Friday, 22 March 2013

Calling all chocoholics! Ramsbottom will be transformed into chocolate wonderland this weekend!

IF you’ve got a sweet tooth, there’s only one place to be this weekend – Ramsbottom in Lancashire will be transformed into a mouth-watering chocoholic’s heaven for the town’s fifth annual Chocolate Festival.

The two-day event will bring together the UK’s best chocolate-makers and high-quality cocoa products with a huge variety of sweet treats to sample and buy, and a host of activities to keep the children entertained.

Unfortunately I won’t be going this year as I’m elsewhere on a family break – but having been before (and taken part in a Ferrero Rocher World Record attempt!) I can highly recommend a visit on Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24.

Since the event was launched in 2009, it’s grown from a few stalls in the town centre to a hugely popular national event, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year and last year scooped a Manchester Tourism Award.

I reported on the first-ever festival for the local rag where I worked as a journalist back in 2009.

A self-confessed chocoholic, I thought I’d landed a dream job when I suggested to my editor that I spent the day at the event sampling lots of lovely chocolate and taking part in a Guinness World Record attempt for the most amount of Ferrero Rocher eaten in one minute! (You can read the article here)

It was a little embarrassing and I lost miserably (ironically to a firefighter I now work with!) – but it was a fantastic day and I’m really pleased that the event has got bigger and better every year.

This year’s event will feature a chocolate market on Bridge Street with big names including Slattery, The Chocolate Café and Divine Chocolate.

There’ll be alfresco dining including Tibetan and Thai cuisine, wood-fired pizza, pulled pork, Brazilian street food, Spanish paella, homemade ice-cream and prize-winning ostrich and venison.

Cafes, restaurants and shops in the town will have chocolate specials on their menus and there will be a beer tent, unplugged acoustic music sets, children’s craft sessions and a mini farm.

I won’t be there in person this year but I’ll be there in spirit as I stuff my face with chocolate, eat nice food and drink nice wine in a country lodge in Lincolnshire – not a bad compromise eh?!

Follow @ChocFestival for Twitter updates.

Pictures of previous events taken from

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Mary and Paul are back for food and drink fest 2013!!

IT’S still a good five months away – but excitement is already building as the line-up for this year’s Bolton Food and Drink Festival is revealed.
King and Queen of baking Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, from the hit TV show Great British Bake Off, are back by popular demand after selling out their live demonstrations at last year’s record-breaking event.
The couple will join firm festival favourites Michael Caines and James Martin at this year’s foodie extravaganza which takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend, from Friday, August 23 to Monday, August 26.
A new addition to this year’s line-up is top Italian chef and restaurateur Aldo Zilli who specialises in Italian and vegetarian cuisine and has appeared on numerous TV shows.
Mary and Paul will perform their demos together on Saturday, August 24 in a dedicated marquee on Victoria Square.
Mary said: “I received such a warm welcome from the people of Bolton last year that I was only too happy to return to the food and drink festival in August.
“Everyone was so friendly and it was heartening to see so much interest in the art of baking.”
Paul added: “I was very impressed with Bolton and in particular their award-winning market.
“There was an abundance of fresh, local produce on offer and I am thrilled to be making a return visit. I look forward to seeing people at our demos.”
The festival, which attracted more than 102,000 visitors last year, will be launched by the two-Michelin starred chef Michael Caines on the Friday, followed by Aldo Zilli on the Sunday and Saturday Kitchen presenter and chef James Martin on the Monday.
Aldo said: “I’m really looking forward to coming to the Bolton Food and Drink Festival and cooking up some delicious Italian food. I’m passionate about fresh and local produce, so I can’t wait to see what Bolton has to offer.”
Tickets go on sale in May. To keep up-to-date with the latest festival news, visit the website or follow the hashtag #boltonfoodfest on Twitter.
You can also follow me on Twitter @SarahLPoole for festival and more foodie updates!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Herb-crusted rack of lamb with red wine sauce and mustard mash

Last week I thought spring was well and truly on the way and I found myself day-dreaming about beer gardens, Sunday walks with ice-cream and ditching the winter boots. Then as the week progressed, it got colder and windier and now it’s forecast to snow again!

But with Easter round the corner and lighter nights on the way, I wanted to embrace the new season and make a real spring-time meal that I could share with you.

This herb-crusted rack of lamb with red wine sauce is perfect for Mother’s Day if you’re making dinner tonight and haven’t yet decided what to cook. (Above photo taken from Gordon Ramsay's recipe)

It’ll also make a nice Easter meal if you need more time to prepare and get hold of some top quality lamb from the butchers.
Cooking the lamb on the rack keeps it succulent and the topping is just delicious and really easy to make. I got the basic idea for both the crust and the gravy from Gordon Ramsay’s recipes but have adapted them along the way to make them lighter and perfect for the time of year. (I must say, before my fiancé reads this, that he in fact made the gravy on this occasion!)

Ingredients (Serves 4)
For the lamb:
2 large racks of lamb
Olive oil
4 slices of stale bread, teared into chunks – I use ciabatta
7 tbsp grated parmesan
A few sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme, coriander and rosemary
Handfull of toasted pine nuts (optional)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

For the red wine sauce:
2 banana shallots, finely chopped
1 large garlic glove, finely chopped
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
150ml red wine
500ml chicken stock (if making this gravy for beef, use a rich beef stock instead)
A few sprigs of rosemary and thyme

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Place the lamb on plastic cutting board fat side up. Lightly score the fat layer with a sharp knife then sprinkle the lamb with salt, pepper and a little olive oil then rub all over.

Put on your potatoes to boil for the mash and chop your shallots and garlic for the gravy.

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and seal the lamb by holding each side in the oil long enough to develop a brown colour (be careful you don’t burn your hands). Remove from the pan and set aside while you prepare the crust. Firstly, toast off the pine nuts if using.

Place the bread, parmesan, herbs, pine nuts, a splash of olive oil and seasoning into a blender and pulse several times until it looks nice and green and fully mixed into fine crumbs.

Brush the lamb generously with the mustard and coat with the crust mixture. Place into a roasting tin and put in the oven for around 20 minutes. Note: the lamb needs to be pink inside and it will continue to cook as it rests so be careful not to over cook.

While the lamb is in the oven you can make the gravy. Fry off the shallots and garlic in a splash of olive oil and add salt and pepper. Fry for about five minutes until the shallots soften then add the flour and stir for a few more minutes.

Pour in the vinegar and red wine and bring to the boil. Add the stock and simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the wine has cooked off. Add the herbs for a few more minutes then strain the gravy through a sieve.

Remove the lamb from the oven and leave to rest for ten minutes while you get everything else ready.

Slice the lamb into cutlets and serve approximately three pieces per person.

Serve with mashed potato (mixed with a tbsp of mustard and lots of butter) seasonal vegetables and the red wine gravy. Yum!

Let me know how you get on and please send me your photos!