Gluten-Free BBQ Times!

BBQ Mini-Series: The Black Farmer

So, it’s officially the British summer and it’s that time when we fellas refuse to wear sun cream, go an offensive shade of puce and revert back to our Neanderthal instincts by making a fire to burn meat on.

I love BBQ season but living in the UK makes it tough to predict and event more difficult for retailers, producers and eateries to plan for. However each year the offering keeps on getting better and better and the categories that the BBQ occasion spans is ever increasing. We would now happily shop the meat aisles, bakery, salad section, spices, oils, condiments and, of course, the booze aisle. BBQ is much more than a category in retail; it’s an occasion, a mood, an ambience and something that the whole nation, nay the world, goes crazy for.

BBQ has increased in popularity over the last few years with the explosion of street food trucks and festivals that have shown the common household cook what is possible with a fire, a hotplate and a bit of food soul. If we get invited round to a friends for a Saturday afternoon Barbie it’s no longer acceptable to serve salmonella sausages or botulism burgers. Now we expect brioche buns, sliders, low and slow briskets, sliders, kofte, shawarmas and a fabulous infusion of world flavours and tastes all on an undersized paper plate.

Now, I’m good with a pair of tongs and a hotplate but I don’t profess to being an expert by any stretch so I’d recommend you check out the BBQ Geeks for some absolutely top tips and the perfect BBQ.

This mini-series explores some of the new and great products and recipes that I’ve foraged and found this year to make Britain’s BBQ season great. So, even if we need to turn to supplements rather than the sun for our vitamin D, we can always enjoy well-cooked, well-seasoned and well-complimented meat.

The Black Farmer Gluten Free Meats

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Rating: 9/10

Packaging

The packaging employed by The Black Farmer is simple, on trend and effective. I do believe the front of the packaging could do more to inform the shopper some of the products’ biggest selling points: Wilfred’s heritage, the quality of meat used and the fact it is a free-from. These are all called out but, in my opinion, should make more a bang than a sly whistle.

Price

£2.00 – for the size and quality of this products this is a steal and could certainly demand a higher price point if The Black Farmer chose to. There has been a great influx of premium meats into the chiller from smaller suppliers and therefore the market is challenging and the bun fight over shelf-tickets is getting more vicious.

Delivery

Premium Pork Sausages

These sausages were phenomenal. The skin was soft and just burst on first bite releasing fantastically seasoned, juicy sausage meat. The absence of oats in the recipe produced a brilliant flavour profile surpassing any banger I’ve had before!

Beef Burgers

This is a really simple product but it really delivers. The meat is light and floral without grease and fat overpowering.

Beef and Cheese Burgers

Now these bovine beauties were the best of the bunch. The mature cheddar cheese added a delicate layer of delicousness beneath the brilliant quality meat. Perfect!

Verdict – in a word, juicy! As a gluten-evader (I don’t completely cut it out although I should) I think The Black Farmer has done an awesome job, certainly in terms of producing great quality meat. This review has been a very apt way to close my BBQ mini-series, thank you to Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones.

Details: www.theblackfarmer.com

So all that leaves me is to ask: what’s your favourite BBQ recipe, tip or trick? Come on folks, leave me a comment below because sharing is caring.

Also, before you go take a look at my blog on a fantastic condiment I reviewed earlier in the year; it’s the perfect accompaniment to any pork dish.

Northern Munkee.

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Private & Exclusive!

Product Review: Privateer Jerky

So here we are again – another meat snack review and I love it! There is a whole world of outstanding meat snacks from the UK now and I won’t be happy until I’ve worked my way through the lot!

Once again this is a very different meat snack to anything I’ve tried before. We’re now into the realms of premium jerky…

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: meat snackers, jerky fans and those with a sophisticated palate

Packaging

The packaging is really simple. A well presented card detailing the premium branding sewn to a vacuum packed, meat pillow! And what more do you need?

Price

£4.00 (40g bag) – now this is the most expensive of the meat snacks I reviewed but £4.00  for a premium snack doesn’t break the bank and you can tell from the packaging the look of it that you won’t be disappointed!

Delivery

So what’s different about this meat snack? Well you get quality chunks of fantastic quality meat that has been cared for and smoked over Applewood to create a elegant undertone that permeates the whole snack.

Black Jack ‘The Mild One’

The smoked wood notes lay the foundations that are built on by a sweet black treacle which melts slowly into the soy flavours to leave a sweet, aniseed hint as the smoke creeps around your mouth. Enchanting!

Jolly Red ‘The Hot One’

This is fantastic! There is the familiar introduction of the smoke but then the sweet notes and the chilli heat begin to waltz with each other. The heat isn’t overpowering but it builds and sits on the tongue.

Verdict – in a word, exclusive! This is unlike any of the other meat snacks that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. It is more premium, cared for and more exclusive. It’s the difference between a cigar and a great cigar. There are layers of subtle flavours that gang up on your taste buds and ambush them in a symphony of premium tastes. Great work Privateer!

Details: http://www.privateerjerky.com/

Northern Munkee.

Meat without Feet!

Product Review: Barefoot Chilli Biltong

I’m starting to develop a keen palate for biltong and other meat snacks so it’s only right that I continue my quest to find the perfect on-the-go protein snack.

As I journey deeper into my quest I am realising that the hunger for meat snacks is growing amongst the early adopters; biltong and jerky are replacing hairy pork scratchings in bars in trendy spots up and down the country.

Rating: 7/10

Appeals to: meat snackers and protein junkies!

Packaging

The packaging is great – it’s simple and let’s the product do most of the selling. The labelling is really simple but effective with the right cues contained within the background. I did find the packaging quite tough to get into, which as a 6ft 2′ former rugby player did mean that I lost man points! My only other criticism on the packaging is the branding itself. As a consumer it’s unclear who’s biltong you’re eating and you could be forgiven for thinking the brand was ‘Spiced ‘n’ Sliced’ as it is much bigger than ‘Barefoot Biltong’. This is only a minor point in terms of product delivery but in terms of brand building it’s a bit of a faux pas.

Price

£3.90 – this is what I’d expect to pay for 100g of good quality biltong. It doesn’t come cheap but it’s well worth it!

Delivery

The first thing that hit me when I eventually got through the packaging was the different smell that this biltong carried over other brands – it was very light and floral and not necessarily what you’d expect.

This is another dry biltong, which isn’t my favourite. However, I did learn from their website that you can specify how you want your biltong (from wet to dry) which I think is a great touch. Not only does it enhance the experience and quality elements but it gives the product a personal touch and leaves you thinking that ‘this pack was made just for me’.

Despite this particular pack not being my preference it was a vast improvement on the Raging Bull brand I blogged about which was dry all the way through the eat. This biltong just needed a few chews to release the flavours and the juices. The heat was quite gentle but it was enough to enhance the quality meat.

Verdict – in a word, wetdry! Meat snacking in the UK is still far more infantile than its counterpart on the continent and unfortunately, as a nation, we are allowing Peperami to lead the way in terms of market share. However, if we band together as a merry artisanal army we can resist low quality meat snacks and feast on quality biltong until we can’t chew any more.

Details: http://www.barefootbiltong.co.uk

Northern Munkee.

Food Adventures in Preston…

Food Journey: Huntley’s Country Store

This instalment of my #FoodAdventure takes me to a well known local Food Hall in Preston.

Huntley’s is a shining example of the growth of the farm shop from a produce-led market stall to a destination for a broad cross-section of society. The Country Store acts as a bustling hub for the local community and beyond with regular craft and gift fares, a well-established café, space for other local businesses to showcase and a fabulous food hall.

I’m going to focus on the food hall and pick out a couple of the food finds that I couldn’t walk away from…

The food hall is structured differently to a lot of other farm shops and food halls I’ve visited as most try to emulate the layout that is now commonplace in supermarkets and hitting the shopper in the face with fresh produce or bakery as soon as they walk through the door. Huntley’s have opted for a slightly different approach with impressive displays of new and seasonal artisanal products at the front of store. Your attention is then immediately drawn to the well lit and merchandised butchery and fish counters. Each section is embellished with appropriate sauces, spreads, rubs and carbohydrate meal components to allow the shopper to piece together their meals.

The store has a very definite flow making it easy to navigate and shop and, more importantly, they have resisted the temptation of filling space with mainstream suppliers.

I could have spent hours examining and interrogating each sub-category as it was so exciting and inviting. However, I didn’t have hours so I built a meal with a few food gems to take home and cook for Mrs Munkee.

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Bionita Gluten Free Tomato Gnocchi

I love a good gnocchi and I’m all for supporting the free-from revolution but I was a little sceptical about how well this potato treat would translate. I needn’t have worried! The deep tomato flavours were held within a crisp outer case and a soft, fluffy potato treat! Lovely stuff!

Pink’s Lemon and Chive Pesto

This is a stroke of genius. You’d be within your rights to accuse a pesto being quite oily and greasy (because a lot are) but the lemon and chive in this creative concoction lift and cut through any oily mess to give a light and multi-textured pesto. The chunks of pine nut shout provenance, authenticity and quality.

Huntley’s Basil Chicken

I just couldn’t resist. The fresh counter that dressed the back wall of the food hall enticed me to engage and this chicken looked phenomenal with a deep red marinade littered with whole peppercorns, rosemary and basil. The delivery was incredible and it was obvious that the chicken loved the marinade as much as I did because it ran through the whole meat.

Raging Bull Meat Peri Peri Biltong

I’ve started to develop a keen nose for biltong so I’m trying to absorb as many different varieties and subtleties as I can and this certainly added to my repertoire. If I’m honest, it wasn’t at all like I was expecting. I am used to, and prefer, a wetter biltong where the meat melts in your mouth but that’s not what the guys at Raging Bull are pitching for. This biltong is sharp and crisp and comes in shards as opposed to chunks. The flavour isn’t as prominent as you might expect but there is a definite Peri follow on at the back of the throat. I think this type of meat snack would appeal to a different audience as something to be had on the hoof as opposed to a King’s Snack or Gloucester Biltong which you really need to stop, sit down and savour.

Well I would consider this a successful foraging expedition and #FoodAdventure. Good work Preston!

Northern Munkee.

Me gusta Spanish Passion!

World Foods was one of my favourite categories as a Food Buyer because it’s so dynamic, volatile and relatively inelastic. There will always be a core of world foods that fight for space on fixture, share of promotions and pounds in the wallet but there’s also the element of the unknown in the category.

World Foods, as an entity, is a brilliant socioeconomic dipstick as it is wonderfully self-funding: as the economy improves it becomes cheaper to travel, so more people travel; this, in turn, exposes people to more new food; these people come home and want to enjoy those experiences to remind them of a happier time so new restaurants emerge; as the wake type of restaurants build in popularity these cuisines creep onto food fixtures, firstly via the specialist outlets and other early adopters and then, when it’s safe, by bigger food retailers. I find it fascinating and, if you step back from the present for a moment, you can spot the trends and what has driven their development. For example, it’s no coincidence that Thai cuisine (Pad Thai, Chicken Laksa, Masaman Curry etc) have surged in popularity since Thailand became a regular Gap Year stop off.

So, you might ask, why don’t we enjoy more Spanish foods at home? Great question! We Brits love Spain but we’ve never fully understood its culture, preferring Irish Bars to traditional Catalonian Tapas Bars. You could argue that this is disappointing but I would challenge that and say it’s very exciting; a whole new Spain to explore!

Tapas bars are no longer novel but good quality products that allow us to emulate authentic Spanish cuisine is but I have found the answer – Spanish Passion!

This artisan producer works closely with a variety of experts in Spain to capture the essence of the culture as opposed to bastardising their flavours and Anglicising them.

Product Review: Spanish Passion Catalonian Sauce & Hot ‘n’ Spicy Harissa Sauce

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: someone seeking restaurant quality food with minimal effort, foodies with a discerning palate

Packaging

I love the packaging on these products. The label oozes quality from the script to the grade of materials used. The messaging is simple but absolutely appropriate with a signature from Loretta to add authenticity and a credible back story. The instructions offered by the manufacturer highlight the versatility of the sauce whilst inducing suggestive inspiration. If I was being picky I might say that the glass jar is a little outdated with most large manufacturers moving to more convenient packaging (e.g. pouch or tub) however this trend isn’t reflected in the artisanal movement and, for me, there is a type of catharsis with shaking out a jar of thick sauce into a sizzling pan.

Price

£2.99 – this price point is absolutely appropriate for the market and a product of this quality. The big boys in this category would fight it out at £1 but, in World Foods, you get what you pay for. Well worth the money.

Delivery

Catalonian Sauce

Fantastic! I was really impressed with this sauce. It’s initially creamy, then sweet and then you’re hit by the tomatoes with a beautifully smooth texture that’s politely interrupted by perfect almonds. The sauce is light yet satisfying and it really lifts a dish and engulfs all the components and links them together.

Hot & Spicy Harissa Sauce

Again – fantastic! This sauce had a different feel and a different appeal to the previous. The lasting heat from the North African chillies is its signature but the depth of flavours throughout build a complete picture. The blend of tomatoes, sugar and sunflower oil sets great foundations for the hot and spicy kick!

Verdict – in a word, amazing! If this is how the explosion of Tapas Bars has translated into the retail arena then long may it continue. I believe the UK consumer has a lot to learn about Spanish food and I’m more than happy to let the guys at Spanish Passion take the lesson!

Details: http://www.spanishpassionfoods.co.uk

Northern Munkee.

Food Adventures in Chester…

Food Journey: Chez Jules, Joseph Benjamin and Mad Hatter’s Tea Room & Bakery

Chester is a beautiful Roman city with a maze of cobbled streets, independent boutiques and fantastic eateries so it would be remise of me if I didn’t take the opportunity to forage and explore.

Now it isn’t always easy to seek out hidden gems in a new city, after all it isn’t easy to hide in plain sight. Having said that Mrs Munkee is a keen adventurer and picked out three brilliant independent food places for us to consume during our trip.

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Chez Jules

As you may guess from the name above the door, Chez Jules is a French restaurant just inside the city walls of Chester. The exterior is relatively unassuming and it certainly masks the hive of activity held within.

The first thing that hit me as we entered was the ambience, it was bustling and bulging but delightfully so. It felt Parisian as if we could be a stone’s throw from the amateur artists that line with Seine. Despite how busy it was the service was razor sharp; it was unhurried yet slick and efficient.

I opened my meal with a pressed confit chicken and tarragon terrine with a sweetcorn relish which was superb. The texture of the terrine was spot on and it wasn’t too fatty or gelatinous as they sometimes can be. The plate was well balanced with the acidic sweetcorn relish cutting through the meat flavours. The tarragon was very apparent throughout and it served to lift the whole dish. I took my entrée with a brilliant French cidre which was very sweet and gassy but played with the chicken very well.

I followed this with a 10oz sirloin steak with a peppercorn sauce and a large glass of Beaujolais. Now, I am quite particular about my steak and I had had a poor example in my hotel the night previously so I wasn’t in the mood for a second disappointment. Chez Jules delivered! The steak was well cooked and seasoned with a soft, wet and chewy textures. The peppercorn sauce was sweet and creamy saving the pepper heat until the end of the profile. The steak was accompanied by sweet glazed al dente carrots, a garlicky dauphinoise gratin, earthy new potatoes and acidic red cabbage. Altogether it created a beautiful symphony!

Mrs Munkee and I were very impressed by Chez Jules and will certainly be re-visiting!

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Joseph Benjamin

If I’m honest, this was the restaurant that Mrs Munkee and I tried to book a table at for the previous night but it was full. So, instead of an evening meal, we boarded the Joseph Benjamin for a mid-morning refresher.

As soon as we stooped through the door it was clear why this was a popular haunt. The décor and the mood was spot on. The walls were lined with stacked bookshelves with leather-bound books, so you know they’re important! The paintwork was simple and pastel with the odd advertising poster from a Tate exhibition.

Although we only perused the Hot Drinks and Breakfast Menu I was impressed. It was well stocked and had a broad appeal in its selection. I opted for a Moroccan Mint Tea with Chinese Gunpowder and Mrs Munkee went for an English Breakfast Tea. Our teas were served in a glass infuser that brought the brew to life. Now, I’m not going to shout from the rooftops about a couple of teas because it’s not rocket science, however they were good and I believe you can tell a lot from someone’s tea making abilities! Hopefully next time we’ll be visiting for something more substantial.

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Mad Hatter’s Tea Room & Bakery

The final leg of our #FoodAdventure in Chester took us to a small two-storey tea room amongst the intricacies of the town centre. The Afternoon Tea phenomenon has rejuvenated the café and tea room industry but being different isn’t easy.

This particular tea room is famed for its cupcakes and has won a mantelpiece of awards and a handful of television appearances in recognition of that fact.

The theatre of this establishment was its charm with nods to Lewis Carroll everywhere you looked. Mrs Munkee and I decided to take them up on their ‘Eat Me! Drink Me!’ imperatives and order a couple of open sandwiches and hot drinks to quash an early afternoon hunger pang. As anticipated every little detail of the order was designed to engross you in the Alice ambience. From the mismatching cutlery and tea set down to the quirky bowls for the hummus and potato wedges it was all by design.

Now don’t think that we had visited somewhere famed for cupcakes and declined to partake…because you’d be wrong to think that! We decided to share the love and get four award-winning puds to takeaway. So did these deliver? Damn right they did! The melt in the middle flavours encased by soft, fluffy sponge holding up a decadent adornment of icing – it was all fantastic!

This is another place that should expect to see the Munkees again!

So this concludes our #FoodAdventures in Chester and I know what you’re thinking: ‘what a hard life you lead’ and you’d be right but this Munkee loves an adventure!

Details:

http://www.chezjules.com

http://www.josephbenjamin.co.uk

http://www.madhatterstearooms.co.uk

Northern Munkee.

Pie-Eyed

Food Journey: Pied Bull Brewery Tour

So here’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time on my #FoodAdventure: a micro-brewery tour!

The pub trade has taken a battering since the global recession re-shaped the landscape and, for a pub to survive, diversification is the key. So what a position to be in for a real ale pub with its own micro brewery.

Now, I made my feelings on real ale clear in a previous post: I’m a born again beer drinker and I’m not a hipster nor do I want to surround by hipsters – there’s a reason I don’t live in Shoreditch! So you can imagine my delight when Mrs Munkee and I walked down the cobbled Chester streets and across the threshold of the Pied Bull and it wasn’t a haven for the bearded and tattooed.

The pub was exactly what I wanted it to be with painted wooden beams and old fashioned bar and ornate pumps. Prior to the tour we invited to enjoy a couple of drinks and some brilliant honey and chilli nuts.

The tour itself was lead by the Brewer: a passionate man sporting wellies, basketball shorts and the standard cellar man’s fleece. He led the group down a rickety staircase beneath the pub and into his lair. The brewery at the Pied Bull is the epitome of a micro-brewery it was tiny but the magic that this man managed to produce in such little space is incredible.

The Brewer proceeded to explain the brewing process with gusto, here was a man that loved his job – who wouldn’t?! The most interesting part of the tour was the introduction of the hops and the different varietals to incite the subtle flavour notes in the various Pied Bull beers. This was also, clearly, the brewer’s favourite part of the tour as he became more animated and enthusiastic: hops can be strong, they can be weak, they can be a citrus, they can be floral, they can be a coffee, they can be a chocolate, they can be earthy, they can be light, they can be bold, they can be unashamed, they can be bright, they can be dull, they can be heavy, they can be uncanny and they can be familiar. Hops can be all things to all people. Brilliant!

The tour concluded with the only natural way to end a micro-brewery tour: a tasting!

Black Bull

Dark and intense. This beer evokes a creamy dark coffee with chocolate notes. This quickly develops into a creamy caramel with a Mocha lasting finish.

Do-a -Bull

Pale and full of life. Cold crisp, light and citrussy with lighter floral hops. The deep hop flavours linger on the tongue.

Quaff-a-Bull

Very very hoppy but full of flavour. Light and frothy. Orange notes finish the symphony of flavours.

Details: http://www.piedbull.co.uk

Northern Munkee.