Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BBC Winter Good Food Show

We went to the BBC Winter Good Food Show at the NEC in Birmingham on Saturday and had a thoroughly good time. It took about an hour and a half to get there. We were there for an hour and a half, then it took another hour and a half to get back!!!  Mind you, we had a good run on the roads. There was hardly any traffic.

This might be because everyone but everyone was at the Good Food Show! It was very busy. And it was quite perilous going around. People were pulling shopping trolleys (not nice supermarket shopping trolleys that you can see, but Little Old Lady shopping trolleys that you pull along behind you which other people can't see) or boxes on wheels that they pulled along on sticks.  I tell you, if just one more person had pushed a shopping trolley into me, I was going to stomp on it.  And if that trolley was one of the Good Food souvenir trolleys they had bought as they came in, they might not have been entirely delighted.  But my ankles weren't entirely delighted either!! I probably wasn't going to stomp on one of the boxes, though.  My foot might not have enjoyed that

Trolleys and boxes (and people who just stop dead without paying attention to who might be walking along behind them) aside, we really enjoyed the show.  We enjoyed admiring ovens and stoves, kitchen equipment, gadgets and decorations. We really enjoyed looking at the producers' stalls and the craft stalls.  We weren't quite so interested in the wine and spirits stalls. I hadn't bought tickets to any of the demonstrations or classes, although I will next year. I did buy some balsamic vinegar, some rose veal escalopes, and a few other bits and pieces.  We both enjoyed the chicken wraps we had for lunch, and the sausage rolls we had before we left from a Cornish stall selling pasties and sausage rolls were absolutely lovely . But though you may look at me askance, dear stall holder, when I ask if you have any tomato sauce, allow me to assure you that sausage rolls NEED a tomato sauce of some sort to show themselves off to their best advantage.  Doesn't have to be a supermarket sauce; a home made salsa would do. But sausage rolls NEED sauce!

So, for next year, I'll buy tickets to some of the demos and events, and I'll use the map that they thoughtfully provided in the programme which I didn't notice until after we had left. And we'll go on a Thursday or Friday when (I assume) it won't be quite so busy. The downside to that is that not so many of the chefs are there. The upside is (I hope) that you might actually be able to see what's going on. Might buy tickets to the summer show too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not much to say, really

Mostly because the big event of the past few days was our visit to the BBC Winter Good Food Show and I said it all on the Kitchen Blog!!

A few days ago, I was talking to Lindsey and she told me off for running the washing machine overnight while we were in bed.  What if we should inadvertently flood the house?  In fact, I suspect we would first of all flood the cellar, but I run the washing machine overnight because the electricity night rate is considerably cheaper than the day rate.  Following my conversation with Lindsey I was moved to investigate further. I had thought that the night rate was between 10 and 8 but a more careful inspection of the British Gas website suggested that it was any 7 hour period within those times.  How do we know which 7 hours apply to us?  I emailed them to ask.  And it turns out that in our area the night rate is between midnight and 7am.  Now I am sorry, but no matter how much I might want to live a more frugal lifestyle, I am not staying up until midnight to put the washing machine on.  And I am definitely not doing the ironing after midnight. I shall do it all before 7 instead.  So Lindsey now has no reason to fear that we will flood the house. Well, not from an unattended washing machine at any rate!  There's not much I can do about the oven though. I am emphatically not going to bake bread and cakes, still less make roast dinners overnight!!

It occurs to me that this time last year Lindsey had just arrived from Singapore for a ten day visit, bringing huge quantities of snow and Arctic temperatures with her. This year the weather is windy and grey but very much milder. No real prospect of snow in the foreseeable future. It's nothing like as pretty - but it's a good deal easier to move around in.  It further occurs to me that Lindsey was the last overnight guest we had. Not one overnight visitor this year.  Have we done something to upset you all?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The dumplings that keep on giving

Flushed with the success of my couple of attempts to use pieces of oxtail from the Donald Russell stewing boxes, I ran wild the last time I was in the Chatsworth farm shop and bought a whole oxtail (happily divvied up into pieces)

I put them in my slow cooker with some onions and tomatoes and white wine and garlic and herbs and left it all to simmer while I was at work. Once it was cooled, I took out the oxtail pieces then put the juices and vegetables into the blender and then passed them through a fine sieve to create a sauce. I put it in the fridge, and the following morning I took the fat from the top. I also stripped the meat from the bones and put it in a bowl in the fridge.  We had some of the sauce as a soup for lunch.

That evening I put the meat and the rest of the sauce in a casserole and decided to make a savoury cobbler with it.  So I made some herby dumplings and formed cobbles and put them on top of the stew.  I took the left over cobbles and put them on top of the other cobbles and put it all into a moderate oven for about an hour.

When I came back, the cobbles had risen and risen and risen and RISEN. The cobbles had also sucked the juices pretty much entirely from the stews.  What I now had was a thick, gravy infused suet pastry over my stewed and succulent meat strips!!!!!

I made some gravy with the water the potatoes had been cooked in and we had the dumplings and the meat with mashed potato, veggies and gravy.  I put the mountain of left over meat and pastry in the fridge while I thought about it.

The next day we had pork chops while I thought some more :-D

The following day I took some of the meat and rejuvenated it with a tomato gravy and put it in a casserole with a lid.  I put some of the pastry over the top and  heated it slowly in a low oven. We had that with boiled potatoes and buttered cabbage. The day after that I took the meat, the pastry (now reformed into dumplings) and added peas, beans, baked beans, cabbage and gravy, then crumbled a healthy handful of stilton into it all and simmered it on the stove top.  It turned into a truly delicious, glutinous, thick stew. There was a little left over and we have that with a few extra vegetables added with weiner schnitzels and chips.

Apart from the day we had the pork chops while I thought about things, that oxtail and its accompanying dumplings/cobbles/pastry fed us all week, and gave us a couple of lunches as well.  It was extremely good value for the £8 I spent on the tail.  I must buy another one (although I'll try and be a little less heavy handed with the dumplings next time!!!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


It crossed my mind a little while ago that we hadn't seen Penny, Steve, Joseph and Imogen for about a year, when we all met on the last day of October last year on the Norfolk coast to farewell Peter on his final voyage. Penny and I have communicated by email and postcard on and off over the year and have made vague plans to meet up, but there has never been a time when all of us were free at the same time, and the year has trundled along and here we are, nearly at the end of it.

Penny and I had both earmarked November 20th as a date when we were all free and had blacked it out in our diaries.

And so it was that The Builder and I took ourselves off through the fog towards Sheffield yesterday lunchtime for a merry afternoon chatting to Joseph and Imogen, admiring the renovations that Penny and Steve have made to their house, and eating the delicious soup, bread rolls, apple meringue and steamed syrup pudding that Penny and Joseph had prepared for our repast. Joseph and Imogen seem to have grown since last we saw them - but are not too old to appreciate the Advent Houses we took for them :-)

We haven't seen Joan this year either.  Penny reports that she is quite well but does get a bit bored on days when she doesn't see anyone.  I can entirely understand that! The Builder and I are going to sort out a weekend when we can meander over to Cambridge and visit her and possibly even potter about in the market as well!

Yesterday was also the day when both Chesterfield and Sheffield turned on the Christmas lights. So after a lovely afternoon catching up, The Builder and I pottered into the Sheffield city centre, where we met Tabitha, Gareth and Cally for a wander around the market stalls, carnival rides and various other activities that were taking place in town. We didn't stay for the actual turning on of the lights - it was getting a bit crowded. We accidentally wandered into The Rutland Arms instead for a quick one before The Builder and I drove home, and Tabitha and Gareth and Cally walked home. Well - Cally didn't walk - she rode in her pram.  And she didn't have a quick one, she's a bit young at 8 months.  She had a doze instead.

Cally out on the razz. (If you click on the photo it will take you to the rest of the album)

It is very seldom that I have occasion to cook chestnuts. I, alas, am unable to eat them. The Builder loves them and buys them at chestnut braziers in the winter. I buy them for him sometimes too, but he usually has those unroasted. When I bought some for him on Saturday, I decided to treat him and bunged them in the oven for a bit - not wishing to light the barbecue just to roast a few chestnuts!!  I probably should have pricked or cut the ends. I probably shouldn't have forgotten all about them.  I was forcibly reminded of them when there was an explosion rather like a small cannon going off in the oven. There were bits of chestnut shell all over the bottom and the rest of the oven was coated in what can only be described as chestnut flour. I took the tray out of the oven and put it on the gas stove so the rest of the nuts would cool, and went to tell The Builder what had happened. I was in the middle of relating the tale when there was the sound of a shotgun going off in the kitchen. Another chestnut had exploded, covering most of the kitchen in chestnut flour. This is not entirely desirable when you have a nut allergy!!!!!  I nearly decide that it would be easiest to buy a new oven (can't afford a new kitchen!). But fortunately all the chestnut bits were easily brushed out using my dustpan and brush (once the oven had gone cold, of course). And I've been meaning to clean the extractor thingy over the gas stove for months!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gear Sticks

We should, I suppose, be grateful that when the gear stick in the car decided to break, it didn't do it while we were travelling at speed, it didn't do it while we were on the motorway and it didn't do it while the car was in neutral or reverse. On the contrary, it decided to break just as we had come off a quiet roundabout on the way to the station and while we were, we think, in third gear.  Thus The Builder, in his guise of my chauffeur, was able to coax the car to the station so I could get to work, and then managed to coax it home again, ably assisted by all the traffic lights which turned green on his approach.

Now, most cars these days have gear stick in little boxes. If you should need to replace or repair any of the cokmponent bits, you dismantle the gear box, fix whatever it is that needs fixing, remantle the gear box and off you go. But no - not ours.  Our gear stick is encased in a hermetically sealed box which would take a nuclear blast to dismantle - and then you would never get it remantled again.

We had to buy a whole new unit at around £150.

As you will be aware, most gear sticks have a knob on the top of them which usefully tell you wehre the various gears are.  In my naive innocence, I had always assumed that these come as an integral part of the gear stick.  But no. They are a separate unit. In most cars, they screw on and off, or can be levered off.  In our car, they are a separate unit which is then sealed eternally to the gear stick itself with resin. Our mechanic gamely tried to get the old one off the old gear stick, but it retaliated by shattering into a zillion pieces.  We had to buy another one for a mere £60


All up, it took almost £300 to get the car back on the road. The Builder's bank account has gone into hiding!!  Still, we are now mobile once again and I have given up my flirtation with the early morning bus drivers, and indeed the evening bus drivers. Was nice running across our next door neighbour Debby most mornings, mind you. She works in Chesterfield and most mornings was on the same bus as me

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pea and Broad Bean Tart

Back in the summer, when we went to Clumber Park, I had a pea, broad bean and brie tart which was extremely delicious. I marked it as something I could serve to vegetarians which was a bit out of the ordinary. A change from goats cheese, ricotta and spinach!

We were going to visit Freyja at the weekend and I thought i might make a variant on it to take with us. I remembered that the Clumber Park tart was a little dry and neither Freyja nor The Builder is especially partial to brie, so I decided to make small tarts with a cheese sauce. I made the cheese sauce with quite a lot of red leicester

So. I took peas and beans from the freezer, and lightly simmered them. Then I removed the skins from the broad beans. In the meantime I had made some shortcrust pastry. I stirred the peas and beans through the cooled cheese sauce, rolled the pastry and lined some small aluminium pie cases, filled the pies with the cheesy mix and topped it with a vegetarian friendly Parmesan style hard cheese and baked them in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes or so. Then we packed the car and took the pies to London for lunch with Freyja.

The pies were extremely lovely but very filling. The left over cheesy mix made an excellent addition to some minced pork I was using to make a quick pork and noodle supper when we came back home.

I still had quite a lot of peas and beans left over, so decided to make another tart to have for our lunches this week. The intention had been to make a pea and bean quiche, but I blind baked the pastry for the tart and all the quiche mix ran out when I tried to put it in :-S  So I topped the peas and beans with grated red leicester and parmesan style cheese and baked it without the quiche mixture, and made a baked savoury custard separately to go on the side.

I must remember these tart variants.  They were all really lovely and certainly do make interesting things to offer to vegetarians

Pea, broad bean and cheese tart

Lunch, with a serving of baked savoury custard on the side

Monday, November 14, 2011


*I* want to move to London Docklands, then when someone says "Would you like to help stage and perhaps even have a small part in a Medieval Mystery Play  at St Clement's Church?" I too could say yes - although I would not need telling that this is probably THE St Clement's of Oranges and Lemons fame. (Not only did I already know this, but I have even been to St Clement's, once upon a time, a long while ago)  I too could audition for the Olympic Games opening Ceremony, even if I can neither dance nor skate. And I could meander about during a free afternoon and find that I had walked to Canary Wharf and have a nice potter about in the shops.

Actually, I had been a bit worried when I delivered Freyja to UEL that I had more or less abandoned her in what looked like an industrial wasteland. Apart from the University itself, which is quite sweet and rather charming, there didn't appear to be anything else much about. Freyja, however, has been out exploring and has found suburbs and shops and even a park plus, of course, lots of exciting things to do in the city itself.  So after we had had a small spot of lunch on Saturday, after The Builder and I had driven down in the morning, we went out for a look around. And it's quite a nice little area of London, around where Freyja lives. The park is huge. There are horses in it. And people wandering around. And even two silly boys on a VERY loud motor scooter rushing up and down on the grass. Mind you, the signs around the grass only forbid the playing or practising of golf. No mention of motor scooters. And, come to that, no mention of cricket, football or even lacrosse. Presumably we can do all of these things, provided we do not attempt to do it with golf clubs!

Freyja had mentioned that there was a city farm somewhere round about, but I had got the impressions that it was quite some distance away. So it was something of a surprise to run across this across the road from the park.

An unexpected find

Naturally, we had to go in!  If you click on the photo, you can see what we found in there.

We had a good potter around the city farm then a bit of an explore on the way back to Freyja's place, where we had a nice cup of tea and then trundled back to Tupton.  It was a good day. Although I think The Builder was a bit tired when we got back. He had done all the driving and his knee was objecting quite strongly to this. So I fortified him with liberal applications of wine and a nice stir fry. And we did almost nothing on Sunday - which was grey and dreary and gloomy in Tupton, despite reports of warm sunshine from almost everywhere else in the country!

I am, however, extremely glad that the gear stick in the car decided to snap away from the gear box when the Builder was calmly and steadily taking me to the station this morning, and not when we were hurtling up or down the motorway at great speed on Saturday!!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A long, long weekend

The advantage to having a long, long weekend is that you get two short working weeks and the time passes very quickly. 

The disadvantage to having a long, long weekend is that you get two short working weeks and the time passes very quickly.  It seems to be Wednesday already.  I am definitely not ready for it to be Wednesday!!

It was a good weekend, though. We went to Bishops' House on Saturday morning to open it up for visitors.  Not that we had many visitors.  It was a drizzly and gloomy sort of a morning so there wren't many people pottering about in the park.  But we did have a mother with two excitable small boys drop in to say hello.  And a couple of committee members came to meet a visitor from Colchester who had lived in the house during the 1970s, when it was divided into two residences and occupied by park keepers from the council.  And Freyja came to visit too, not from London but from Simon's place near Nether Green.  It's kind of fun, in a quiet sort of a way, volunteering at a small museum.  We get to play shop. We get to wander around and look at things. We get to talk to the visitors, when there are any. Plus we had taken books and tea-making provisions, so between visitors we got to sit and read and drink tea and eat flapjack. Not a bad way of spending a morning.

Sunday was an absolutely beautiful day. Truly glorious. So, naturally, I washed absolutely everything I could find and hung it all out on the new washing lines The Builder has put up right down at the bottom of the garden which gets sun all year round, when there is any sun to get. I had intended to get out and do some clearing up in the garden and plant some bulbs and generally do useful things.  Instead, we repotted the ficus in the lounge room which had very seriously outgrown its pot and was looking very unhappy.  I've had it since I very first arrived in Sheffield when it was given to me as a present. When I got it it was about 40 cm tall and now it's around 120 or so and serves as our Christmas tree. It's looking very much happier now that it is in a substantial pot!  So then I was about to go outside and do useful things in the garden. Instead I made some bread and an apple crumble and a beef and tomato stew.  And suddenly, it had gone dark and was too late to go out gardening. Never mind. There's always tomorrow. I can sort the flower garden out then. In the meantime we will eat roast chicken and indulge in late Sunday afternoon activities.

Alas. Monday dawned gloomy and misty and damp. No gardening for me then. And the bulbs sit, unattended and unloved in their boxes for another week. And we more or less had another Sunday. All very restful and peaceful. And damp.  But not as damp as yesterday.  Yesterday was one of those days which, when you get them at other times of the year, cause people to say "Goodness - look at the weather; anyone would think it was November!!"  Grey, dark, drizzly, misty. Not cold. Quite mild, really. But definitely not a nice day.  Fortunately, I was back at work. The Builder and Marlo, alas, were stuck at home in the gloom.  Fortunately for them, we have electric lights and central heating!!

Speaking of being at work, Gareth is off again this week. I think that the company that he has been working for has actually ceased trading. fortunately, the call centre in which he was based has found him a job with another company so there is no immediate need for me to send stale crusts and mouldy water to keep them ticking over.  And he is on annual leave so is at least being paid, even if he might not have chosen to take leave this week.

And I am still waking up at around 04:00 ;-(

The house is looking distinctly tatty now that The Builder has painted the porch!

Autumn flowers in the driveway and our new back door

Friday, November 04, 2011

Waking early

It is extremely irritating when you are consistently waking an hour earlier than you need to. It is even more irritating when you wake at that time on a day off!!

I have today off.

And still I woke up at about 4:00 this morning :-(

I *think* it's because our clocks went back last weekend. Usually I adjust quite quickly to the change in time. Not, apparently, this time.  Not that I actually need to be awake at 5:00 in the mornings. Usually The Builder gets up around 05:20 and goes down to make us a cup of tea so we can have a leisurely drift into the morning before I get up at around 6. But I am usually awake a little before all this happens.

There was, of course, absolutely no reason at all why I needed to be awake, and up and attem on a day off ;-(

So we stayed in bed and drank our tea and listened to the radio and generally behaved as though it was a Saturday.  It's quite nice having a Saturday when everyone else is doing Friday!

Gareth is doing a whole run of Saturdays. The company that he works for has been being naughty and it looks as though they might be about to cease trading. All their call centre staff were sent home earlier in the week while things sort themselves out.  Fortunately he is being paid for this week. But he's not sure what will happen next week.  Tabitha is due to go back to work later this month and has been doing odd extra shifts recently to get back into the swing of things. But I don't think anyone can comfortably survive on just statutory maternity pay, even with a few extra shifts thrown in and particularly not when there is a small creature in the family. For their size, small creatures are very expensive! We will have to hope that either the company Gareth works for keep going, or that the call centre they are based in can redeploy him (and, of course, all the other staff; let us not be selfish in our hopes for gainful employment).

Right.  I'm off to do some useful things.  The more Saturday things I do today, the fewer I'll have to do when it really is Saturday

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Autumn this year is very colourful

Even our garden has some beautiful colours

Looking from the bathroom over to the grapevine and beyond the kitchen garden to the farm

Looking over Steve and Debbie's garden as well as ours, from the bedroom. There are horses in the field

The fan of orange behind next door's shed is particularly striking this year

And our red, prickly bush is even redder than usual. The sparrows are really enjoying playing in it

Tomato, cheese and ham loaf

I have a subscription to the BBC Good Food magazine and each year they send with the December issue a calendar with monthly recipes.  I have to admit that I don't very often make them, although I do, of course, look at them.  This month's recipe is for a tomato, cheese and basil loaf. Each time I've gone past the calendar I've thought that it looks remarkably delicious. Today I had a proper look and realised that it is more or less a savoury cake and decided to give it a go.

The recipe called for basil, which is not really in season any more and which in any case I didn't have.  I did, however, have some ham, so decided to use that instead to add a bit of interest to the loaf. The cherry tomatoes came from the plants in the greenhouse (still producing really very well). The hens had provided *exactly* enough eggs for the recipe. And for the milk I used some slightly sour left over milk from the last lot we got from the dairy (we have fresh milk for the tea and coffee, you'll be pleased to hear).

So this is what I did.

I took 100g of soft butter and 300g of SR flour and rubbed them together until they resembled fine breadcrumbs.  I then took 100g of cherry tomatoes chopped in half and 100g of sheeps feta cheese, crumbled and gently mixed them into the flour. I also roughly shredded a slice of medium cut honey roast ham and mixed that gently in. I put 100ml of slightly soured milk and 3 eggs in the blender and briefly blended them then added that to the flour and tomato mix, making sure it was all blended in together and that all the flour was incorporated. I poured the mixture in to a buttered loaf tin, then scattered some more halved cherry tomatoes and the rest of the feta over the top. I put it in the middle of an fan oven  pre-heated to 160d for about 55 minutes.  I then cooled the cake/loaf in the oven. 

I have to say it is extremely delicious. But next time I think I might put more tomatoes in.  And I think it would work really well with olives instead of tomatoes.

A hippo has come a knock, knock, knocking

... at the back door, looking for Freyja, Bernard and Sleepy.

The Builder was a bit surprised.  He wasn't expecting a box in the post.  It was addressed to me.  *I* was surprised.  I wasn't expecting a box in the post either.  And I certainly wasn't expecting a hippo, searching for Freyja, Bernard and Sleepy, wishing to join them in East London so that she too can study, become a Lady of Letters and (apparently) smoke cigars and drink port.  I am not sure that any of the others smoke cigars, but I expect they can oblige with the classes and the port.  The hippo came bearing vegemite, socks and packets of chips. Hippos bearing gifts are always welcome!

I saw Freyja for lunch on Friday (and handed over the hippo, and her share of the goodies).  I saw Tabitha and Cally and Gaz this afternoon and handed over their share. So many thanks to Tammy the Hippo for her largesse, and to Ian and Lindsey who I believe provided the airfare that allowed Tammy to get here.

We went to Salisbury on Saturday afternoon. And from Salisbury we went to Braishfield near Romsey so we could carry on stalking our favourite Australian publican and, entirely incidentally of course, eat the magnificent food his chef turns out (a mighty burger and some truly lovely French fries for me; steak and positively gargantuan chips for The Builder). We returned, well fed and well watered, to The Swan.

It was quite exciting the following morning when we came out in search of breakfast, to find Carl the landlord up a ladder outside our room peering into the fuse box (not that it has fuses, but it's the same sort of thing). There were no lights on in the bar! For some reason they had decided overnight to stop working!! So we had a romantic breakfast in dim lighting, sat by the window. Not that the window was providing much additional light. It was a grey, gloomy, misty morning. Entirely appropriate for autumn, but not much use if the lights aren't working!  Still, how much light do you need to eat an egg and bacon sandwich?  Or even a full English breakfast?

And by the time we returned at lunch time, bringing the Builder's mother with us after a really lovely drive around in the New Forest admiring the autumn colours, the lights were back on and we could easily see our Sunday roasts. It seems that the trip switches had taken against the beer coolers in the cellar and turned the lights out.  (Don't ask me - I don't understand these things!)

The Builder's mother is in a right pickle. About three weeks ago council workers came and stripped out her kitchen and her bathroom. Agreed, they did do this by appointment, but THREE WEEKS LATER she still doesn't have a functional kitchen, the bathroom is more or less a toilet and a shower attached to a wall, the kitchen equipment is in her bedroom and loungeroom (although the washing machine is out in the corridor)and her (tiny) loungeroom is full of leaves and dust and chaos. Fortunately her youngest son Peter lives in the same complex so she can go and stay at his place during the day, so she isn't starving. But for goodness sake - how long can it possibly take to put in a small kitchen and bathroom?!?!?!?  She'll be 87 in April and doesn't have the sharpest of short term memories any more. All this chaos and confusion isn't helping matters at all.  She definitely enjoyed the lack of chaos at The Swan. And the food! (And the drive through the New Forest)

Lindsey asked for some more detailed photos of the progress of the porch.  Here they are:

The back door with a new, large letter box. The shoe rack is by the dining room window

The Builder is going to paint all the boards yellow. Then he's going to put shelves up along this wall, which backs on to Steve and Debbie's garden

Eventually all this will go and the large freezer will go here. The Builder is going to reconcrete the floor and then put down lino

The door out into the garden. The hole at the bottom is to allow Marlo in- and egress. The windows are now glazed