Saturday, 28 November 2009

Earlsdon Butchers

Today we went to pick up our second fruit and veg box from Down to Earth on Earlsdon High Street (fabulous as ever - got courgette, brussel sprouts and swede this week amongst other things!) and decided to pop into Earlsdon Butchers having been enticed by the sign outside advertising venison from Charlecote Park.

We seem to have stumbled upon a real gem. Earlsdon High Street certainly seems to be the place to go in Coventry for local produce! As well as the very locally sourced venison steaks, I bought some chicken from award-winning Great Farm. These have been matured for longer than most farmed-chickens, so I'm hoping for fuller flavours once they're cooked! I would have loved to have bought more meat, but hadn't really got round to planning all our meals for this week yet and the venison was pretty expensive, as you'd expect, so thought I'd leave it at that for now. But I'll definitely be going again - I'm particularly keen to buy some beef and lamb which comes from Canal Farm just outside Nuneaton. I don't think you could get much more local meat without having your own farm.

I'll let you know how the venison turns out - I've never eaten venison before, let alone cooked it (I have eaten and cooked impala, but that's another story...). But I've found a recipe from one of my cookbooks and plan to serve it with the potatoes and brussel sprouts from this week's veg box!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Mince pies

Gosh, it's nearly the weekend again and I haven't even finished blogging about last weekend's exploits! Not only did I make my very first homemade bread, I made my very first mince pies, using my homemade mincemeat!

I used this recipe and it was pretty easy and they are, without a doubt, the best mince pies I have ever had. The pastry is so lovely and buttery. The only mistake I made was that I was a little too generous with the pastry in each pie, so it was a bit thick, and I wanted to taste more of the mincemeat. So, I will try and rectify this this weekend. Everyone who has tasted them so far want more, so I will have to get baking!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

For the love of bread

The weekend was a busy one in terms of foodie things. On Saturday I travelled all the way to deepest, darkest Birmingham to attend a bread-making course courtesy of Loaf.

I was a complete novice when it comes to bread-making, as I'd not even attempted it before, not even with a bread-machine! The course really inspired me though and I now feel confident enough to try to make bread at home.

We baked a lot of bread during the 6 or so hours of the course, including a white loaf, a wholemeal loaf, ciabatta, fougasse (see above) and breadsticks. We made our own pizza bases and cooked our pizzas in the earth oven for lunch – there's a basic, primal pleasure in making the very foundations of your lunch, cooking it using a real fire and then eating it (how many of you would make the pizza dough from scratch rather than buying it from the supermarket? I know what I would have done before I went on the course!). I also found the whole kneading process a joy, not just because I got to get my hands mucky (I am a child at heart), but, again, there's a basic pleasure in being such an integral part of the creation of food; and making such a staple food as bread from scratch invigorates the soul: it says I am a maker of things and a provider. Hear me roar! Or something.

Tom, the director of Loaf, also demonstrated how to make brioche and let us take the dough home. I baked it and took it to work. It was yummy.

We also got to take home some Sourdough starter to make our own sourdough breads, which should be interesting.

And now that I've tasted my creations, it's going to be hard going back to supermarket bread, as I know I inevitably will have to at some point (although, I tend to buy from the bakery section – that's got to be better, hasn't it?). The ciabatta in particular was a revelation: it was so moist. And it had flavour.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

My first fruit and veg box

We picked up our first organic, local fruit and veg box this week from a shop called Down to Earth in Earlsdon, Coventry. As well as being a small shop where you can buy organic and local produce, they provide a box scheme. We decided to try it on a one-off collection basis first.

So far, I am impressed! Having researched into other box schemes I think the price is reasonable (we have gone for the £10 one for 8-10 items). I've also done some research on the Tesco website and worked out that the equivalent items bought from the supermarket cost approx. £11.59, so a small saving is made! I love the fact that all the fruits and vegetables are seasonal and locally sourced. In this box we got:

red pepper
1 large onion
2 bags salad leaves

That's my fruit and vegetables sorted for the week!  We're going to see how it goes with these items and whether it's enough/too much to work out how often we are going to need a box (although, I'm estimating once a week).I've even found a recipe on my favourite website, BBC Good Food, for which I already have all the ingredients: Spicy Root and Lentil Casserole - yummy!

We do have a slight problem that both of us work full-time and we live in a flat where there is no access to the building unless you have a key fob - there is nowhere suitable to leave the box if we are out. We're going to ask my boyfriend's parents (who are in much more than we are!) if they'll kindly take a delivery for us, otherwise we can pick the box up from the shop. When we spoke to the lady in the shop, she was very helpful and they are quite flexible in their approach to delivery, if you are awkward like we are!

If you're interested in a similar scheme, I'd suggest going to and typing in your postcode to find your nearest supplier. I used this and was delighted to learn that there was such a place so close to home.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Fresh beginnings

This is the start of my herb garden! Coriander and mint.

I very much do not have green fingers; usually, plants wither and die as soon as I so much as walk into the same room as them. But I'm trying my hardest to follow the instructions - I've even stuck them to the plant pots! I'm having more trouble with the coriander than with the mint. It keeps wilting - the instructions say only to water it when the surface of the soil is dry, but it seems to start wilting before that, but does pick up when I water it. I do wonder now as well whether I would have been better off buying seeds and growing them myself from scratch than buying the plants already grown. I think I'll have to try that another time.

Other herbs I'd like to grow include parsley, basil and perhaps a chilli plant, but I'll see how I manage with these two first. (I live in a flat and do not have a garden, so anything I grow needs to be able to grow in a pot on the windowsill or possibly on the balcony.)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A couple of Christmas condiments

Well, I've lost no time in getting back in the kitchen since returning from holiday. Having been away for the past couple of weeks, we've missed a fair bit of the pre-Christmas buzz that begins around this time of year, and it was a little surreal to come home to Christmas decorations everywhere (and the sudden realisation that we need to get on with our Christmas shopping!).

I'd already planned before going away that this year I would make Mince Pies for the first time. My repertoire is sadly lacking in dessert foods at the moment, and mince pies are one of my favourite things ever, so it seemed a good idea. Many people seem to buy mince meat rather than make it, but why buy it when you can make a fun and sticky mess yourself at home?! So, this weekend I got cracking and this was the result:

The recipe I used was from Christmas Made Easy, a BBC Good Food book. I made about half the amount suggested in the recipe as I thought 3.5kg was a little excessive for someone who had never made mince pies before and I'm not planning on giving it to anyone as presents (certainly not now I've tasted it!). The recipe has a good mix of fruit (I really like the inclusion of bramley apple and almonds) and a fair soaking of alcohol - fortunately we already had some dark rum in the house, and managed to "borrow" some brandy from my fiancé's mum, but I had to buy the amaretto, which was fairly expensive at £12 a bottle for something I don't think I'd ever drink. But I suppose I can always make more mince meat with it! I do hope it tastes good when it's cooked in the mince pies - it smells fantastic and it tastes pretty darn good at the moment, so I am hopeful. Of course, I have yet to make the pastry and I have never made pastry before, so that should be an interesting experience. I do suffer from poor circulation, and I'm told that cold hands are a bonus in pastry-creation, so we shall see!

When I was reading through the recipe for the mince meat, I decided, on a complete whim, to also make the Christmas chutney on the opposite page (hurrah for the BBC Good Food website having the recipe for this!). I did this today, despite still suffering from jet-lag, and so far am pretty pleased with the result:

On tasting this once it had reduced I exclaimed, "It tastes like chutney!" I really don't know why I continue to be surprised by the fact that my food tastes of what it is. To be honest, I'm still surprised that I can even cook.

Anyway, as you've probably already guessed, this is my first ever chutney and I'm still a little worried that I didn't reduce it quite enough or that I didn't chop the vegetables small enough. I also, as you can no doubt tell, do not really have the right sort of pans for chutney-making, but I had to work with what I've got (I'm seriously hoping for a nice set of pans for Christmas - what an exciting life I lead, eh?). I'm looking forward to the results after it's matured (preliminary taste test suggests good things to come - I love the spicy kick!) and think it's going to make a perfect condiment for boxing day with all the cold meats and cheeses my parents are guaranteed to provide.

Are you planning to cook anything special for Christmas? If so, I'd love to hear about it! Christmas to me is all about food and family - a perfect combination!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

A taste of India

The few of you who read this blog may have noticed that I've been absent for a fair while - this is because for the past two weeks I've been on holiday in India. We started the trip in Delhi and from there went to Agra, Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Jaipur and the Himalayas. An amazing journey and one which provided many culinary delights!

Before I continue, I should briefly explain that my intrepid fiancé and his friend were involved in an 'incident' involving a plane and the ground at Heathrow almost 2 years ago (namely, a crash-landing - thankfully, no one was seriously injured), and BA compensated by providing us with a holiday which included business class flights and 5* accomodation - I am not normally in the habit of dining in 5* hotels, just in case you were wondering.

The first hotel we stayed in was the Oberoi, New Delhi: very plush, very posh, GREAT food. The first morning I opted for a traditional Indian breakfast, Aloo Paratha, which is a potato pancake, mildly spiced. Indian breakfasts are a bit strange if, like me, you are used to having toast and marmalade or cereal for breakfast, but I did my best to be adventurous in my choice of cuisine!

The first evening we opted to dine in the hotel's dedicated Chinese restaurant. Oddly, I can now say I've had the best Chinese food I've ever had, in India. For our starter we ordered a whole barbecued duck to share between the four of us. The wonderful thing about this (apart from the beautiful flavours, obviously) is that once the duck is cooked they wheel it near to your table and carve it in front of you. Then they make up duck pancakes for you. Wow. I have never before had duck so delicious. Even the hoi sin sauce was better than any other I had tasted. Once we had devoured the meat of the duck the waiter asked us if we'd like to have some duck soup cooked from the duck carcass. The duck soup was equally delicious and I liked the choice of vegetables used which complemented the flavour of the duck broth (baby sweetcorn, pak choi, mushrooms). I think I'm going to have to learn at some point how to make duck soup for myself.

Of course, I did eat some Indian dinners as well. In fact, I managed precisely two before my stomach gave in and I was officially diagnosed by the doctor as having a classic case of 'Delhi Belly' (ironically, by this time we'd left Delhi and were staying in the Oberoi Hotel, Agra) - apparently, the authentic Indian spices hadn't agreed with me, my stomach not being used to it. The two Indian meals I had were very delicious, and stupidly, possibly thanks to being distracted by my poorly tummy, I didn't write the names of them down. One was chicken in a tomato-based sauce, which was so rich and creamy and filled with the most aromatic and tasty spices - it was heaven. The second dish was made with aubergine, but I think my memory of that particular dish is tainted by the fact that I got to taste it in reverse. That evening though, I also had a traditional Indian Rice Pudding - this is almost completely different from the Rice Pudding I had as a child which came out of a tin and was warm and lumpy. For a start it's cold and pretty smooth. It's fairly sweet with hints of cardamom. Here's a recipe if anyone fancies having a go at making it for themselves - I probably will at some point.

The doctor advised me not to eat spicy food for a few days, but I didn't feel like doing so anyway. It took me about a week before I could face eating anything remotely spicy again! Fortunately, all the hotels we stayed in served a variety of different foods and I got to eat some fantastic things (a deliciously cooked rack of lamb, scrambled eggs with black alba truffle served on brioche, quail, some fantastic ricotta and spinach ravioli).

The foodie highlight of the holiday for me was when we were staying in the Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore. In between going on safari to try and spot tigers (unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, but we did see crocodiles and lots of monkeys, deer and all sorts of different birds and insects), we had a tour of the hotel's herb garden given by the chef Deep Mohan Singh Arneja, who has collobarated with Jamie Oliver on some Indian recipes (you can check them out as well by going here and selecting pages 18-19). Chef Deep was a thoroughly nice and accommodating chap and put up with my ignorant questions very well! The herb garden is very impressive (unfortunately I didn't get any photos because my darling fiancé had left the camera behind) - a fairly large plot of land divided into rectangular sections for the different herbs and vegetables. What the hotel does is grow produce which can't be sourced locally, so all the food eaten at the hotel is very fresh and very local. There were some wonderful plants I'd never seen before, including a curry leaf tree, and I was rather taken with the purple basil. Some produce was behind schedule because of the unseasonably warm weather and some had already made a tasty meal for the peacocks! But it was still a fascinating experience and before we had left for India I had already had vague plans to start growing some of my own herbs and the tour really inspired me to get cracking with it, so I shall let you know how that goes.

One of the other great things about this particular resort, is that being fairly small in terms of guests meant that it only had the one restaurant, but the menu was different every day. It made me really wish I had been able to spend more than two nights at this venue. But it was certainly an experience I shall never forget.