Social media and food is a match made in heaven. Twitter is an ideal way to hear about interesting food events and competitions which is how I found out about the Roberts Bakery’s recent ‘Use Your Loaf’ contest. Ooh, I love a food or booze recipe related challenge.
“Roberts Bakery is asking all budding chefs to get creative and use their favourite Roberts bread in a recipe. We’re looking for the regions next Nigella or Jamie to submit an exciting and original recipe using bread as an ingredient and ideally also utilising some of Cheshire’s other delicious produce.
The winner will not only receive a year’s supply of Roberts bread and a pair of tickets to the Cheshire County Show 2011 , but they will also be invited to join local chef Jason Palin on stage in the Food Live Theatre at this year’s show to demonstrate their winning dish.”
I don’t need to tell you how versatile bread is - perfect partner to cheese, fruit, and chocolate. Equally happy plain or toasted, partnered alongside sweet or savoury. It’s culturally versatile, rooted in history and mentioned often in the bible. ‘Bread’, ‘crust’ and ‘dough’ are even euphemisms for money. Even when it goes a bit stale it still keeps giving – breadcrumbs, stuffing, croutons, panzanella salad, mozzarella in carrozza, eggy bread, puddings… I could go on.
Food snobs may question me championing the sliced loaf but believe me, getting up every morning to produce freshly baked organic sour dough is not on the agenda and however much of a food purist you are, sometimes a sliced loaf is the only thing that will do.
Though the idea of winning a year’s worth of Roberts bread appealed to me hugely, I really coveted the opportunity to do a live recipe demo at the excellent Cheshire Show, which every year, they thoughtfully hold on my birthday in June.
As simple as it sounds, my tip for being in with a good chance of winning these types of competitions is to read the brief thoroughly and try to tick all the boxes. ‘Original recipe’, ‘bread as an ingredient’, ‘showcase other Cheshire produce’…tick, tick, tick. I decided to make a Cheshire Breakfast Salad.
This gave me a chance to use my favourite streaky smoked black bacon from The Cheshire Smokehouse together with Bury black pudding, quails eggs, tiny exotic mushrooms, roasted cherry tomatoes and mixed lettuce leaves. I used Roberts white sliced bread to make croutons, and bound the whole thing together with my balsamic salad dressing which includes fresh orange juice to tie in with the breakfast theme.
I sent an outline of my recipe in online and was thrilled to hear it’d been narrowed down to the final three which meant a ‘cook-off’ at The Cheshire Cookery School
I turned up clutching my chef whites and met the two other competitors as well as the judges - Sarah from Robert’s bakery and Jason Palin, resident chef at the cookery school. We had one hour in which to create our dish, and all our ingredients were laid out ready at each station.
My two adversaries looked a little worried as they realised they had almost exactly the same ingredients as each other. They were to have their own battle - It was to be a head to head - the fight of the chocolate, orange bread & butter puddings.
My first strategic move was to weaponise and release bacon sensory overload. You know how good bacon usually smells? Well, this stuff is the grand master of olfactory pleasure. I fried it in a little olive oil until crispy and then took it out with a slotted spoon to drain on kitchen paper. Then I used the same fat to fry the Roberts bread croutons. After the bread had absorbed all that delicious, smoky fat, I drained the croutons on kitchen roll and slowly sautéed the mixed wild mushroom in a little more oil with a whole bashed garlic clove for subtle flavour.
I boiled the quails eggs for 2 minutes, but this nearly proved to be my undoing as the buggers were too soft and virtually impossible to peel, and of course I’d left that job until the last ten minutes…tick tock tick tock.
I bunged the cherry tomatoes and black pudding under the grill and turned the fancy induction hob to turbo boost setting to boil more quails eggs. Three minutes turned out to be perfect and I managed to peel them relatively easily after plunging them in cold water. Judge Jason clocked all this going on and I think he was impressed that I didn’t panic. Things never, ever go to plan in the kitchen so I think a good cook is one who knows what to do about it, and thinks on their feet. People still have to eat, whatever nightmares you’re having.
I’d practiced loads of different ways of plating up this salad but it looks best relatively rustic as all the ingredients are like movie stars taking cameo roles in this production. It works best as a hot and cold salad so when we were given the nod to start plating up I dressed the leaves and scattered round the rest of the ingredients, of course saving centre stage for the croutons – I know my branding.
Whilst the judges conferred, we started washing up and murmured polite things about each other’s dishes. Both bread and butter puddings looked completely different to each other but in the end, it was my dish that won. Jason said,
‘all three dishes were absolutely delicious but Deanna’s recipe in particular appealed because of its use of local produce and because it is a wonderful colourful dish that is perfect for the summer’.
So, now I get to demonstrate my recipe in the Food Live Theatre at 10.30 am on my birthday Wed 22nd June. Top banana. Now, does anyone want a sandwich? toast? Eggy bread? Anyone?
The Cheshire County Show takes place on Tuesday 21st June and Wednesday June 22nd. For more information visit the Cheshire County Show website.