As I sit in the front room of my North London flat and as I write this post, bathed in late afternoon light, it’s not hard to imagine that spring is here and summer just might be waking up, yawning, stretching and thinking about paying us a visit sometime soon. I am, you understand, choosing to ignore the hailstones, torrential rain & gale force winds that graced my doorstep last week and instead am focusing on the blue skies that are now here; Easter has been and gone and we can start to think about summer holidays, weekend trips to the seaside and the digging out & dusting off of sunglasses.
What better to chat about today then, given this eternally optimistic talk of summer, than some of the amazing products on show at the recent M&S Summer Press Show? Taking a peek into what we’ll be eating, drinking and becoming addicted to over the coming months, the theme was ‘Spirit of Summer’ and with a vibrant, colourful & frankly dazzling touch having been bestowed upon each and every product, it was time to turn up the salsa beat, stick another umbrella in the colada and dream of sunnier climes…
Summer = al fresco dining = picnics so in-store deli counters are the best place to start our tour of all things hot & dribble-inducingly delicious. Platter upon bowl upon slate was piled high with fabulous salads made up of some of this year’s key ingredients including smoky chipotle, sweet potato, protein packed quinoa, crayola-yellow corn & plump, purple aubergine…
…and with a gorgeous, pomegranate studded fruit de mer salad sat next to a light, pretty & dainty crab linguine, it wasn’t just produce of the land that was well represented.
Dark, sticky, shiny chicken drumsticks were piled high like a game of finger-licking Jenga while slabs of ancho steak chilli pie and pulled pork mac’n’cheese lined up like rows of magnificently hefty carbohydrate soldiers.
Being first to market with newness is old hat to M&S and this summer’s pie dogs are a clever take on finger food for the fast food generation. Poppy seed spotted & stuffed with sweet BBQ flavours or golden brown with a tang of mustard, these are a gorgeous addition to the sausage family, at the head of which must be sat the flakily golden posh puppy sausage rolls.
Corn coloured empanadas packed with South American flavours were brilliantly bite sized, making them the perfect addition to a summer street party trestle table while for those in search of spicy flavours with their seafood, tumbles of curly, paprika stained octopus & chorizo will definitely tick that box.
Hunks of bright Caribbean flavour flecked cheese sat next to terracotta dishes of baked chilli cheese; perfect for scooping with tortilla chips, the creamy richness was cut through nicely by the sweet, Lilliputian sized & candy bright peppers that perched nearby.
Midday dining at your desk while winter howls outside will soon be a thing of the past now that the first buttery yellow beams of sunshine have hit your office windows and when those days arrive, some of the Food On The Move (FOTM) dishes will be lining up to proudly audition for the role of your lunch.
Brazilian orange & Alphonso mango sparkling presses are packed full of fat, fizzy & juicy flavours while generously filled squash & guacamole tacos will have vegetarians making a beeline for them as their meat eating co-workers devour lobster rolls sprinkled with sunny chunks of fragrant mango salsa.
Taking inspiration from the smokehouses & BBQ joints of the deep South, M&S has made sure your grill will be the best dressed on the street this summer with ribs, burgers, hot dogs, chicken, salmon & halloumi rounds all jostling for a spot on the smoking charcoal embers…
…and it’s not just carnivores who’ll be well fed as barrel shaped corn cobs and elegant leggy spears of asparagus toast themselves to perfection. A squeeze of lime and sprinkling of chilli and you’re well on your way to an envy-inducing barbecue.
Need something to pop your grilled goods in? Shiny paprika rolls, fried onion finger rolls and green salsa wraps have you covered while the ultimate fluffy burger buns are all your luscious patties will want to wear.
It’s hard to say Mexico, Brazil or Peru without imagining the sultry, fiery heat of chillis and a demo station gave the opportunity to try everything from one end of the Scoville spectrum to the other, testing the courage of anyone brave enough to dip in…
…while a DIY salsa stand was a touch more forgiving with tomato & mango bases ready for adding that personal carnival style to.
Salads & fruit come into their own when the sun comes out with pomelos, tomatillos & baby drinking coconuts (complete with ring pull & straw!) all set to be crowned ‘Trend of the Year’ by the clean eating crowds…
…and for those who prefer their coconut with a splash of something hard in it, the bar was set up and ready to ease the thirst of all who ventured near. Coconut & banana liqueur was sweetly tropical and the sparkling pineapple & coconut presse was ridiculously refreshing.
The drink that’s going to find itself in my glass again and again come July though is the papaya pina colada; milky & eye-wideningly delicious when served over rocks of ice in a flamingo adorned tumbler, this is the drink of your summer I promise.
You’ll be happy to hear that some of the food on show requires the minimum amount of effort to result in the maximum amount of flavour; stone baked pizzas topped with spicy chicken & chorizo and ‘dirty’ fries under a blanket of ridiculously oozy cheese guarantee to deliver everything you need on a lazy Friday night, namely awesome treat food for a post working week reward.
As someone who can devour a pint of ice-cream in a defiantly proud short period of time, I’ve never believed that the frozen treat was just for summer. That said, there’s something about brilliant sapphire skies above and thick emerald grass below that just begs you to dig a spoon into something sweet, creamy and cold.
Colombian Coffee ice lollies, a Strawberry Shortcake tray-bake and pots of Mud Pie or Key Lime ice-cream are all gorgeous enough to derail the strongest of dieting will-powers once the sun comes out but for those in search of a bikini friendly option, the Watermelon & Dragon-fruit ice lollies are absolutely stunning…if you can’t find them in your local store, it will be because I, in fact, have bought and eaten every single one. Fact.
If you find your pantry & grocery cupboards calling out for new additions after a long winter of stews, casserole & pies then both International Brands & M&S own label can be counted on to brighten up your shelves. Guava Sauce, Smoked Maple Mustard Marinade and Ancho Chilli Jam will lick your mains into tropical spicy shape while brown paper bags of sugar speckled, cinnamon pecans are preposterously moreish…seriously, if you can step away from the bag once it’s opened, you’ve a stronger will than I!
Rainbow coloured wooden crates and lightbulb-spotted pink flamingos beautifully showcased the brilliant range of savoury snacks and biscuits on offer with a South American twist…
Cajun Spiced Plantains, Ancho Chilli Flatbreads and hand-cooked crisps wearing this season’s hottest flavours including Manchego cheese, Kentucky bourbon and Creole spices were piled high in silver buckets alongside light & crunchy Pina Colada and Mojito flavoured popcorn.
Nothing wrong with the understated but mighty chocolate digestive for tea dunking but why not venture towards something a mite more exotic this summer? Tropical Cookies are studded with fat chunks of Brazil nut, dark chocolate & fruit while the Chipotle Chilli & Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate Cookies are rich & applaudably sinful. Dulce de Leche Teacakes are light and kissed with caramel but my absolute favourites are the Dark Chocolate, Coconut & Chilli Florentines; chewy and sweet with a hint of spice and a thick chocolate topping, they are eat-the-whole-pack-in-one-sitting scrumptious.
You might not automatically reach for a slice of cake when the temperatures soar – hey, I might be based in the UK but a girl can dream can’t she? – but the triple layer Key Lime & Coconut and Mississippi Mud cakes are fluffily light with enough silky frosting to deliver that hit of sweetness but at a slightly smaller size than normal; in short, they are perfect for intimate birthday celebrations over the coming months. Carnival Cupcakes and Tropical Tartlets will also undoubtedly make you the office hero if you bring them in to brighten up a dull Tuesday morning…
Among several chocolate bars (Dulce de Leche with Popcorn, Creamy Coconut Milk and Dark Panela) fresh to the shelves of your local store this summer, you can also find dark chocolate loaded with salty, crunchy tortilla chips. Honestly I don’t think I could ever tire of the absolute dream that is the sweet & salty combination. Masters of chocolate and suppliers of several key lines, Artisan were on hand to help create your own chocolate covered tortilla chips, perfect for sharing with friends later or (far more realistically) devouring on the train home, sniffing out every last cocoa speckled crumb like a bloodhound on speed.
Last but not least on our tour of summer 2016 eating is a stop at the candy shop. Mocktail Jellies were fat & sweet while Carnival Firecrackers were packed full of juicy mango flavours with a splash of chilli heat.
Chocolate coated options were on hand including Giant Chocolate Covered Corn Kernels and – my own favourite – White Chocolate Covered Pineapple Pieces with Chilli, Coconut & Popping Candy. ‘What?!’ I hear you cry and yes, there’s no doubt that they sound a bit mad but in every single drop of that bonkers recipe there is utter brilliance. Trust me, go with it.
So there we have it kids, a wander through some of the key lines you should really start planning into your summer events now. Some familiar dishes given an unmistakably adventurous & bold twist by the good folk at M&S…give a shout out to the things you can’t wait to load your basket, you table & your tummy with this summer!