Thursday, 30 December 2010

Our first free range turkey

I hope all my lovely blog followers have had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward to a glorious New Year! I have recently got back from visiting my relatives in Kent, which meant that I wasn't organising the Christmas dining this year (in fact, I never have, as my flat isn't really big enough to have people over!), but I did want to ensure we had a free range turkey this year. So, I offered to order the turkey for my parents.

As I live in Coventry but my parents live in Kent, I wanted to order a turkey which could be delivered to their door to make it easier for them as they would both be working and be busy the week leading up to Christmas day.

 After doing my research on the internet, I decided to order the turkey from Waitrose, as they had a good selection of fresh free range turkeys, would let me order as far in advance as November, let me pick a two hour time-slot and offered free delivery! Which was great... and it would have been even more great if Waitrose had an easy-to-use website.

It took me half an hour to find the 'register' button for online deliveries. When I tried to make a purchase, a login box came up, but whereas most websites will say, "Not a member? Register here!" or similar, the Waitrose website offered no such simple option. At least not on that page. I can't remember where I found it in the end*, but it wasn't obvious or easy to do at all - if I hadn't been so keen to get a free range turkey and if they hadn't offered the free delivery, I would have given up and ordered from a different supermarket. Perhaps it was just me being a numpty, but I thought online shopping was supposed to be quicker and easier?!

Anyhow, once I had managed to register with the site, it was pretty quick and easy to place the order. I chose a turkey in the 'serves 8-11 people' range, despite the fact that there'd only be four of us for dinner. But we like leftovers.

When the day arrived for delivery, I was a little nervous as I'd made the order a long time ago and had visions of us not having a turkey at all for Christmas. But turn up it did, in its allotted time slot. We ended up with a turkey that would serve 8 people and it cost £31. Not bad at all considering how much we got out of it.

It was the first time I'd ever had a free range turkey, and it was the most flavourful, moistest, juiciest turkey I had ever had. It was well worth the money and worth the hassle with the website in the end. And definitely good to know that the turkey we ate hadn't lived in complete squalor before ending up on our plates.

It's chiefly about chicken welfare, but if you're interested at all in the plight of intensively-farmed animals in this country and want to help the cause, I recommend going to http://www.chickenout.tv/ and lending your support.

*I have since had another look on the Waitrose website and it seems you have to put your postcode in to the box first to see which services are available in your area and then click the small green 'register' button in the right-hand corner.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Adopt a Veg

My blog posts are like buses: you don't get any for ages and then two come along in one day!

I just wanted to bring to the attention of all my green-fingered friends Garden Organic's Adopt a Veg scheme. In order to protect our heritage veg and to help support the work of the Heritage Seed Library, Garden Organic have set up a scheme whereby you can "adopt" a variety of vegetable. There are a small number of varieties which you can adopt for £20 and get a packet of seeds too. I'm quite tempted by the transparent tomatoes. The others are £15 and come with a gift pack including information about your chosen variety.

These could make an unusual Christmas gift for any green-fingered chums!

Meatloaf Part Deux

It's been a while since I've posted - apologies if you've missed me at all. It's been a combination of having a lot going on and having lost my blogging-fu. Anyway, I'm determined to get back on the wagon, as it were.

Last week it was my fiancé's 30th birthday. I made him a couple of special birthday dinners to celebrate this event (I also made him a birthday banana bread, which was a disaster!), the first of which was toad in the hole, the second was another attempt at meatloaf.

I decided to use a different recipe this time, which is from Nigella Lawson's Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home. I thought this would be an extra-special treat for my fiancé because it has boiled egg in the middle and is covered in bacon! I used oak-smoked streaky bacon and it really helped to keep the meatloaf moist and gave it a lovely smokey flavour.

Before:


After:



Sadly, I neglected to get a picture of it sliced, showing the egg in the middle. It reminded me of when we used to have slices of pork pie with egg in the middle as kids.

Monday, 22 November 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

I love winter. I really do. I love all the winter root vegetables, the stews, the hotpots, the snuggly warmth of a cup of hot chocolate, wrapped up, indoors, looking out at a frozen world, the excitement of Christmas just around the corner...

The cold I can just about deal with, but I have to admit that even I struggle sometimes with the short days. And this weekend just gone was a classic: heavy, ominous, dark grey clouds, not a glimmer nor a spark of sun or blue sky. There wasn't even any rain, just this constant threat hanging the air. We had to have the lights on to see all day both Saturday and Sunday.

And that's partly why Christmas is so exciting: we counteract the darkness with sparkling, glittering lights, glimmering tinsel, shiny giftwrap; and then we fill ourselves with warm, rich, exotic foods. We feast, we drink - we damn well make the best entertainment for ourselves that we can to ease the pain of the long, dark, cold winter.

So, I spent this dark and dreary November weekend comforting myself with fruits from sunnier climes and spices from exotic lands... and then soaking them in lots and lots of booze.

I made this mincemeat last year as well, and lots of people said my mince pies were the best they'd ever tasted! Recipe here.



My first attempt at Christmas Cake! It looks and smells good, so here's hoping it delivers on the day... Recipe here - thanks to Farmersgirl Kitchen for linking to it on her blog.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

An unusual drink (and how I became radioactive)

As I've mentioned before I suffer with an overactive thyroid (or hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis). I was first diagnosed with this over two years ago, although it was in remission for a while, but this year it relapsed.

As a result, on Thursday I underwent radioactive iodine treatment in an attempt to sort it out once and for all. This is a lot less scary than it sounds, but still a little daunting. It was, however, quick, painless and, largely, side-effect free so far.

Oh, yeah, apart from the radiation my body is emitting that is. (I also may develop an underactive thyroid, but that is far more treatable and can be controlled effectively with drugs.)

I took the treatment at the hospital in the form of a drink. I can bet this will be the most unusual thing I have ever consumed. It came in a large, round lead pot. The technician had trouble removing the lid because it was so heavy. Inside was a tiny shotglass-sized glass pot. I was given a straw and told to proceed when I was ready. This was probably the scariest part because it does feel a little weird willingly putting something into your body which has to be transported in a lead container. But then I thought of the alternative permanent treatment, which would involve having my neck cut open, and I gulped the liquid down. It tasted like water, save for a slight metallic aftertaste. I was surprised at this, because when they told me it was flavourless, I didn't believe them.

What has this got to do with food? I hear you ask. Well, for the next three weeks my body will still be emitting beta particles, although this will lessen as time goes on. This is affecting almost every aspect of my life at the moment. I have to avoid close contact with people as much as possible, particularly pregnant women and children for the next 3 weeks; I'm currently sleeping on the sofa so as not to expose my partner to radiation for 8 hours a night; I have to wear gloves while handling food (that's been interesting so far...); and while I am allowed outside, I can't go anywhere crowded, like, you know, shops and stuff. So, I am trying online grocery shopping for the first time. I am going to be working from home for a few weeks, as I can't go to the office, which means that while I'm being restricted in lots of areas, it gives me more flexibility over my cooking schedule.

Swings and roundabouts, eh? :)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Sausage and Bean Stew

I've really been enjoying the second series of Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers. His passion for creating delicious meals is really inspiring and shows just how much you can do with a few simple ingredients. Although, he did upset me this week by putting raisins in a curry, but I am willing to overlook this blatant wrongness.

Last week I decided to make Sausage and Bean Stew from the 'Making Things go Further' episode, and it really is a cheap-to-make, yet hearty and scrumptious recipe.


The stew turned a gorgeous shade of crimson as colour from the tomatoes and chorizo blended together.

I adapted the recipe for 2, but I think this meal would be brilliant when you are cooking for a large number of people. I definitely plan to cook this again!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Bonfire & Bangers night at the Red Lion, Hunningham

We've been frequenting the Red Lion pub in Hunningham for about a year now, and it has quickly become our favourite pub ever. There are a few reasons for this, which I will present in a list format like the anal retentive that I am.

1. The food. With an emphasis on local, fresh produce, they already go some way to winning me over, but they also make tasty and delicious and fairly unusual dishes. Their menu is constantly changing to reflect the season, but highlights for me have included the Ploughman's Platter (because you can't beat a good ploughman's), British rosé veal and Napton Water Buffalo cheese tart. Mmmmm.

2. The wine. It is both varied in selection and reasonably priced.

3. The decor. There are framed comic book covers all over the walls. There is a tube which runs from the bar to the kitchen which delivers the orders. There are open fires. What more could you want?

4. The staff. They are all bonkers.

5. The events. August bank holiday weekend there was a film festival (which sadly we didn't make it to). But, this brings me neatly onto Bonfire & Bangers Night 3, which was last night.

Of course, it chucked it down, but when you're in a field with deliciously spiced mulled wine, a massive hog roast, sausages, bonfire and fireworks, who cares?

The pork & stuffing baps were truly amazing. And huge. And amazing. Did I mention amazing? Good.

I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE! Or something.

Fireworks were also very pretty (although didn't get any pictures because I was too worried about the camera drowning) and very impressive, particularly for a free-entry display!

So, yes - Red Lion in Hunningham - go there.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Roast squash with bacon & mushroom rice

It was time to play guess the mystery squash this week when our veg box arrived. A few googles later, I came to the conclusion it must be a carnival squash. You've got to admit, it's quite funky.


I decided that peeling this would be a bitch, so opted for roasting in the skin. I'd never baked a squash before, but my whole recipe ended up being quite successful and I made it up myself! I'd learnt from my first attempt at cooking pumpkin last week that the sweetness of squash goes quite well with salty, savoury flavours (check out this recipe), so I just kind of worked on that basis and on the food I had in.

Here goes, folks.

Serves 2

Ingredients
1 squash (carnival or otherwise)
olive oil
1 pack streaky outdoor-reared bacon, chopped
250g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
100g white basmati rice
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
a bunch of kale or cavolo nero, chopped
a few sprigs thyme
pepper to season (unless you also fancy adding salt to salty bacon)

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.

Prepare each squash by cutting in half. Do this carefully with a big, sharp knife. It may take a bit of time to work it apart. Use a spoon to remove the 'guts' of the squash (this is the seeds and stringy stuff in the middle - I call it the guts). You should then have something which looks a bit like this:

Drizzle with a little olive oil, place on an oven tray and bake for 40 minutes until golden and soft.

Meanwhile (although not immediately - co-ordination, people!), fry the bacon over a high heat until cooked and beginning to crisp. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are starting to brown and soften. Add the rice and stir and then add the stock. Simmer with the lid on for 12-15 minutes, until the stock has nearly all been absorbed by the rice. Add the thyme leaves and kale and stir through until wilted. Season with the pepper.

Remove the squash from the oven when ready. Stuff the squash with the bacon and mushroom rice. You should have something which looks a little like this:

This was so delicious that I ate far too much and gave myself tummy-ache. And even the veg-phobic fiancé approved (although the bacon probably helped a lot)! I think it could be improved, however. Maybe a bit of garlic next time and some lemon juice.

Nom nom nom.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Willesborough Windmill Bread Flour

At the weekend my fiancé and I were visiting my family down in Kent. We had a bit of a lazy Saturday and trundled along to a local farm shop, Perry Court, late morning.

Perry Court is set on an apple & pear orchard and we got some great stuff including their own apple juice, a bag of their dried apple crisps (an interesting snack!), some homemade rolls and a bag of Willesborough Windmill Strong Wholemeal Flour, pictured on the left.

I had to buy some, obviously, and it isn't too pricey at £1.99 for a 1.5kg bag. 

I grew up near Willesborough Windmill, and it is a striking part of the landscape in that area and something I very much associate with my childhood. I am very excited that it is now producing flour - if I still lived there this would have been a very local product, but I supposed now I have hauled it all the way to Coventry, it kind of ceases to be 'local'! But nevermind, we were making the trip anyway, so it was a bonus to come back with something so reminiscent of my childhood, yet so useful too!
 
I remember when the windmill used to look like this, which is partly why I find it so amazing that it now has the capacity to produce flour. In fact, this is a great webpage showing how the windmill has changed over the years.

If I were really to do this flour justice, I suppose I ought to have handmade the bread, but you wouldn't catch me having the energy to do that on a school night! So, I let my breadmaker do the work. It has made a really nice loaf - in fact, I would go so far as to say it is one of the best wholemeal loaves I've ever had: flavourful, not too dry and fairly light in texture for a wholemeal loaf. But my tastebuds are more than likely coloured by fond childhood memories - it is quite stunning how taste can be influenced by so many other factors.


Monday, 25 October 2010

Roast Partridge with Blackberries

I love Autumn. Not only is it filled with an amazing abundance of fruit and vegetables, but it is also game season. I'm always on the look for things I haven't eaten or cooked before, and a trip to Berryfields Farm Shop meant taking home a couple of partridges.

I decided to use a recipe from Nigel Slater's Tender Vol. II - a book I am absolutely loving at the moment. I've now cooked two recipes from it: this partridge and blackberries dish and a weekday supper of pork and pears (the latter scoffed before I could get a picture). Both have been absolutely amazingly delicious. Both use fruit and meat and then alcohol to deglaze the pan. I'm totalling getting into this deglazing lark. Also pairing fruit with meat.

The one thing I regret about this dish, is that we tried (and failed) to forage our own blackberries - we did find some blackberry bushes, but no salvageable fruit - it was all shrivelled up and pathetic. Have I completely missed blackberry season? I just thought it was generally during Autumn.

I ended up buying blackberries from the supermarket, which were from Mexico of all places. The dish held up well enough with the massively jet-lagged fruit, but I'd love to try it with some freshly-picked blackberries one day.

And partridge meat is a very tasty meat. I just couldn't help wishing there was slightly more of it...


And, yes, I did serve it with chips. And roast carrots and fennel. It went surprisingly well!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Stuffat tal-Fenek (Maltese Rabbit Stew)

Cottontail is not impressed by this blog post


One evening we were walking along Spon Street and I noticed a sign in a butcher's window advertising, amongst other things, wild rabbit. I vowed that soon I would purchase some of this rabbit and make a stew. Last weekend that's exactly what I did.

I purchased some diced rabbit from T J Rowland Butchers on Spon Street. It is possibly the tiniest butcher's shop I have ever set foot in and the displays are rather haphazard, but it has a certain charm and the guys in there are very knowledgeable and extremely helpful.

The Maltese like rabbit a lot. My grandparents used to breed them for eating. Unfortunately, several attempts at trying to feed me rabbit when I was a child failed because I couldn't stand the thought of eating cute ickle fluffy bunnies. And I was smart enough to know it wasn't chicken - nice try, parents.

However, my views on the subject have changed somewhat over the years. Ok, well, I've watched a lot of River Cottage, basically, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is very persuasive. So, I'd much rather eat something which has been happily bunnying about in complete freedom and then killed humanely, than something intensively farmed which has been waddling around in its own excrement for months on end. In short, I now have no problem with eating bunnies, particularly wild bunnies, and am probably more comfortable with the idea of eating rabbit than chicken. How things change.

I decided to recover those opportunities I'd missed as a child to have some authentic Maltese rabbit-based grub, and plumped for cooking Stuffat tal-Fenek (Maltese Rabbit Stew). I looked at quite a few different recipes, all slightly different in various ways - I suspect every Maltese family has their own version of all the classic recipes, but this is one I've never learnt - and in the end, I think I mostly followed one on this page (you'll have to scroll down a bit, but it's there). Fellow food-blogger Mer also has a recipe on her blog which looks like an interesting variation using venison.

Anyway, my first attempt at cooking rabbit, and my first taste of it since the sordid attempts at deception during childhood, went rather well.


There is some rabbit in there, I promise you.

Conclusion: I like rabbit. A lot.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Meatloaf

After I'd badgered Jen of In the Kitchen etc. for her recipe for meatloaf, I kind of had to go ahead and make it. I normally avoid any recipe which uses cup measures because it is just weird and wrong, but I sucked it up and dusted off my cup measures for this one. You can find Jen's recipe which I followed here.

Before:

And after:


My fiancé enjoyed this dish very much and is already nagging me to make it again. He likes it because it is essentially a giant burger. I have to admit I wasn't such a massive fan, which is neither the recipe nor Jen's fault, but probably me doing it wrong. For a start I used 50% pork and 50% beef, because I happened to have that, so I don't know if that affected the flavour. I was probably also a little haphazard with my measurements, and I found the meatloaf itself a little dry and a little bland, and the glaze was far too sweet for me. I blame the Americans and their incomprehensible measuring system.

Having said that, I enjoyed making this. And there is plenty left over which I plan to serve in baps for lunch. And my fiancé is happy. :)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Restaurant review: Thai Dusit, Coventry

We went to visit the Thai Dusit last night for a romantic meal. It had been a long time since we'd been, as I'd gone through a period of suspecting I had a shellfish allergy, but it now looks as if I probably don't. It is perhaps more worrying that this means that a restaurant I used to really like most likely gave me food poisoning - it still makes me wary of eating shellfish in restaurants now, as the memory of that incident is still potent! It's a shame because I love seafood of all varieties.

However, we figured the Thai Dusit was a safe bet, as we have had good experiences there in the past and you'd hope a restaurant of their kind of calibre would be using nice, fresh ingredients! And we weren't disappointed.

For our starter we had the mixed shared platter, which is a little pricey at £6 a head, but utterly worth it.

This photo doesn't do justice to the presentation. The starter includes prawns, which I ate, and I wasn't sick, hurrah!

For my main, I had Moo Priew-Warn, which was battered pork in a sweet and sour sauce. It was delicious and the stir fried egg noodles I had with it complemented it nicely - a heavenly combination of sweet, sour and savoury. The pork was delicately battered and the sauce was rich and warming, like an electric blanket on a cold winter's evening. But an edible one. My fiancé had Ped Pad Khing, a duck dish with ginger and stir fried vegetables. On the side he had coconut rice, which I hadn't tried before and now I'm not sure why. The creamy coconut with the rice was an amazing background to the spices in our meat dishes.Wow.

Wine was the house red, which seems to be a good complement to the spices in most of the dishes.

I skipped pudding, but my fiancé had the Chocolate Trofito. He kindly let me share some. Nothing spectacular, but tasty as frozen desserts go. But we don't go to the Thai Dusit for the desserts!

Service wasn't as good as it has been in the past on this occasion (it is usually very good - very attentive and polite waiting staff). At first they brought us the wrong dishes, but this was quickly rectified. I had booked the table earlier in the day, but when we arrived they couldn't seem to find our booking - fortunately they were able to seat us anyway.

 If you like Thai food, it would definitely be worth your while checking out the Thai Dusit. They do takeaway too. You can have a look at the menu at their website.

Writing this review has already made me want to go again!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A simple soup

Yesterday evening it was just myself for dinner. That doesn't happen often and when it does, I usually can't be bothered to cook properly just for myself. I'd planned to have something on toast, but I hadn't got the breadmaker on early enough and it was still whirring away when my tummy started rumbling.

I needed food and fairly quickly. I had no meat or fish readily available and popping out to the shop was out of the question in the dark, damp and cold. So, I would have to make do with what I'd got somehow... I decided soup might be a good idea: I was feeling cold and I could make enough so that I would have some for lunch the next day too.

But what to make? If you didn't realise already, I was feeling lazy and rather tired - I didn't fancy anything that needed blending or an excessive number of ingredients. The BBC Good Food website always comes up trumps in situations such as these, and this recipe for hearty pasta soup seemed ideal. I didn't have all the ingredients - I didn't have any vegetable stock cubes, nor all the ingredients (or energy) to make my own and I didn't even have any chicken stock cubes and the homemade stock I had in the freezer would take forever to thaw. I also didn't have any fresh tortellini, or frozen beans, or fresh basil. A few substitutions and additions and this is what I ended up with.



Ingredients
1tbsp rapeseed oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1l beef stock (from a cube)
400g can plum tomatoes
250g dried pasta spirals
100g fresh runner beans, sliced into chunks
50g frozen peas
handful of curly leaf parsley, chopped

Method
1. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat. Fry the garlic, onions and carrots for about 5 minutes until starting to soften.
2. Add the tinned tomato and stock, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring.
3. Add the pasta and simmer according to packet instructions (usually about 10 minutes). Add the runner beans as well.
4. A few minutes before the pasta is done, add the frozen peas.
5. Once pasta is cooked through, stir in the parsley.

A versatile, easy (and tasty!) recipe, one that is ideal I think for cooking on a budget or when you don't have much food in the house!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The growing season's not over yet!

My tomato plants had started to go a bit rancid, so last weekend I chopped them up, uprooted them and disposed of them. (Incidentally, I still haven't mastered doing things like this without hurting my back - I only have to so much as look at a spade and my back muscles start twingeing.) So, things are looking a little bare on the balcony now, save for a slightly withered pot of parsley, which I have now brought inside.


I wasn't organised in sowing anything over the Summer and my tomato plants took up too much room, so once the tomatoes were gone, I had nothing growing on the balcony. But I still want to grow things. After a little research, I decided that I would definitely grow garlic. And according to one of my gardening books, you can still sow rocket and salad leaves at this time of year; according to the seed packets you can't, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

I was a bit worried about my compost. As I'm growing in pots, would I need brand new compost for all my pots? After consultation with some folk on Urban Gardeners, I decided I would definitely need new compost for the pots I'd grown tomatoes in. However, one of my pots, I'd only grown a handful of radishes and carrots in, so I've experimented by removing some of the old compost and mixing in some new stuff, in the hope that this will contain enough nutrients for my garlic. I read somewhere that garlic can cope in poor soil, but I have to hope that I don't lose any to fungal problems, as I hear this can be an issue when compost is no longer sterile.

I ordered my garlic bulbs for growing from Garden Organic and they arrived yesterday.

So, garlic, rocket and mixed salad leaves sown. Things are still barren at the moment, obviously, but I will update on my progess, as ever.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Mini apple pies

A few weeks ago a friend of ours gave us a carrier bag full of cooking apples from his garden. (Apparently, his next door neighbour has been complaining about the apples which have been falling into his garden - I can't help thinking what a miserable sod this neighbour must be!) Until today, time and energy to do something with them has eluded me.

I wanted to make something that we could share with the friend who gave us the apples, so I decided to make mini apple pies. This was a bit of an experiment, in that I used the pastry recipe from this mince pie recipe (because it is easy to make and scrumptious too) and the filling from this apple pie recipe.



Above is one of the ones that broke when getting it out the tin.

If I make something similar to these again, I will make a different kind of pastry - this pastry works brilliantly with mince pies, but doesn't seem to quite have the structural integrity to cope with sloppy apple. However, their wobbly framework does not impair the flavour - crumbly and sticky and sweet and tart and gooey. Heaven.

Sweets!

Ok, I have a confession to make. I am 27 years old and I love sweets. I always have, probably always will. I'm something of a sugar addict.

I know that most sweets are filled with enough E-numbers to send even the dourest child into a hyper-manic frenzy and enough sugar to cause a diabetic coma; but love them I do, and they are one of my biggest weaknesses when it comes to food.

It probably all started when we sometimes used to stop at the Corner Shop on the way home from school, and if I'd been good (which was, you know, ALWAYS), I'd be allowed to get 20p worth of penny sweets. Fizzy cola bottles were my favourite.

However, I think that most 'modern' sweets such as Haribo and those pick'n'mix you get from cinemas nowadays do not taste the same as the sweets I had when I was a kid; in fact, many of them leave quite a nasty, bitter aftertaste in the mouth.

Yesterday afternoon, as the weather was so glorious, we took a trip to Bourton-on-the-Water for an afternoon of English cream tea and Christmas Corner. There are also a couple of old fashioned sweet shops in Bourton, so naturally I bought some sweets.

Now, these sweets taste like the ones I used to have when I was a kid. My fiancé reckons it's all in my head and it's just because they come in jars. But what would he know? He doesn't even eat sweets! Also, they had flying saucers. FLYING SAUCERS!!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Carluccio's, Stratford-upon-Avon

Last week we visited Stratford for my birthday. We did some shopping, had a scrumptious pub lunch and went for a cruise on the Avon. As we started walking back to the carpark, I suggested we stopped at Carluccio's to pick up some things for dinner.

I'd decided that for tea we'd have bread from the breadmaker with some olive oil for dipping, and maybe pick up some olives at Carluccio's to accompany it, as I'd heard that they had a deli in there. This is what we ended up with:

Freshly sliced mortadella and parma ham

 Sun blushed tomatoes, as well as some olives (not pictured).

It was really good stuff and made our dinner a whole lot more exciting than I'd planned! We haven't actually eaten in Carluccio's yet, but plan to next time we are down Stratford way - it seems like a great place if you like your Italian food.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Tomato fever

After posting a while back that things were all going horribly wrong with my tomato plants, they managed to recover from the blossom end rot and have been producing healthy fruit for a while now. At first there was just the odd one or two at a time that had ripened, but now we're almost getting a glut, and that's just from 4 plants!


I'm planning to make this chutney with them, which I made last year, but this year it'll be even more special with my homegrown tomatoes!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Bread machine

For my birthday this year (which was yesterday), my fiancé bought me a bread machine. Now, although I went on a course and technically know how to bake bread by hand, I haven't managed to do a lot of it because of being busy and illness and being disorganised etc. etc. etc.

There's a great bit on the Campaign for Real Bread website here about bread machines and why they can be a good idea.

I'm not going to give up completely on making handmade bread, and will still do so when I get the time and the urge and the inclination, but at least with my bread machine, in between those times I don't have to rely on supermarket bread.

We baked our first loaf in it yesterday and this was the result:


It was yummy:




The breadmaker I have is the Panasonic SD257. It has a brioche programme, a gluten-free programme, a raisin and nut dispenser and a bake-only and dough-only feature. So, it seems very flexible in what you can do with it and I look forward to trying out all the different features in the years to come!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Hilltop Farm Shop, Hunningham, Near Leamington Spa

Thanks to Lucie of Cooking at Marystow, last weekend we discovered Hilltop Farm Shop, in the picturesque village of Hunningham. They grow sunflowers.


The shop itself is quite small, but it stocks a wide variety of produce. It sells a good range of fruit and veg, as well as milk, cheese, jams and chutneys, and meat. It doesn't have a butcher's counter like at Berryfields, but there is a fantastic range of different meat, both chilled and frozen, including the cuts you wouldn't find in your average supermarket, such as lambs' hearts.

We bought some oak-smoked garlic, which wafts a delightful scent of wood-burning every time I open the cupboard. There was a good variety of local cheeses (including Warwickshire Truckle, which is one of my favourites) and I decided to try Napton Water Buffalo Smoky Bello Cheese. The texture is not dissimilar to cheddar, but it is creamier and smoother and has a slightly different quality to cows' cheese. I'd definitely buy it again!

Hilltop Farm Shop has a restaurant and a café, but we didn't get a chance to try it out this time. There are great facilities for kids, including a bouncy castle and a play-park. Hilltop Farm Shop also has some of the animals on display.

My fiancé gently informed me that I am too big to ride the ponies.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Aubergine stew with tomatoes and coriander

I thought I'd actually write about something I'd cooked for a change - I don't think I have for ages! To be truthful, things have been a little quiet on the cooking front as my health is not brilliant at the moment - I have an overactive thyroid which had been in remission for about a year but recently has decided to start its ritual ass-kicking again. There are plenty of worse things in the world, but it does make me very tired sometimes, hence all things cooking being pretty quiet. Still, I'm on medication now and should start feeling better soon, so onwards and upwards!

I have decided that having some meat-free meals might be quite a good idea, because we do eat a lot of meat. Because we like meat (mmm, meat). But we like vegetables too. And what with our veg box and our new-found love of farm shops, we have quite an abundance of them at the moment. So, I'm attempting to make at least two vegetarian meals a week.

Last week I made this Mushroom & Potato Curry, courtesy of BBC Good Food, and it was nice enough - nothing particularly special, but we enjoyed it.

This week I decided to have a look through Nigel Slater's Tender for inspiration, as it is such a good book for all things vegetable. I settled on something from the aubergine section called 'A hot stew with tomatoes and coriander' (for owners of the book, I refer you to pages 58-59; for non-owners, I refer you to the link above where you can purchase this wonderful tome).



The lemon juice, ginger and garlic paste was hard to make. I only have a hand blender and it didn't work well at all. I gave up eventually, when the ginger and garlic had kind of turned to a mush, but they they were still floating stubbornly in the lemon juice. I chucked it in the pan with the aubergines and it worked, though.

I also didn't 'relax' the aubergines. I never even knew that this was the done thing before reading Tender. This is where you chop the aubergine up, put salt on it and let it rest for half an hour. Sorry Nigel, but I'd had a full day of work, was tired from a bad night's sleep and, goddammit, I was hungry. So, the aubergines went straight in the pan. I actually happen to like the way aubergines soak everything up anyway: the pieces are like little gelatinous cubes absorbing everything in their wake.

And that was actually the best thing about this dish: the way the aubergine absorbed the flavours of ginger, garlic, lemon, chilli, tomato and coriander. What a beautiful mingling of flavours. Oh, how I wish blogger had smell-o-vision. I served it with warmed flatbreads and it was loooovely.

A warning, though - unless you really like the spice do not, I repeat DO NOT, put in two chillies with seeds, as Nigel intrepidly suggests. I did one with seeds and it was at about my limit for spice (and I think next time I will remove the seeds to make it more suitable for my palate).

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Allesley Park Walled Garden Market

In my continuing endeavour to write more about local events, today, dear readers, I travelled all the way to deepest, darkest Allesley, to visit the monthly garden market, the existence of which was recently brought to my attention by EcoExplorer.



Allesley Park Walled Garden dates from the 18th century and used to belong to Allesley Hall. The official website can be found here, although it hasn't been updated in a while by the looks of things.



Over the past few years, the garden has been restored as an authentic 18th century kitchen garden and is now used as an educational resource. The market garden takes place every third Saturday of the month at 10.30am - 12.30pm during the Summer, and it was today that I decided to pop along for the first time.

There were four or five stalls selling a random collection of different items ranging from paintings to cakes. The stall that I was most interested in though (and so was everyone else) was the stall selling fresh vegetables, which I'm presuming and hoping were from the garden (on reflection, I should have asked, but didn't think of it at the time). I didn't buy a huge amount because of the veg box I get delivered and because I had to carry it home on the bus, but this is what I did buy:


I bought a pound of curly kale and a pound of white beetroot (which I had never seen before), all  for the grand price of 80p! Bargain!

What a great idea this market and the Walled Garden itself is - a fabulous part of Coventry's heritage which until recently I knew nothing about. (I should point out that I have lived in Coventry for a measly two years, which is nothing compared with people who have had a lifetime to discover all the nooks and crannies of a place!)

Next month at Allesley Park Walled Garden it is a Heritage Open Day, and as well as the garden market, there will be a photographic competition and a cookery demonstration. This will be take place on Saturday 11th September and Sunday 12th September. For more information go here.

Allesley Park is very accessible by road (there is a car park on site) and by the number 23 bus - please go here for a map of the route.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Berryfields Farm Shop, Meriden, Near Coventry

I want to blog more about local foodie places in and around Coventry and the local area. I'm currently collecting some links to go somewhere in my sidebar, so look out for that in the near future!

Recently I decided that I want to try shopping at some farm shops, and looking for things to do this morning, I had a google and came across Berryfields Farm Shop, which, handily, is open on a Sunday.

After consultation with the other-half, he decided that it would be a great idea to go because the on-site café does an all-day breakfast, and we hadn't eaten yet...

The farm shop is situated in a converted farm building on the farm itself surrounded by beautiful countryside. I am still enamoured of the fact that one of the directions to get there is "past the duck pond"! It is, judging by the smell when we got there and that it states that all the pork is home-reared and pork products are all made on site, mainly a pig farm, so if you like your pork, it really is the place to go.

I hadn't actually been to a farm shop for a long time before this morning, and I remember the local one I used to go to as a child growing up in Kent as quite dirty and dusty and placed in a old shed. I presumed this one would be similar given that it is situated in a converted farm building, but the reality couldn't be further from how I imagined it. The building is light, airy, clean and modern. They stock a range of different products: plenty of fresh meat, frozen fish and meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, pickles, oils, vinegars, bread and more. I was delighted to see that they stock Peter's Yard crispbreads! The amount of fruit and vegetables in there isn't huge, but it is local and seasonal (there were some truly impressive beetroots!). The items the farm doesn't produce itself are sourced from other local farms and suppliers.

We went up to the café first before looking round, as I was ravenous. I wanted to try and be fairly healthy and was thinking about having poached eggs on toast, but the lure of the fried breakfast was too great - how could I miss an opportunity to try the meat before buying it? It was truly scrumptious - it came with a thick round of black pudding, lovely thick back bacon and a deliciously meaty sausage, as well as fried egg, beans, tomato and two slices of toast. I think £7 each was reasonable for that!

Suitably fed and watered, we proceeded with the shopping. We bought some vegetables, some sausages, some bacon and a pork pie. I was tempted by the bread, but we already have a fair amount at home. All the prices were, I think, comparable with what you would pay at Sainsbury's for similar items.

I then got home to find I had failed to close the fridge door properly the night before. FAIL.

But anyway, we have decided that we will try and shop at a farm shop once a week or every other week, to supplement the veg box we get from Down to Earth, the idea being that we will be spending even less money and time in Sainsbury's. I am going to be trying some different farm shops in the area as well in future, so watch this space for that.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Balcony update: tomatoes and potatoes

So, my tomato plants haven't been doing too well. I think they've come down with a case of 'blossom end rot' and possibly another kind of rot as well (there seem to be several associated with tomato plants). I think it's because our watering of them has been a little inconsistent (ok, so I haven't always got the best memory...) and also when we had the scorching hot weather, I'd water them in the morning and the soil would be bone dry by the time I got home from work.

Growing tomatoes isn't as easy as I thought it would be. They also take up a lot of room. I have enjoyed watching them flower and then fruit though, even if I haven't had anything edible from them yet. Ah, well, I'll see how it goes and maybe try again next year.

The surprise success of my balcony garden though has been the potatoes. The leaves were starting to die off over the past week or so, so I decided it must be time to dig them up. So I dug and dug and dug and they just kept on coming...
I was not only impressed with how many I unearthed, but also by the size of some of them! Bearing in mind, this was from one grow bag!

Growing potatoes was easy-peasy. All we did was plant them and then as they grew covered the shoots until the compost was near the top of the bag. Then we just watered them most days, but otherwise left them to their own devices.

I also had great fun digging them up - I loved getting my hands right in the soil and coming across these tasty treasures with surprising frequency. My fiancé compared me to a pig searching for truffles. Charming! What's wonderful though is because you can't physically see the potatoes growing, it's very pleasing when you realise what good work has been happening below the soil. I certainly wasn't expecting potatoes in such quantity - everything else we've grown on the balcony, we've hardly had any of because of the lack of space.

I definitely have a better idea of what's good to grow on my balcony now. Next year I want to grow more herbs, probably radishes again, definitely cut-and-come-again salad leaves, maybe try some courgettes and I'm feeling pretty inclined to grow potatoes again. All hail the mighty potato!

I used some of the potatoes to make this cottage pie from a recipe by The Hairy Bikers. It was lovely, although not quite as lovely as the recipe I normally make which is from English Food by Jane Grigson.

Obviously, potatoes do keep for quite a while, but I reckon those must have been the freshest potatoes I have ever cooked with - from earth to plate in a few hours, and dug up a mere few metres away from the kitchen - you can't get much more local than that!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Butchery Masterclass: Perfect Poultry

I attended the above course about a week and a half ago now run by Tom of Loaf and Steve Rossiter of Rossiters Butchers in Birmingham. I wanted to go on the course because being able to butcher a chicken seems like such a great skill to have, not to mention a useful one.

First we watched Steve butcher a chicken - he made it look so easy. Steve has been a butcher for 35 years and Rossiters is the only certified organic butchers in Birmingham. All the chickens we used were organic and free range.



Then, it was our turn and 'butcher' the chicken we did.

 We worked in pairs for this and needed lots of help from Steve!

We also learnt how to spatchcock a poussin ("Is that legal?!" asked my fiancé when I mentioned this to him) and helped make, and got to take home, some yummy recipes. We were shown how to butterfly chicken breasts and used them to make Chorizo-Stuffed Chicken Breasts (using homemade chorizo). I took one that we had prepared home and cooked it the next day for my fiancé, who is now a big fan. Tom used the chicken legs to show us how to make Raz el Hanout Chicken, which was gorgeous, and the spatchcocked poussin was marinated in lemon and garlic and cooked on a grill pan. I haven't done so yet, but am looking forward to testing out my spatchcocking skills at home!



We also made chicken stock from the raw carcass - I have since used the same recipe at home twice and it has turned out wonderful each time. I don't know if it's because I was using a raw chicken carcass, but I've never had the fat form so perfectly on the top before of my stocks - it made it very easy to remove. I now have quite a lot of home made stock in the freezer, which is great.

I also had my first taste of chicken liver since I was at school. I wanted to like it, and while it wasn't horrible, I still can't get into that livery taste.

Learning the butchery skills was great and I am extremely glad I went on the course. Butchery seems to be one of those forgotten skills that we think we don't need anymore, but it is much more economical to buy a whole chicken and butcher it yourself than to buy the pieces individually. And having these kinds of skills makes me feel closer to where my food comes from, because it means I'm more involved in the basic preparation of it.

I have to admit though, that my favourite bit of the course was eating all the food we had helped to prepare.

We also got to taste some of Tom's homemade elderflower champagne - yummy!

I have since had a go at butchering a chicken at home, once I'd bought myself a boning knife. Here is the result:
I think I did quite well! It is thanks to Steve's patient and expert guidance that I was able to do so well on my own at home - that and a very sharp knife.

If you'd like to find out more about Tom's courses, please go to http://www.loafonline.co.uk/cookeryschool/. Thanks to Tom for the pictures from the course.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Kusksu (Maltese Spring Soup)

I have mentioned on this blog before that I am half Maltese and I love eating and cooking Maltese food. I can cook a few things my mum has shown me and a few things from a book we got when we holidayed in Malta, but really I think my repertoire when it comes to Maltese cooking is quite limited. That is why I was delighted to discover Did You Put Garlic?, a blog predominately about Maltese food.

There's some great recipes on there and the first one I decided to try was Kusksu or Maltese Spring Soup. Now, I did have a slight problem in that I couldn't find any dried kusksu or Israeli cous cous or even orzo pasta in Sainsbury's, and I didn't have time to go to Holland & Barratt, where Mer of Did You Put Garlic? says she gets hers from; so, I ended up using small pasta shells, which is the kind of thing my mum always puts in her Maltese soups. Here is the result:


Yeah, I may have gone a little overboard on the pasta. And I added fresh peas to mine, because I love fresh peas! It took me around half an hour to shell all the broad beans and peas though! This was a very tasty soup and I will definitely be making it again, perhaps with the right ingredients and I might try a poached egg in it next time.

Incidentally, I had never had this soup before I made it the other week. My mum never cooked it and I found out why when I spoke to her about it: when I told her what it was, she said, "Urgh, my mum used to make that. I hated it!" But then she also said she used to hate Maltese meat stew, but when I cooked it for her she thought it was delicious!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Apple sauce & the secret of crackling

The last couple of weeks I've been practising creating lovely, lovely crackling on different cuts of pork; last week was roast pork belly with coriander and fennel seasoning from my River Cottage Everyday cookbook and this week I had a go at a pork leg joint. Both times I've succeeded in getting nigh-on perfect crackling, and I've got to agree with Nigel Slater, that there's really nothing to it. He says:

There is no great secret, despite what silly people may tell you. Simply get the butcher to score the skin, then rub a little oil and seasoning in it before you put it in the oven. Roast at a high temperature for a while, then turn the heat down a little. No secret.*

And if I can get good crackling in my pokey little oven, then anyone can. Unfortunately, both pork dinners were devoured before I remembered to take a photo, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

I did, however, get a photo of the apple sauce I made to go with the pork today:
You know, just looking at that photo is making me want to go into the fridge and get the leftover apple sauce out and eat it with my fingers...

But, anyway, the recipe is another one from River Cottage Everyday and it is very simple - I used 2kg Bramley apples (cored, peeled and sliced) and 4tbsp caster sugar (the sugar is dependent on how sweet you want it) and simmered it gently in a large saucepan until it looked pretty much as it does above. My fiancé says he would have liked it a bit sweeter, but that was just right for me, as I like to still get some of the tartness from the apples coming through.

I think next time I will make less because I have quite a lot left in the fridge, although the book says it keeps for about two weeks. (It can also be used as an apple compote - so I think I'll be having some mixed with some natural yoghurt over the next couple of weeks. Yummy.)

And while it is a simple recipe, it took a long time to peel, core and slice all those apples. I chose to listen to Aerosmith while I did this - you may have a different rock band you like to listen to while slicing apples, but I recommend something with a good beat.


*Real Cooking by Nigel Slater

Monday, 5 July 2010

Keema with (or without) peas

First of all, let me say, this is not the most photogenic dish. I mean, look at it:

Well, I suppose it's not that bad... It doesn't look too much like dogfood, does it?

I can assure you that it smells and tastes great. The recipe is adapted from this BBC Good Food recipe, which I followed pretty much exactly last week. I found using minced lamb made the dish quite greasy, so I decided to use some chopped up lamb leg steaks this week for a chunkier texture. I also used three, rather than two, chopped fresh tomatoes this week to make it a bit more tomatoey and a bit more saucy (oo-er). And I didn't have any peas in this week. But it still worked well without, although I could have done with adding a little more yoghurt (I was adapting it for 2 people), as I managed to make it almost hotter than the sun in terms of spice. It was edible though, which was good (unlike the time my fiancé decided to make red thai curry and put an ENTIRE JAR of red thai curry paste in...).

I served it with Dina Khobez Wholemeal Flatbreads (because I was too lazy to make my own), which were a great find in the supermarket on the way home from work this evening! It goes well with rice too.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Guest Post on Jo's Kitchen

Please go to Jo's Kitchen to see a guest post I did on there this week - it's a yummy recipe for Mediterranean vegetables, garlic chicken and cous cous!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Almost mellow fruitfulness...

My tomato plants are fruiting! I noticed the first fruit a week or two ago. Exciting times.


Perhaps I will make a chutney when they are ripe, as preserving them will make them a special treat come winter.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Dinosaur cookies

While in London, we also visited the Natural History Museum, mostly so my fiancé could gaze at the dinosaurs. Obviously, we went to the dinosaur shop while we were there and I managed to pick up a set of awesome dinosaur-shaped cookie-cutters for only £3. Because my fiancé loves dinosaurs and because I love my fiancé, I ended up spending a large chunk of my Sunday making dinosaur cookies.

I decided not to use the recipe on the back of the cookie-cutter packet because I didn't have all the ingredients, so I found this recipe instead. And, yes, while these claim to be "christmas cookies", I can confirm that you can used this recipe for any kind of cookie and the world doesn't collapse in on itself or anything. This recipe actually worked pretty well for my dinosaurs. Here are my cookies before going in the oven:


Once they'd been cooked and cooled, I set about icing them (after we'd eaten the broken ones, of course). I'd never iced anything before and found it rather fiddly and annoying. It's also the first time I've used food colouring in anything and I don't really want to make a habit of it, but it did look cool.

The oval-shaped shiny balls are dinosaur eggs. My fiancé helped me decorate them. Ironically, although the decoration was cute, we thought the cookies tasted better without it - they're so buttery and lovely (almost like shortbread - yum!), that it was a bit of a shame to have them coated in anything. Perhaps next time I'll just leave them plain.

As experiments go though, this was a good one!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Ministry of Food

Last weekend, my fiancé and I visited London, and one of the things we did was go to the Imperial War Museum - specifically to the Ministry of Food exhibition. I already have the book, but wanted to see the exhibition for myself. One of the things I loved was the film reel of short 'food flashes' from the Ministry of Food - you can see some of them here on the website. They had some great displays and it was a fascinating insight into what it was like on the homefront during the war.

Here are some pictures I took at the exhibition.

 I love how the propaganda that was used focussed on winning the war through not wasting food! 

 An example of a war-time shop.

Another fine example of some propaganda. Who needs lipstick when you have cabbage?!

We could follow a few of these hints and tips today!

Imagine trying to do all your cooking on this!

An old recipe book and a thermos and gas mask - very useful for air raids.

The exhibition runs until 3rd January 2011. On certain days they also do cookery demonstrations. Please go here for more details.