What I Learned at Banbury Food Fair 2016

So, the Banbury Town Fair has once again come and gone. As always, there were samples galore to try. We’ve learned over the years that once we’ve nibbled your way through the first batch of booths, had lunch and then nibbled and snacked our way through the rest – the idea of dinner often never occurs to us. But it’s not all about actually eating. It’s also about chatting with people about the food they have brought, prepped, turned into art or just enjoy. It’s an incredibly social occasion and with over 100 vendors, a day full of cooking demos and foodie’s everywhere – I always learn a lot.

This year I learned that in order to make a fruit gin, you may need to let the fruit infuse anywhere from several months (soft fruits like raspberries) to just over a year (sloe). Now, I am not a gin drinker (I’m a vodka girl with mixers, myself) but I tasted the raspberry gin from Foxdenton Fruit Gins and goodness! It was delicious – I can absolutely see baking a Christmas cake with that.

I learned from Anita Chipalkatty (while watching her making jalfrezi – an Indian stir-fry) that while Chinese stir-fry and Indian stir-fry have a lot in common cooking method wise, the chop is very different. Chinese veg is shredded or julienned quite fine for stir fry where as for an Indian dish, the chop is chunkier. It still cooks quickly but retains more individual taste and structural integrity (all the better for scooping, for example with chunks of pepper).

hobbycooks
Anita explains it all – and I was totally listening and not plotting to elbow my way to the front when the “taste the dish” offer was announced.

And sadly while I was not able to get close enough for a clear picture, Restaurant 56 head chef Andrew Scott (Banburian himself) and sous chef Nick Bennett (yes, that was him on Masterchef) did make disassembling a duck look GREAT fun.

We discussed timeframes for smoking beef and pork with Smoke and Spice BBQ – and as a Texas-raised BBQ eater from itty-bitty-hood, let me say the beef brisket with Kansas sauce is spot on! The North Carolina sauce seemed to be going over well too.

brisket
Beef Brisket from Smoke & Spice

The difference, in case you wondered, Continue reading “What I Learned at Banbury Food Fair 2016”

Grabbing a Bite in Banbury

In Manhattan, an empty store front showing signs of activity – especially if that store front is on a corner – is quite likely to be a Starbucks or a bank. In one instance, there is even a Starbucks in the bank.  Not so in Banbury.

In Banbury, a store front showing signs of activity is quite likely to be – well just about anything food related. A coffee shop, Mexican food,  a bakery, a Dutch pancake house, an Italian restaurant, a wine bar. I’ve been saying for ages that Banbury is shaping up to be very much a foodie destination – and all these places joining the impressive existing ones are a big reason.

banbury_scape

Sure, there are non-eateries as well because you can’t eat ALL the time. I know this because I’ve tried. So should you want to work up an appetite before diving into the plethora of restaurants and cafes around here, might I suggest checking some of my other Banbury-centric posts from Greater Gotham Goes Global and Fabulous Foodie. I’ve done a handy-dandy Banbury round up of some of them for you over on Personal Parlance.  Some places I always like to take a peek into:

  • The Pink Pig, Independent Record and Merchandise Shop. Records? You remember records? Round, vinyl things. The ones with grooves? They have those and lots of other stuff. I have no record player but this will not prevent me from perusing their wares. I suppose I should say re-opened as it’s apparently an old favourite of many that has come back.
  • Maybe you’re more the outdoorsy type? Well, there’s Fresh Air Junkie on Parsons Street, ready to supply you with whatever you need to hike along the canals or climb … whatever one might climb around here. We picked up some sporks for our trip to Marrakech but that’s another foodie tale for another time.
  • The Banbury Museum – it’s not the biggest museum in the world (making it an ideal place to kill a pleasant hour or two) but they make wonderful use of the space they have and host an impressive range of exhibits (the Royal Photographic Society’s International Print Exhibition was particularly good) in addition to their robust displays on local history.

Hungry now? Good because so am I and there’s a lot of Fabulous Foodieness happening around here of late.

banburyfoodbar

I’ve already waxed poetic about Bakergirl Bakehouse, the artisan bakehouse at Wykham Park Farm but it is only one of many places on the culinary landscape.

  • I was very sad when Veritas closed (I still miss the poulet Napoleon) but I am glad that space remains a foodie spot. It’s been turned into Little Amsterdam – a cafe, deli and pancake house. We went for lunch a few weeks ago and I made the CLASSIC mistake. In my desire to try as much as possible, I over ordered. Good gads, I was so full at the end, I could barely walk. But I learned something from my mistake – I learned that it was ALL yummy! Pancakes aside (and don’t miss them because you’ll regret it) – the cheese balls? The reason I was so very stuffed by the end of the meal? Oh my! SO good! Lovely space, super friendly and efficient staff – and now that the weather is warmer, I look forward to checking out their patio. Little Amsterdam is also home to the Banbury Cookery School.
  • The Whistling Kettle – WHAT a great spot to take a break and indulge in a bit of cake – and who doesn’t like a bit of cake now and again? It’s especially nice to be able to sit, indulging in cake while also indulging in one of my favourite past times – people watching. Whistling Kettle, located as it is on the Market Place, is ideally positioned for such things. I shall be there frequently.
  • When I saw Lucha Burrito was coming, I must say my inner Texan rejoiced. A good burrito can go a long way toward soothing quell a LOT of ‘Tex-ican’ cravings. Pick and mix topping options means you can get it pretty much any way you like. And come hungry because these burritos are GINORMOUS in addition to be being VERY tasty indeed.
  • Sweet Tooth Pancake House – But wait, you say – I thought the pancakes were at Little Amsterdam. And they are. Banbury has TWO places for pancakes – and this is the other one, also one of our favs. In fact, @dungeekin says the chicken Caesar salad pancake is his favourite brunch EVER. I myself enjoy the chicken and mushroom one – and I am determined to try the waffles since every time I go, one gets carried past me and looks amazing.
  • Naomi’s Cafe Bar – a cafe, art space, reading nook and performance venue all in one. Not only that, it is Banbury’s first (and as far as I am aware only) ‘pay it forward’ café. The coffee? Also a lot better than the coffee at the train station so if you’ve got an extra moment or two and you like your java, it’s across the street from the station’s front entrance.
  • Pinto Lounge – the first place we ever ate out in Banbury and we’ve gone back again and again. The burgers? So worth it. The brunch also quite good. I’ve enjoyed the baked good, the jambalaya as well so this is what I was class as a good all rounder. I have yet to try the tapas but I hear good things. Staff always nice and there’s a really good vibe to the place. Every town needs a reliable, go to place and Pinto Lounge fits the bill nicely.
  • Caffe Veneto – I must be perfectly candid. The coffee here is outstanding, the panini is delish and the place is spotless but the service? Can be slow. Not unpleasant or difficult.  They are, in fact, very nice, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. It’s just that sometimes – not all the time – hot food can be very slow to reach the table if the place is more than half full. If you are in a hurry and having more than cake, give it a miss. But if you’re not rushing and the weather is nice, grab a seat by the window or in the seating outside to enjoy a fine, fine cup o’ joe.
  • Reg’s Cafe -Fancy grabbing breakfast or brunch? Go over the Reg’s but come hungry and come with a true appreciation for a top notch breakfast at a great price because they don’t stint on quality or portion size. This place has only been open since 2013 but they’ve been racking up fans, praise and awards right and left.
  • Puddingface, the pie place – Admittedly if you aren’t in the mood for pie, they can’t offer you much but it IS called the pie place so you go in knowing their focus. Puddingface is another spot where it’s best to pack your appetite (and a spare appetite if you’ve got one). The atmosphere is relaxed, a pub full of comfy nooks and crannies. The pies are delicious, not to mention huge – when they bring them out along with the chops and mixed veg, you may well find yourself wondering how someone can be expected to eat all that. I wonder if every time and yet, somehow I end up with an empty plate. What I really don’t understand is why they offer dessert. I’m sure the desserts are delicious (they are well reviewed on TripAdvisor and other sites) but I’ve never been able to even imagine eating one after the pie and sides.

banburyfoodbar2

Now, confession time. I don’t have a pithy wrap up. I know, I know – this is a shock. After all, am I not the queen of pithy wrap ups? But the thing is this – this post was originally intended to be a quick hit list of where to get a decent bite to eat in the centre of town. It grew both in length and in scope so it’s now a two-parter.

Having covered some of the new and/or worth checking out shops and eateries around here in this part, the next part (coming super soon) will touch upon some of the other places – food festivals, cookery schools, local markets, etc. – that foodies might find of interest both in Banbury and in the surrounding (an hour’s drive or less) area.

So stay tuned – and stay hungry!

Culinary Curation: Food Museums

It’s Museum Week over on Twitter (follow the #MuseumWeek hashtag) and naturally my thoughts flew to food museums. I know there’s a Pasta Museum in Rome (though I have never been) and the SPAM museum is undergoing renovations. I’m compiling a list over the next few days and highlighting a few each day here and on Twitter … Bon Appetit’s list is from 2013 but that was AGES ago.

From Bon Appetit’s List:

  • frietmuseumSPAM® Museum (on Twitter @SPAMbrand)
  • Frietmuseum in Bruges, Belgium
  • Ramen Museum in Yokohama, Japan
  • Kimchi Museum in Seoul, Korea
  • Currywurst Museum in Berlin, Germany
  • Dr. Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute in Waco, TX (on Twitter @drpeppermuseum)
  • International Banana Club Museum – now defunct
  • Mariager Salt Center in Mariager, Denmark
  • The Jell-O Museum/Gallery in LeRoy, NY
  • Burnt Food Museum in Arlington, MA

Obviously an update (and frankly a massive expansion) is needed. And who better than Fabulous Foodie to tackle the job?

Fabulous Foodie #MuseumWeek picks for Monday:

  • Museum of Food & Drink (on Twitter @mofad)
  • Cocktail Museum (on Twitter @tMOTAC)
  • Southern Food & Beverage Museum (on Twitter @SouthernFood)

southernfood

Bakergirl Bakehouse in Banbury

Every now and then, you want to treat yourself. After a long week, a slow,relaxing weekend is just the treat I want. Nothing pressing to do, no appointments in the calendar. Just a lie in, coffee and maybe (weather permitting) a leisurely walk. Living as I do in Banbury that walk might be along the canal (which deserves a post in and of itself at a later time) or through town (which I believe I have already points out is full of excellent places to browse, eat, shop and people-watch).

Occasionally, a weekend jaunt slightly out of the way is on the agenda and this weekend was once such occasion. Lately, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the newer spots on the local culinary landscape – a landscape that is rapidly expanding both in scope and size. Banbury is surrounded by quite a variety of easily reached delights – both culinary and otherwise. Today was a culinary jaunt – we went to Bakergirl, a relatively new artisan bakehouse open just outside Banbury.

It’s located in a superbly done up, converted barn next to Wykham Park Farm Shop. My first thought when we walked in was “OMG! I want to live here! It’s GORGEOUS!”

Bakergirl_lights

Then the smell of all those baked goods hit me and all I could think of was “OMG! I want to eat everything! It smells delicious!.”  The care and attention to detail that have done into creating the space – I mean just look at that light fixture? Amazing! –  is a sign of the kind of care and attention to detail that go into the bread and other amazing fare they produce.

bakergirl_interior

I had a morning bun the first time went there and it is one of the most amazing breakfast pastries I have ever had. I was slightly puzzled by the morning bun at first – as they really aren’t a thing in NYC. They looked like a cinnamon roll that had its middle poked up. But I soon discovered that though there IS cinnamon in involved, a morning bun is actually lighter than a cinnamon roll and ooooooh so buttery. These particularly morning buns have a hint of orange as well – which I must say went very well with my coffee of choice to accompany pastry – a mocha.

An aside about the coffee – it is excellent. If you have strong views on coffee (as dungeekin does) then you will enjoy and approve of the brew being brewed at Bakergirl.

I now have a confession to make. I couldn’t decide during our second trip what to order. I knew I wanted to write a review so I thought “I really OUGHT to have something new so I’ve tried a couple of things. But the morning bun was SO good …” It was a dilemma. For about 10 seconds. Then I decided, “Screw it. It’s the weekend. I’m having a morning bun AND chocolate croissant.” And so I did.Both were still slightly warm – and the croissant was one of the lightly, flakiest croissants I have ever seen. SO many layers with so much space between them and proper dark chocolate.

breakfast_bakergirl

 

Breakfast of Indecision – couldn’t decide between them so I had both.

My better half – dungeekin – had a chelsea bun and I really should have asked him what he thought of it so I could include his input but I was so transported to another party plane that I forgot to ask. Perhaps he will comment.

I am pleased to note that each time we’ve gone, a steady stream of people are making their way there – quite a range of different people as well. If you do something as right as these folks at Bakergirl most assuredly are, word gets around – word about the morning buns, the coffee, the fantastic space, the bread  (I haven’t even talked about the whole ‘real bread’ thing but I’ll get into that next time). It’s a good thing too because I want Bakergirl to be around for a long, long time.

bakergirllogo

June: The Sunny Star of the Culinary Calendar

I don’t know about you but this time of year, I start building whole weekends around food – oh who am I kidding, I do that most weekends. But June is the perfect time to immerse oneself in the foodiness of it all. Days are longer (so grilling pineapple on the grill doesn’t require a flashlight) and warmer (so all those no bake ice box cakes can come out to play) and there are so many food-related days out to enjoy!

Observances-wise June is:

  • straw_iceCandy Month – which in all honesty might be more appropriate somewhere in the holiday-heavy latter half of the year but no matter – candy is candy is candy.
  • Dairy Month – which makes a lot of sense if what you really want to say is MORE ICE CREAM PLEASE but you want to sound healthier.
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month – which makes TOTAL sense scheduling wise – far more than candy. And seriously, what is better on a hot summer day than a really juicy, “tart-sweet-and all tastes in between” fruit salad. And so many “pick you own” options that you could fill every June weekend with them.
  • Frozen Yogurt Month – as I said this time last year, it’s been ages since I had a first class frozen yogurt. And now it;s been even longer. Still searching.
  • Papaya Month – I would have thought this was covered under Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month but possibly the papaya has a stronger lobby than I thought.

Maybe you’re looking to be hands-on with the culinary creativeness but also want to get out of the house and enjoy the summer weather – well, the season of food faires and food festivals is upon us and those are the events for you!

  • grillingThis weekend, for example, if you find yourself in NYC (as I sometimes do) and you’re feeling pecking (or starving) – head over to the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (June 7 & 8 in Madison Square Park).
  • BBQ not your thing? The Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival is June 8 this year as well. One of the key events in the Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue calendar, this really is a delicious result of everything that makes the Lower East Side/Chinatown such a weird and wonderful place to go. Egg rolls and egg creams? Come on, where else will those two things come together? With acrobats? Exactly.
  • The Food Truck Festival of New England is back again this year – apparently food trucks as a trend are here to stay so presumably they will stop being a ‘trend’ and will now be a ‘given.’ There are 6 festivals planned between June and October – so if you are in Somerville or Worcester, MA this month, keep an eye out.
  • BlueberriesSouth of the Mason-Dixon Line, there’s the 25th Annual Texas Blueberry Festival on June 14. Yes, it’s in Nacogdoches but no you don’t have to know how to pronounce Nacogdoches to attend. I couldn’t pronounce it as a child either and ended up calling it Nack-a-nowhere because not only could I not pronounce it, I could never find it on a map. The fact that I continued to call it that into adulthood is more habit than I desire to needle to good people of Nacogdoches. All 10 of them. No, no – I kid, I kid. Go, enjoy some blueberries and the rest of the awesome food that can be found at food fairs and festivals across the Great State.
  • If Texas in June sounds a bit too warm for your tastes (and having grown up there I can attest to the warmth’s WARMNESS), head up to Colorado and some cooler Rocky Mountain Air. Not chilly but more comfy. And no need to forgo foodie fun either because they’ve got the 26th Annual Pine Grove Rhubarb Festival on June 8th.  Frankly rhubarb isn’t ACTUALLY my thing, the ‘all you can eat Pancake Breakfast’ and the achingly beautiful surroundings are enough to make me want to go.
  • Also on June 7 but more East Coast time than Rocky Mountain time, is the Ashland Strawberry Faire is held in – you guessed it – Ashland, Virginia.

As usual, there are way too many food fairs and festivals for me to list here – but luckily for all of us, the folks at Food Reference have a) more time and b) actually do this sort of thing professionally so they are awfully good at staying on top of these things. Therefore – get yourself over to their June Food Festival round up to find food fun near you this month.

But what if you, potential food festival attendee (like the vast majority of people in the world), are not in the USA? What do you do?  No worries. Food festivals, as I have said before, speak the international language of YUM! In the UK? Check out:

  • picnicIn Cheltenham, there is the appropriately named Cheltenham Food & Drink Festival on June 13– 15
  • In London: Taste of London invandes Regent’s Park once more – this year on on June 18-22
  • Pembrokeshire Fish Week Festival June 28-July 60 – held every year since 1999
  • BBQ isn’t just found in the Carolinas, Kansas and all points South and West in the US. BBQ – pulled pork in particular I find these days – has crossed the Atlantic and entrenched itself as firmly as any carbonated beverage or cookie cutter coffee chain. One sure sign of this is Grillstock (or as they say, meat.music.mayhem) – in Bristol, June 7- 8 and in Manchester on June 28–29
  • Apparently June 16-22 is National Picnic Week here in Britain and while the weather doesn’t always say “picnic” to me, I’m more than willing to grab a basket and wade in – so to speak.
  • June 28-29 is the Newbury Food Festival Armed Forces Day Celebration
  • The BBC Good Food Show Summer is June 14 – again in Birmingham, so centrally located, you almost have no excuse not to go.

Maybe you are not so much hungry as thirsty? Have a free day June 29? Head off to Spain’s Festival of Wine Drenching  in Haro, capital of northern Spain’s Rioja-producing region. Yes, you read right – wine drenching. Just you, a white shirt, water pistol full of cheap red wine and 5000 other people with the same. Hijinks – as they say – will ensue. Lonely Planet covers this and many other festivals around the world for June. Not all food-related but food isn’t EVERYTHING.  … I can’t believe I just said that.

All this and I haven’t even touched on the daily June food observances – that’s another posts (or several) for another day. Some, of course, we have already touched upon. But for those who like to plan ahead – keep in mind that soon, the following days will be upon us:

  • choc3June 6  Applesauce Cake Day
  • June 7  Chocolate Ice Cream Day
  • June 9  Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day
  • June 11  German Chocolate Cake Day
  • June 12  Peanut Butter Cookie Day
  • June 13  Klutzes of America Day
  • June 14  Strawberry Shortcake Day
  • June 16  Fudge Day
  • martiniJune 17  Apple Strudel Day
  • June 17  Cherry Tart Day
  • June 19 Martini Day
  • June 21  Peaches & Cream Day
  • June 22  Chocolate Eclair Day
  • June 23  Pecan Sandies Day
  • June 24  Pralines Day
  • June 25  Strawberry Parfait Day
  • June 26  Chocolate Pudding Day
  • June 29  Almond Buttercrunch Day

 

Transatlantic Kitchen Weekend Report

Transatlantic Weekend Summary: Christmas food shop largely done & in freezer, salt beef brine underway, found both an excellent new(ish) pie pub & fab Oriental supermarket in town.

Christmas food shop: Turkey crown this year, not whole turkey. Ridiculous to do a whole turkey when there is SO much other food sitting there as well

Salt Beef: really requires it’s own post but in brief – this is one of @dungeekin’s family traditions, passed from his grandmother to his mother to him. Whatever else is on the menu for Christmas, this is always included. Even the prep for making it infuses the house with the smells of the season. The process is – well, ever evolving is the best way to put it. As @dungeekin explains elsewhere:

“It’s an Indian recipe that my grandmother brought over in 1950. Trouble is she’d never actually made it herself so it was done from her memory and evolved over the years – first her, then my mother, and now me.

Over time in the pursuit of tenderness, it’s gone from a month of brining in a saltpetre mix (hand-studded with lemon and cloves) to two weeks in the spiced salt/sugar solution. I don’t think it’s ever been the same twice. This time I’m trying a more intense brine, marinating for just ten days and long cooking at just 60C in a spiced liquor to maximize moisture.

New Food Finds: We had several hours to kill while the Transatlantic Towers Transport Vehicle was being serviced – so we wandered about, looking at window treatments (because now that Transatlantic Towers is being painted, the current curtains are a bit shabby). But one cannot live by curtains alone so we also poked through the Oriental supermarkets (making a plan for a return visit with the car because we intend to make substantial purchases of spices and other dry food stuffs) and going out to lunch.

For lunch, we decided we would try a new place – new to us and relatively new in a general sense – Puddingface. It’s menu is pie past – of the ‘chicken pot’ or ‘steak and kidney’ variety. We’d walked past it a couple of times while walking around the town centre and once again, we paused to discuss whether to try it this time around or next time when suddenly a woman walking by said “They have the BEST pies. Be hungry because there’s a lot of it – but they are the best.”

Well, that decided it for us. We’d read some good things but how often do you get a spontaneous review just standing around on the street? If the food is good enough to inspire that sort of word of mouth, it’s got to be worth trying. Boy are we glad we did.

The place has been done up very nicely – colorful and spacious (so many places these days cram tables in fat too tightly). The menu isn’t VAST but has something bound to please no matter what you’re in the mood for pie-wise. The service was prompt and pleasant. The food delicious and plentiful – the pies are a very good size and they certainly don’t stint on portion size for the veg and chips either. After a lunch that size, we were fairly sure we wouldn’t be needing dinner and we were right.

All at what I consider to be an excellent price for a meal of that quality and size. Will definitely go back again. And as we went in about 1:15 or so, we were stuffed to the gills that evening (even with all that walking) and skipped dinner.

And that’s all I have to report at the moment. Today is a more “at home” day – a bit of cooking (there’s a sea bream in the fridge) and maybe some planning and discussion of culinary gardening and kitchen space. If anything notable or especially tasty occurs, I’ll let you know. 🙂