Food Drink Expo 2014
Food Drink Expo 2014

Food & Drink Expo took place this week at the NEC Birmingham, being the largest British food and drink exhibition this year and catering for food service, manufacturing, grocery and speciality retail, all of them incorporated within the Farm Shop & Deli Show, National Convenience Show and Foodex.


International and British suppliers showcased their products and services, providing an attracting platform to discover tasty and innovative products, unveiling new trends and interacting with industry experts joining master classes, interviews and debates.

Farm Shop & Deli Show featured the best in speciality food retail, emphasizing the support to regional British products. I visited last year’s edition and I loved it.

Food & Drink Expo 2014

Interesting producers

All the producers displayed their products with pride and invited the visitors to try them. After a long day sampling lots of gorgeous food, I have struggled to pick my favourites: everything was delicious.

It was surprising the quantity of homemade pies on offer this year, featuring Burbush’s  of Penrith game pies from northern region of Cumbria, the very innovative and creamy award-winning Tom’s pies and more classic Grumpies of Cornwall pies.

It was also a good amount of mushroom growers, which is good news since they are not traditionally very popular in this country, suggesting a possible increasing demand. Smithy Mushrooms displayed a beautiful and inviting stand with all the fungi on offer, meanwhile  Hughes Mushrooms offered meaty and tender samples to taste. Livesey Brothers showed with pride the species they grow on their exotic mushroom farm.

I had the chance to taste lots of cheese in different stands: a peculiar charcoal cheddar, assorted international and regional cheese and gorgeous Cornish blue at Cornish cheese. I also spotted Bodnant Welsh Food, a shop that supports a traditional Welsh cheese revival.

Food & Drink Expo 2014

Other interesting products

There was a wide range of cured meats at the Expo. St Marcus Fine Foods offered prime quality South African dry cured meats and succulent traditional borewors sausages made in Britain and I had the chance to taste one of the best Spanish cured meats I have ever tasted at Cárnicas CRA stand, featuring their traditional chorizo manufactured in Spain. The campaigners Discover the Origin showed the visitors the quality of a sublime Parma ham among other PDO products.

There was not too much fish on the Expo, but Silver Darlings was one of my favourite products this year, offering Scandinavian pickled herring manufactured in Scotland.

Food & Drink Expo 2014

Drinks on offer

There were lots of natural juices: a superb coconut drink at Tiana, Little Miracles refreshing organic teas and  innovative rhubarb juice at Cawston Press.

Beer, cider and other alcoholic drinks were also on offer. MarRon Liqueurs displayed a wide range of exotic and innovative combinations of flavoured liqueurs and Clink liqueurs displayed their traditional liqueurs, featuring their slow gin.

Flora teas surprised the visitors with their gorgeous comforting drinks with beautiful flowers ‘magically growing’ inside the glass.

It was such a nice and enjoyable day and I just can’t wait for the next year!

Food & Drink Expo 2014

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British razor clams

British razor clams

The razor clam is one of Britain’s most prized of shellfish and it’s becoming more and more available in the country, yet they only seem to be found in exclusive markets. A huge amount of the catch in British waters is sent to Europe, where this fantastic mollusc is highly regarded.

How is a razor clam?

Also known as razor fish and razor shell, these clams are pale brown bivalves with long thin shells which resemble a straight razor. These coastal treats are exceptionally meaty with a sweet flavour between squid and scallop.

Razor clams are found buried in the sand all around the British coasts, except on the east coast of England and the north coast of Devon and Cornwall.

There are four native species: Ensis Ensis and Solen Marginatus being the smallest as large as 12cm; Ensis Arcuatus, 15cm and the most profitable and Ensis Siliqua, reaching 20 cm. The differences between them are very superficial and that doesn’t matter too much, as all of them have similar flavours.


They are found in sheltered sandy or gravelly bays and estuaries. The best time to catch them is in low-tide mark and below, as they show up just beneath the sand and they are easily dug up with the hand.

Razor clams are available for most of the year and they are likely to be at their best in the colder months, as sea conditions let them getting more than enough food. Spawning season is happening in the warmest months, what changes their flavour and texture.

They are commercially harvested by hydraulic dredging but a more traditional approach is hand-picking. Some people do it for fun, pouring a small amount of salt in clam holes on the beach, making them rising up.  The minimum commercial landing size for all species is 10cm.

British razor clams

Buying and storage

When buying razor clams, freshness is always important. Make sure they are alive checking that they extend themselves out of their shells and are retracted when picked up. They should smell of the seaside, but not strongly fishy. Razor clams can also be bought pre-cleaned and shelled, but this will sacrifice freshness and flavour.

It is always best to use razor clams the same day of purchase, but they can be stored for a couple of days in the fridge by wrapping them in a damp tea towel into the fridge.

Before cooking, rinse them with cold water and wash away any loose particles. Discard any that have opened but do not close when manipulated.


Place them on a baking tray and grill or alternatively cook them in a covered pan with a small amount of wine for a couple of minutes and the shells would open. Remove the long white flesh and discard the black bits, as this will be the digestive track, which will still contain grit.

Once they are clean and ready to use, the razor clams will be returned to the grill, either shelled or in the shell and only two minutes more will be enough to cook them thoroughly, as they may become rubbery. They are cooked when the meat loses the translucent appearance.


Razor clams can be cooked in several ways as regular clams, including grilling, boiling, baking and steaming. They are even eaten raw with lemon juice in the Orkneys and due to their robust flavor they suit simple seasoning and the best way to serve them is plainly grilled in their shells with butter and garlic with a citrus wedge.

Classic grilled recipes call for accompaniments like salsa verde, gremolata, aioli, pickled cucumber and mayonnaise and are good seasoned with garlic, chili and saffron.

They are ideal in clam chowder and other soups using tomato, garlic, chili and a drop of olive oil. Try steaming them open in a covered pan in a marinière style sauce with white wine or cider.


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British clams

British Clams

Clams are old-fashioned delicacies little regarded in Britain, even though there are plenty of them all around the coast.  There isn’t much of an industry here and a good amount of what is collected is exported to other countries in Europe, making them more expensive than foreign clams.


Clam is a loose term generally referring to those edible bivalve marine molluscs with fleshy bodies enclosed by a shell in two equal halves. They live buried in the seabed filtering particles of food from the water.

Types of clams

This homogenous group is extremely hard to tell apart due to subtle variable colouration and sizes. They are all edible but not all are considered palatable and some species are too small to be useful for food. There are many different species native to British waters and I will mention the most common:

The beautifully marbled palourde or carpet shell clam (Tapes decussatus) is the finest of them all. Its sweet and plump meat suits best for a great spaghetti alla vongole and are excellent for steaming. Very similar tasting are manila clam (Venerupis phillippinarum), an introduced species from Asia that are sourced from Poole Harbour in Dorset.

Hard shell clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) is another popular clam species original from America, being the most common there, which can grow to a huge 12cm across.

Surf clam (Spisula solida) refers to the shiny, white coloured shells you can find in the upper beach. They are rather mild in flavour, less chewy than cockles and perfect for steaming.

Razor clams and cockles are also considered by some as clam species and are very reputable.

Farming and seasonality

Clams are collected all year round, but usually it is best to avoid warm months, which triggers the spawning season. It may cause them to become watery and less flavourful.

The molluscs from the UK are harvested as wild seafood, either digging them by hand at low tide or the less sustainable mechanical dredging. It takes a clam 24 to 30 months to become harvestable.

British Clams

Store and preparation

The fact clams feed on plankton by filter feeding means they must remove their sediments in a tank of purified water for a few days before selling them on the market, so they arrive to you in prime condition.

Store them in damp tea towel to help them keeping moist at the bottom of the fridge to protect from extreme cold. Consume them as soon as possible, due to their short shelf life. Discard any damaged clams or those that do not close their shells tightly when they are being manipulated. It is always good to rinse under cold water to remove any dirt. Ensure they are alive when cooked and discard any which fails to open after cooking.

Preparation and recipes

Clams can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, fried, roasted, griddled and even baked, depending on the type of clam you are cooking. Generally, clams suit Mediterranean-style ingredients such as tomatoes, garlic, lemon and wine. Larger clams are more suitable for chopping in chowders or baking.

One of the most popular ways of cooking them is simply steamed in a little amount of white wine, cider or sherry in a covered frying pan. Add butter and garlic and make a sauce with the reduced liqueur. Serve with lemon wedges to sprinkle to taste.

They are also good in stews or made into clam chowder, especially amandes clams works fantastic. Laverbread and clams combine well on toast and they can even be served stuffed.

Palourdes, manila clams and surf clams are great in spaghetti alla vongole because they open quickly.  Add them to your pasta with olive oil, garlic, tomato, basil. parsley and white wine.

In Portugal clams are used in stew with other fish, pork and chorizo for cataplana, meanwhile in America it is celebrated clam bake and India offers clam curry.

Support British clams

Clam fishing is in decline in Britain and the only way to avoid fleets to disappear is supporting the fishermen by buying clams. It would make the produce readily available fresh in your supermarket and it would support the local resources, being more sustainable for the community and environment.


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Winter Wonderland London 2013

Last two years I made my Christmas reviews about Birmingham’s German Market 2011 and 2012, so looking for a change I decided to visit London this year and see what  Winter Wonderland could offer.

In its seventh year I would expect something interesting and everybody is talking about it. A large area of Hyde Park is transformed into a pop-up theme park with rides, circus, ice rink, zip wire, giant wheel, Santa’s grotto and of course, loads and loads of food and drink stalls.

Winter Wonderland London 2013

First impressions

At the entrance you come through a glowing arch to then be greeted by a giant Santa and find yourself in an outdoor festival that keeps people of all ages busy. The place provides fun, laughter and excitement for families and friends who want to make the most of a visit to London.

We were interested in food, so we skipped the funfair to go straight to the giant Bavarian village, where you find loads of German stalls with the usual hanging gingerbread hearts and a familiar strong smell of mulled wine and barbequed sausages.

Winter Wonderland London 2013

Tasting food

Smoked hot dogs, caloric pretzels and traditional sausages were on the menu as expected, with the novelty of wood fired salmon and the peculiar smoked marshmallows to taste. On the other hand, mulled wine, German beer and hot chocolate were offered as good allies to heat the winter cold.

We know everything is always overpriced in German Markets, but maybe it was a bit over the top, as you pay too much to get a tiny plastic cup filled with badly brewed drink, a bland small sausage and terrible customer service.

Winter Wonderland London 2013

It is such a pity that can disappoint once you are attracted by the gorgeous smell of food. On the other hand, you are enjoying a day out with all your family and friends, surrounded by splendid decorations and good atmosphere in the Bavarian village, with joyful entertainment bands that sang and dance.

It is bigger than ever, so it is busier than ever. That said, it is wise to avoid on a weekend and book tickets for attractions in advance. Probably following my advice and not expecting the best food, you will have better luck than I had, as I went on Sunday just before Christmas Day!

Winter Wonderland London 2013


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The hawthorn is one of the Britain’s most prolific and ancient trees that enliven the countryside with its heady and dazzling May blossom in spring and its bright red berries in autumn, just when the tree starts to shed its leaves.

You will find them everywhere: in most hedgerows, in wild woodlands and planted as ornamental trees in local parks and gardens across the country, except north of Scotland. Millions of trees were planted to mark off land in the historical Enclosure Act in the 19th century. However, it is not commonly regarded as food.

The tree has many traditions and folklore attached to it and is considered a fairy tree. The Glastonbury Thorn still attracted many tourists and pilgrims with a long religious history, being a mysterious tree that flowers in Christmas and Easter.

Definition and varieties

They are mostly medium-sized deciduous trees with erratic spiny branches and leaves with a very distinctive shape. Flowers in spring are shiny white and deeply scented, meanwhile their edible berries pop up in autumn and have a bright red colour, resembling pea size little apples.

The genus of the hawthorn (Craetagus) is part of the apple sub-family and has a lot of variability. The common hawthorn (Craetagus monogyna) is native to Britain, but there are lots of different foreign species, being the Midland hawthorn (Craetagus laciniata) one of the best for their flavour.


Haws are not usually regarded as food in Britain, but they are cultivated in some areas in Asia for this purpose. There are no poisonous hawthorns but you have to discard the seeds after cooking. Depending in the variety they can be unpalatable or may improve with cooking.

The flesh is quite dry and dense meanwhile the flavour of haws is mild, fruity and starchy, much like exotic over-ripe apples. They can be eaten raw but it is always preferable to cook, mostly sweet, as they improve in flavour.

Freeze and thaw the berries to make them lose moisture; the sugars and flavours in the fruit will intensify, making them sweeter.

Young leaves and unopened flower buds were traditionally collected by children in the past, known as ‘bread and cheese’. They taste of neither and culinary speaking they are not worth.

Flowers are also edible, always cooked and blended into liquid or as a very exotic salad.



The haws are foraged from August to November and it is a time consuming process. You will enjoy the berries late in the season when they are soft and slightly squishy, as early ones are low in sugar and flavours.

The flowers are picked from the middle of May until June, the earlier the better, as flowers will end up to lost their fragrance. Pick them young and on a hot day, when they preserve their gorgeous light aniseed scent, and don’t harvest them after the rain, as they will become dark when dried.


The most recurrent recipes for haws are jams, jellies, syrups and fruit leathers, making them puree and mixing with sugar. They can be combined with apples to boost the flavour or leave it on their own if they have enough flavour. Just ripe berries have the most pectin comparing to over-ripe ones, but they will need more sugar.

Drying berries is a good idea for medicinal teas, as they last up to 8 years and consuming berries daily will lead to improvement in cardiovascular health under supervision.

You can also make sauces, soups and even vinegar. Furthermore, berries and flowers are also used to make country wines when maturing in alcohol for 3 months, like a haw brandy or schnapps.


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