Friday, 15 June 2012

Larder larks extra - with love from the NEC

My kitchen's been a bit quiet over the past week - I've had a few meals out, you see, and in between I've either had beans on toast for supper (such a classic standby!) or cheese, oatcakes and some fruit. And I've been busy with work and also preoccupied with a couple of foodie projects on the horizon.

However, on Wednesday I took the train to Birmingham to visit the Good Food Show at the NEC. I don't go every year but I do like to browse the stalls to buy interesting foods and look at the equipment - you just need to watch your ankles as everyone seems to be trailing trolley shoppers behind them (ok, me included - how else am I to lug everything home?).

I'm a bit of a store cupboard junkie so my mission is to shop for ingredients rather than fresh, prepared foods. I always make a beeline for the artisan traders and if the stalls aren't too busy I'll talk to them to find out more about their products.

I came across these amazing flavoured sea salts - just look at the colour of the lemon one! It has a good, firm taste too. The garlic one smells incredible when you take the lid off, a whiff that smells as fresh as ramsoms in season. I tried a black one too - and it was black - it was supposed to taste of charcoal but I couldn't taste it. The salt comes from salt pans in Cyprus (I'm not sure where exactly), although the company is Swedish. You can buy from their website.

I have the usual infused oils next to my hob - chilli, lemon, rosemary, garlic - but this bottle from Casa de l'Oli was something else. They don't infuse their oils - they press the additional ingredients with the oil to extract the full flavour. The range was impressive so I tasted quite a few while chatting with the owner (a Brit with an olive grove in Catalonia - they press at a local mill there). This one contains thyme, lavender, fennel and rosemary - a wonderfully intense blend. It can be used to cook with or as a drizzle or in dressings.

I also succumbed to this lovely bottle of Womersley's lime, black pepper and lavender dressing, which is versatile enough to use in cooking as well as spiking up a salad. I tasted a fair few of these too - I found most a little too sweet for my savoury palate, but this one had a pleasing sharpness to it. (Is it me or does the bottle remind you of something posh for bathtime?)

I wouldn't be stocking up properly if I didn't come home with some chutneys, so I snapped up a pot of Mr Pitchfork's Pickles Fig Relish, which he tells me is perfect with blue cheeses, and this awesome Hot Garlic Pickle from The Garlic Farm. It's fair to say you need to be a serious fan of garlic to go for this, but you won't be disappointed if you are - there's a major hit of it in that jar.

It's not entirely true that I didn't buy anything fresh. I had a look at the stalls selling some fabulous artisan meats and cheeses but passed up on them because they'd have been unrefrigerated too long by the time I got home. I did get these giant elephant garlic bulbs from The Garlic Farm though (honestly, their stall had so many tempting goodies) - they are crossed with leeks so are much milder (you can eat the stem, apparently). I'm going to roast one tonight, halved and drizzled with some oil, to go with some chicken thighs and french beans. The other I'm going to dry on a window sill for a bit - the stall holder says this intensifies the flavour.

I also bought some very posh scotch eggs from Handmade Scotch Eggs - alas they didn't last long enough to be photographed, as I ate them for a late supper when I got home! After filling up on tastings all day it was enough.

The shopping wouldn't have been complete without some booze - this bottle of sloe vodka certainly hit the spot during a tasting at SloeMotion. They had a nice range of sloe and damson chutneys too.

I was also in the market for kitchen kit. I got a Berghoff cleaver (in the garlic photo) from their stall. I've never owned one before - they make me nervous. The seller gave me a crash course so I don't take my fingers off with it, but I definitely need practice. I was looking for a new mandoline but in among all the stalls selling fancy plastic shredders and the latest potato peelers there were none to be had.

Gripes? Well, obviously, not enough variety among the equipment retailers. @PinkDiva1970 had trouble finding a piping bag despite the plethora of cake decoration stalls. There were around half a dozen retailers of rapeseed oil, ditto producers of the ubiquitous chilli jam. And I really wanted a pint of real ale mid afternoon - lots of drink sellers, but only a Pimms stall selling to actually drink on the spot. I settled for a bottle of Becks from the NEC's own bar, priced at an outrageous £3.80. C'mon Good Food Show, you can do better than that...