Before I devote my full attention on this blog to the gastronomic wonders of 2012, I thought I’d spend a few moments looking back at some of the palatable independent produce that has caught my eye since moving to the “big smoke” during the summer.
Each of these foodie finds are so outstanding that they really deserve an article from me dedicated solely to their own deliciousness (and I know you’ll find rave reviews from journalists and bloggers alike if you Google any one of their names) but as I recently confessed, a combination of time and timidity limited my writing rate in 2011. However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spread the word on the culinary creations that have prevented my hunger pangs over the last few months, and that I predict to be even more successful in 2012!
I first stumbled across Joe & Seph’s gourmet popcorn whilst getting soaked to the skin at the Taste of London festival, and it was love at first bite. Kernel connoisseur Joe Sopher has been likened to chocolate mastermind Willy Wonka, and as soon as you pop one of these unbelievable corn puffs into your mouth you’ll understand why! Joe & Seph’s successfully infuse a variety of complex flavours into each of their high-end versions of the classic cinema snack, and with both savoury and sweet options available there’s something for everyone.
My favourite pick is their “exotic and crispy” smooth caramel, coconut and cinnamon (which leaves my tongue tingling from the transition of sweetness to spice) but I’d happily munch on any of the bunch that was on offer. Their recent seasonal specials were a marvel for all the senses – if you closed your eyes you’d really believe you were tucking into a mince pie or portion of panettone! This visual representation of my passion for their popcorn was awarded first prize in their recent photo competition, so I snapped up a free bag of autumnal “crisp and tangy” toffee apple at Masterchef Live before the eager crowds gobbled up the entire contents of their lovely old-fashioned sweetshop jars!
I’d previously spotted Pieminister’s perfect pastry parcels in Waitrose, but I wasn’t able to perform a taste-test until I moved to London and explored Borough Market (also known my as idea of food heaven). Their impressive range of pies are ideal for anyone who’s not brave enough to tackle their own shortcrust, and even carnivores like myself will agree that their vegetarian variations are equally as appetising as their meaty medleys.
Facebook fans voted my snapshot of a homemade proper "pukka" pie (in the Jamie Oliver sense of the word) as worthy of receiving a free pack of Pieminister’s flaky sausage rolls. The secret blend of herbs and spices in the Mr Porky sausage roll provided the meat with a rich depth of flavour, and the Mr Hot version certainly packed a punch! The Pieminister cookbook was waiting for me under the Christmas tree this year, and I’m excited to test out as many of the different fillings as possible over the coming months (don’t worry, it doesn’t include a limited edition Mrs Lovett lattice tart…!)
Wandering around the Foodies Festival back in my university town of Oxford one Bank Holiday, my attention was captured by a particularly stylish stall, with a bountiful display of beautiful baked delights served up on chunky chopping blocks and weathered wooden boxes. I was suddenly ripped out of my reverie by a voice asking “Do you like pumpkin pie?” I looked up to find that one of Outsider Tart’s two Davids had emerged from underneath the counter, clutching a gigantic piece of gooey amber cream that was threatening to overflow from its pastry case. Mumbling that whilst I’d heard great things about the renowned American Thanksgiving dessert, unfortunately I’d never been lucky enough to try it, said slice of oozing goodness was then thrust into my hand. Any protestations or offers of payment by me were refused, on the basis that David “would have to eat it otherwise, and [I was] much skinner than [he]”.
I fell under Outsider Tart’s spell the instant I licked the spoon clean of that pumpkin pie. Despite my health-conscious efforts to generally avoid cakes and bakes, I’ve become addicted to the US duo’s collection of teatime treats. Their dense dark chocolate and cinnamon-scented Hepburn brownies are truly irresistible, and I’ve even convinced myself that the raisins and seeds crammed into the baseball-sized carrot and cream cheese whoopie pies mean they are good for me. It’s debatable whether these goodies really do have a positive effect on my physique, but the sensory stimulation and pleasure each crumb gives me is undeniable.
As you may have already gathered, I have a somewhat sweet-tooth. Given the choice between a starter or a dessert, I’d always opt for afters…unless the appetiser in question involved The Dip Society’s delicious selection of spreads. Their spectrum of dips ranges from “light and creamy” pate-like mackerel mixed with parsley and lemon, onto “sweet and spicy” houmous-style chickpeas with chilli and mint, culminating in a surprising fiery kick of wasabi tucked amongst a classy concoction of mashed peas and chickpeas.
I tasted these delectable dips for the first time at the Real Food Harvest Festival and regretted not taking any home with me, so I made a beeline for their stand at Taste of Christmas. The Mackerelata had been such a hit with London’s food fans that they had already sold out, but I took advantage of their “2 for £5” promotion and was kindly given the third variety as a bonus – talk about a bargain! All of The Dip Society’s products are gluten-free, and the cooling “Sweet Fire” made of beetroot, chilli, honey and mint was the ideal Christmas gift for a vegetarian friend. Now the New Year has begun and I’m attempting to shed the extra weight gained during the festive season, but at least I know I can look forward to lunchtime with these appealing dips to dunk my crudités into!
One of the many things I love about London is the opportunity to sample independent and organic produce at the vast number of food markets that have gradually sprouted up in various suburbs. Some events such as the Taste festivals are ticketed, but the majority of markets are entirely free and there’s a blossoming street food scene aimed at encouraging shoppers to source their supplies more locally. All of the foodie finds I’ve mentioned in this post were initially introduced to me through visits to food festivals, and the quality of goods for sale at the stalls is (on the whole) far superior to that provided in the supermarket.
Top of my list of food fayres to visit in 2012 is Eat Street at King’s Cross, which highlights the diverse array of cuisines living harmonious in the capital. I was able to catch some of their traders in action when Eat Street collaborated with the Southbank’s Real Food Festival (where I’ve become such a regular attendee that some of the stallholders have started to recognise me!). There was a huge wealth of dishes on offer, including Moroccan tagines, Spanish paellas and Ghanaian stews, but I was drawn to the pile of steaming pulled pork from The Ribman’s barbecued baby-back ribs. The meat was so tender that it fell off the bone and melted in my mouth, and the smoky flavour from the grill meant that the soft tortilla wrap was the only accompaniment it required. For me, these ribs are best enjoyed entirely unadulterated, but that may just be because I don’t have the courage to try The Ribman’s infamous “Holy F**k” sauce!
…and finally, tweet your eats
Twitter is a great way to find out about food events that are happening in your area, stay up-to-date with the latest news from smaller suppliers and even communicate with celebrated (and celebrity) chefs! Whilst this isn’t technically a foodie find, it is a tool that I’ve found indispensible for learning more information on the best places to visit and products to try. All of the organisations mentioned in this article have Twitter accounts (which can be found by following their website links) and most also have their own Facebook pages. There’s an enormous community of food-lovers on Twitter, and it’s become a great way for me to get to know suppliers and ultimately make friends who share my obsession for fine food!