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    Pop-up and Event reviews

    Colmore Business District Food Festival 2014

    This time last week I was heading back to the office full of all the delights from the Colmore Business District’s Food Festival…and what a great event it was!  The CBD food festival has been running for a few years, but this year really felt like it’s best one yet – the sun was shining, there were plenty of people for a great atmosphere but the queues were minimal and moved quickly.

    With stalls spanning the breath of Colmore’s fine food and drink offerings, there was everything from fine dining to coffee shops, gin parlours, real ale, dim sum, hot dogs and more.  Most of the stalls were selling items for the £3 mark, which was a great move and seemed to add to the quick turn over in people waiting.  There was also a demonstration stage and a live music stage with a great band playing when I attended – though sadly I didn’t catch their name.

    Feeling a bit spoilt for choice I opted to start with sweet chilli chicken from Jojolapa, a place I’ve heard really good things about.  The chicken was well cooked but I found the sauce too sweet without enough kick to it for my taste, which was a little disappointing but not enough to put me off visiting.

    I stopped off at Urban Coffee for a taste of a Yipsy Macaron which was light, chewy and lovely.  Then after a short wait whilst men with clipboards inspected the stall, it was The Bureau’s Deli Dog for main…a lovely meaty sausage with fresh bread bun.  I wasn’t overly keen on the onions, but then I rarely am on hot dogs, but overall a very nice and easy to eat dish – perfect for a food festival!

    After some time watching the band on stage I headed to Opus Restaurant, based on Cornwall St in the Colmore Business District.  I fancied something sweet and their Strawberry Bombe did not disappoint.  Desserts always seem to get a bit forgotten about in restaurants, but this sphere of meringue with a strawberry and mascarpone filling and strawberry sauce was just stunning.  Fresh, light and a perfect summer pud, it made you want to scoff it down and savour it all at once.  The meringue was crisp and chewy and just perfect.  I enjoyed my trip to Opus last year, but this made me want to return sharpish.

    The Colmore Business District is a fine showcase of the delicious food on offer in the heart of Birmingham city centre.  It runs for two days once a year, and already, I can’t wait until next year.  http://colmorebusinessdistrict.com/

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    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    BrumYumYum – 63 Island & Cake Doctor

    I hate a love/hate relationship with lunchtime.  My office is based just meters away from countless places to grab take out and eat, which can be both a bless and a curse.  Some days overflow with possibilities and sometimes I’ve overwhelmed by choices and end up with a soggy sandwich from a supermarket.

    So when my friend Ruth suggested lunch on a day when the sun was blazing in the sky and Brum Yum Yum’s Lunch Market was in session, it seemed like an easy choice.  Located in The Square, an area of the city poised for redevelopment (or so we keep being told), the Lunch Market sits around an area of Astroturf and picnic benches, which is really quite delightful – and unusual to find in the city.

    On our visit there were four vans (and the Beer Market) of which we ended up visiting to two of them; 63 Island and the Cake Doctor.

    63 Islands

    63islandsDescribed as ‘streetfood from Caribbean Islands’, 63 Island offered a choice of three different island dishes served in a tortilla with coconut infused rice & peas and Caribbean ‘slaw.  With three options on sale, including the Cuban Frijoles Negros for vegetarians and Keshi Yena – Curacao-inspired and amazing according to a mutual friend, I went for third option, Trinidad-inspired Chicken Pelau.  It’s described on the postcard menu as “chicken caramelised in ‘burnt sugar’ alongside pigeon peas, carrots, peppers and rice.  All simmered in coconut milk and stock with scotch bonnet pepper undertones”.

    I was asked what kind of sauce I wanted with it and let the stallholder decide (I was feeling brave), who added a delicious mango chutney and hot sauce.  Usually I’m not a big fan of burritos as I’ve had such mediocre ones, but this was delightful.  Each of the flavours was able to come through individually, from the moist chicken to the delicately creamy, yet fluffy coconut rice, the sweetness of the mango and the spice of the hot sauce which danced on the tip of the tongue rather than overpowering.  The burrito was moist yet not swimming in sauce and a delight to eat.  Definitely something I’d be more than happy to try again.

    https://www.facebook.com/SixtyThreeIslands

    Cake Doctor

    cake

    Intending to finish lunch with an almond-milk cafe latte, I was a little disappointed to find out that the Cake Doctor was not allowed to administer coffee due to nearby shops selling similar.  Though I was very impressed to see almond milk being offered at the same price as regular milk – good work, Doctor.  However the cakes on sale looked so good I threw caution to the wind and went for a slice of the Victoria Sandwich cake, with lashings of cream, strawberries and jam holding the sponge together.

    I’m a firm believer that sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to get right and the Victoria Sponge is a prime example.  Too often the sponge can be too dense or soggy.  Thankfully this was neither; light enough yet with a buttery firmness, the cream and strawberries neither weighed down the sponge nor were lost in it.  And for £2.50 it was a very good, decent slice of cake.

    http://www.cakedoctoruk.co.uk/

    On our way back to work we stopped in at the Beer Market.  I’m not a beer drinker and though they had cider, wine and Aperol Spritz’s I prefer soft drinks if I’m heading back to the office.  But if you fancy a lunchtime tipple the beer selection is decent with offerings from Purity and Flying Dog.

    Both 63 Island and the Cake Doctor were fantastic choices for lunch, vastly superior to a soggy supermarket sandwich and I’d be happy to visit both again.  Brum Yum Yum’s Lunch Market is in The Square every Friday until the 1st August.  Visit http://www.brumyumyum.com/ for more details.

    Recipes

    Blueberry balsamic dressing makes everything better

    I’ve been convinced I dislike salad.  I have my reasons and they’re usually a combination of soggy, bland lettuce leaves which make you bored of chewing before you get full.  But it’s summer and after feeling a bit under the weather I thought I needed to inject a lot more veg into my diet, so it was time to revisit the dreaded salad.

    My plan was for tuna mayo with a rainbow assortment of colourful veg.  If the saying we eat with our eyes is true, I didn’t want to subject myself to a plate of just green.  So I added orange pepper (diced), a good measure of sweetcorn, cucumber (because even though it’s a salad staple, I love it), sun-dried tomatoes (which taste like pizza), and stripes of carrot to go with the insipid lettuce.  Already this was looking good.

    And then I remembered blueberries.

    I can’t remember where it was, but once I had blueberry vinaigrette on a side salad and though I’ve forgotten the place, the taste is one of those things I’ll remember for a while.  Sweet and zingy all pepped up with a nice light vinegar taste, it’s truly a wonderful dressing and why it doesn’t feature in more places I’ll never know.

    After reading a few recipes online I got bored of trying to convert cups and made up my own measures.  I’d give you the full recipe, but really I made this to taste and I’d recommend you do too.

    Blueberry balsamic dressing

    • Blueberries
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Olive oil
    • Juice from half a lemon
    • Sugar

    The main thing is use a food processor / blender, blitz the blueberries first and then add the rest of the ingredients sparingly until you get the taste you want.  The recipes I read online suggested honey in place of sugar, but I didn’t have any to hand and it’s just something to balance out the lemon and vinegar, rather than needing the honey taste.  I started with 30 blueberries, 3.5 tablespoons of olive oil, 1tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, juice from half a lemon and a big pinch of sugar and went from there.  After adjusting the flavours I watered it down a little to make it easier to pour.

    The next day I took my salad to work and the tuna mayo stayed untouched in its container, where I ate my way through the rainbow.  And there’s plenty of ingredients left for tomorrow.

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    Product reviews

    Review: Tyrrell’s Vegetable Crisps

    On days when I’m feeling lazy and indecisive, I’ll often go for a meal deal at the a supermarket on Colmore Row for lunch.  It’s not always the most inspiring of meals, but on perusing the vast crisp selection I noticed that Tyrrell’s Veg Crisips were included in the meal deal – a great bargain, considering the individual cost of £1.41 was nearly half of the cost of the meal deal.

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    Made up of thin slices of parsnip, beetroot and carrot, the first thing that is easily noticeable is the colour; the curls of red, orange and beige reminded me of an edible potpourri selection, rather than a dull bag of crisps.  Taste wise the choice of the sweeter root vegetables complemented the sea salt flavouring to give it a really interesting balance of flavours.  And whether intentional or not, I found that the thickness of the crisps varied, meaning some there was a difference in taste and texture amongst the same crisp selections.

    A tad pricey individually, Tyrrell’s vegetable crisps are a nice change from a standard bag of potato crisps, with more variety of flavours within the individual packet.  Nutritionally, though made from vegetables they’re not exactly health food, but they do make a nice, savoury treat.

    https://www.tyrrellscrisps.co.uk/

    Reviews

    Lords Cafe

    It’s not often someone recommends trying somewhere for lunch in Birmingham City Centre that I haven’t heard of.  So when my friend John suggested Lords Cafe for lunch, I couldn’t help but agree.

    Tucked away in The Citadel, you wouldn’t find Lord’s Cafe unless you were looking for it – the entrance located between Boston Tea Party and Pizza Express at the tail end of Corporation St.  In fact, being located in the internal courtyard of The Citadel, it feels like walking into someone’s office block.

    The cafe itself is simple and to the point, with a selection of sandwiches, salads, jacket potatoes, fried breakfast foods and omelettes.  Minimal fuss they serve the kind of everyday food you’d cook at home, the kind of food that just seems to be lacking in the city centre.  And despite it being the first time I’d been there, the staff were genuinely warm and friendly with us newcomers and regulars alike – it felt like walking into the house of a family member for tea!

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    I went for an omelette, because I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these on a menu and I have a reticence to cook them myself.  The affable atmosphere meant that you could pick from a wide selection of whatever you wanted as a filling and initially I went for ham and minimal cheese.  And then I was that annoying person that went back and asked for mushrooms, which they were more than happy to include.  I added a side salad which consisted of lettuce, cucumber and tomato too.  The food arrived quickly and was exactly what you want from an omelette; cooked on-site with fluffy eggs which encased the well-portioned filling perfectly.  Top marks for an omelette.

    With a can of soft drink, plus my friend’s omelette, side salad and orange juice it came to under £10 which felt like a really good deal.  Lord’s Cafe is never going to be considered fine-dining, but the food is good, homely and the staff warm and genuine.  A genuinely surprise, but a nice one.

    http://www.lords-cafe.co.uk/

    Cake, Recipes

    Recipe: Gluten-free Chocolate and Cointreau Cake Recipe

    I recently(ish) managed to wander along to a Ladies Who Code event and being a woman who doesn’t really code but wants to learn I didn’t want to turn up empty handed.  So I made cake.  Jessica, the organiser, was on the lookout for gluten-free cakes for the event so I thought I’d have a go at making a flourless chocolate cake, mainly because I understand how much of a nightmare it is to have a food intolerance.

    I checked out a couple of recipes and in the end did what I always do, make up my own.  I find some chocolate cake a little cloying, particularly when very dark chocolate is used so I wanted to add another flavour.  I’m a big fan of adding alcohol to cake, and chocolate-orange is such a classic flavour that gluten-free Cointreau seemed like a perfect choice!

    glutenfree_chocolatecake

    Chocolate and Cointreau Cake

    150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids are ideal)

    150g butter or margarine

    6 eggs, separated

    250g caster sugar

    50ml Cointreau

    120g ground almonds

    4tsp cocoa powder

    Method

    1. Using a bowl of water which sits over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the butter and chocolate together.
    2. Whilst the butter and chocolate are melting, separate the eggs yolks from the whites – you’ll need both, but keep them apart.
    3. To the egg yolks add the Cointreau and sugar, and mix.  It’ll look a little lumpy at this point but it’ll be fine.  Add the ground almonds and cocoa together and then add in with the rest of the dry ingredients and mix together.
    4. Once the butter and chocolate have melted and combined together, add them to the yolk/sugar/almond mixture and beat well so everything is nice and combined.
    5. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they triple in volume and are nice and aerated – use an electric whisk.  This will prevent your cakes from getting too dense, and your arms from hurting too much.
    6. Carefully fold in the egg whites to the rest of the mixture, careful not to lose too much of the air you’ve just introduced.
    7. Add to your individual cake or muffins tray.  I made muffins with mine as they were for an event.  Fill up to about 3/4 of the tray which is more than usual, but they’ll puff up and then sink a little, so this ends up making a good size. The recipes roughly suggested this would make 12 but they made way more, so be prepared for that.
    8. Cook until you can poke them with a toothpick and it comes out clean.  About 40-45mins for a big cake or 15-20mins for muffins (although to be honest I use the toothpick test more than time).
    9. Once cooked either serve warm with berries and ice cream or leave to cool and enjoy at room temperature.

    Considering how little a fan of chocolate cake I am, these were really nice – and the people at the event seemed to think so too!  As with the perks of being a cook, I tried them when they were still warm and I think this recipe would be just as good as an warm dessert with fresh berries and cream, although they were still delicious as muffins.

    Definitely a recipe to go in the folder for a repeat!

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Two Cats Roaming Kitchen June event

    Two Cats Roaming Kitchen is the brainchild of Nick Astley and his Latvian partner Diana Fjodorova. They describe themselves on Facebook as “A pop-up taking a modernist culinary approach to north eastern European cuisine and making fine dining accessible, away from the table cloths and pricetag”, which is a pretty fair depiction.  Except if it were up to me, and Facebook allowed, I’d underline the price tag, because it was ridiculously good value.  Sure you don’t know the location and it’s not the plush surroundings of a Michelin starred restaurant, but this is less about the dining and more about the food.

    I’d missed Two Cats Roaming’s first outing, but their second took place under the arches of Water St, in indie bakery Peel & Stone’s usual Saturday brunch hangout.  No designer wallpaper or modern British artwork, there was a table set for 11 and decorated with wine and Kvass – simple but convivial.

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    The first course, a rosti of quail egg, lumpfish roe and chicken liver prompted some discussion on whether to go all in or politely nibble.  Either way it was delicious.  The next course, bread, butter and smoked fat sounded simple, but the bread was made from a traditional recipe and had a sort of molasses taste to it which could’ve easily been eaten with some jam for supper.  The most squeamish might not have been too keen on the smoked fat, but they’d have sorely missed out as the saltiness and sweetness from the bread were a wonderful contrast.

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    After a little rest from the doorstop of bread we were treated to Pelmeni, cep broth and an egg yolk.  Pelmeni is a dumpling, but with wafer thin dough so think tortellini rather than stodgy and these were lovely – you could easily eat a bowl full.  Our fourth course was a sort of venison tartare served on a sort of hemp paste with raspberry sheets and roses.  The paste wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but i thought the texture added an interesting contrast to the venison.

    Competing with the dumpling for my favourite savoury dish of the night was monkfish cheeks, truffle mayonnaise, parsley and kale.  The monkfish was delightfully cooked; giving it meatiness without being too tough, which was delightful by itself, but more so with the accompaniments.  The sixth course was a sort of bridge between sweet and savoury with carrot, curds, honey and lavender.  Having a lactose intolerance, I tested this out of curiosity but I think the testament to the dish went to the fact that it was welcomed by the person sat opposite me, who ate both portions.

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    The main sweet of the night was an utterly delicious elderflower mousse, cucumber and gingerbread.  I probably should’ve checked the ingredients for this one, but playing on the safe side I indulged in a few mouthfuls of this deliciously perfumed and fluffy mousse before donating it to a fellow diner, again gratefully received and grudgingly donated!  Though I feel the best was saved for last as we were presented with a beetroot marshmallow.  I LOVE marshmallow, and this was a fine example of why homemade marshmallow is infinitely better than ones that have been knocking around vacuum-pack for months.  Delightfully fluffy with a fantastic flavour it rounded off what was a fantastic dining experience.

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    The service was simple, understated and though we were introduced to the dishes, there was none of the overly fussy waiting that comes with fine dining.  Described and delivered, 5+ courses meant that unlike some fine dining experiences that require a sandwich in the taxi home, we left sated. And I should mention the pricetag, a steal of an evening at £30, which comparably beats most established fine dining experiences.

    At its core Two Cats Roaming Kitchen is everything good food should be, an experience that offers minimal fuss and lets the food speak for itself.  Well worth going.  Check their Facebook page or Twitter for details on upcoming events.