniper Berries and Ruby Port, a nicely tart preserve which again was strong on festive flavours like cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and the Strawberry and Champagne Celebration Jam - like the Mulled Wine Preserve, this was an example of that rarest of things, a jam with booze that you can actually taste. I include a photograph here, not so that you may scoff at the unimaginative way in which I consumed this jam, but so that you may admire its beautiful scarlet hue.

Posh Pickles & Preserves began life in 2005 when founder Stephanie Bath was undergoing kidney dialysis, and has gone from strength to strength ever since, winning the Prince’s Trust Award for Business Success in 2006 and Outstanding Business Achievement Award in 2007. Steph clearly has a nose for an interesting flavour combination (as well as a liberal pouring arm with the booze) - I've tried her pickles before, and was particularly taken with the Bloody Mary Chutney, a winning combination of tomatoes, Bloody Mary spices (chilli, Tabasco, Worcester sauce) along with a good glug of vodka that was quite honestly made to go with cheese. Also very versatile is the bestselling Vietnamese Lemongrass and Chilli Relish, a punchy sauce that I found useful as a cooking sauce and marinade as well as a pickle; be careful though - this one is very garlicky and is therefore not recommended for potentially romantic occasions.

As well as approving of these interesting flavours, I like that neither the jams nor the chutneys are too sweet. The Sweet Mango and Cheshire Apple Chutney is not remotely cloying thanks to the inclusion of generous quantities of chilli, mustard seeds and ginger, and was very happy made into a wrap with some cold roast chicken, rocket and mayonnaise. The Raspberry Jam is satisfyingly pippy, and the Sticky Pear and Ginger Jam is well-balanced and tempered with a hint of lemon. I plan to buy a large jar of this latter item and make some kind of interesting cake with it, as I think the flavours would work perfectly.

I've always wanted to be the sort of woman who makes her own jam and chutney but, quite frankly, I'm not and never will be; luckily, Steph is, and makes these lovely things in small batch pans so that we can pretend that we did it instead. Posh Pickles also donate money to the National Kidney Federation - a charity close to Steph's heart - from the sales of their chutney, so really, it's a moral duty to purchase it if we are to consider ourselves community-minded citizens. The full range is available from their website - I suggest you have a look and treat yourself to some Christmas cheer immediately even if it is still November.

- Steph sent me some mini jars to try but was very clear that I was under no obligation to write anything nice about them (or indeed, anything at all). They really are nice though.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Robert Owen Brown and Inca Pop-Ups Join Forces at Manchester's Proper Tea

It's little wonder that Manchester still can't get enough of the Pop Up, whether this be a one-off supper club or full-on restaurant. I've never been completely convinced by street food, thanks to the whole eating-whilst-standing-up-and-often-as-not-in-the-pouring-rain thing, but can fully understand that opening a permanent restaurant is a financial commitment beyond most people's reach, particularly with rents and rates in Manchester requiring a pretty sharp turnover right from the off. Common sense, then, to make use of an existing venue in order to spread the costs, a little like a foodie time-share - and that's exactly what happened last Saturday night, when a room full of people were able to sit comfortably in the beautiful Proper Tea and enjoy an excellent one-off menu from Robert Owen Brown without worrying about getting coleslaw in their hair or rain in their shoes. The supper club had originally been planned to take place in Chapter One Books in the Northern Quarter, but a last minute glitch meant Proper Tea stepping in to save the day, and whilst I was sad not to eat surrounded by books, the new venue was pretty much ideal (long walk to the toilet aside). Anyway, my friend had brought me along the Hawksmoor at Home cookbook for a birthday present, so I was able to pretend I was indeed in a bookshop, albeit one with a very small stock selection.

I previewed the menu here a few weeks ago, and it didn't disappoint - although I had warned a trepidatious boyfriend, a first time visitor to a Robert Owen Brown event, about the likelihood of the presence of animal unmentionables that didn't in the end materialise. Instead we were treated to a sophisticated succession of courses showcasing the pleasures of game - the rabbit consomme was a simple yet delicious clear stock peppered with chunks of meat and crunchy mini dumplings; the pigeon was cooked pink and served thinly sliced with sweet chestnuts and crispy parsnips that really complemented its rich flavour; and the roast partridge sat happily on a bed of wild mushrooms and caramelised onion. The dark chocolate tart could have been a little more bitter for me, but I don't really have a sweet tooth and in any case was saving myself for the final course of the night - the white port-soaked Garstang cheese was everything I hoped it would be and more, and the sweet waffles with which Rob served it were a revelation. And just when I thought I couldn't eat any more, the lovely Claire from Inca Pop Ups (who knew it was my birthday) appeared with a plate of cakes and everyone sang to me - just the perfect end to a fab evening. Mention must also go to Nic from Reserve Wines, who had chosen some great drinks for the evening - we really enjoyed a Rioja priced at a very reasonable £15 a bottle.

This is the first event I've been to organised by Inca Pop Ups but I will definitely be going to more - it's always a pleasure to see Rob but as well as his cooking the evening was really well organised and offered very good value for money. Keep an eye on Eventbrite for their forthcoming events - the next is on the 28th November and features another collaboration with Rob, this time in Alderley Edge. I can't go to this one - but with a menu including a "bird in a bird, in a bird, sat in a pear tree", it's frankly your duty to go along and take a few photos to share with the rest of us...

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Cake and Bake Show Returns to Manchester for 2015

As we approach the season when it becomes perfectly acceptable to consume baked goods at any and indeed every meal, it seems only fitting for the Cake and Bake Show to take up its annual Manchester residency in its new time slot and location. The four day celebration of all things cake kicks off tomorrow at EventCity, and promises a whole range of well-known faces - including new national heroine Nadiya Hussain, who so recently made us all hungry every Wednesday evening on the Great British Bake Off. Other celebs hovering round the cake this weekend include Gregg Wallace (no surprise there then), Lisa Faulkner, Rosemary Shrager, Phil Vickery and Eric Lanlard; truth be told though, stellar as the line-up invariably is, I rarely see many of the demonstrations as I'm too busy wandering round the exhibitor stalls (sporting, of course, a cross-body bag in order to leave both hands free for sampling).

The exact format changes every year, but you can find a full list of exhibitors and visiting experts here on the Cake and Bake Show website, and read all about the 2013 show here. One of the highlights of this year's show looks to be the story book cake display created by food artist Jacqui Kelly and featuring life-size characters including my own personal favourite Paddington Bear. You may wish to enjoy the photograph shown here of Jacqui's beautiful cake - or indeed go and see it for yourself - before I run into it face first on Saturday and consume half a sugar bear quicker than you can say Aunt Lucy.

- The Cake and Bake Show is a great day out for those of a greedy and/or excitable persuasion, and this year looks to be even better value as your Cake and Bake Show ticket will also gain you entry to the Ideal Home Show taking place concurrently. Adult tickets will cost £15 on the door - for full details check the website, as certain concessions are available. SEE YOU BY ALL THE CAKE.

Monday, 2 November 2015

New Guest Post: A New Look for Manchester's Walrus and Tusk Bars

Sometimes, real life (and the kind of employment that actually pays the mortgage) gets in the way of lovely blog events. I'm very lucky, then, to have several excellent guest bloggers who are happy to take one for the team and drink wine on my behalf (although this feels less lucky when said guest blogger sends you photos of his o'er-flowing wine chalice whilst you are still at work). Still, it's fitting that for this, my 600th post, I hand the reins over to the fragrant Chris, who has been having a lovely time at the re-launch of Walrus and Tusk in the Northern Quarter...

As the NQ appears to go from strength to strength and with the whole area appearing to have a renaissance over the last 6 months or so (in my humble opinion), it makes sense for Walrus and its next-door neighbour Tusk to continue to keep themselves fresh.

So as autumn sets in, it was nice to pop along tonight to the unveiling of their half a million pound relaunch, yes, that’s right, £500,000! With such a generous spend on another relaunch, you maybe thinking that it has changed its target market and is looking to a different clientele, and based on the plush new interior, you could think this to be true.

The new theme of copper and wood (and plush leather booths) does give it a wow factor. The booths are incredibly comfortable, especially when looking out into the dark night at the flame throwers who were called into action for last week's launch party (and cuddling a new cocktail), and are perfect for groups of 4-6 or maybe a couple more if we are getting intimate! This, coupled with the extensive spirits, bottled beers, ales and cocktail menu, makes Walrus a great venue to kick your night off.

If you were to invite Walrus into your itinerary, you would be pleasantly surprised with the prices too. The food menu is very reasonably priced and is perfect for small bites, sliders, sharers and, for those thin-crusted pizza lovers, a decent range of pizzas. My personal favourites were the breakfast pizza and the chicken burger (£9.95). There is also an impressive range of classic “mix ups”, or cocktails, including The Bohemian Mojito (spiced rum and ginger) and my favourite of the night, The Solero (vodka based with passionfruit, vanilla and mango), both £7.50. Draft beer isn’t on offer at Walrus, but there’s plenty of branded bottles beers and some unique ales offered, so you wouldn’t go without.

There is a definite look and feel of style in the design of Walrus, and not a theme that is currently repeated within the ever changing NQ. Offering such a simple [yet tasty] food menu, and a perfect place to start your night out, I just hope that with such a large spend on Walrus and Tusk (much darker and moodier (in a good way)), it manages to be a success.

- Walrus is at 78-88 High Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1ES.