Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A Taste of the Limelight...

It’s a fact. A star-spangled truth that is written in our destiny from the moment we are offered free-reign of the dressing up box or let loose with the glitter glue; some people were simply born to be on the stage. I mean take Lady Gaga. Stood on a platform elevated a few feet above a crowd, she is a bonafide Superstar. Picking up a microwavable Spag-bol for one in Tesco covered head-to toe in neon green Kermit the Frogs on the other hand; stark raving mental. Katy Perry has fireworks that shoot sporadically from her diamante covered ball gown as teenagers in blue wigs faint at her feet, Jacko had the glove, Madonna the fishnets and Popeye-esque guns, Kim Kardashian has that face (and that arse...). Yes, for some, being in the spotlight is as natural as the contents of Gweneth Paltrow’s fridge. For a large proportion of the rest of us (including yours truly), however, the very thought of getting up and interacting with a goggle-eyed audience with a flesh coloured microphone glued to our face, is more akin to Gweneth slurping a Slush Puppy outside Primark. Not. Gonna. Happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of moments in the (questionable) limelight. The first, a one line part in a local production of Jack and the Beanstalk in which I was given the confusing task of snubbing out an electric candle in Jack’s bedroom wearing a rather fetching night gown and cap combo, was more Victorian ghost than Gaga glamour. The next, unfortunately, involved a foam knife costume, tap shoes, a particularly awkward dance routine (looking graceful is difficult when stuffed inside a piece of cutlery...) and absolutely no lines. Not my finest moment, but somewhat ironically, the sheer delight my boyfriend gleans from that story alone is one of the main reasons he is still going out with me.

So, based on previous experience, and an annoying inclination to get extraordinarily blinky if even slightly nervous; it would not be completely honest to say that I was excited after being asked to get up on the stage and do a couple of cookery demonstrations at Flavours of Suffolk Festival this weekend. My reaction after I was also asked to host the Children’s Cookery Den for the entirety of the Festival? Well, the feeling was more, how should I put it, blind panic with a touch of mortal dread? Yeah, that just about sums it up...

Now we are not talking the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury here; more a (generously) pint-sized foodie fest in a field in deepest Suffolk, brimming with wonderful local producers dishing out tasters by the barrow-load, live music and street food galore. So not exactly O2, but for a girl who can’t even listen to recordings of her own whining voice (always a few octaves higher on tape than heard through your own ears??) and gets shaky fingers just thinking about a speech made in Year 7 about why London should host the 2012 Olympics (you can thank me later, Sir Seb); this field and that microphone was a pretty big deal.

But, as it turns out, although I was most certainly not born to be on the stage, I may be in danger of growing up just a little bit in love with it after this weekend. Working with the county’s best chefs who championed amazing local produce and awesome, accessible cooking at every turn, mulling over the joys of plump, ruby-red Suffolk strawberries and learning about the incredible work the North Suffolk Skills Academy are doing to give young people the chance to kick start a career in the kitchen (learn more here); proved that, yeah, being in the (sorta) limelight is not quite as scary as it might seem. Maybe Gwennie should nip down to Westfield after all...

The third outing for this wonderful festival, it was a weekend of sun, bustling marquees, miniature fingers stuck firmly in to pizza dough and burger patties, all topped off with more local foodies than you can shake a parmesan and rosemary bread stick at. There was manic wiping of white chocolate mousse from little faces, sun-drenched live music, hours spent vehemently tasting awesome local produce, many more spent glaring enviously at those sipping cold beers on bright blue deck chairs outside the Adnams mobile bar, but more than anything, it was about inspiring the chefs of the future to get in the kitchen. And it was the best. Stage or no stage, I loved it.

Even when it came to the dreaded cookery demonstrations, the part of the weekend that gave me nightmares in which all my clothes evaporated in public on more than one occasion; I found myself, strangely, in my absolute element. Whether it was bread tossing blackened corn salsa with lime and coriander and flipping homemade tortillas in the Kid’s Cookery Tent, or slathering amazing Pump Street sourdough in Hillfarm rapeseed oil and caramelised peaches in the Main Tent; I absolutely loved everything about my first time at Flavours of Summer Festival. Let’s hope it’s not the last time I cook with a microphone attached to my face. I’m sure Britney does it every night.

But enough of that, I think you probably get the picture, and seeing as this is (and I most certainly am) all about the food; I imagine you probably want to know exactly what I cooked?
 Well for the kiddies, it was time to get well and truly messy. Homemade fish fingers were teamed with smoky rainbow corn salsa, lime rich guacamole and freshly rolled tortillas; a healthy, simple creation that was an absolute hit with the little people. Over in the main Cookery Theatre, it was more of a civilised affair- think Pump Street Bakery bruschetta topped with chorizo, heritage tomato & cannellini bean stew, lemony fennel slaw and rapeseed oil aioli, or decked out with Suffolk Blue, honey and thyme roasted peaches and salted hazelnut brittle. All washed down with a miniature tasting cup of rosé sangria with peaches, Suffolk strawberries, thyme flowers and lemon balm. And, despite the third degree burn I sustained on the grill, it all went without a hitch.

Best. Weekend. Ever.

Chorizo & cannellini bean Bruschetta with lemony fennel and aioli

A few slices of stale Pump Street sourdough (or other thickly sliced, good quality bread)

Rapeseed or olive oil

50g chorizo, sliced

1 tin cannellini beans

1 lemon

A handful of ripe tomatoes, any size shape and colour you like!

1 tsp fennel seeds

½ tsp sweet paprika

½ bulb fennel, very thinly sliced (including the lovely leafy tops)

A few tbsp garlic mayonnaise or aioli (I used Hillfarm’s amazing rapeseed version)

Fresh marjoram (or oregano), to serve

First, make the chorizo and chickpea stew. In a large frying pan, fry the chorizo until starting to turn crispy and the beautiful smoky oil has been released. Add the fennel seeds, paprika and tomatoes (cut into medium sized chunks) and cook for a few more minutes.

Add the cannellini beans (juice and all), season well and leave bubbling away to reduce on a medium heat, stirring occasionally while you get cracking with the fennel.

In a bowl, combine the fennel, a glug of oil and a squeeze of lemon. Season well with salt and pepper and leave to one side. Easy squeezy.

Just before assembling, toast the sliced bread in a hot griddle pan or grill/toast until golden. Drizzle generously with oil and season well.

Spread with the garlic mayonnaise, top with the thickened bean and chorizo stew, a spoonful of the gorgeous fennel and scatter with freshly picked marjoram leaves. Dust with paprika, drizzle over another splash of oil and serve.

Blue Cheese Brushetta with Honey & Thyme Sticky Peaches and Salted Caramel Brittle

A few slices of stale Pump Street sourdough (or other thickly sliced, good quality bread)

Rapeseed or olive oil

100g Suffolk Blue, or other blue cheese

4 peaches or nectarines, sliced

2 tbsp honey

5 sprigs thyme, with flowers if you can!

50g hazelnuts

100g sugar

Firstly make the hazelnut brittle. Add the nuts and sugar to a small saucepan and leave on a medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally until the sugar has completely caramelised. Coat the nuts in the caramel using a fork and transfer to a plate covered in greaseproof paper. Sprinkle with sea salt and leave to cool and harden.

In a small bowl, combine the peaches with the honey, a splash of oil and the leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Season well.

In a small saucepan, cook the peaches on a medium heat until sticky and caramelised. When the brittle has totally cooled, chop roughly.

Just before assembling, toast the sliced bread in a hot griddle pan or grill/toast until golden. Drizzle generously with oil and season well. When the brittle has cooled, chop roughly.

Crumble the blue cheese over the bruschetta and top with the cooked peaches and a scattering of the chopped hazelnut brittle. Scatter over some thyme flowers and a drizzle of oil, et voila, bruschetta numero 2. complete!

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