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 Thanks to Tom for the pictures from the course.