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Living in Cheshire, Devon is a long way away, but the opportunity to meet one of my favourite people and go to River Cottage made the drive worthwhile. We used my parents in the Cotswolds as a base, and travelled down the rest of the way this past Saturday to go to the Autumn Fair held at Park Farm.
The whole weekend was scorching hot, both in Devon and the Cotswolds – what a treat! After parking, we wandered down the track towards River Cottage HQ. Park Farm is set in the bowl of a very beautiful valley, with rolling hills rising up around it. A pop-up hotel of bell tents had been set up, and other clusters of cream coloured tipis and tents surrounded the farm house.
Having got up early, not eaten breakfast, and a long drive later (I SO hate those 40mph sections that seem to plague our motorways at the moment!) I was in a bit of “Charlie flap”, as it’s probably known, when we finally arrived. I am ashamed to admit I’m not that used to, or a huge fan of crowds of people – I live a sheltered life working on my own at home with the dog! So Mr Rigg quickly steered me towards the BBQ to get something to eat.
We had one proper day trip out, having done some research before we went away on places that looked nice to visit, we decided to head towards Sarlat. I’d heard there was a seriously good market here, and there were a couple of little places along the river that looked nice, so we filled our bellies with sourdough spelt bread spread with honey and strawberries and off we went.
The market at Sarlat did not disappoint. It was incredible! I always worry “are we going to find the market?” when we head somewhere new, but you couldn’t miss Sarlat market, even if you weren’t looking for it, you would stumble across it on a wander around the town. It goes on and on down the narrow winding streets, tumbling out into squares.
Yesterday was my favourite local farmers market at Abbey Leys so it was a great chance to stock up some lovely food. On top of this, I braved the icy cold with the other stall holders to promote a website I’ve set up to promote local, seasonal food in my community. It was so blinking cold in the barn, and although I was so pleased with my display of seasonal vegetables and old-fashioned seed packets on stick, a number of people did mistake me for a grower. Oh well.
But enough of that and back to the real bread. For a while now, a fantastic bread lady (officially known at Jane’s Handmade Bread) has been coming to the market. She makes heavenly real bread. My favourite is her Miracle Bread which is stuffed full of all kinds of seeds and has a lovely golden brown colour to it. She never arrives before 10.30am, having been up since 3am baking, but everyone waits and queues for ages just to get their hands on some of her beautiful breads.
‘The best’ of anything is always subjective, what I think is the best when it comes to food might not be to someone elses taste, but it’s always interesting to get some tips on where to find ‘the best’ of something.
I love hot chocolate. As a non tea and coffee drinker, hot chocolate is my hot drink of choice, so naturally a trip to Paris at Christmas warranted a search for the tastiest hot chocolate to warm us up.
Before we went I did some research – the best selection I found for the top places for Parisian hot chocolate was on David Lebovitz’s blog. This was primarily what I used to guide us once we reached Paris, but also just looking around at what might look good.
I think what I learnt from my search for the best hot chocolate, is that it isn’t just about taste – it’s about where you are, the surroundings and atmosphere.
Last weekend I went to Paris with my little sister Izzy – she turned 18 this year and for a long time I’ve wanted to do something special with her, and Paris at Christmas was what I decided on. We went on Saturday and came back late Monday evening, we stayed in a sweet little apartment B&B in the 18th arrondissement on Boulevard Ney.
Highlights from our trip were sitting on the metro when a man with a guitar and amplifier began to play ‘What a wonderful world’, sipping hot chocolate at dusk outside Sacre Coeur and soaking up the Christmas atmosphere, and wandering through the organic market on Boulevard Raspail.
More details on what we ate and where to come, but for now, here’s my Paris at Christmas…
Best hot chocolate – chocolate on a wooden spoon stirred into hot frothy milk…
Today I had my first visit to the Altrincham Vintage and Craft Market – I wasn’t expecting too much but was bowled over by how good it was. I came away with a couple of pretty handmade things, a tiny old calendar and an earthenware footwarmer (to be reincarnated as a door stop).
I also met the lovely girls from The Silver Apples and bought a slice of cinder toffee brownie and a gingerbread. We are sitting enjoying a log fire burning away and munching on the cinder toffe brownie – yum yum.
I’ve got some photos to share from my trip to London (Borough Market and the National Trust Fine Farm Produce Awards) but whilst I sort them all out I thought you might like to see these incredible English muffins.
They were hefty things that were drawing a crowd on their stall at Borough Market, and well I couldn’t resist either. I had them for breakfast this morning, pulled apart with my fingers (no bread knife involved) and toasted them.
Then when my thick slabs of salty butter didn’t melt, I bunged them under a hot grill until the butter went all golden. Topped with some homemade strawberry jam.
I could live off meals like this at the moment: tasty, simple and stuffed full of vegetables. This was a leftovers meal, the pan-fried summer vegetables I’d made the day before, cooking sliced onion, peppers, and courgettes in olive oil before adding a couple of chopped plum tomatoes from a tin (not the juice).
The potatoes had also been boiled up the day previously, and these I crisped up in the frying pan – something my mom used to do a lot when I was growing up. All popped on a plate with a dressed salad (a creamy quince and cider dressing bought from Bath Farmer’s Market) and a big dollop of herby cream cheese.
This is a fantastic new website with a map tool to help you find ‘real bread’ and locally produced flour near you. Just pop in your postcode and it shows you places nearby that sell high quality bread and local flour.
Here’s my map (click on it for a larger version):
There’s some places I’ve not heard of before that I’d like to go, and there’s some places that I knew baked their own bread, but I didn’t know how good they were at sourcing local ingredients. This website gives you a series of ‘ticks’ for most places next to each of their loaves of bread.
The Smokehouse near us looks like this (click on it for a larger version)…
There are some fantastic Christmas markets in Manchester at the moment, full of delicious foods. From Raclette melted over new potatoes and gerkins, to spaetzle and paella there are all kinds of goodies.
One of my favourite things at the Christmas markets is Flammkuchen – a German style pizza topped with a creamy sauce, bacon and onion. When I cook so much at home, it always feels quite expensive to eat at the markets. So instead we decided to give it a go at home.
I went in search for a recipe – mind you, it took me a while to get the spelling correct! I was inspired by this recipe because it used quark – an ingredient I’ve seen before but never known what to do with it. Here was the perfect opportunity to quell my interest – turns out it’s like cottage cheese without the lumps. Quite nice!
Pancetta or bacon
Preheat your oven 220°C.
Roll out the pizza dough as thin as you can.
Finely slice the onion – the thinner the better as the onion isn’t pre-cooked. I used pancetta rather than bacon and sliced it into lardons.
In a bowl mix equal amounts of creme fraiche, sour cream and quark.
Spread the creme fraiche mixture over the pizza dough, top with sliced onion and bacon before popping it into the oven for about 10-15 minutes or until it’s golden.
All it needs before eating is a good grind of black pepper…or not if your Mr Rigg.
Any other suggestions on what to do with the remaining quark would be graciously received!