Friday, 30 September 2016

Macmillan Coffee Morning with M&S

It's the seventh anniversary of the world's biggest coffee morning, celebrated each year in support of Macmillan Cancer Support. Each year all across the country people get together for a chat over a brew and some delicious cake and all the donations go to Macmillan to ensure that no-one has to face cancer alone.

Here in Leicester there has been a flurry of coffee morning action. Exchange bar was handing out free tea and cake to customers in 'exchange' (geddit?) for a donation to the charity. There were also coffee mornings happening on Leicester Market, Crossfit Leicester, The Black Horse in Aylestone, The Globe, James' Cafe Bistro and more!

I popped along to the coffee morning being held at Jewry Wall Museum. The front of house team and the Friends of Jewry Wall have been putting on such charity shindigs for a number of years now so they are well versed in doing it right. There were a lovely array of donated cakes, including gluten and dairy free treats and some vegan yummies too - made by the lovely folk at The Magic Kitchen

There was also free tours of the Roman bath house and croquet out on the site so you can't really argue with that. Pretty teapots, a decorative bird cage and fancy cups. If you missed out, then put the date in your diary for next year as it really is the place to be for a nice chat.

I had the refrigerator cake, which was a chocolatey mass of Rocky-Road style goodness. Weighing in at 7 squillion calories per slice, it's dense texture meant that cutting a thin sliver was nigh on impossible. I also tried the marble cake, because it was pretty. And I'm greedy. They were both delicious and my donation was duly deposited in the allotted slot.

Then the Mercury photographer turned up to cover the museum event, so naturally I made a swift exit. I don't have a photogenic side.

Marks and Spencers are the main corporate sponsor of Macmillan's Coffee Morning and they have released a range of limited edition sweet treats and baking accessories which all gather a lovely donation for the charity. They kindly sent me a few to try out for myself!

Typically, my postie decided to hang on to my parcel until after I had left for work this morning so I couldn't take the delicious Victoria Sandwich to donate to the museum, however I will be donating my MacMillan mug to the stock of fun tea party kit for use in future years. We also received some swank tea towels, which I must confess I will be keeping because they are such delightful quality, I don't think I've ever had such a luxurious tea towel before. All decked out in the MacMillan polka dot these items are all lots of fun and best of all add a little contribution to the cause when you buy them and put a smile on the face when you use them.

Have you been enjoying a Macmillan Coffee Morning today?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Gastronomic Adventures in Turin, Piedmont

Well we're home after a fantastic time of gastronomic adventure in Torino at the Terra Madre Salone de Gusto - the birthplace of the Slow Food movement. [Edit - apparently it's near the birthplace. Slow Food was born in Bra, a small place south of Turin, but still in Piedmont, so slap on the wrist to all the stallholders at the festival suggesting it was Turin!] 

As well as this, probably the most significant international food event in the world, naturally there was a whole gamut of local food to explore and we took the opportunity to try as much as we could.

Of course, there is great, artisanal gelato as I have already discussed, but much more besides to sample. Some is relatively unique to the city, others to the region of Piedmont and of course others are now relatively ubiquitous across Italy as people move and take their home favourites with them. Here are a few of the highlights we tried.

Vitello Tonnato

Probably my favourite dish was this delightful antipasto. Thin slices of veal - definitely one of the favoured meats of the region - are served gently braised over a long period of time, giving them a soft, sumptuous feel in the mouth where the full flavour of the meat is able to dominate. This is topped with a delicate but complex creamy sauce flavoured with tuna, anchovy and capers which makes it sounds like it will literally explode in your mouth. Such is the skill of the Torino chefs that they can blend these punchy ingredients into such a light experience with every ingredient developing in the mouth, having its place to create a whole that is so much more than just the sum of its parts. Absolutely unmissable.

It doesn't look much. But looks can be deceptive.

Piedmontese Antipasto

Next up in the antipasto stakes there are a range of options so often it is nice to get a platter to try a little bit of everything. Surprisingly, the seafood in Turin is very good, despite the distance from the coast. Fat anchovy fillets are served either with pungent olive oil or a vibrant green sauce  Tomini is a beautiful soft cheese, a little like a ricotta but without as much texture, served with a fresh herbacious green sauce. Also look out for the sweet and tangy preserved vegetables in tomato sauce with a good balance from vinegar and good olive oil.

Carne Cruda

A real local's favourite, this is truly flavoursome veal cut into tiny slivers and served in a patty-like mound, with simple seasoning and olive oil. Rare as the day is long, the 'Razza Bovine Piemontese' is the high quality local cattle, bred with a low cholesterol content which remains delightfully juicy despite the absence of any significant marbling. It's incredibly meaty, it can be nothing else and is a tribute to the Torino obsession with high quality, regional produce.

Fiori di Zucchine

In the right season, you'll see these in a variety of dishes. I enjoyed them as a garnish on top of a pesto tagliatelle with courgette which was absolutely beautiful, just the most flavourful basil explosion I have ever had but still with the courgette coming through. As with all Italian cuisine, it is the simplicity of the dishes, allowing the quality of every single ingredient to shine out, that really makes it so, so enjoyable.

I also saw a stuffed courgette flower dish, with the flowers served with ricotta stuffing, as well as the flowers as a garnish on a Vitello Tonato salad variant. All beautiful, fresh dishes.


A ravioli-like stuffed pasta with meat and vegetables inside and yet more veal in the sauce. A deep and earthy dish with the perfect balance of savoury flavour.


A meltingly soft beef dish in a savoury, quite heavily salted broth served with potatoes. It's all about the quality of the meat which provides that comforting, melt in the mouth texture. Absolutely beautiful with the great bodied, deep fruited red wines of the region.


Another thing that seems to be very popular in the region is rabbit. We sampled a rabbit ragu over spaghetti that had a great balance of gamey flavour with rich, slowly cooked tomatoes as well as a main dish of stuffed rabbit leg which was really showcasing rabbit at its absolute best, with a great boost of flavour from the breadcrumb based stuffing, run through with herbs and carefully chopped vegetables. Served with both a rabbit gravy and a cream sauce, this is something that I would be happy to see in this country!


Something I don't remember ever seeing in the South of Italy (although I could be mistaken!) is the Tris - a trio of dishes in one, with a small portion of primi, secondi and contorni (starter, main and side). The one we tried was notable for the main dish, which I have literally no idea of the name but it was a bean dish run through with a variety of sausages. It was heavily seasoned and full of flavour from the slow cooked stock with carrots, onion and celery. The black beans were beautiful and silky soft.

Best of the rest...

Of course, each region of Italy has its own speciality meats and cheeses. As I've already noted, Turin has the largest market in Europe and there is no shortage of local products available. From the various salami, I would urge you to seek out the black truffle variety which is powerful and deep, just an incredible complement to the thick textured, slightly sweet meat. If you like your cold meats big and bold this is the one for you.

We found a small producer of sheep's cheese in amongst the huge number of Terra Madre stalls (with a vineyard attached, so more on them soon!) which were absolutely incredible. La Campore are true craft producers of astoundingly high quality sheep and goat's cheese, from soft, fresh balls of soft cheese seasoned with a variety of ingredients including curry powder, poppy seeds or their home grown hemp seed, to their hard cheese, served at a variety of maturities for comparison. Absolutely fascinating to see the difference in taste and texture in 1, 2, 3 and 4 months of maturity. And of course, it was all served with the typical 'grissini' breadsticks.

Now that's what I call a sample.

And an honorary mention for the 'Limoncello of Piedmont', or so it was marketed to us! An almost syrupy sweet liquor full of mint flavour which is more of spearmint than any other kind of mint. Refreshing as an aperitif, or as a long drink, or as it was suggested to us, as a topping over gelato I thought this was an interesting little find. Something I would have again and apparently something which may have its origins elsewhere as mint was brought to the local hills to Turin and became a hit with the locals - a refreshing summer soft drink also being milk with mint!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Bustling markets and Chocolate Tasting - more from Terra Madre, Turin

The Salone del Gusto celebrations are continuing apace here in Turin and as predicted things got even busier yesterday as the weekend kicked in. I think that the predictions of 500,000 people visiting the festival are definitely an underestimate! As I write, the church bells are ringing out calling the faithful to prayer, but yet more foodies are filtering around the incredible number of stalls that line every street, square and park in the heart of the city.

Music and food - a perfect combination!
We took the opportunity to walk around the extensive markets which are a feature throughout the year here in Turin. On top of the biggest open market in Europe, they also play host to an enormous flea market, which winds down labrinthine streets and everything you can ever dream of is for sale. It's like a car boot sale, on steriods, with leather, antique signs, refurbished bikes mingled with second hand clothes, toys and anything else you can possibly imagine.

The food market bustles with life as traders shout out their prices, from the static traders selling cheese and meats to farmers displaying colourful produce, which is bursting with freshness and life. These are some of the most diverse areas of Turin, reflecting the diversity that has been introduced first through migrants from Southern Italy moving to the city and more recently a more global movement. Moroccan cafes nestle neighbourly with trattorias and nearly as many languages as you can hear on the streets of Leicester float across the air.

Having explored some of the more outlying areas of the city for the rest of the morning, it was soon time for us to head to the palatial surroundings of the Circolo dei Lettori - a sumptuous building of private residences that would not usually be open to the public - for our Cacao Perdido workshop.

This was a really highlight of the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto for me. Some of the finest cacao producers from South America were assembled with partners from Italy to discuss the gastronomic adventure they are experiencing creating some of the best chocolate in the world from single, and often rare variety cocao.

From the 10 tasting samples we experienced a kaleidoscope of flavours from all over South America - Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and more. There were deep, earthy tones full of rich bitterness, while others melted on the tongue leaving an intense almost berry fruitiness. I was particularly glad we had done formal chocolate tasting before, so we knew to allow the dark gold to melt slowly in the mouth to allow the flavours to develop and experience the full palate of changing flavours that each sample gave.

Along with the cacao, we were treated to a selection of Turin vermouths, with sweet, bitter and rich flavour profiles to match with the different chocolates. Some combinations brought the bitterness to the fore, making the astringency almost unbearable, while others blended together in the mouth to create an enriched, improved experience. It was definitely a lot of fun to experiment with the profiles and to assess which would create the best match. It was also my first time of enjoying the vermouth in such depth and it is certainly something I would be interested in returning to. I think the incredible depth of flavour that is created by the skillful use of botanicals is something that we perhaps don't enjoy to best possible advantage in the UK with our tendancy to only use vermouth as a part of a mixed drink instead of enjoying its unique characteristics on their own.

Team Gelato enjoying a late night gelato!
After the workshop and a coffee in the famous and decadent Caffe Fiori we returned to the Via Del Gelato on Via Po to see how things were progressing. A specialist workshop on Amalfi lemons was drawing great interest, as were the masterclasses on creating natural gelato. There was a marked increase in the number of people crowded in the narrow arcade to sample the various flavours on offer from the brilliant team of Alberto Marchetti, as well as the other master Gelatieres who are assembled in the city this week. I really enjoyed having a peek not just in the regular laboratory but also seeing the hive of activity that had been created in an additional temporary lab, put together especially for the food festival to cope with the intense demand that the combination of gastro-tourists and fantastic weather has produced here in Turin.

Meanwhile, back in Leicester we were hearing that Gelato Village's team were not only holding the fort well but also presenting a new experience in gastronomic gelato for visitors to a special event at the National Space Centre. Using beautiful ingredients from Deli in the Square and Delilah, they have created a savoury gelato of smoked salmon and goat's brie with walnut. Served on a wholemeal cracker with a balsamic drizzle it sounds like it shouldn't work, but it really does! I was fortunate to be able to try an earlier batch of the gelato before we left the UK and I can confirm it is delicious. Light and creamy, the experience is like having a thick and decadent salmon mousse, yet the goat's cheese flavour is perfectly discernible and matches really well with the fish flavour. Don't know it until you've tried it is what I say!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Salone de Gusto in Turin

So our Turin adventure continues with another beautiful day in Turin. The Salone del Gusto really is massive and there is a huge variety of different things to explore. We enjoyed finding out more about biodiversity and Slow Food presidia in an area dedicated to sustaintable production. And of course we were antagonised by that giant snail again.

It's really good fun walking through the city, just seeing what you stumble across because it is such a mixture of architectural styles, historical stories and now the added bonus of street food around every corner!

The Via Del Gelato rumbles on as well and yesterday the assembled masses of world-leading Gelatieres literally stopped the traffic with a Maestro flashmob in the middle of the road! The workshops continue around the city, both gelato based on Via Po and more besides at different locations, including snout to tail use of the pig and a very exciting sounding bean mousse!

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Down by the river, we were excited to find the alley of craft beer, although at 4 euro for just over a half it was not exactly cheap! I suppose this is what you get in a country where the artisanal beer movement is still in its infancy but that said, the quality of the beers was high. I particularly liked the Machete made by the Birrificio del Ducato company from the Emilia region. It was beautifully floral and hoppy and went down an absolute treat in the afternoon sunshine, although at 7% perhaps it was a good job that the measures were small!

My highlight of the street food was a literal taste explosion called La Bombetta - where the typical Capocollo made with rolled pork is stuffed with cheese, parsley and seasoning and served in a biodegradable cone along with a piece of traditional bread from the Slow Food Presidia Altamura. It was absolutely delicious and surprisingly filling!

What culinary adventures await us today I wonder?

Friday, 23 September 2016

Via del Gelato, Turin

It's not very often that you get invited to Italy for the sole purpose of trying gelato, discussing gelato and learning about gelato. In fact I can categorically say it has never happened to me before. But this week I write, dear reader, from the comfort of a spacious apartment above the Porta Palazzo in Torino (Turin) and, having had a delicious Cornetto Crema (creme patissiere filled croissant) for my breakfast, am now reflecting on my first 24 hours in the city at the prestigious Terra Madre Salone de Gusto festival.

A busy day on the Via del Gelato!
The festival is one of the most internationally significant celebrations of Slow Food principles, with a deep focus on sustainable production, ethical sourcing and organic principles. To this end, giant snails are everywhere in the city reflecting the international Slow Food logo. Itàs a huge event, with around 500,000 people expected to visit this year. Turin has been booked up for months in anticipation.

In previous years the festival was all centred in one exhibition hall, but this year it has been expanded out across the entire city centre, which includes a bespoke 'Via del Gelato' on Via Po, based around the Turin incarnation of the suite of gelaterias of respected Maestro Gelatiere, Aberto Marchetti. This provides what is very recognisable to an English person like myself as a beer festival environment, but with gelato! You buy your tokens and then cash them in at the various gelato stalls to try different flavours and combinations.

Get your gelato here!
Of course the focus is on traditional, authentic gelato making and there are a series of talks and workshops running which give an insight into these methods. Leicester's own Gelato Village was invited to speak at a number of these sessions on the first day of the Via del Gelato yesterday and discussed how they have been bringing this traditional product to an English audience, invoking much curiosity from the assembled masses of master Gelatieres from all over Europe who are present at this event.

Flying the Leicester flag!
I have particularly enjoyed seeing the older fashioned 'vertical' method of gelato churning taking place, both with an antique set of kit which is hand cranked and cools the gelato mixture through a surrounding bath of salt and ice as well as a more modern setup which does the same process mechanically. These vertical machines are totally obselete now - you can only buy the automatic 'horizontal' variety new and relive the old method with a second hand model. However, it was lovely to see both mechanical and hand-cranked styles in operation yesterday because it relies on the skill of the Gelatiere to judge when the gelato is ready, feeling the resistance of the soft dessert against the paddle to feel the right consistency has been achieved and then skillfully flicking the finished gelato out on the paddle for serving.

Chipping the ice and churning the gelato - salt is added to the ice to prevent the gelato from getting too cold and ice crystals forming, which ruins the smooth texture.
We also met Italy's premier Italian gelato blogger, Jo Pistacchio who has been introducing us to key people as well as great ingredients. As you would expect, a lot of the attention here is focused on the sourcing of the finest ingredients from around the globe, but with a natural emphasis on the high quality raw materials that can be sourced in Italy. Pistachios, hazelnuts and more from this country have protected geographical indication status as well as immense pride being accorded to the quality of the milk, honey and fruit available. In particular, the Amalfi lemon is much prized, with crates of flavourful fruits bigger than your fist being scattered around the Via del Gelato.

Antonio and Daniele from Gelato Village with Jo Pistacchio
It was fantastic to try Alberto Marchetti's Fior di Latte gelato, a very simple gelato which puts the flavour of the milk at the fore. This was deliciously rich and creamy and a true showcase of both the skill involved in its creation and the quality of the natural ingredients of which it is composed. However, it did make me realise just how lucky we are to have Gelato Village in Leicester, whose milk and cream all comes from Belvoir Ridge Creamery's Red Poll cows in Leicestershire, which creates a unique flavour and is always supremely fresh. To my mind it is a superior Fior di Latte, but of course I have a heavy bias! My next mission is to try some local Pistacchio gelato to compare the quality of those, as that is definitely my favourite Gelato Village item!!

Fior di Latte

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Leicester Loves Late Summer!

Well this week we've seen the hottest September temperatures for over 50 years and I am loving it. Perhaps you've been catching up on some of my Staycation posts and taking the opportunity to visit some of our top local gems in the unexpected sunshine?

If not, you might be looking for some new ideas of fun stuff to do in and around Leicester for the next couple of weeks. Summer's not over, if you don't want it to be!

Thursday 15th - Saturday 17th September
The Atkins Building, Lower Bond Street Hinckley

Starting right now, it's the 9th annual Hinckley CAMRA Beer Festival! There will be over 70 cask ales to choose from, plenty of live entertainment and you can even pick up some delicious tapas from Cafe Espanol. It's £3 for entry and £2 (refundable) for your glass. Stellar.

LGBT/Leicester Community
Monday 26th September
Leicester LGBT Centre, Wellington Street

Our very own LGBT Centre will be 40 years old and they're celebrating with coffee and cake - so civilised! The LGBT Centre is a fabulous voluntary organisation that does amazing work in the city. They were the first LGBT helpline to receive public funding in 1981, have recently completed a superb oral history archive called Untold Stories and provide an incredible level of support to the LGBT communities as well as battling tirelessly against homophobia.

So get over to their Facebook event, click attending and then make sure you head over to cheer on the Centre (and have some nice cake).

Kid Friendly
Saturday 1st October
The Y Theatre, Leicester

As part of Everybody's Reading week, you can Ask the Laureate with Chris Riddell, the UK Children's Laureate. Chris wants to show everyone how much fun you can have with a pencil and will be live drawing the answers to your questions - so you might get a chance to take a doodle-answer home! Tickets are just £5.

Saturday 1st - Sunday 2nd October
Melton Mowbray Cattle Market

The Melton Mowbray Food Festival is back for 2016, one of the oldest and biggest regional food fairs in the country. Tickets are £5 in advance, or £6 on the gate. This year will see a full programme of talks and lectures in the dedicated Food Theatre, the Stilton and the Melton Mowbray Pork Pies will of course be flowing, as well as local producers and a variety of local and international street food. What's not to like?

Thursday 6th - Saturday 29th October
Curve Theatre, Leicester

The Importance of Being Earnest is one of Oscar Wilde's most famous plays, and it's being given a contemporary spin by Curve's artistic director, Nikolai Foster. Think high society courtship, mistaken identity and an all round barrel of entertainment. This is sure to be yet another in a long line of hit Curve productions. Regular tickets cost £14-£24, so get yours before they go.
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