Friday, 31 August 2012

Larder larks no. 5

August's larder larks have not only been about the ingredients, as usual, but it's been a revelation too. Some very interesting foods have crossed my path in the last few weeks.

First, of course, it's the time of the month for the big #foodiepenpals reveal - this month the sender of my parcel was the lovely @anoseforfood, aka Amanda. She sent me a veritable feast of delicious things to sample.

First out of the bag was this trio. I'm not really a popcorn eater - I prefer crisps - but this bag really hit the spot with its sharp spicy flavours. Incredibly I've not yet eaten the sugar-free chocolate. I'm saving it for a day when only chocolate will do. As my sweet tooth shrinks yearly like a melting polar ice cap, it's thumbs up to Amanda for delivering me a sweet treat that isn't sweet.

Ready-made polenta - whodathunkit? I absolutely love polenta but I've not cooked it once since I became a solo household again. Making polenta is pretty labour-intensive so not really on my radar as something to make just for myself. But ready-made? Now you're talking! I've not yet opened this packet but I'm hoping it's freezable so I can stash it in portions. Otherwise I'll be eating a lot of grilled wedges over the course of a week. But hey, I'm not complaining.

There were also teabags, including licorice tea. This has been a licorice month, bear with me...
There was a delicious sachet of smoky barbecue marinade which went on some pork belly slices before I had time to photograph it, but I really, really liked these:
On the mornings I remember to eat breakfast (sadly not often enough), it's usually a bowl of granola with soya milk. These little packets make the perfect topper, finely milled seeds containing all sorts of nutritional goodness. I like them so much I'm now tracking them down online to buy more. Thanks, Amanda.

Of course, I also had my Larder Box earlier in the month - as usual crammed with new things to try. This white truffle oil is gorgeous. Much as I blow my spare cash on great food, truffle oil is always so outrageously expensive I tend to pass on it. Also because I know a full-size bottle will take 5 years to get through it, by which time it may have turned rancid.This small 100ml bottle is just the right size for one and it retails at under £7, which is a bargain. Gorgeous on scrambled eggs...

Now - bacon jam. Yes, bacon jam. I'd heard of this before and thought "ewww!" I mean why would anyone want to taint lovely fruity jam with artificial bacon flavour? I was wrong. It's not jam at all and it contains real bacon! Who knew?

It's really a blend of onion marmalade with finely chopped grilled bacon, and originally intended as a gourmet burger topping. Thing is, it's a great match for all sorts of things, especially cheese on toast made with really strong cheddar. So that was the first big revelation.

The second one happened at Harvey Nicks. The lovely team that run the food hall and restaurant at the Manchester branch invited local food writers for lunch a few weeks back, and a chance to sample their new food lines.

I'm not really a Harvey Nicks shopper as I don't buy designer clothes, but I dined in their restaurant last year on a GastroClub outing and it was first class. I wouldn't normally have gone for dinner in a department store but it's fair to say that particular outing has been one of the more talked about among the GastroClubbers. The food hall on the same floor is fabulous and I've occasionally dropped in to pick up an ingredient I knew I wouldn't find anywhere else in town.

Harvey Nicks did us proud with a lunch mostly composed of the various products we'd been invited to try, but before we sat down to eat we had a couple of hours to meet the producers - there was a good array of olives, cheeses, hand-raised pork pies and artisan beers and ciders. There was also a lot of chocolate - I ended up having a nibble of some chocolate flavoured with mango, which was wonderfully intense. The same producer also had one flavoured with licorice.

Now, I love licorice. I grew up on All Sorts and when I moved to Amsterdam I discovered the Dutch eat licorice the way Brits scoff crisps and chocolate. So the chocolate licorice ticked a lot of my boxes. But then, then, the guy selling all this delicious chocolate asked me if I'd tried the licorice powder. I immediately shot off to find it. Cue revelation no. 2.

This is not a sweet but a proper ingredient. All the Harvey Nicks staff kept telling me it's the next big thing as lots of chefs are starting to use it. I was going to buy some, but I found some in the goody bag I was given. I've not used it yet, just dipped a finger in to taste its dark intensity. I'm having a good think about how to use it in main dishes, but I'm also keen to try it in a pudding of some sort, like a tiramisu or ice cream.