Saturday, 25 March 2017

Light lunch at Nosh & Quaff

I've been hearing a lot of great things about Nosh & Quaff since it opened in Birmingham in July 2015 and it is to my shame that I have not had the opportunity to visit until this week, and only that because I happened to have a conference just around the corner where lunch was not provided. But still, I've been now, and I'm glad that I did.

It's a fantastic spacious venue with a great sense of style and elegance but with a robust menu that will send you away satisfied. Although quiet on a weekday lunchtime (why Birmingham - what are you doing??) the team were welcoming and eager to assist when I arrived.

I've heard fantastic things about their lobster offering, and this is assuredly one of the best places in the Midlands to enjoy lobster, but I was on a limited time frame so I thought it best to sample the brunch menu, with a selection of dishes weighing in at around £8 or £9.

It was a tough choice, with the fried chicken and waffles initially taking my fancy, but on the recommendation of my upbeat waitress I decided that tasting their slow-cooked meat offering was probably the best way to get a feel for the quality of the cooking.

I was not disappointed! The Pot Roast Beef was served beautifully in a cast iron dish and smelled absolutely heavenly. It was an enormous cut of beef, slow cooked to absolute perfection, literally melting under the weight of my fork. It was in a sticky, sweet sauce which had careful spicing which built up to a beautiful crescendo of flavour as you ate the dish - a real journey of taste this one.

This was accompanied by incredibly soft, light mashed potato and griddled carrots making the whole a well balanced plate and incredibly satisfying dish although on first sight it may appear a little on the small side - the serving of meat is actually over generous if anything! Absolutely the perfect lunchtime treat.

They also have a fabulous selection of cocktails and a very enticing wine list but sadly I wasn't in a position to give these a go on my visit. The only criticism I could possibly include is that their desktop website is not just full of automatically playing video but that it has sound too - is it just me that hates that? I could be having an unnecessary whinge here but if I want to watch a video or play some music, I'll choose it myself.

However, looking at the menus on offer, with the chicken wings being highly praised in all reviews, the Truffle Mac & Cheese Burger sounding like a slice of fried gold and the Beef Ribs looking like serious contenders, I have many reasons to hop on the train and go back when I have more time (and more company) to nosh and quaff to my heart's content. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Beautiful Blooms for Mother

Mothering Sunday is rapidly approaching and I went down to meet the friendly folk at Leicester's finest quality, independent florists, Flowerworks, to see how they are preparing for one of the busiest times of the year.

Flowerworks beautiful displays always lighten my mood when I am walking down Loseby Lane and have been doing so for many years, so it was lovely to go and speak to them and find out a little bit more about what makes them tick!

Unsurprisingly, it's a real passion for the beautiful, and the unusual, that makes them tick. They get fresh flower deliveries every day and create stunning hand tied bouquets bespoke to your order - or you can run in and grab a pre-tied bouquet if you haven't got much time. With a coordinated range of packaging they have an incredibly sleek and professional feel and tell me that people come back time and time again because they know that they will always receive flowers with a real 'wow' factor, presented wonderfully.

They keep the flowers in tip-top condition in their giant flower fridge - the display is a feast for the eyes as you walk in! Now that the Mother's Day deliveries are wending their way into the store, it will be even more vibrant and full.

If cut flowers aren't your mum's bag, you can also pick up plants at Flowerworks. I really liked the way they are presented in biodegradeable pots - every little effort helps when it comes to sustainability. There are cacti and succulents, as well as some beautiful little flowers. Naturally they will have a longer life than the cut flowers, although the quality of the cut flowers means that they can guarentee 7-10 days on them (but between me and you some will last a little longer).

If you want to learn more about creating fantastic floral arrangements yourself, you can also attend one of their flower school sessions, which feature a whole range of different skills, tips and techniques you can use at home. I love the sound of the terrerarium workshop personally - they're all the rage now don't you know, just like in the Victorian period! How delightfully steampunk.

So step away from the garage forecourt. Treat your mum as she deserves and get her a beautiful arrangement this year - you can choose from her old favourites or perhaps pick out some of the more unusual blooms that you won't see anywhere else. The team have a great eye for colour and will be happy to make recommendations for you so you find something that suits your mum down to the ground.

Viva Independent Leicester!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Food hygiene ratings in Leicester

I've been minded to write a post about food hygiene ratings in the city, and it came to my attention that since the Leicester Mercury splash about San Carlo - the preferred Granby Street restaurant of the Premier League winning LCFC squad - scoring a big fat zero in December 2016, no real follow up has been done. So I thought I'd do it myself.

I have considered long and hard about how to write this up and rather than creating a Rogue's Gallery of the lowest scoring, and perhaps unexpected, hygiene transgressors, it was probably best to take a more positive spin and applaud those receiving a 5 out of 5 rating under the scheme.

But first, to the matter of San Carlo. The food safety team of Leicester City Council issued a statement at the time saying that at least 3 months must pass between inspections and so the zero rating would hold until at least mid-February. We're now in mid-March and the Food Standards Agency website holds the 0 rating, although there is a note to say that the venue has been recently inspected and a new rating will be published soon, so let's hope that they've pulled their socks up!

EDIT: As of 15th March, San Carlo have been regraded up to a four star rating. Congratulations! 

On to nicer topics! It is not mandatory for businesses to display their ratings, but you might want to have a little look on the FSA website to check out a place if they have chosen not to put their rating sticker in a prominent position. After all, what are they hiding? 

The ratings are based around the results of physical inspections of the premises - as well as obvious cleanliness of kitchen and dining areas, it is about adherence to legal procedures surrounding food handling; how food is prepared, served and stored. Having looked into this a little, I think I will now always be checking that a business has at least a 4 or a 5 before I eat there. After all, if they can't be bothered to put in place procedures to make their food safe, and be able to evidence how they do that, then why should I give them my custom?

You can check a full list for Leicester by clicking here. I'm focusing on the little stars who have received a 5, but it makes very interesting reading seeing which familiar faces get a 2 or below. 

Happily out of nearly 2500 food-related businesses in the city, nearly half of them receive the full 5 rating. Well done guys!! If you're taking an evening out to watch the Leicester Lions then you can have full confidence that Speedo Catering at the speedway have earned their stripes and enjoy your hot snack in peace. The same high standards appear to apply at both the rugby and football stadiums too and the basketball arena. Sports fans, enjoy your pie without fear.

Props also to the large number of vendors at Leicester Market's food hall who get full marks. It's so important to have confidence in the market and my short survey suggests that on the whole, within the food hall, it's a great story.

Other favourites of mine that I have written about in the past and have a shiny 5 rating to display in their window include Gray's at LCB Depot, Gelato Village on St Martin's and Byron hamburgers in the Highcross.

Deli Flavour, Delilah and The Case - all referenced in my deli article in the Leicester Mercury last year all score that happy 5 score, and now seems as good a time as any to mark the sad passing of Deli in the Square of St Martins Square - my favourite deli in the city. One month since they closed Claire and Sam's super friendly service and unparalleled knowledge is already sorely missed.

You can find an easy reference interactive map of Leicester's food hygiene ratings online. If you're anything like me, sadly you'll be more interested in finding out who did badly than applauding who did well, but hopefully this post goes someway to redressing the balance!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Leicester Beer Festival

Another year, another Leicester CAMRA beer festival and as ever, they did not disappoint! With over 250 beers and ciders available it really is a mammoth event and this year the theme was celebrating 50 years of local radio. Did you not know? Leicester was Britain's first mainland local radio station, launching on 8th November 1967. Truly a city of firsts....

Anyway, we've all been to the Leicester beer festival before, over at the Charotar Patidar Samaj. If you haven't, then WTF bro, serious. It's the social calendar event of the year. I'll be honest, I don't really understand the venue choice and I never have since I first came to Leicester in 2004, but it seems to work for everyone else so who am I to question tradition. It's big enough and maybe that's the trick.

There was an unquestionably fine range of beers - and of course a few duds, particularly when we visited on the Saturday when some of the casks had just tipped passed their peak. However, it is a fine way to spend an afternoon or evening with friends and a super way to try something new.

Naturally, my favourite 'zone' is the local section, where I can try new brews from old favourites as well as experiment with some fantastic local brewers that I may not be particularly familiar with. This year I was keen to try The Beer Hub Brew #1 collaboration with West End Brewery but sadly I was too late. Too late!
But there were still plenty of great brews to choose from, local favourites and plenty of more exotic choices. In particular I loved the the Oatmeal Stout from Woodcote Manor Brewing which had a great long-lasting sweetness with cocoa and toffee notes. 

Picked originally for its hilarious name, in a sort of anti-hipster way - we've all done it - was the Mad Dog Brewing Co's Bohemian Hipster, a 4.9% pale ale with some exciting herbaceous notes.

I was also very pleased to pop along to festival sponsor Everard's pop up pub and have my first taste of this season's Mad Hatter's Tea Party - a surprising pale ale infused with British rosehip and apple tea which was a perfectly rounded flavour that I did not expect to work but actually was refreshing and delicious. Definitely one I will be going back for. 

What did the festival surprise you with this year?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Gelato Bites: Supporting local food producers

There has been a quiet food revolution happening right under our noses. Gelato Village, who I have written about on many previous occasions, have been using their Slow Food supporter credentials and real Italian artisan prowess to lure a number of fine local producers to their gelateria for a special series of events called Gelato Bites.

There are two more events remaining in the current series, and at just £10 a ticket for each event with a talk and selection of tastings I'd say that's a bargain. If you're interested in trying their Pudding Wine Pairing on 14th March or the World's First Beer and Gelato Pairing evening on 21st March, then click the names to go to the ticket links.

It has been fascinating to learn about the local food chain and how Gelato Village source the very best local produce to make their gelato. At the first event, back at the end of 2016, we met The Bee Farmer, David McDowell. Not only do his bees create fabulous honey, but he also creates some weird and wonderful by-products for sale. My favourite was definitely beeswax dog foot pad balm - a natural way to take care of your pooch! And of course we enjoyed some delicious tastings - the Honey Blossom gelato showing off the very best of the flavours of both.

Next up we enjoyed the Great Flavour Off, where the Maestro Gelatiere took on Planet Leicester Bakers in a battle for the flavour crown! They each chose a flavour combination and the audience got to decide who did it best, as well as hearing more about Planet Leicester Bakers awesome community work, local bread service and amazing skill sharing services. My favourite was definitely the rosemary and honey gelato - it was so subtle despite being hugely complex! It was also lovely to attend such a unique event - baker versus gelatiere.. I doubt I'll see that again!

Friends of the blog, Rothley Wine Estate, came along the following week and I got to lead an English wine and gelato pairing session! I think everyone who attended was surprised and delighted not just at how much they enjoyed the English wine, but also how well it matched with the gelato! We enjoyed Spirit of Freedom, their pink sparkling wine with blood orange sorbetto, elderflower wine with sage, honey and lemon gelato (there's that Bee Farmer honey again!) and as an extra treat we experimented with King Henry, the red wine, with the Italian dessert-inspired Bonet, which was a surprisingly good combination! It was great to see so many people discovering their local vineyard for the first time.

Finally, it was the crowning glory of Gelato Village's impressive commitment to local ingredients - Belvoir Ridge Creamery. Belvoir Ridge provide all of Gelato Village's milk and cream (in fact the only place you can get hold of their cream is at Gelato Village). Their Ironstone herd of rare breed Red Poll cattles produce low yields of high quality milk which is un-homogenised and changes with the seasons. Alan is one of the few truly independent farmers in the region and it was clear how much he loves the cows and producing such amazing products. Sadly we didn't have the chance to sample their famous Colwick Cheese, but the Fior di Latte (Blossom of the Milk) gelato more than made up for it, as did the clever taste test comparing Belvoir Ridge's milk to that from a supermarket which really made the difference in quality and flavour shine through.

So, if you've missed all of this goodness you've got two more chances to get on the band wagon. Tuesday 14th March 2017 will see the awesome Bat and Bottle of Oakham bring an inspirational evening of Italian dessert wine and gelato pairing. They are a great bunch and really engaging speakers so that promises to be a fun night. Then on Tuesday 21st March 2017 it's the world's first ever beer and gelato pairing evening, with The Beer Hub and Hoptimism pairing up with Gelato Village to tantalise your tastebuds in ways they have never been tantalised before!

Disclaimer: Gelato Bites were organised on behalf of Gelato Village by my little company, Thirst Media. If you're an independent food or drink producer then you should check it out!

Friday, 10 March 2017

National Pie Week: CMOT Dibbler Special

It's National Pie Week, just about, and here on Extreme Housewifery we love a good pie. My first real brush with National Pie Week was back in 2014, when my pie recipe was picked for the Badger Ales competition final. We had a lovely time out in Bath supping ale and sampling pies. Sadly my pie did not win, but it did teach me that beer cocktails are bad - just say no if someone offers you one. This knowledge has served me well in the time since.

I've also written about budget pie recipes, beer and pies, gin and pies, and pie-based traditions. I wrote a pheasant pie recipe recently for Leicester Market. If it's moist and got pastry or taters on top then I've got it covered essentially. Plus we are of course the Great County of the Pie here in Leicester, with Melton Mowbray's fabulous pork pies. We even have a Pork Pie Library... :)

It would be churlish of me to ignore National Pie Week then, since my life is clearly so intrinsically linked with the crusty blighters. Indulge me and let's take a little look at some of the finest pies that city and county have to offer.

If you can't make it over to Melton this weekend, then stop by Walker's in the city centre. They have excellent classic pork pies as well as a decadent and delicious pork and chicken layered pie. They do it simple and they do it right.

The Forge out in Glenfield is a great pub for a sunny day, I love to head out there on my bike. Their chestnut mushroom pie is a real winner - unctious and delicious. Plus they have a great beer garden, now we are starting to see glimpses of better weather!

Another out-of-the-centre favourite is The Cow & Plough. This Steamin' Billy pub has been churning out high quality British favourites for many a year, and their pie of the day is not to be missed. Neither should you miss their Sunday lunches. Just go eat there basically...

Finally, for something a little more international, head across to the unassuming Cafe Mbriki in the city centre, with their wicked Greek-Cypriot menu. I had their spinach and feta pie recently and it's definitely one to enjoy again in the future, with lovely crisp feta and a vibrant Greek salad. A perfect traditional flavour combo.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Stories of Leicester Food Fair

I enjoyed a day at BBC Radio Leicester yesterday, volunteering with Rothley Wine Estate at the second day of the Stories of Leicester Food Fair. As you all know by now, this little blog has Leicestershire's incredible foodie scene at its heart so it was lovely to take part in an event that celebrated our local success stories.

The festival's first day had already been well received (not least by the BBC Leicester staff!) and the second had a fun atmosphere as locals came in to the BBC Leicester building to taste their way around Leicestershire and Rutland.

As ever, Rothley Wine was well received with both elderflower and Spirit of Freedom sparkling wines on offer for tasting. There were a number of businesses representing who were very close to the building. New city darlings, Delilah, put in a strong performance with their deep and smoky chorizo in tomato. This usually features as a part of their brunch offering, served with griddled toast and creamy scrambled eggs. I for one will be leading the charge for that dish in the near future!

Also popping in from around the corner was Cocoa Amore who were full of interesting information about the origins of the cocoa they use and how the flavour profile changes as you move around the globe. I was surprised to see that their white chocolate buttons were by far the most tasted item, when they were also offering some really delicious dark chocolate and in particular beautiful quality chocolate coated coffee beans which were a real treat.

Gorgeous truffles coated in lemon sugar
For a refreshing break, one only needed to pop over to the Charnwood Brewery stall, where their copper coloured ale, Vixen, was being dished out on tap. As The Boy was missing out on the fun, I picked him up a selection box of brews to enjoy at home - I can't have all the fun, can I?

A new business to me was Lotus Bakery from Rutland. From their delicious selection of sweet and savoury bakes I enjoyed the winter vegetable tart for my lunch, which had a beautiful combination of seasonal vegetables and sweet, sharp feta on top of a gorgeously crisp pastry. So good was this that I also indulged in a fragipane tart slice to enjoy at home. It was rich and fruity, a real credit to the genre! Their free samples of fudge were also not to be missed.

The giants of gin industry, Burleighs, were also delighting punters with their rich web of botanicals and team members who have a fantastic level of knowledge about how to make the most of the different gins in their range with super suggestions for the best mixers, great cocktail ideas and beautiful garnish suggestions.

As well as local classics, like Dickinson & Morris's beautiful pork pies from Melton Mowbray, you could also take a mini-break around the culinary world with local favourites Bobby's, Everest Dine and Alino African Bar and Restaurant on Narborough Road. Much as you would expect in Leicester really - we are blessed with both fine local food producers and some of the very best chefs imported from all around the globe! It was also lovely to see all of these producers mingling and sharing ideas and experiences - any future collaborations are sure to only be a huge benefit to us as foodie consumers in the county!


Friday, 3 March 2017

The Antico Bramble

There's a great new cocktail on the block at 33 Cank Street. It's an Italian twist on a classic gin Bramble, made by their fantastic mixologist, Matteo Mosetti.

The Antico Bramble is simplicity embodied, with just four ingredients - Brooklyn Gin, sugar syrup and citrus, topped off with Carpano's Antica Formula Vermouth. This is a special from Turin, so of course the Piedmont natives over at Gelato Village were straight in there to give it their seal of approval!

As with all things simple, it is the balance and subtlety that makes this cocktail excel. The predominant botanicals in the small batch Brooklyn gin are juniper and citrus peel and this is accentuated with the citrus element and grapefruit garnish. The vermouth adds an interesting new dimension to the Bramble with the bouquet working beautifully with the herbaceous garnish, bringing a waft of fresh scent each time you bring the glass to your mouth to take a sip.

A delicious, refreshing drink which has enough complexity from the layers of botanicals to feel absolutely fitting for this late winter period. Also a contender in the upcoming #TOTCEdinburgh awards with Hi-Spirits.

It's on the regular rotation at 33 Cank Street, so don't forget to stop by and try it for yourself. I thought it was thoroughly delicious!
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