Today Steve and I went to 3 Press Shows in London, but the only one that is worth writing about is the Sainsbury's one - mainly because of all the fantastic food we got to sample!
The organisers had made a big effort with an "Enchanted Forest" theme - lots of different trees arranged indoors with bark underfoot so you really felt far removed from an office block building in the middle of London. We were assured many times that the trees would be recycled and turned into mulch.
As we entered the forest and took the first corner we were greeted by 2 women who offered us an Ecclefechan Tart. We must have looked quite bemused as she assured us she wasn't swearing but offering us a traditional Scottish tart which is a combination of treacle tart and mince pie - absolutely delicious! We were told they were a traditional recipe from Ecclefechan in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland and are now available all year round in Sainsbury's stores.
Then we followed the forest path to a great display of trees adorned with Christmas decorations and little buckets of various chocolates and sweets. We were told to help ourselves so we sampled some lovely decadent chocolates with lovely creamy fillings and I grabbed a few other goodies to take home.
Next we came to a long table heaving with food. Sainsbury's was really pushing the Regional Food message, so almost everything we sampled came with a spiel about its source and the supplier. Thus I was encouraged to try some brie and a cheese made from sheep's milk which I was initially dubious about but pleasantly surprised by.
After leaving the "Enchanted Forest" we entered more tasting rooms and tried some delicious Slow Cooked Beef and Norfolk Ale crisps and some slow cooked Drury Lane ham, inspired and named after the first Sainsbury's store.
It was lucky we hadn't eaten lunch before the Show as we were getting pretty full from all these culinary delights! The only section we were hesitant about was the Food and Wine matching, as we're not fans of champagne and wine. However, we soldiered on as the food they had on offer looked too enticing.
To start we had some lovely cake called Pandoro, a soft, rich Christmas bread from Turin, Italy. Thus it is very similar to Panettone, but a lot lighter and sweeter and without the fruit - in fact it reminds me a lot of brioche. This was matched with Champagne, which I'm not a lover of but I tried it anyway and it was OK.
Next was some goat's cheese which we skipped, but we did try the Parma ham which had been aged for 24 months which is double the usual length of time, thus it melted in the mouth and was full of flavour. The penultimate "course" was a very tasty Chestnut Stuffing Parcel, served with a red wine which wasn't as obnoxious to my taste buds as I usually find with red wine.
Finally to finish was excellent quality vanilla ice cream with 12-year-old dry Oloroso Sherry simply drizzled on top. It surprised us both how nice this combination was, as we expected the sherry to have a strong alcoholic taste, but instead it tasted like sticky-toffee pudding and all its sweet prune-like glory. This is a very easy way to impress dinner guests and the sherry was £6.99 a bottle which seemed very reasonable as a little goes a long way.
I have to say that with all these new ingredients and strange combinations my taste buds have never been so tantalised. I'm pleased that I did try things which I thought I wouldn't like, such as the Red cabbage with Port and Blueberries. It was like a chutney and would make a fantastic accompaniment to meats like Turkey or Ham. Another thing I didn't think I would like was the Beetroot Gratin and this was made before our very eyes in the Demo Kitchen. This was served with 21-day aged beef which was cooked to absolute perfection, slightly pink and oh-so-juicy - absolutely heavenly!
As Christmas is party time there was lots of ready-made finger food being showcased, such as Mini Burgers in a sesame seed bun, Mini Pollock Fish Fingers Sarnies and Mini Sicilian Lemon cheesecakes which were especially decadent.
We had an interesting chat with the Innovations Manager about food trends and changes due to the credit crunch and also due to society's changing attitudes. I was pleased to hear that they're going to be introducing Sumac to their stores as I had looked for it a few weeks ago to no avail. They had an interesting way of using it: sprinkled on top of apricots - I thought the aromatic spice complimented the sweetness of the apricot but Steve wasn't a fan. A quirky new product they're introducing is Cashew Nuts Marinated in Soy and Honey which you can squeeze lime juice over for a nice aperitif.
So we left the Show feeling very happy with our stomachs full and our minds buzzing with inspiration and new ideas - or maybe I was just a little tipsy from the few sips of wine I'd had!