Shugborough Food Festival

Last weekend I went to visit my good friend in Stafford. Knowing me well, she had organised for us to go to a food festival at Shugborough Hall, a historic country estate spread over 900 acres of parkland.  While the day started out very overcast and grey, it was at least dry, and, having strategically just had a fruit smoothie for breakfast, I was ready for a day of eating! We decided to share everything that we ate, therefore allowing for more tastes of more things (again with the strategic eating!)

There were so many food vans and stalls, it was hard to know where to begin! After working our way round one of the large marquees and enjoying a few free samples (including some rhubarb crumble fudge!) we decided to give Rita’s Mexican a whirl.

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We enjoyed a tasty shredded chicken and black bean taco with red cabbage colesaw, cheese, chili sauce and sour cream, mmm!

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Washed down with homemade lemonade.

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We kept spotting people walking around with impressive looking sticks with some sort of sliced potato snack on. Having  consulted the festival programme map we hunted down the relevant food stall!

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These fried “twisted potatoes” could be topped with a number of different flavous, we opted for beef steak!

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After a break to peruse some more stalls (from one of which I bought the Hairy Dieter’s cook book after hearing such good things about it, looking forward to trying out some new recipes soon!) I passed one of my true weaknesses – sweet honey covered nuts. I can not resit them!

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Later on in the afternoon we watched a Man vs Food eating challenge. The contestants had to eat a chilli vodka shot, an extra hot spicy sausage with mashed potato and gravy and a chilli and mango sorbet as fast at they could. The victory time was, I think, under 3 minutes – crazy! While we weren’t tempted to join in, it did make us fancy a sausage! There were so many different vendors to choose from, in the end we plumped for a really tasty classic British pork sausage to share, which made a change from a lot of the (equally delicious!) continental sausages that are increasingly popular at these sort of things these days.

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Towards the end of the afternoon, the sun made a sudden, and strong appearance! After enjoying soaking up some rays in the grass for a while, we grudgingly shunned our planned churros dessert for a more temperature-appropriate ice cream. I was delighted to spot Ginger’s Comfort Emporium on the festival listing, a local “ice cream van for grown ups” that frequents the regular markets in Chorlton and elsewhere in South Manchester.

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Previous favourites of mine from Ginger are marmalade on toast, plum crumble and dark chocolate sorbet. This time I opted for the lemon and orange blossom sorbet while my friend went for so-called Chorlton Crack – the ludicrously luscious peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream. While this is truly and utterly delicious, it is rather rich and heavy, and alas I had to help her finish it!

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All in all, it was a great day out. I’ll leave you with snaps of two of the other exceptionally cute food  stands that I came across

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Broad-side Barbecuing

A few weekends ago we headed down to Norfolk for a couple of days aboard the Broads. We were both excited to get away for a few days, especially as it is part of the UK that we’ve not been to before. People complain that Norfolk is a pain to get to as there are no motorways but I think that’s nice, it lends the county a lovely relaxing rural away-from-it-all feel, a slower pace of life. Or certainly so it seemed for those of us on holiday cruising along the peaceful reed-lined waterways!

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Being on a river boat is rather like camping on water, and therefore the perfect excuse for a barbecue or two! I loved being able to pick a pleasant looking spot on the side of the bank, moor the boat up, jump onto the bank and light some charcoals. A sausage sandwich was of course a must, hot and juicy pork sausages, crammed into a toasted bun oozing with melted butter…. mmmm…. sometimes it is the simplest things! We also barbecued tomato and spice marinaded chicken breasts, charred and sticky, and buttery freshly in season asparagus served with crunchy salad and fluffy couscous. All enjoyed sat aside the rippling waters with passing swans, ducks and geese, sail boats and wherrys.

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Unfortunately we were not always so blessed with dry weather, let alone sunshine, as the heavy grey skies of these pictures show! When the rain turned on us we had no choice but to take shelter in a number of cosy countryside pubs and restore ourselves with hearty local ales and pub grub. This steak and ale pie with intensely smooth creamy mash and deliciously minty mushy peas was probably the tastiest pie I have ever eaten!

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Despite the rather inclement weather, we of course had to buy some ice creams from the passing ice cream boat! Jazzed up with sweet juicy strawberries, delicious!

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Bistro West, I love you

Last weekend my mum and dad came down to Manchester for a visit. Much as I love living here, I do miss Scotland and wish that I could see my family and friends that live north of the border more often. So a visit from the parents is always a treat, even the more so as it’s also usually an excuse for some indulgent food treats! (plus my mum always brings down some of her unbeatable homemade chicken and rice soup and some of the delicious granary bread from the local baker that you can’t get down here)

We decided to treat ourselves to a really nice meal out and I knew just the place to take them – Bistro West 156 in West Didsbury. This is a small, perfectly formed bistro where you are always guaranteed a warm welcome and an outstanding meal. The other half and I have been delighting over the famous fish pie, the black pudding salads and desert trios here for many years, in fact he used to live just a two minute walk away, so the temptation was all the more! Anyway, for all these reasons, plus the fact that this is usually our restaurant of choice for celebrating special occasions, the Bistro holds a special place in my heart.

The meal last weekend didn’t disappoint (aside from the fact we still weren’t quite in season for the winter fish pie! 😉 )

I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo in before my dining companions began demolishing the starters, but we shared some incredibly moreish fried salt & pepper squid with chillis, spring onions and a sweet chilli dressing as well as a lovely rustic ham hock.

We then moved on to the mains and I ordered salmon baked in filo pastry with sundried tomatoes, basil and cream cheese, on a bed of creamy crushed potatoes, peas, leeks and little gem – I’ve never really put salmon with tomato before, but the flavours worked really well and the filo pastry was beautifully flaky and crispy.

My mum and dad both picked the mixed fish grill which consisted of seabass, salmon and beer battered haddock. This batter was definitely a contender for the best batter any of us had ever tasted – batter perfection! This came with chunky chips, peas and tartare sauce, yummy!

Rob had an amazing Moroccan-spiced slow roast lamb shank with sweet potato couscous, crispy onions (ohmigod these were insanely good!) and lemon and corriander yoghurt.

This dish was a beast, but sadly he didn’t need as much help as we anticipated!

Having eaten all this delicious food, washed down with equally delicious wine, we were all feeling really rather full. The deserts in Bistro West are however, in my opinion, legendary, so there was no way we were missing out! After a little rest we were ready to peruse the desert menu. I’m not going to lie readers, this was a stressful situation for me – how the hell am I supposed to choose between plum and almond frangipani tart with CRUMBLED AMARETTO BISCUIT ICE CREAM, a trio of creme brule with sticky ginger cake and STEM GINGER ICE CREAM or a melting chocolate and orange pudding with, get this, COINTREAU AND ORANGE ICE CREAM!!? (excuse the ice cream excitement, but oh my god, how amazing do they aaalll sound?!) I had already discounted the sticky toffee pudding with god damn honeycomb ice cream as I knew there was absolutely no way I could squeeze in a sticky toffee pud. I agonised over the other three for a while and eventually after much soul searching plumped for the tart – I adore both frangipani and amaretto so this swung it in the end!

Here’s the creme brule trio

And the melting chocolate and orange pudding (which you’ll see I didn’t get a chance to photograph before it was half demolished! You get the oozy chocolatey picture though…)

All in all, I think you’ll agree, a truly scrumptious feast and the perfect place to spend some time with my parents. Everytime I go, I just love the Bistro more!