Monday, 27 May 2013

My Master Gardener and burnet seeds

Recently I signed up to the Master Gardener scheme. The scheme is being run by Garden Organic and the idea is that a Master Gardener, a volunteer with 2 years or more gardening experience, will support households to grow their own.

My Master Gardener is Vicki and her first visit to me was last week. She has already written a blog post about it over at the Master Gardeners blog.

A photo of me next to my raised beds that Vicki took.
As you can see from the photo, things have started to grow in my raised beds and Vicki's advice has been really helpful. She gave me advice on successional sowing, composting and pest control. I also got a welcome pack, which included a couple of sachets of seeds, free family entry to Garden Organic at Ryton, a wall planner and a seed catalogue.

Cut-and-come-again salad leaves, which are doing very well!

I'm excited that Vicki gave me some seeds for burnet, a type of salad leaf/herb, first grown in Britian in the 16th Century. I planted them in a large pot today, so it will be interesting to see their progress! Apparently, they have pretty flowers, as well as the leaves making a good addition to salads.

The scheme seems like it's going to be really valuable to me - Vicki has a vast amount of knowledge, so it is great to learn from someone so experienced. I am looking forward to her next visit!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Restaurant review: Handmade Burger Co., St Martin's Square, Birmingham

Recently, I was invited to attend a special bloggers' event at the Handmade Burger Co. in Birmingham.

I have actually eaten at the Handmade Burger Co. a few times before, so knew roughly what to expect and was expecting good things. In fact, in the early days of my blog, I did a review of the Touchwood (Solihull) branch of Handmade Burger Co. I praised the high quality of the food and innovative menu, but was less impressed by the state of the bathroom facilities. (Incidentally, this has not proved a problem since, although I've only eaten at the Birmingham restaurants since then...).

I was interested to try the restaurant at St. Martin's Square, as I normally dine at the Brindley Place branch when in Birmingham (it has lovely canalside views).

The meal was shared with my husband, Jo of Jo's Kitchen, Elizabeth of, Emma from the Bullring, Mike, the Marketing manager, and Chris, owner of the Handmade Burger Co.

I'll write a bit about my experience of the food first, and then I'll go on to write about some of the stuff we chatted to Chris about.

Although the Handmade Burger Co. don't do starters as such, the waitress suggested that we start with some of the Chargrilled Chicken Skewers and the Halloumi and Veg Skewers. We tried one of each of the flavours of the chicken skewers, and they were all delicious, but I think my favourite was the lemon and coriander. The chicken was perfectly cooked and meltingly tender. The Halloumi and Veg were pretty darn good too.

For my burger, I chose the Jimmy's Beef Cheese Classic. I fancied a cheeseburger, and a fine cheeseburger it was too. I ate all of it, so it must have been good. It had a really good balance of flavours: the charring on the outside of the burger gave it a wonderful caramelised, but smoky flavour. I had handmade coleslaw as a side and pinched a few of everyone's chips. They were all nice, but I think I preferred the plain chips rather than the Peri Peri or Cajun flavoured ones.

My husband and I shared a sundae for dessert - banoffee pie flavoured. I kind of wanted to lick the sauce out of the bottom when we'd finished, but my tongue isn't long enough. Come on, evolution!

It was a real pleasure to chat with Chris, the owner of the company. He is very passionate about what he does and, most importantly, very passionate about good food. He told us a lot about where he sources his food from. He likes to buy from other family businesses and he likes to buy ethically. I was particularly interested about where he sources his chicken. He was upfront about the fact that it is not free range, because he can't get free range chicken breasts in the quantity he needs, but he does buy Red Tractor, Farm Assured chicken, which is the best he can get for what he needs, which is fair enough. As the name of the company suggests, all the burgers are freshly made on site each day, as are the chips. And Chris really does know a lot about potatoes!

The company is expanding with a branch in Leeds having just opened, and more opening around the country soon, including London and Brighton.

Chris also owns Chilacas, a Mexican Street food restaurant in Brindley Place, Birmingham, and Urban Pie, also based in the Bullring. I've not tried either of these restaurants yet, but they are definitely on my wishlist!

Disclaimer: This meal was complimentary for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Visit to Poulton Lodge, Wiltshire

Apparently, I am severely behind on my blogging. I've been meaning to blog about my trip to Wiltshire which happened in March, since... well, since it happened, but apparently this has not occurred. Still, better late than never!

Back in March my husband and I went on a short break with my sister-in-law and her husband to Marlborough in Wiltshire. We stayed in a lodge on a farm called Poulton Lodge. It was very cosy.

Which was good, because it snowed while we were there.

We had a fun holiday exploring the surrounding area, including Stonehenge and Longleat Safari Park, and had some fabulous pub meals.

We also had the opportunity to watch the sheep on the farm being fed. This happened indoors due to the unseasonably cold weather.

There were no lambs at the time, but there were some heavily pregnant sheep.

I found spending some time chatting to farmers James and Deborah very interesting and educational. It is always a good thing to know where your food comes from and seeing the farm gave me a good insight into that. It also brought home to me the hard work that goes into being a farmer and how at the mercy of the weather the industry is.

If you ever fancy staying in a wooden lodge on a farm, I highly recommend this one!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Restaurant VMF review

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of Restaurant VMF - Aston Villa's fine dining establishment - for Dine Birmingham.

Somewhat bizarrely, my review has now been quoted in a news item on Aston Villa's website.

My review was of course totally honest, and I'm glad they appreciated it. I certainly appreciated the lovely food and drink they plied me with!

On another note, keep an eye on this blog as I have a few blogposts in the pipeline, which I hope you will find interesting!