I’m a confirmed sausage muncher but myself and my friend and fellow blogger Becs (Bitsandbobsbecs) will not be eating any meat or fish for the duration of the month of March. We’ve taken the decision to have a meat-free month to try and increase our culinary creativity, eat a healthier diet and to spend some serious time pondering whether we really need to eat quite as much meat as we do. Of course, this should also ensure horse is neigh-where to be found in our food. We don’t expect to be fully-fledged vegetarians by the end of the month, but we do hope to have made a few food discoveries (recipes and restaurants), expanded our horizons, saved some pounds and maybe dropped a lb or two too.

We’ll be detailing our exploits on our blogs – posting updates about everything from vegetarian cookbook and restaurant reviews, staving off sausage sarnie pangs and interviews with vegetarian chefs and we’d love to invite you all to take part with us. It may be that you are already vegetarian or vegan, or you’ve considered going vegetarian for a while and not yet taken the plunge, or – like us – you want to innovate your food routine. Whatever your reasons, we’d be happy to have you on board!

During the course of the month we are planning to set up a recipe exchange where participants swap their favourite vegetarian or vegan recipe with another blogger and then have a go at making it in their own home. This should hopefully provide us all with some inspiration in the kitchen, though we’d also love any suggestions for food or cooking techniques to try, eateries in our areas or beating bacon cravings.

We’ll also be tweeting about our exploits using the hashtag #MFMuk and invite anyone else who’d like to take part to do the same. If you’d like any more information about the idea behind our meat ban or the recipe swap please get in touch via email foodfablesUK@gmail.com or find us on Twitter @foodfablesukand @becs_edwards

Coffee. I like mine tall, dark, deep and dairy-free, which I think accurately reflects my taste in men. Now I think about it, if a man doesn’t like coffee, we probably won’t get along. Last weekend I went along to an event that was packed out with people who really like coffee and baristas who understand the beauty of a fine brew.

I headed along to the second regional heat in the UK Barista Championships with my friend Michael and after what I shall term ‘a fairly eventful’ drive to town we arrived at the Life Centre and downed two free espressos in fairly quick concession (delicious free offerings of one of the event hosts Pumphreys). We were FULL OF BEANS, buzzing on the quality coffee and the upbeat vibe of what was a surprisingly visually pleasing event.

We were there to watch the second day of competition in Newcastle and unfortunately missed the performance of Overall Winner of Regional Heat 2 – Joe Meagher from Flat Caps Coffee (@flatcapjoe) who scooped a further two awards; Best Signature Drink and Best Cappuccino. However, we did catch the sets of Steve Dyson from Spring Espresso (@springespresso) and Union Hand-Roasted barista trainer Chris Walton (@espressochris) who received the award for Best Espresso.

Steve Dyson interviewed at the UK barista championships

Steve Dyson at the UK barista championships

 I hadn’t imagined the efforts of the competitors would be so performative – not only did they have to make their coffees in full view of the audience and with clipboard-wielding judges so close to them I’d be screaming out about my personal space (seriously, I don’t want to shake your hand unless it’s a job interview). Alongside all this and the making of the coffee under timed conditions, the baristas had to talk you through their set. This meant chatting about what they were doing, what beans they were using, why, how the process they were following would affect the taste of the beans and the particular roast of the coffee. Best of all, this was all carried out to a soundtrack selected for each barista, which included some damn good drum and bass. BEANS, BASS AND BARISTAS, IN YOUR FACE!
I feel like I learnt a lot from watching the performances and chatting to other folk in attendance. here’s a summary:
  • ‘Acidity’ is a major buzz-word in the barista world right now
  • Sugar poisons coffee and actually makes it taste more bitter
  • You can buy coffee that tastes like red apples
  • Forget adding syrup to your coffee to flavour it, instead try infusing it with ginger

As a direct result of attending this event I have an impressive list of independent coffee houses to check out in Newcastle and a near-constant burning desire to buy a coffee machine. I cannot afford a coffee machine. Do not let me buy a coffee machine!

You can follow the progress of the entrants on the SCAE UK site and I wish our regional best the best of luck as the competition progresses.

I’m a child of the 80s and just like 80s star Jason Donovan, I think there are too many broken hearts in the world – far too many. Unfortunately, I am also a hopeless romantic, something I like to keep on the down low because I like to pretend I’m cool as an iced mojito for 51 weeks of the year. On February 14th you’re unlikely to find me in a restaurant packed out with couples sitting elbow-to-elbow, but you may spot me in the kitchen baking my way into my Valentine’s heart. This year I was sadly without someone to make sweet nothings for, so I was very excited when I came across this rather exciting parcel swap.

 

Set up by the impressively organised Anna over at gorgeous blog skin&blister the concept behind the swap was simple: to send a Valentines gift the partner you were paired with would love and, if possible, to send something heartshaped. I’ve become a bit of a surprise parcel fan since joining foodie penpals so I signed up immediately and eagerly awaited my pairing.

In a strange twist of fate I was tasked with sending a parcel to a lady I sort of know because I used to work with her. I follow her blog Ohgoshem because I’m hooked on tales about her waggly tailed puppy, Flash. I immediately knew I wanted to send something to both her and Flash and set about researching the perfect foodie treats to put in their parcel. More about this later, first, take a look at the lovely parcel I received from Sabina at Sparkly Bird Blog.

 My #heartswap presents unwrapped

Lots of heart-shaped loveliness

Sabina tapped into my love of food and baking and sent some incredibly useful and thoughtful gifts: some stickers for labelling foodie gifts to others, heart-shaped cutters, a cake tester topped with a heart and some heart-shaped cup measurers. The last two gifts in particular got me excited because I can finally stop jumping to Delia’s bookmarked cup conversions and there’s now a chance my cakes won’t be full of knife marks. Thanks, Sabina!

Now, back to my gifts to OhGosh. I was told that Emma was a fan of rum and with the cold weather well and truly dragging out I decided to make her a parcel that was hopefully warming and heart-warming. Into it I popped: some homemade heart-shaped lavender shortbread, peanut butter and carob heart-shaped puppy treats for Flash and all the ingredients for Nigella Lawson’s alcoholic hot chocolate – including rum and homemade marshmallows. This was quite a time-intensive parcel to make but I wanted it to be extra special because Em’s boy was away on Valentines Day, so I tried to make a parcel that her and Flash could enjoy together on a cold February evening.

ogoshem's heartswap gift unwrapped

My heartswap gifts to ogoshem (photo courtesy of the same blog)

I created the peanut butter and carob cookie recipe myself by mashing a few recipes together and tweaking a little and will put it up on the blog shortly as apparently my parents’ dogs, Flash and Flash’s next-door neighbour have all given it their seal of approval. For the lavender shortbread I used the GoodFood vanilla shortbread recipe, substituting lavender essence. Here’s a few snaps of the production process:

 

Homemade lavender shortbread

Heart-shaped lavender shortbread, pre-bake

Lavender shortbread biscuits, made with love and lavender leaves

Lavender shortbread biscuits

Heart-shaped lavender shortbread, fresh from the oven

I used this recipe for marshmallows, although I did substitute half calorie sugar as it was the only granulated sugar I had in the cupboard. I am pleased to report the results were little clouds of white loveliness and didn’t suffer for the switch. The marshmallow-making process was a little slow but I felt a touch of glee when the mixture started to fold into a big bowl of fluff.

Marshmallow making

Marshmallows thickening in mixer

Fluffing the marshmallow

I’m planning to make the marshmallows again soon but intend to switch up the flavour using some good quality strawberry jam. Pink fluff galore.

So, what would Mr Donovan think of all this? Well, there’s no evidence to suggest any of the hearts I sent were broken in two when they arrived – though the puppy ones at least seem to have been munched into obliteration. And the #heartswap products I received promise to be gifts that keeps on giving. There are too many broken hearts, people! So, heartswap, don’t heartbreak!

Even before I moved back to the North East I’d planned myself a schedule of scoffing to look forward to and the very first thing on the scoffgenda was a rather special supper club event. This particular supper, held in Ouse Street Arts Cub  on February 8th, was the brainchild of Anna from The Grazer. If you have somehow missed her blog you need to take a look –  it’s packed full of lust-after recipes and food photography that makes dribble drop from the side of your mouth down onto your laptop.

Having gazed longingly at the food porn featured in some of Anna’s posts for a wee while, I was super keen to graze in her presence and messaged her about tickets for the Middle Eastern Meat Free Feast night as soon as they went on sale. Be warned: I only managed to snap one up as she decided to hold an extra night, so if you want to attend one of Anna’s other events you really need to be quick off the mark or book her for a private event.

Setting the table at The Grazer's Middle East Meat Free Feast, Ouseburn

Setting the table at The Grazer's Middle East Meat Free Feast

My date for the evening was the delightful Danielle, a greedy girl after my own heart who I picked up at a wedding. This makes our friendship sound nice and sleazy but really we just got talking about carbs and decided to be food friends, which is fast becoming my friend pickup technique. After briefly getting a little lost in Ouseburn (I’m not a proper local yet, obv), we rocked up to the shipping container where our supper was to be served, eager to tuck in to the following menu.The Grazer's Middle East Meat Free Feast Menu

The Grazer’s Middle East Meat Free Feast Menu

The venue itself was really rather cosy and the lighting and projector helped set the ambience. Warming ourselves up with a glasses of ginger fizz, Danielle and I decided to do a bit of a mingle and got talking to two fellow food appreciators from Durham who gave me more eateries to add to my ‘to try’ list, including a pancake house in Durham. And then it was time to get to work on the middle eastern mezze, which was a sea of colours and textures.

The Middle East Meat Free Feast begins

The Middle East Meat Free Feast begins

I know I bang on a lot about beans being the work of Satan and on the whole I stand by this, but I really couldn’t get enough of Anna’s bean and feta crush, which was gorgeously garlicky and incredibly more-ish. In fact, the whole of the starter was more-ish. I shovelled heaps of carrot dip down on the caraway crackers and suspect I took more than my fair share of the mint and feta cigars (I really need the recipe for these please Anna, they were a real crowd pleaser with everyone).

Butter bean, feta and Za'tar crush, pickled vegetables with curry, mint and feta cigars, roast carrot dip, harissa creme fraiche and caraway and cumin seed lavosh crackers

Butter bean, feta and Za'tar crush, pickled vegetables with curry, mint and feta cigars, roast carrot dip, harissa creme fraiche and caraway and cumin seed lavosh crackers

I’m a real meat eater but since my meal at Hansas, I’ve been embracing vegetarian food far more enthusiastically and there’s even talk about Bitsandbobs Becs and I completing an entirely meat-free March. SERIOUS SAUSAGE LOVERS QUIT MEAT FOR MARCH – YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!  Anyway, one item that will definitely be getting an outing during this time is lentil kofte and Anna’s red lentil versions were crisp without being crunchy and tasted amazing with the harissa creme fraiche and yoghurt dips. The pomegranate was a great finishing touch adding even more colour to the smorgasbord of shades.

Honeyed sweet potato and chickpea, tomato and spinach stew

Honeyed sweet potato and chickpea, tomato and spinach stew

After nibbles galore, which we washed down with BYO white wine, it was time for the carbs and they came in the form of nutty cous cous and honey sweet potatoes. Alongside these perfect partners was some chickpea, tomato and spinach stew, which tasted hearty and I suspect helped me ward off all illness as I ate it, though Danielle and I did think it could do with a bit more spice/depth of flavour. Again, I suspect I took more than my fair share of my favourite part of this course – the honeyed sweet potato. I often mash sweet potato with harissa but I’ve never thought of cooking it in honey – until now. It’s such a simple thing to do but it’s most certainly a case of once tried never forgotten.

Toasted almond and date couscous

Toasted almond and date couscous

After a brief pause to serve some Ouseburn coffee and mingle more we were again seated for the sweet course, which came in two parts, the first was an amazing almond flavoured dessert, which has since sparked an almond binge

Milk and almond pudding with honey and hazelnuts and Ouseburn coffee
Milk and almond pudding with honey and hazelnuts and Ouseburn coffee

To finish, we were presented with some stunning tiny tartlets filled with flavoured cream and scattered with pomegranate seeds and some rose, almond and pistachio filled dates. The tarts were beautifully crisp and I could have quite happily eaten about five or six of the dates washed down with more of the lovely Ouseburn coffee – so I was a tad disappointed when I realised the coffee had run dry and I’d scoffed my allocated date. I couldn’t even steal Danielle’s as hers had disappeared even more quickly than mine.

Pomegranate and mint clotted cream tartlets with stuffed dates

Pomegranate and mint clotted cream tartlets with pistachio stuffed dates

At the end of the meal we were asked to make a monetary donation for our food with the suggested donation set at £30. We were both happy to give this amount because we really enjoyed the whole experience and Anna had obviously put a lot of effort into preparing the evening. I didn’t go home quite so full as after my evening at Dinner in the Manor supper club in Leeds, but the nights were slightly different types of experiences – the Manor is a little more cosy and intimate and The Grazer felt like a magical, secret event and one that I would definitely recommend.

One further outcome of the evening was a rather tipsy Danielle and I deciding that it was about time we got our greedy girls’ bums in gear and started some food events of our own. With this in mind, we will be holding our own supper club event in aid of Macmillan Cancer in March. Watch this space!

 

 

 

 

One of the first things I did when I set up this food blog last year was to join Foodie Penpals, which was recommended to me by my friend Jules over at Goodgobble. It was one of my smartest moves of 2012 by far! There’s something really nice about having a personalised parcel delivered to your door every month and when the scheme took a brief hiatus last  month for Christmas I felt very bereft of parcel loveliness despite it being the month of Father Christmas!

The scheme works by matching you up with two penpals – one you send a parcel to and the other sends to you. This month I was very organised about sending my parcel because of the big move. I was also a tad excited to be back into the penpals parcelling after the month off, so I so sent if off within the first week to  Steph from Steph Loves Cake. She’d very kindly given me free reign over what to buy her so I got very excited and sent a mix of cooking and baking ingredients and naughty and nice things that could be eaten straight away. I included some cracked black pepper pretzels and bear-shaped biscuits with banana baked in (only alliteration can make tea-dunkers better). You can read about the things I sent Stpeh here. While you are there you should take a look at her recipes, she’s been doing some beautiful things with bagels recently!

I’m extra glad that Steph liked her parcel because I managed to injure myself in the rush to get it posted. After a heated debate with a queue jumper in the Post Office (I love a bit of British queueing outrage) I managed to topple over on my very sensible and lovely Cuban heeled shoes on my way back to the office. It was a proper CRASH! BANG! WALLOP! moment, which ended up with two burly men carrying me into a nearby Subway while I held a banana belonging to one of said gentlemen. Next, a carer for a wheelchair-bound man got a bit peeved that I wasn’t moving out of the way of the wheelchair and tried to queue rage me before he clocked my purple swollen foot now glowing like a sickly beacon. The eventual outcome was me spending the afternoon wandering around A&E sans shoes and tights (and thankfully with fake-tanned legs), accompanied by my pseudo mother for the afternoon, Becs from Bitsandbobbecs. It was all a bit ‘What happens in Kavos’, if you catch my drift and totally not what I had in mind for a Wednesday afternoon.

My parcel this month came courtesy of  Katie Lawes. Katie doesn’t have a food blog but she does have a site featuring her design work and her work on food and drink branding in particular gave me some major chuckles since I work in marketing. This digital work is very fun! Katie sent me a mix of healthy snacks and though I couldn’t eat the bombay mix (peanuts=food nemesis) my dad was over the moon to be presented with it and I bagged some daughter points. I’ve been munching my way through the rice cakes with soup at work and giving off a very saintly impression to my new co-workers. I’ve also been slathering the ridiculously hot but bloody gorgeous pickle on as many foods as possible. I cannot stress how much I love condiments. Send me more condiments foodie penpals! Send me all of the condiments! Also in the parcel was come goji berries, which I’m planning to add into some breakfast muffins and some carob powder, which I intend to use to make something special for another parcel I am sending this month as part of heart swap. This is a Valentines Day present swap that will guarantee I won’t spend Valentines Day without a gift for the millionth year in a row (pity me, send me stuff).

Here’s my super food(s) parcel from Katie

Foodie Penpals parcel January 2013

My parcel of niceness featuring bombay mix, liquorice, chilli pickle, rice cakes, goji berries and carob

Fancy being a foodie penpal?

If you like the sound of people posting you stuff and you brightening up other people’s days, (injuring yourself in the process is optional) you should check out the scheme. It is run by the very lovely Carol Ann over at thisisrocksalt, read more about it here. If you haven’t yet made a New Year’s resolution, or have quit yours already, I think receiving more fantastic food things in the post is a pretty good resolution to make and one that you won’t regret!