Hot Cross Bun Day!!!!!!!!!!!

hot-cross-bun

I remember being a kid and being excited about eating all sorts of stuff. Moon munch, a half pint of prawns at the Ha’penny pier, giggly chops,  a Sunday morning choc dip infront of kids TV in a narrowly described bribe to not disturb the parents’ lay in. Common culinary occurrences maybe but still genuine anticipatory mouth waterers.
What was less common, back then, was the promise of a hot cross bun. Spiced dough buns studded with fruit, halved and toasted and devoured just as the butter smother layer started to melt. Delicious, and made all the more so because they marked the beginning of Easter when there was no school and potential piles of chocolates and maybe a roast dinner. Because you could only get hot cross buns at  Easter then. Because they were an Easter food, special and time restricted, the foodie groupon offer of the day. I’m not talking about a hark back to the last century here….actually ok technically I am but only the 1980s, which despite plenty of jokes about me approaching middle age was not that long ago. Now, you can get a hot cross bun pretty much every day from any supermarket. I love hot cross buns, so I might think this was a good thing. Mightn’t I?

I don’t know. I braved the OAP obstacle course that is M&S to get my two packs of hot cross buns for £2 yesterday (a great example of bargain beating brain as in a single household I’ll never eat them all today) because, well, it’s Good Friday. You have hot cross buns on Good Friday. Why is that again?

Buddy-Christ-11To be clear, I’m not a conventionally religious person. I don’t belong to a church and I have next to no interest in arguments of faith, whatever flavour it may be, it just makes people cross. I have a great interest in history and literature however and regardless of what you think about God, the church, L Ron Hubbard or multi-limbed elephant deities, I don’t think anyone can argue that there once was a man called Jesus and he really left his mark on the world we live in today. Tradition (and my school teachers and mother) tells us that the hot cross bun is eaten through lent up to Good Friday as a reminder of this historical figure and his gruesome, if debatable, death by crucifixion. Yes, that is the cross on your hot cross bun. An ancient torture and execution method where an offender was nailed up and slowly suffocated by their own body weight if they weren’t put out their misery by a sympathetic stabbing to speed things up. Tasty stuff.

Not being raised in an actively God fearing family (I come from lines of atheists and lapsed Jews), I have no memory of this affecting my enjoyment of a hot cross bun as child although it clearly had more impact then that it might now. A quick straw poll of people who got stuck talking to me in the last few days showed that plenty of folks don’t know the origin of the hot cross bun, and the younger they get the lower the correct response rate. It’s just a hot cross bun now, better than toast but not quite a cake. M&S do ones with chocolate in them. What’s the big deal? If you ask Elizabeth the First, a very big deal indeed. Despite being branded a heretic by her elder half sister Queen ‘Bloody’ Mary, Liz One was a stout Christian and in the London markets of her day it was illegal to sell hot cross buns other than at Easter, Christmas or for a funeral. Times of faith and reflection. And if you got caught trying to sneak out a normal Wednesday morning spiced bun you would be punished by having all of your produce removed and given to the poor. Interesting.

Obviously we live in slightly freer times now but I do believe there is something commendable in the sentiment behind this. Because something potentially sacred should not be used to the profit of anyone. I’m no Catholic (don’t get me started) but I think Jesus was a pretty OK guy, with a generally more than OK message. When you get down to it, Jesus was touting the same philosophy that forms the bare bones of every major religion since the dawn of civilisation: Don’t be a dick. That simplification may not be the dream interpretation of generations of spiritual scripture, but it’s true. It gets complicated after that in all religions but at the base, we should all really just be nice to each other.
Think about it. Be nice, and not just to other people, try to be nice within and to yourself too. You’re OK you know, you deserve a hot cross bun and a nice cup of tea. I will personally take some reflection today to be less grumpy about my life when in the grand scale of relativity, I have it pretty good. I had an education, I have a roof over my head and live in a society where having an unpopular opinion wont get me nailed to a cross. Life is sweet.

So if you consider anything past the butter or jam debate when you tuck into your hot cross buns today (or whenever) maybe just do what Jesus would have done- Don’t be a dick. You don’t have to be any kind of Christian about it, as it is quite apparent that that the bun is now independent of the denomination. South African hardliners went ever so slightly nuts when their Woolie’s added a Halal label to their hot cross buns. Controversial, but a sign of the times. We really can all get along. Actually we could all get along with a hot cross bun as traditional folklore states that that a hot cross bun shared between two will bless a friendship for the year to come, which is maybe a much nicer association to a baked product than a street preacher being tortured to death a long time ago infront of a big crowd.

 

if you want to have a bash at making your own, click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/hot_cross_buns_74750

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Death By flapjack?

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An example of the offending flapjack, courtesy of the BBC.

In a fine example of why I often despair of this wonderful world, a young person was injured in school not a million miles from my homestead recently. I wish him a speedy recovery, it’s not nice to laugh at people when they are hurt. Even if said hurt comes from an expertly hurled flapjack. More specifically by the corner of an expertly hurled triangular flapjack. Thankfully the school environment involved have responded in the only sensible fashion by punishing the little bastards throwing their cake around banning flapjack with sharp corners.
Find that hard to swallow? Click here.

In my other life I actually spend a fair amount of time investigating work place accidents and attempting to make people think about the implications of their actions on the health and safety of others and I truly believe that we all have a right to a working or educational environment free of flying lunch related injuries. We’re not animals for heavens sakes!!!! It’s easy to pooh pooh this reaction from the  flapjackgate school as daft, ludicrous or even suggest that it is the decision of an abject moron who is so frightened of the Health & Safety Executive that their brain had a full on meltdown when faced with this ghastly turn of events.

Yes. You cook your meat thoroughly and avoid eating blowfish, you thought all you had to worry about was a nut allergy or choking on your hotdog. Oh no, no, no, no, no. The food is out there, and it will get you. Mercury in tuna will make your children stupid, pesticides in beef will make you grow moobs and one whiff of a soya bean will cause hormonal catastrophes of a volcanic scale if left unchecked and FLAPJACK WILL BLIND YOU THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN (or anyone throwing it). We are entirely too complacent. Are our children safe in their school cafeterias? Do our friends risk death and destruction with every trip to the vending machine? Does that sandwich have the power to maim you and more importantly, can you blame someone for it when it does?

In fact let us start this investigation with sandwiches, nasty bread bound bundles of nutrition that they are. No laughing matter for Tampa Bay baseball pitcher Joel Peralta who was seriously injured in recent weeks getting out of his car to pick up a quick sarnie. He suffered muscular complications and neck pain as a result, and was unable to eat his sandwiches until some time after the event. His team and personal performance are still suffering as a result of this senseless incident.

How about eggs then? Nasty, evil eggs with all that albumen and salmonella and sharp shells that could really scratch your eye if you shoved them in there and jiggled them around a bit. A vicious gang of 28 eggs murdered Tunisian man Dhaou Fatnass after forcing their way into his stomach while he was otherwise distracted by a ridiculous bet with a friend about being able to eat 30 raw eggs. What happened to the other two eggs? Hmmm? Why wont they come forward to tell their side of the story? I think we can read between the lines on this one as to who was really to blame for the loss of life here. Time to ban any egg consumption in the vicinity of bored or competitive males, and not a moment too soon.

Yes, yes, I can hear all you bleeding heart liberals trying to say that food is innocent, enjoyable, a staple simple part of every day life, a misunderstood source of calories! Food doesn’t kill people, eating kills people! Yeah, that’s what the Nazis said too just before they plotted to blow up Winston Churchill (God bless you sir) with a bar of exploding chocolate! You cannot act soon or severely enough comrades, the food needs to be controlled and quickly and I think we all owe a vote of thanks to the governing body of Castleview School, Canvey Island for being brave enough to stand up and be counted in the war against slightly sore faces by banning weaponised triangular flapjacks in favour of square cut ones.

Thank God squares don’t have corners, right?

A Little Plug- The Farm Cafe at Marlesford

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Should you find yourself on the jolly old endless concrete run of boring doom that is the A12, round about Woodbridge, you will find yourself going past the Farm Cafe &  Food Market at Marlesford. And if you do find yourself here on the endless concrete run of boring doom that is the A12 round about Woodbridge, I implore you absolutely not go past the Farm Cafe & Food Market at Marlesford, and go inside.

El cafe, still comfy and picturesque on a sleet monday lunchtime.

El cafe, still comfy and picturesque on a sleet monday lunchtime.

I found myself here with some friends during the early stages of a few days off in the Suffolk countryside, friends who enjoy a fine meal and a nice cup of tea almost as much as I do. The Farm Cafe was our designated lunch spot following some research by the In Law and most well found it was. The main cafe is a comfortable sprawling space of clean, wooden tables and pleasing views away from the bloody A12. Their standard menu offers a fine array of lunchtime fayre, from baguettes to bangers and mash with some surprising and tempting options- wise man tries out the squashed goat pie. They knock up a fine spicy lentil soup too, served with a lovely mix of artisan breads, all locally supplied. The food is good, our group of five had no complaints on quality or quantity but the atmosphere really is lovely. An over used adjective in my blog, ‘lovely’, but there’s no other word. There is a genuine family feel about the place and it’s easy to linger over your locally sourced grub and a nice pot of darjeeling.

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And the shop, where all the goods be at.

But leave you must, and you will, and if you have any sense you will go straight into the shop next door, where you will find oodles of foodie (and drinkie) treats, many of which are locally sourced and even fresh from the cafe kitchen- wise man purchases a squashed goat pie and takes it home for tea! The prices are reasonable, on par with other establishments of this type and yes you will see the usual suspect produce from delis and foodie joints all over East Anglia but keep looking and the most seasoned epicure will find something new. My new was the ‘Suffolk Mud‘ branch of Stokes Sauces, as local as their name suggests (hurrah!) with top notch presentation and lovely labels. I’m a girl, I’m allowed to like labels. I went away with some of their English mustard and some equally yokelled Garden of Suffolk gooseberry jam which is without doubt the finest thing to grace a slice of toast in my kitchen for some years. So there’s sauce, sweets, oils, wine, pies, beers and even some plants if you don’t want to eat everything you purchase. In short, something for everyone, and as with the cafe it is all served with a smile and minimal pain to your wallet.

So go get on the A12 and pay them a visit.

Lovely.

Ristorante Favoloso

Location: Balkerne Walk, CO1 1PA- just off the top of North Hill in Colchester town centre. Really comfortable inside, basement level dining with gorgeous table settings and décor. Close to parking and public transport.

Food: Generally very good, huge selection, great meat and seafood dishes. Good wine list, try the Fiano!

Ambience: Lovely, friendly staff, a lively and comfortable Friday night venue.

Pricing: Massive variance, check for availability of specials/set menus before booking.

Lone girl's view from the Fiano.

Lone girl’s view from the Fiano.

Mid 90’s cinema fans may recognise the line “I don’t usually meet people. Unless I already know them.” I’m the same with new restaurants.  There is nothing worse than paying more than a fiver for a dinner that you either A) Really don’t like or B) Could have done a better job of at home. I think a lot of people who consider themselves competent in the kitchen feel the same, it is soul crushing to spend twelve quid on a single plate of mediocre food when the same cash could have fed four of you very happily with lush leftovers from the comfort of your own kitchen. And you wouldn’t have had to put a frock on and do your hair. Believe it or not I often dread going out to eat, particularly in my home town. The options are reasonably plentiful, and heavily weighted with your average chain pizza or piri piri chicken outlets. Ok for a last minute choice on on voucher code day, but it’s Friday night, there are friends coming, and you need to choose the venue. Pop quiz, hotshot. What do you do?

I did not shoot the hostage, I instead ruled out the usual suspects in a bold move and decided to look for somewhere either new or not visited for some time. I first decided on a family run Italian near to my office, then after some horrific trip advisor tales revised this, moved some distance uphill and booked Favoloso’s, table for six, eight pm, thanks very much. My main reasoning for this was a shining review from a day job colleague and a fantastic looking £22-95 set dinner menu. They are also rumoured to be one of the prime fresh fish venues in sunny Colchester, and seafood really is something of a treat.

I have eaten here before, but probably not for about 12 years, so we’ll call this a new and shiny experience.

On arrival, Ristorante Favoloso was pleasingly busy without being rammed, genuinely lively and atmospheric. Being the first of my group to turn up, I took to our table rather than hang out as billy no mates in the bar and enjoyed a really lovely Fiano whilst studying the menu. My new venue anxiety began to wane. It is a lovely setting, below street level with brightly decorated walls and lots of typically Mediterranean décor in the way of fish nets and old photos which are a little clichéd but hit just under the level of forced cheesiness.  It feels authentic, or at least the way a bunch of Essex folk think an authentic Italian restaurant should feel. Not to say authentic means casual in any way, all the tables are impeccably set with heavy linen and lovely glassware, I particularly liked their blue glass oil burning candles. Lovely. Their front of house staff are equally beautifully turned out, helpful, welcoming and smiley. So far, so good.

And now the return of the new venue anxiety as I looked through the available edibles. Firstly, the web advertised set menu did not exist and secondly the specials were all hovering around the same price per plate as I had anticipated paying for three courses. Yes, fine, I’m a bit tight, but in my defence I don’t have oodles of spare cash to be throwing about the place and I was responsible for bringing five other people here, people I wasn’t paying for. I sensed a dip in popularity, but the Fiano helped. Due to this pricing issue, we all opted to skip the starters, and collectively enjoyed three steaks, two different fishy pastas and a slow cooked beef. No one had any dinner complaints. The boy was quoted as enjoying ‘the best steak I’ve ever eaten’ (don’t tell his father in law) and I have to say the crab tagliatelle was fantastic- perfect fresh pasta with a creamy sauce where the crab was the star but didn’t overwhelm the other flavours. The pasta dishes were bountiful in portion terms, I struggled to the clean plate I left and my stomach muscles regretted for the next hour. The steak eaters enjoyed a mix of freshly cooked veg and potatoes (what’s Italian for dauphinoise?) and the slow cooked beef had a nice pile of rice with it. It is worth pointing out that the slow cooked beef eater, known to you as The Knitter, is of a similar mind to me about eating out and said that this beef was delicious and well worth it. So two recommendations for you there.

The main menu here is extensive to say the least, with the pastas and specials there must be over 30 options, which made it surprising to see a very short dessert menu. One abstained entirely, two ice creams, a tiramisu, a chocolate cheesecake and a marmalade brioche pudding. Note- brioche pudding after a massive plate of pasta is not going to make you happy. All were well executed and acceptable, but they lacked the wow factor of the main event but were definitely, as one diner observed, “Better than tesco!!!”

All in all, I’m going to give Ristorante Favoloso a resounding seven, no eight, no seven, errr, seven and three quarters out of ten. My main grumble really is the pricing. Our bill came in at £34 a head for two courses where only four out of six were drinking and someone skipped dessert. You could put a dent in this amount if you went for one of the standard pasta mains, but to their favour the meat and fish selections are just too tempting. Am I scrooging? Maybe so, but although the food was good it wasn’t perfect- I don’t expect little bits of crab shell in my dinner somewhere like this. Even if there were only three, but still.

Anyway, yes I heartily recommend this for a Friday night dinner and wine with friends job, do try the seafood or stay safe with a great steak.

Something new- Beetroot Greens

beetroot greens, as delicious as they are colourful

beetroot greens, as delicious as they are colourful

Although spring finally seems to be at least half considering springing, there is still a definite chill in the air in these parts and it’s really not time to be breaking out the  salad dinners just yet. A big fat chicken and some chunky roast vegetables were still order of the day, or more accurately the night, this weekend just gone. For whatever reason I decided I wanted some roasted beetroot in with the sweet potatoes and parsnips, so off to the greengrocers we went and a bunch of fresh baby beetroot we bought, all purple and fragrant and covered in little smudges of dirt. There is a very simple joy in picking up such fresh and local produce, somehow you can actually connect it to the ground it came from and it’s more of a pleasure to cook in a way. And beetroot is certainly always a pleasure to eat. But enough reflection, lets skip to the point, which is the bundling lump of greens that come with this kind of purchase and often find their way to the compost heap. Cooking the main beetroot bulbs is simple enough, a good wash, trim off the stalks, salt, oil, oven, eat. But what now with the big pile of fleshy, vibrantly bright leaves. There must be some goodness in there, surely?

A quick stop to google reassured me that eating these purple streaked greens would not kill me and would impart most of the dietary benefits of their cousin spinach. Waste not want not, so into the pan.
20130303_195829As they were so fresh, no messing was needed. I melted a hearty nob of butter with a good few grinds of black pepper, threw in the greens on top and generally agitated it all until the leaves started to wilt. A sprinkle of sea salt (buy Maldon sea salt!) and ready to go.

I will certainly try this again, it was a really tasty little dish. It has a lot more substance than spinach, with a the sweet, earthy flavour that is so often destroyed by vacuum packing or pickling the humble beetroot. There is a definite, ferric tang of an undertone which you would expect due to the high iron content of the leaves and a really pleasing, fleshy crunch in the stalks. I had the leaves and stems from four beetroot and it made a nice little bowlful, something of an appetiser as I waited for some soup to cook and it was filling enough to make finishing said soup a bit later on something of a challenge. I’m not sure how else I might serve it, it really was perfectly good with some butter and basic seasoning- again the joy of fresh seasonal veg is that it is so little effort! Maybe with the stems forsaken and the leaves cooked down a lot more it could make a little bundle to serve with a heavy white fish or a nice cut of lamb. It may well make a kick ass salad base raw too, many possibilities. I will look forwards to them all.