There are few things I love more than pie and I mean few (I’m just going to leave that one lingering) and it seems I’m not the only lady who loves to dig deep into a hearty, moist pie. A survey from Asda published last month found that four in ten woman eat pie each month compared to only two in ten males. Take from that what you will.

Some people in high places somehow found out about my love of pie and invited me to the ultimate: an evening of pie. The event was held at Asda headquarters, Leeds and was an opportunity for bloggers to find out how Asda develop their pie recipes and then manufacture them on a large scale.  On the agenda was a chat from the Asda pie team (yes, a team dedicated to pie), a cooking demonstration, some booze, a tour and even a baking challenge. It was the stuff of stuffed pastry dreams.

First we were introduced to the concept of recipe development and shown on a smallscale how to make one of the supermarkets’ new season pies the Ultimate Steak and Ale Pie. We were shown how the chefs make it in the kitchen and also told how to make it in the factory and I was surprised to learn that many tasks are still done by hand. I was also introduced to the concept of tumbling – putting corn starch around your meat to keep it moist. Another interesting tip imparted by the chief of pies was to cook your steak in half of your ale and add the rest of the ale once your gravy is formed, hereby giving more of a depth of flavour.  Here’s a photo of the pie chief putting my crimping skills to shame.

Expert pie crimping at Asda Pie Night

Expert pie crimping at Asda Pie Night

Later in the evening, when the pies were ready, we got to sample them straight from the oven alongside real ale from the brewery where the pie’s boozy ingredient comes from. I really don’t like ale, but the pale ale from Joules (not the one pictured below) which we were also given the opportunity to sample was actually really nice. Light (as you’d expect), but still fragrant. Another thing I picked up on the evening was the concept of adding texture to the glaze of your pie. The Asda chefs sprinkled the top of their pies with oats, which inspired me to embellish my own pie when it came to the pie-off.

Testing Joules ale and steak pies at Asda Pie Night

Steak pies fresh out of the oven washed down with real ale

So, what’s a pie-off? Well, it turns out it’s a lot like Ready Steady Cook, or the invention round of Masterchef but solely pie-centric. My fellow bloggers and I were paired up and presented with a choice of ingredients to use from and asked to invent a pie of our own and let loose in the Asda kitchens. I was paired with a lovely member of Asda staff as there was an odd number of bloggers and she was kind enough to act as my sous chef (which mainly involved reassuring me when it looked like my pie was going crust up). I decided to make a version of my Pizza Pie  by cooking chorizo directly into a tomato and red pepper sauce and layering it with spinach and a mix of cheese, onion and egg. This made for a really rich tricolore pie. Into my sauce went onion, fresh basil, garlic and diced chorizo, along with some sweet red peppers I roasted in the oven. Here it is on the assembly line.

Pie layered with chorizo, tomato and red pepper sauce, cheese and spinach

My tricolore pie with chorizo, tomato and red pepper sauce, cheese and spinach

As is fairly typical of my cooking, I made far too much mixture and actually ended up baking two pies, on with a puff pastry top and one entirely shortcrust. The pastry was readymade, but the crimping and glazing were down to me. I decided to add some black pepper to the top of one of my pies, inspired by the earlier chef’s showcase. Here I am in action:

Foodfables Fay mid pie creation

Me, mid pie creation

When all of the pies were cooked we sat down to sample them all, alongside some gravy, tasty roasted veg and tatos. Comfort food heaven.

Who ate all the pies? We did at Asda Pie Night

Who ate all the pies? We did at Asda Pie Night

This is a closeup  of one of my pies, which clearly shows I need to improve my crimping skills, though it was very tasty, even if I do say so myself.
My tricolore pie at Asda Pie Night

My tricolore pie at Asda Pie Night

It was really nice to sit around the table with the other bloggers and share a pastry feast and I particularly enjoyed meeting the lovely pret-a-mummy , as well as the eventual pie-off victors arewenearlythereyetmummy and 2teensadogandme. It was a lovely evening all round (albeit a calorific one). One thing I did learn and will never forget… pie sweats are worse than meat or even cheese sweats. So kids, remember always to eat pie in moderation.

You know when you’ve wanted something for a really long time and you keep getting really close to it and then falling short at the last moment? Until just a few short weeks ago that was me and Dinner at the Manor. Dinner at the Manor is a Leeds based supper club with an excellent reputation, so excellent that tickets for the monthly events sell out pretty much centuries in advance as soon as they are announced. Right now – much to my dismay –  it’s sold out until March 2013, which is why I felt super lucky when I finally bagged some tickets for one of their events a few weeks ago.

Dinner at the Manor events are usually themed around a famous chefs’ cookbook and this month it was Two Fat Ladies that were headlining. With cold nights closing in the indulgent and comforting menu was a delight to behold (on paper and on the night).

Dinner at the Manor cooks Sticky Pinny and Martini Man reveal in their post on the evening that the recipes they used were inspired by the Two Fat Ladies rather than taken from their book, which was apparently a bit hit and miss in terms of accuracy, the evening they served up was anything but hit and miss though, here’s the menu..

My partner in crime for the evening (that’s a joke for you, Edwards) was my lovely colleague Becs, a rare find who is as food obsessed as I, Becs can justify the eating of cake merely by telling you what day of the week it is.

“It’s Tuesday Fay, you can definitely have a cupcake with your lunch.”

On a dark, cold, Saturday evening with a hint of magic lingering in the air, Becs and I arrived a little late at the Manor. We were relieved and utterly grateful to find the other guests had left us a quota of the canapes and a generous serving of the warming sloe gin fizz. I’d love to tell you more about the venue, but unfortunately it’s a secret. All I can reveal is – it’s beautiful and filled both Becs and I with thoughts of selling family members into slavery in order to buy something just like it. We’d steal silver to be Ladies of our own manor.

Moving onto the food, which is what we did as soon as we arrived, we wasted no time in tucking into quail scotch eggs, crab cakes and poor man’s caviar, which we swilled down with the warming lightly spiced gin fizz.

During the excitement of the evening (read, as a result of greed and mass wine drinking) I forgot to take photographs of all that I consumed. Special thanks therefore go to Dinner at the Manor and in particular their photographer Nick Barker who have filled in the photographic gaps.

These are the canapes that welcomed us:

Scotch eggs made with quail

Scotch eggs (photo courtesy of Dinner at the Manor)

The Scotch eggs were salty, meaty and crunchy.

Sweet crab, coriander and corn fishcakes (photo courtesy of Dinner at the Manor)

Sweet crab, coriander and corn fishcakes at Dinner at the Manor

I scooped generous heaps of chilli jam on top of my crabcakes. Condiment heaven.

Crostini topped with poor man's caviar

Crostini topped with poor man's caviar (photo courtesy of Dinner at the Manor)

And, though all of the canapes tasted fantastic I especially loved the caviar, a aubergine pate/baba ganouch, which I intend to make myself soon.

After the canapes we were escorted to the beautifully dressed dining room and given an amouse bouche of an onion and ale veloute in a super cute cup (yes, cute=small because I am small). I was sure I had photographed this course but alas, my camera tells a different story. We chose our own seat at the table and at this point there was a little trepidation about how the night would turn out. Viewing thousands of episodes of Come Dine With Me had filled Becs and I with the notion that we could end up sharing our meal time with socially inarticulate snobs, or worse still, but we needn’t have worried. Everyone was open, chatty, friendly and made us feel no shame at all about our value bring your own wine choices.

Salted Whitby cod fishcake with black olive and red pepper tapenade at Dinner at the Manor

Salted Whitby cod fishcake with black olive and red pepper tapenade (photo courtesy of Dinner at the Manor)

Service from course to course was speedy, which was quite a feat considering their were two full tables of diners and only two chefs. Within moments of our veloute vanishing down our throats, with the slightly bitter ale and sweet onions tickling our tastebuds on the way down, we were looking at our starters. I would never have considered putting a tapenade with the slightly sweet fishcakes, but the result was fabulous and I had to resist licking the tapenade remnants from the plate (Dinner at the Manor make excellent condiments).

The main event was slow cooked pork, which had been bought locally. It was surprisingly light and served with a gorgeous jus and perfectly sliced boulangere potatoes. I like to tell people that my food – boulagere potatoes included – is rustic, in reality I’m just not as good at making things this straight and pretty.   A bowl of exquisite salsa verde was put on the table to share. It cut perfectly through the sweet apple and caraway. I ate two thirds of the bowl of salsa verde by heaping spoons in quick succession when my fellow diners were engrossed in conversation. I hoped no one noticed.

Pork with carawayapple, orange, figs and red wine, served with boulangere potatoes and braised greens (photo courtesy of Dinner at the Manor)

Next up was a surprise course and what a perfect surprise it was.  Before moving on to dessert we were presented with palette cleansing sour cherry sorbet. I cannot understate how much I love cherry flavoured things and stirred by my very deep love of all things cherrylicious, I actually remembered to take out my camera and photograph the goods. I’m slightly pained that I may never encounter this sorbet again (Suzy can I have the recipe please?!)

Sour cherry sorbet

Sour cherry sorbet

Quite unusually, dessert was the course I was looking forward to most on the evening and when it arrived I loved and cherished every mouthful. The sponge was very light for a pudding but the spices inside combined with the sticky ginger wine sauce meant there was a huge depth of flavour in every single bite. It gave you a hug from the inside.

Gingerbread pudding with sticky ginger wine sauce

Gingerbread pudding with sticky ginger wine sauce (photo courtesy of Dinner at the Manor)

With such a free-flowing succession of food and conversation, coffee time seemed to arrive quickly to us diners, but was probably an eternity in coming to our chefs, who joined us to chat while we munched on these beautiful little lemon meringue cupcakes. If you are wondering how I managed to hoof down all of this food, I’ll let you into a little secret – it’s amazing how much two bottles of Pinot Grigot will aid you in such an endeavour.

Lemon meringue cupcakes

Lemon meringue cupcakes (photo courtesy of Dinner at the Manor)

And so concludes my first trip to Dinner at the Manor. I almost wanted to keep it a secret and hummed and aaahed about blogging about it, it’s hard enough to get a ticket as it is! I hope you appreciate me sharing.

It’s always nice to be recognised for something that you’re good at and while boasting isn’t becoming to a lady such as myself, I’ve got to say it’s lovely to have received official recognition that I’m really truly excellent at um, eating.

That’s right, I’m now no ordinary Yorkshire-based food blogger, I’m in an award winning one with a plastic trophy and a prize of a bottle of wine (which lasted approximately one hour after my victory). I won the accolade of ‘Living Room Leeds Dining in the dark champion 2012’ by munching my way blindfolded through a selection of the restaurant’s new seasonal menu and unlike other things I’ve previously gotten medals and plastic trophies for (completing the Great North Run, sixth form award for study of French) I enjoyed every minute.

The dining room at the Living Room Leeds

The competition venue

Firstly, the dining in the dark theme was more interesting than a simple new menu launch and as a chain, Living Room perhaps felt the need to excite a little more than most. I hadn’t been to the Living Room before but was pleasantly surprised with both the building and the quality of the food, which does tick the chain test of ‘having something for all’.

One of the nicest things about the event was getting to meet a few other Leeds bloggers and the atmosphere was friendly rather than cutthroat, which is reassuring when you are all blindfolded and armed with blunt spoons. We were asked to taste various foods and drinks and identify ingredients and flavours (in a Q and A format) and I’m pleased to say my gob did not let me down.

Fay Nyberg holding her Living Room dining in the dark trophy

Me holding my 'dining in the dark' trophy and wine

I snatched victory by the slenderest of margins (one single point) thanks to my real appreciation of meat. I was the only blogger to correctly identify the venison in the chef’s Venison Shepherds Pie (£13.25) and I’m certainly pleased that I did because my new shiny plastic trophy looks a treat next to the TV. Here’s me posing awkwardly for your appreciation.

So, now that I’ve bragged (I mean informed) about my taste skills, I should probably give you a rundown of the menu. One thing Living Room seem to do really well are cocktails and though I couldn’t go beyond identifying one as ‘vanilla-y’ they were very tasty indeed. A look at their website tells me you can get two cocktails for the price of one on Sundays from 3pm, which sounds like a decidedly more attractive option than cleaning my flat, which is what I did last Sunday.

Food-wise my favourites were the butternut squash, dolcelatté, walnut and honey tart £5.25 (buttery, crunchy, salty and sweet) and the pork and chorizo burger with a smoked paprika aioli on a brioche bun with chips (£10.25) (double meat, need I say more?). I am fast learning that burgers belong in brioche thanks to my recent trip to Manchester (expect my reviews of Solita andHomesweethome soon!)

Moroccan spiced lamb with braised lentils

I also found the Living Room to be rather good at luscious lentils, as the casserole that came with the pan fried sea bass orange scented broccoli (£15) and the braised lentils that accompanied the homemade Glamorgan sausgages with a sage and onion soubise and mash (£10) were deliciously rich, hearty and flavoursome.

Some surprise treats from this chain, I look forward to defending my title in 2013!

 

I’m not ashamed to say I judge the success of family parties by the quality of buffet on offer. I love a good buffet – it caters to my gluttony and my inability to narrow down on a menu what I want to order. I want everything, of course I do and that’s why I love buffets.

Now, as a buffetlover, there’s only one thing that comes above a buffet and that’s a free buffet. Yes, buffets at family dos are free but realistically you often have to exchange social awkwardness for mini samosas and volovants (I don’t care if they are a bit Seventies they are mini pies of dreams) and while I love a bit of awkward chitchat usually, I don’t want it to stand in the way of me enjoying a bhaji or appreciating a dip selection. Here in England to get your hands on a good buffet you usually have to sign up to attend an event like a wedding or a 50th birthday party, or perhaps gatecrash a funeral, but it’s not like that on the continent. Oh no, in places like Spain and Italy generous bar owners provide buffets to blush over for their customers and now we the little people of Leeds are being treated to this tradition too…

Vineataly at Granary Wharf has long had lots of things that appeal to me – a nice deli counter, a pleasing simple lunch menu, an incredibly convenient location and sparkly lights (which I associate with a pleasant ambience – just read my Little Tokyo post). Now it’s gone one better and started hosting it’s own free buffet (for paying drinking customers of course), which runs from 4.30pm every Friday evening. I was invited along to taste the wares and took my camera and a total lack of shame and piled my plate high.

In Italy they call this kind of bar tapas cichetti and each cicchetto on my plate was washed down lovingly with a mouthful of really nice Italian white wine. The wine was good by the way, I’m not just saying it because Vineataly plied me with tasty tiny sandwiches like these…

Mini sandwiches on sticks from Vineataly

Tiny toasted sandwiches, Vineataly style

Toasted, meat-filled and conveniently mounted on cocktail sticks for easy pickings, you’d be hard pushed to find a better bar snack. I’m a firm believer that anything tastes better on a cocktail stick – just look at the wonder that is cheese and pineapple. This is one of the reasons Barcelona is near the top of my favourite holiday destinations, pinchos pinchos (Spanish tapas on sticks) is the perfect accompaniment to Rioja. Speaking of drinking and eating, if you plan on having a few glasses of vino, you might want to line your stomach with some trusty carbs, like this pasta salad.

Italian pasta salad Vineataly style

Italian pasta salad

I was quite surprised to find these bad boys on the menu, very apt since it’s national sausage week this week. It’s a little known fact I’m from the north, like even more Northern than Leeds and up there children are weaned on sausage rolls. These were better than those the younglings of my homeland are raised on – lovely light flaky pastry with a peppery sausagemeat filling.

Italian sausage rolls with spicy sausage meat

Italian sausage rolls

The final photo below displays my favourite item from the buffet. I must be honest and admit that on first tasting them I knew not what they were apart from ‘crispy, risotto-filled balls with, um, tuna?’ a little research once home revealed the crunchy carby snacks to Arancini di riso – traditional Italian risotto balls that are usually deep fried. I loved them and what wasn’t to love? All of the filling surprise of the volovont enveloped in a carbohydrate sphere. Expect me to attempt my own soon, I’m searching for a good recipe and then it’s all systems Arancini di ri-go.

Italian risotto balls with tuna from VineatalyArancini di riso

It goes without saying I’ll be heading back to Vineataly to hit up this Friday feastival again, though I’ll probably be a little more ladylike in my plate-filling approach in the future to leave plenty of space for wine and risotto balls.

I was extremely excited when I found out I was paired up with foodie penpals organiser for Europe Carol Anne over at This Is Rock Salt as I’ve seen some of the wonderful parcels she sends. I’ve also been left in awe of her mega organisation as she whizzed my beautiful parcel over to me so quickly, I’ve sampled (or completely demolished) most of it’s contents already! In fact, I cracked open one item so quickly I had to photograph it separately with my phone because I couldn’t wait to get stuck in and eat it and that was the bitesize coconut snowballs….

Lees Mini Snowballs

Mini Snowballs perfect for snacking

I’d told Carol Anne I liked a mix of ready to eat and ready to use goods and like trying new things and she really went to town, I’ve no idea how she managed to pack so much into the box. I’d also told her my favourite foods are meat, Thai foods and all Italian foods. Armed with this information and what must have been a considerable snoop on my blog, she put together the parcel below…

Foodie penpal parcel October 2012

Delicious treats courtesy of This Is Rocksalt

After the gooey marshmallow snacks the gorgeous homemade goats cheese and olive biscuits were next to go, which I dipped indulgently into hummus. Can I have the recipe please? The item that was perhaps most perfect for me (If I can pick one out in such a brilliantly put together package) was the homemade cherry brandy (again, recipe?). I adore all things cherry flavoured but particularly cherry brandy and I’m not ashamed to say I drank this neat from a glass with ice, cherrilicious!

I received my parcel on a Friday, which meant I was given the perfect opportunity to try out my Scotch Pudding the next day. This is usually fried and served along with a full breakfast, which I couldnt quite brave, so I ate mine fried and with some sliced banana on top (I’m sure my stomach will thank me for that minor calorie reduction).

Anchovie stuffed olives were the next thing to be virtually inhaled. I ate half while watching TV and the rest went into a a tomato and chilli sauce to top some cod (mmm, fishy). The condiment-cum-flavouring that was the smokey mesquite BBQ flavouring  has so far found itself into chilli and atop some chicken. While the Italian sofritto paste, which I’d previously never heard of made its way into a beautiful low-fat courgette and tomato soup, which I’ve been feasting on at lunchtimes. I was surprised how much extra flavour the paste provided so I’m definitely going to be picking that up if I come across. Here’s what the soup looked like…

Low-fat courgette and tomato Italian soup made with sofritto

Low-fat courgette and tomato Italian soup made with sofritto

 

The only items surviving intact to date are the rock (a little extra from a local museum) and the Thai pancakes, which I’m saving for my next Asian inspired dinner party. This parcel really went a long way I’ve done some serious eating and drinking  over the past fortnight and for that Carol Anne, I sincerely thank you!