Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A very delicious few days

Very, very delicious!

Ian was with us for most of last week, having been in London for the first part of it.  So thre was, of course, much magnificent food.  The most magnificent I think was the seafood risotto that he made for us on Wednesday evening.

Friday was his last full day with us, so I took the day off so we could all have a holiday day together (I had been at work all week, and Ian was also at work - just working from our dining room).  We had a lovely lunch  at The Nettle and then met Tabitha, Gareth, Freyja and Simon in Sheffield for a late dinner. It was a good evening.  Except I think we stayed rather later than the staff were expecting us to :-S

Saturday was rather a rushed start.  Ian and The Builder took Ian's hired car back to Sheffield to deposit it - and found that the Avis office isn't actually where the Avis website says it is!!  In the meantime, I went for a swift haircut.  Breakfast, then off we headed to Manchester to deposit Ian at the airport, and for us to head down south for a weekend in Salisbury.

Right, said I.  How about if we head to Ironbridge for lunch.  We could have another look at that pretty bridge, have a bite to eat and then mosey gently on down to Stoford.  A good plan.

Except that every 30 or 40 miles or so, the M5 would come to a halt.  We would negotiate our way through whatever the blockage was, but it was never near an exit.  Around the exits, the roads were clear.  On we perservered .....

Then we got to Ironbridge.  Only to find it was closed!!!!!!!!  And it wasn't clear it was closed until we got to a mini-roundabout with security people turning everyone back - and with a huge 4 wheel drive sat in the middle of the mini-roundabout making it almost impossible to do anything at all!!!!  We managed to get round it and went back up the way we had come.  The pubs on the outskirts of Ironbridge either weren't serving food or weren't even open.  Sigh!

On we went.  No food for us :-(  Eventually we stopped at a farm shop and bought the makings of a picnic.  Then we turned down a side road which led to the banks of the river Severn.  Where we found a picnic ground, a foot ferry  -- and a pub which sold food all day!!!!!!!  Never mind.  We ate our picnic, watched the ferry and enjoyed the nice, warm sunshine.

Then we moseyed on down to Stoford, not on the motorways, and arrived at The Swan in time for one of the best meals I've had in a very long time.  And I have, it must be said, had some significantly good food in the last few weeks.  I keep saying that I've just had one of the best meals I've had in a very long time - The Nettle, Bragazzis, Ian's seafood risotto, other meals in other places.  But dinner on Saturday night topped them all - even if only just!  They were very busy in the pub on Saturday night.  I believe it hadn't been so busy on Friday, but it's good to see people coming in and enjoying The Swan.  They've branched out and have taken on a sister pub near Romsey.  Must wander out one day when they're properly up and running and see what it's like there.

And so to Sunday.  It was a beautiful day.  So we went into town and collected The Builder's mother and went off to Longleat to look at the lions and the tigers in the safari park.  We looked at lots of other animals as well.  It was a great day for it.  Then we went off in search of lunch, and accidentally found The Prince Leopold down by the river, where we had yet another of the best meals I've eaten in a long time.  I'm beginning to feel quite spoiled by the number of good eating experiences I've had lately!

Although what we are really beginning to feel is financially stretched.  And none of my clothes seem to fit.  I suspect The Builder of washing them all in boiling hot water!  And someone seems to have packed a large pillow in my tum.  I think another austerity drive might be called for!

The AFL Grand Final was a very exciting draw (I don't follow either of the teams who are playing so wasn't really fussed who won).  There is no provision for extra time or an extra quarter or anything in the event of a draw.  So we all meet again next week.  Same time, same place.  But without, I assume, all the lead up celebrations.

Ian is back in Melbourne.  HIs luggage was so taken by the excitements of Doha, that it decided to have another couple of days there. I think it's been rounded up and is now on its way back to Melbourne

The photos from Bragazzis are here.  And the rest of the weekend is here

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Swan @ Stoford (again!)

We were fortunate enough to be in Stoford at the weekend, just after the autumn menu had been launched by their wonderful new chef.

They were very, very busy. Very busy.  They had had an unexpected coach load of visitors in earlier.  I think the kitchen staff were quite harassed.  The bar and waiting staff were running around looking worried.  All the tables were booked up.  There were LOTS of people in the building.

We seem to have acquired our own table - at least, we are usually sat at it, up in the corner, by the window.  We sat there, calm and relaxed, watching the hubbub, perusing the menu and sipping wine.

The Builder and I remembered from our last visit that having chips and garlic bread and such things before the main course had not been a good idea.  We ate so much of that that we struggled to eat our main course.  So we decided to be very good and not have a starter of any sort.  Until I saw the scallops on the menu.  Sorry, but if there are scallops on offer - then I'm having them!! 

The scallops were amazing.  Absolutely amazing.  They were seared and beautifully cooked.  They came with smokey cauliflower puree and shallots and crsipy pancetta.  Wonderful they were.  Unhappily for me, The Builder also thought they were amazing and had scoffed his by the time I had finished mine.  Just as well for him though, or I would have removed them from him - by force if necessary.  Yum-diddli-umptious they were.

I suspect I was thwarted in my burger ambitions by the unexpected group of coach people.  So I ordered the salmon (which I had been pondering anyway). The Builder had haddock and chips.  The salmon came with butternut squash mash and lemon and thyme potatoes. (It also came with baby turnips but, as everyone knows, turnips are cattle fodder not people food.  The Builder appears to think he is a cattle and he ate them instead!!).  Had I not just eaten the yum-diddli-umptious scallop dish, I would have said that my salmon was one of the best things I had eaten in a very long time - notwithstanding all the other delicious food I had eaten over the past couple of weeks.  I snuck a couple of tastes of The Builder's battered haddock. It was oh-so-very nearly as sublime as my salmon.

There was a bit of a wait between courses - but that works for me.  I can't eat my main course and enjoy it if the courses rush in one after the other.  But it says a very great deal about the competence of the kitchen staff that they could be so busy, so harassed and so frantic and still turn out such splendid food.

The question now though is - how do we convince this chef to stay?  I was thinking of nailing his feet to the floor - but that might limit his cooking capacity!

(The front of house staff are pretty good too.  You'd never think they had been rushed off their feet all day!)

Now.  When can I get back to Stoford for more of those scallops before the chef moves on to his winter menu .....

Not a great photo - but the scallops were magnificent

The Prince Leopold, Upton Lovell

We found ourselves looking for lunch this afternoon.  We had thought we might eat in the restaurant at Longleat after going through the safari park.  But the car park was extremely full and it looked as though there might be quite a long wait for food.  So we abandoned that plan and decided to head back towards Salisbury and look for a pub on the way. 

As we drove along the road between Warminster and Salisbury I noticed a sign suggesting we drop down towards the river and call into The Prince Leopold.  I'd seen the sign the last time we drove along that road and noted that it was new - and that it wasn't absolutely obvious which road you would go down to get there.  So The Builder slowed down and we found a road leading down to the river and to the village of Upton Lovell.

In Upton Lovell we found The Prince Leopold, only recently re-opened after a change of ownership and a refurb.  The small car park was worryingly full but the landlord said there was indeed a table for three if we were willing to eat in the bar area.  Perfectly happy to eat at a nice wooden table in the light and airy bar area.

The Builder and his mother opted for the traditional roast beef with all the usual accompaniments.  I went for the rather interesting looking slow-roasted belly pork, with mustard and leek mashed potatoes and a cider sauce. The beef arrived looking and smelling delicious, with beautifully crunchy roast potatoes and proper, home made Yorkshire puddings.  I had a taste of The Builder's - and it was absolutely lovely.

But I don't think I've ever before eaten belly pork that was quite as amazing as what was put in front of me.  The meat was succulent and rich and falling apart. The sauce was wonderful. The mash was extremely tasty (just enough leek and mustard to add a bit of bite but not enough to overpower).  The crackling looked like a playing card - and was crunchy and crisp and not in the least bit fatty.  And the fat in the meat had rendered itself into something smooth and unctuous and creamy.

It's a new place.  The refurb isn't finished yet.  It is definitely on my list of places to revisit.  If you should find yourself in the Warminster area looking for lunch, this would certainly be somewhere worth a small detour to get to.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bragazzi's on Friday night

There's an Italian deli not far from where Freyja lives called Bragazzis.  In addition to  the delicatessen, they also sell what may well be the best coffee in Sheffield.  Ian loves it.  So do Freyja and I.

Recently, they opened a restaurant which is only open for limited hours Thursday - Sunday (I think because of local planning reasons).

Freyja thought that it would be a fun place to take Ian on his last evening with us before he returned to Melbourne.

Alas.  It was fully booked.

However, Freyja's pal Simon knows Tom and Tom works there and he managed to get us a late sitting.  We may have had to wait until 21:00 to get fed.  We may had had to pre-order our food.  But boy was it worth it!

The aubergine and cracked pepper soup was lovely (although mine seemed to have more than its fair share of cracked pepper!)  Ian really enjoyed his parma ham. Freyja's squash and lentils were more than acceptable.  Taffa wolfed down her rack of lamb.  And if nothing else - the sea bass that Ian, The Builder, Gaz and I all had was more than worth the wait.  It was absolutely delicious.

The ice cream that filled the cracks wasn't bad either.

And Tom (see above) made Ian the best macchiato coffee that Ian has ever had outside of Melbourne.

So a good meal for Ian's last evening.  If you can get a table, I thoroughly commend Bragazzis to you.  It isn't an extensive menu, but the food is fresh, well prepared and seasonal

Friday, September 24, 2010


When we were at the York food festival market last Saturday I bought some goose breasts.  I have never cooked goose before (and only eaten it a couple of times) and wasn't entirely sure what to do with it.  There was lots of conflicting advice on the web.  My cooking books weren't helpful.  Lots of advice on how to deal with a complete bird but not much on breast pieces.

So I put the breasts in a medium oven for about an hour, then set them to rest for 20 minutes.  We had them with roast potatoes, vegetables and a sauce that was a variant on a Cumberland sauce.  I put a healthy dollop of red currant end elderflower jelly in a small saucepan, added some powdered ginger, some crushed garlic, red wine and some stock and simmered it till the jelly had dissolved, then I served it tepid over the goose. I also made a gravy for the roasties and veg.

The goose breast was very tasty but was extremely tough.  I think it either needs flash cooking or very slow cooking.  The sauce was extremely delicious.  So were the roasties and the veg and the gravy.

We had two goose breasts between three of us, and there was a fair bit left.  So I chopped the leftovers up into small cubes and put them in a casserole.  I added the left over sauce, the left over gravy, some chicken stock I had in the freezer (defrosted!), some mashed potato I had from the previous day, chopped orange capsicum, sliced red onion (sauteed gently for twenty minutes), more garlic and a few bits of fresh oregano.  I then cooked it in a very low oven for several hours.

We had it reheated the following day, covered with sliced potatoes in a hot pot style.  It was amazing.  The goose cubes had tenderised beautifully.  The sauces had all combined into something delicious and had been thickened by the mashed potato I had stirred through it.  I served it with fresh runner beans and fresh peas. It was a hot pot fit for a queen.  And for the visiting foodie who happened to be there!!!

I have never seen goose breasts for sale on their own before.  Must keep an eye out for them.  Mind you, I would have bought a whole goose (they were only small, it being only September - they were also much cheaper than full-sized Christmas geese).  Alas, they had run out and we couldn't get back on any of the other days for one of the fresh stock.  Oh well, never mind.

Electricity meters

Many, many months ago - perhaps even as many as 16 or 17 months ago - we had a new electricity meter fitted.  This was mildly irritating because it is a very small meter and it is right up against the ceiling in the lounge room, thus rendering it almost impossible to read. The Builder has to stand on the couch and then stand on tiptoes to be able to read it!

Even more irritating was that, a month or so after it was fitted, it became clear that the day and night meter readings had been transposed on the British Gas web account.  I rang them up.  Spoke, eventually, to a perfectly charming young man who said he would fix it.

A month later I went to put the meter readings in. The web page said I had them the wrong way round, did I really want to continue?  I knew I didn't have them the wrong way round so did continue and rang British Gas.  Spoke, eventually, to a perfectly charming young woman. She agreed to fix it.  Didn't.

This went on for a few months until I got fed up of ringing them up, listening to long lengths of Muzak and explaining the whole story all over again.  I stopped ringing them and just put the meter readings in electronically.  Correctly.  And every month the computer would ask if I really meant it, and every month I said I did, and every month someone or some machine at British Gas "corrected" my readings.

Every now and then, meter readers would come because I was getting the meter readings the wrong way round.  The meter readers would agree with me that I wasn't and go away.  Someone or some machine at British Gas "corrected" their readings too.

This month I got fed up of it all and, when I went to put the monthly readings in and was challenged yet again by the computer - I filled in one of their web comments forms.

I should have done this before!!  It generated almost immediate action.

I got an email asking us to take two readings, one hour apart at a time when we were using electricity.  We did this and emailed them in.   I then got an email telling us that the matter was being handed on to the specialist problems and complaints team because we had "twisted readings".  (Oo-errrr - you don't want twisted readings and definitely not bitter and twisted readings!!)

And today a very charming man rang me up and said that he had fixed the problem, re-calculated all our bills going back for the past twelve months but that they are not legally allowed to re-calculate bills that are more than 12 months old unless they owe the client money (this has worked significantly in our favour because we actually owed them money).  And, as compensation for all the trouble I had had, I could choose between £25 off the electricity bill in three months time, or £50 off the gas bill in six months time.

I have no plans to change supplier.  And if someone wants to contribute £50 towards the winter gas bill, then I am certainly not going to complain!

Interesting, though, that they acted very quickly on the web comment.  They didn't act at all on any of the phone calls

Monday, September 20, 2010

My poor card

I forgot to say.

My new Co-op membership card arrived on Friday (it's new card and a new membership).

I put it away for safe keeping.

And promptly lost it.

I've found it again now.  I had, alas, put it in my shirt pocket for safe keeping.  Since then, the shirt has been in a bucket of hot water with napisan for a day and for a happy time in a very hot wash in the washing machine.  The shirt is now nice and sparklingly clean.  So too is my new card.

Unfortunately, the new card is also now folded in half and melted into that position!!!!!!!

I'm not sure whether to ring the Co-op and fess up, or whether I should just pretend it never arrived.

I suppose I ought to fess up

And the feasting continues...

Ian has been with us all week and much delicious food has been devoured (and devoured by Freyja and me, last Wednesday, in a Japanese restaurant in Sheffield, and by Freyja, Taffa and Ian in Pizza Volante on Friday, also in Sheffield).

Then - it was the start of the York Food Festival at the weekend.  We clearly had to go!!  We dropped up to Sheffield and kidnapped Freyja from her pal's house and off we all trundled up to York to have a look see.

The festival market was very crowded.  And full of very delicious things. Freyja went home with some olives and some cheese and stuff.  We went home with kippers and goose breasts, with cheese and salmon, with bread and butter plates and extra virgin rapeseed oil, with chickens and parma ham, with lots and lots of yummy things to eat.

We also dropped into some nice shops and, of course, into the Christmas Angels shop.

We were lucky with the weather.

It was a splendid day.

The Builder had another argument with Jenny on the way back to Freyja's place. I think Jenny was extremely lucky not to get thrown out the window - saved only by the fact that The Builder needed both hands for driving!! I would agree that Jenny wanted to take us there by a rather perverse route.  But I do wonder why it is that many men and some women too, argue with their sat navs as if they were deliberately trying to get everyone lost rather than just ignoring them because they are small computers with very tiny brains.  We have decided that it would be better, on the whole, not to turn her on when we actually know how to get to where we are going!!

So we ended up having an extremely foody weekend. We all had street food at the festival. Ian cooked salmon in parma ham with a pea risotto on Saturday.  We had kippers and poached eggs for breakfast on Sunday, and roasted goose breast for lunch.  It was all extremely delicious.  But next time I will cook goose breast (if I ever see it again) either very very quickly, or very very slowly.  It was tasty but a bit tough the way I did it.

And now Ian has gone to London for a couple of days.  I had thought maybe to have a mini-austerity drive this week. Ian wasn't planning to come back until Thursday or Friday.  But I think his plans for later in the week might have fallen through and he may well be back tomorrow or Wednesday.  Hardly seems worth having an austerity drive for one day!! We shall continue feasting until next Monday when we can be austere for three weeks.  Until Simon arrives and the feasting starts again!!

Friday, September 17, 2010


Look what I made

Sausages sizzling slowly in my frying pan

These are beef and tomato sausages.  I mixed 500g of beef mince with 5 heaped tablespoons of sausage rusk (I usually use breadcrumbs but bought some rusk just to see what it was like - verdict is positive!!).  I mixed in a slurp of sun-dried tomato paste, a slurp of plain tomato paste, and the juice from a tin of tomatoes and smooshed it all together for a few minutes by hand.  Then I left the mix in a bowl in the fridge for the day so the ingredients could get to know each other.

In the evening, I put the sausage mix into sausage skins using my mincer sausage attachment.  I have to say the results looked remarkably uneven; there were air bubbles and bits where the skin hadn't filled properly.  But when I started to fry them, very gently, in some sunflower oil, the meat expanded and the skins filled out beautifully.

The sausages were very tasty and I was pleased with the texture.  But they weren't very tomato-y.  I think I need to be much more heavy handed with the tomato paste.  I might try using one of those small tins next time.

Although, next time I might make pork and sage sausages

Finally fried, with home grown mashed potatoes, home grown stewed veg and gravy

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fish and local game night at The Nettle

The Nettle does themed food nights every couple of months but we have not previously been to one.  But when we saw that they were doing a fish and game night while Ian was with us, we just had to book!

We got there at 7, just in time for a nice glass of wine before starting dinner.

And oh boy - what a dinner it was!

We started with a sharing platter with smoked mackerel, various game terrines and pates, and some very rare pigeon breast, together with salads, chutneys and a chilli foam, plus a huge bowl of steaming garlic mussels.  And then we got another bowl of steaming garlic mussels, rejected by another table!

I have never had pigeon before.  I had a VERY small, tentative taste.  I have to say - it tastes remarkably like rare roast beef.  I think I might have cooked it a bit more but it was extremely tasty

A pause

Then we were summoned to the carvery, where we found serving bowls filled with sea trout, salmon in a ginger and sweet chilli sauce, braised rabbit and roast partridge breast, roasted pheasant, braised venison, parsnip chips and boiled potato slices in cream.  There was a wild mushroom combination under the partridge, and various vegetably treats with the other meats.  But mostly, it has to be said, it was a protein feast!

I haven't had pheasant before.  I quite liked it.  But I did prefer the partridge.  The salmon was exceptionally delicious!

And to finish we had a cheese platter with lots and lots of different cheeses.  I know that some of them were local - I recognised them.  Not sure if they were all locally produced though.

And with this we had white wine and then red wine and Ian and The Builder finished up with coffee.  And then suddenly we were all extremely full indeed - and all the other diners had gone home!!!  The Builder drove us home and then had a well-earned "I've finished driving for the evening now" extra glass of wine.

Alas - I forgot to take my camera and it was too dimly lit for my iPhone to cope. So no photos for you to drool over!!

I wonder what their next theme will be.  Must keep a close eye open!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ian has been with us for the weekend

... so there has, of course, been much feasting.

He arrived after a marathon journey from Plymouth, having been held up on various motorways.

Mind you - his sat nav tried to take him from Plymouth to Tupton via Vatican City.  That would have been a truly marathon journey!

We had pork wellington for dinner.

On Saturday we took him for his annual Chatsworth Farm Shop fix.  And to Sainsbury's.  And to our local dairy.

We had lasagne for dinner, made from first principles, using my lovely new pasta maker

Homemade lasagne

Yesterday Taffa, Gaz, Freyja, Ginger Rich and Marryck all came for Sunday lunch. Austin joined us by Skype.  We had roast lamb.  And steamed rhubarb pudding with toffee sauce and rice pudding with lots of different kinds of jam to choose from.

Rice pudding and a jug of toffee sauce. The rice pudding is very nearly healthy!

A magnificent steamed pudding, if I do say so myself

Then we went for a post-prandial stroll around the wetlands.

Round the back of our place :-)
The mighty River Rother

Looking across the fields to Grassmoor

There appear to be lots and lots of dead wine bottles in the recycling box.

Ian is still with us.  There will be more feasting and, I assume, a few more dead wine bottles.

The Weather Dogs had merry sport with us yesterday.  The morning was bright and fine and sunny and warm.  We did lots of washing and The Builder arranged the outdoor furniture on the patio so we could have our luncheon party outside.  Then, at about 12:00, a short and exceeding sharp shower blew in.  Followed at 13:00 and 13:30 by two more short, exceeding sharp showers.  We gave up and set the dining room table.  By the time we were ready to sit down at about 14:00 - the afternoon had turned bright and fine and sunny and warm.  Sigh!  (We stayed inside, having gone to all the trouble of putting the extension leaf into the dining table and cleaning it and everything!)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Barb's Rich Chicken Casserole

Today Martin and Liz were coming for lunch and after some indecision I decided to do a chicken casserole, this is the recipe.

8 Chicken thighs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion sliced onion
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 large red (bell) pepper sliced thickly
thinly pared rind and juice of one small orange
4 fl oz chicken stock
1 14oz can of chopped tomatoes
1 oz of sun dried tomatoes thinly sliced
1tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 3/4 oz pitted black olives
salt and pepper
orange rind and thyme sprigs to garnish

I fried off the chicken thighs in a dry hot pan till they were golden brown, removed them with a slotted spoon and placed them into a frameproof casserole dish.  Add the oil to the pan and fry the onion, garlic and bell pepper for 3 - 4 minutes then transfer them to the casserole, add the orange rind, juice and chicken stock, canned tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes and stir.  Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer over a low heat for about an hour stirring occasionally.  Just before serving add the chopped fresh thyme and pitted black olives and adjust the seasoning to taste.  Scatter the orange rind and thyme over the casserole to garnish and serve with warm crusty bread.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Early autumn

You can definitely feel now that it's autumn.  It was very misty in the valley when I got up this morning and it's damp and cool when you go outside first thing.  And it's dark now when the radio comes on at half past five - though more or less light when I get up at six.

We have pruned the cherry and plum trees.  A little late, I know but not too late - they didn't "bleed" when we did it. They're a better shape now - and it's easier to get about the orchard now that the chicken fence is up.  The Under-Gardener has staked up the apple and pear trees. They were mostly listing in quite an alarming manner!!  I'll prune the apple trees after the leaves have fallen.  One of them - the one we brought from the Hangingwater allotment has turned into a weeping apple tree.  It's not supposed to be. It may be because of the weight of the fruit.  I thought I'd prune it hard to upward facing growth, and then not let it have apples next year.  The other eating apple has done really well this year. Lots of shiny red fruit which is a beautiful pink on the inside.  Alas - the tree has lost its label and we never noted what variety it is.  It's a red and pink apple!!

We are getting a few courgettes and cucumbers - more cucumbers now that we have discovered that the slugs have been eating the baby fruit! We are also getting squash from the allotment greenhouse.  And lots of cherry tomatoes and a few large tomatoes.  If the weather stays warm during the day, we should get loads more.  And that late sowing of peas on the allotment has come up.  Fingers crossed for good weather for the next few weeks - or at least no frosts!  We are getting a few pickings off the previous lots of peas.  They are sweet and tasty. 

We still need to sort out the front "porch" and the flower garden.  And we must, must do something about the muddy, muddy pond.  The Under-Gardener is talking of getting rid of it, but I reckon cleaning it out and patching it up might do the trick.  The question is - what do we do with all the goldfish while we're doing that?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

An impromptu picnic

The poor old Vixen went for her MOT yesterday.  And failed it.  She needs two new tyres (this, I suspect, is because the last time we bought her tyres we bought cheapo ones. Cheap things seldom do last very long!).  But she also failed her emissions test.  It's not allowed to be >3 and hers was 3.4.  The mechanics think it might be a consequence of the problems we had with that valve thingy a few weeks back, when she was definitely puffing out lots of very black smoke. So they put some pipe cleaning stuff through her and instructed The Builder to take her for a good spin and not to spare the horses.

He came and picked me up from the station.  Where shall we go?

Let's go to Bakewell.  It's a nice drive, and we can continue on down through Rowsley, towards Matlock and then make our way across country to Alfreton and come back along the M1. You should get up a bit of speed on the M1.

Off we trundled to Bakewell. We decided to park outside the co-op in the market square.  Should be parking in there at this time on a Monday.  Except, of course, that it was Monday. And Monday is market day. And markets tend to be held in market squares!  And it was only quarter past five so they were just starting to pack up.  We went and parked somewhere else.

Bakewell has one of the absolutely best fish and chip shops anywhere in the world.  So we laid in some wine (we don't usually drink wine during the week, but then we don't usually go to Bakewell for fish and chips during the week either) and hit the fish and chip shop (it seems to have been joined in the town by several others.  I suppose we ought to try those as well, one day).  In the meantime, it had started to rain, so we had our picnic in the car, watching the rain and the tourists.  We decided not to drink the wine - we had that when we got home.

The fish and chips were lovely

The drive down towards Matlock and then across to Alfreton was lovely too.

The Vixen got a nice long run, although we couldn't not-spare-the-horses on the M1 - there was quite a lot of traffic.

We really must go for impromptu fish and chip picnics more often.  And go out and explore the countryside a bit too.  There were roads heading off the roads we were on that looked quite interesting.

Ian is loitering in Glasgow.  While we were munching in Bakewell, he was ambling along the Clyde.  I haven't ever been to Glasgow.  Might go for an inspection tour one day.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

New Pasta Machine

The Pasta Fairy unexpectedly delivered unto me a brand new pasta making machine during the week.  That was very exciting.  And, of course, meant that I had to make pasta over the weekend.

So I made prawn ravioli (not altogether successfully - I have yet to master the ravioli moulds.  Still - it tasted nice.  I must just practise more!) I poached a brown trout (courtesy of our neighbour Steve who goes fishing in the Derwent river near Chatsworth) in some chicken broth with onion, garlic, prawns, tomato and grated courgette and then simmered the ravioli in the same broth.  It was very delicious.

And for dessert, at the suggestion of the Pasta Fairy, I made chocolate spaghetti which we had with a raspberry and chocolate cream sauce.  That was absolutely amazing.  I've never made sweet spaghetti before.  I'll certainly make it again!

There was left over trout this morning.  I made The Builder kedgeree for his Sunday morning breakfast.

Rolling the dough for the prawn ravioli

Assembling the ravioli in the ravioli tin

Strictly speaking, the ravioli were supposed to come out ready cut!

Making the chocolate spaghetti

Spaghetti drying on the pasta tree. (I know the photo is a bit fuzzy!)

Chocolate spaghetti in a raspberry and chocolate sauce

Pasta machine fully assembled

Saturday, September 04, 2010


So, said Gaz.  I have a job for you.

Hmm. Something of a worry.  I already have a job. No time for another, not when you consider the allotment, the garden and all the other things that require attention.

What is the nature of this job?  And what remuneration does it carry?

No remuneration.  No set hours. Lots of benefits.

A bigger worry. Certainly can't afford to work for nothing. Who will fund my extravagant lifestyle?

What job is this that you have in mind?

How, asked Gareth, would you care to apply for the position of grandparent?

Grandparent?  GRANDPARENT????  Being a grandparent isn't a job. Being a grandparent is a state of being which requires subversive and anarchist tendencies. And seditious sweeties.

Subversion and anarchy I can do :-)  Also sweeties :-)

(Wanders off to dust off and consult my copies of Anarchists united and Established subversion.)

Poor thing is likely to be cold, though.  You had better all start knitting booties and mittens

What?  Oh.  End of February, I believe.   Alas, I won't be here.  I'm going to a party.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A visitation

I've had a visitation.

Yesterday, The Builder got in touch to say a large box had been delivered for me from Amazon.

Odd.  I wasn't expecting anything from Amazon.  I checked my account.  Nope.  I've ordered nothing for ages, not since I bought some Japanese books a couple of months back.

A mystery.  And a mystery it remained for several hours until I got home.

It was quite a heavy box.

I opened it.

And inside there was ...

A large box containing ...

A hand-turned pasta making machine, two different sorts of pasta cutters, a ravioli making tin and a small rolling pin!!!!!!

And underneath that there was ...

A pasta making book and a pasta drying tree.

It was AMAZING!!!!!!!!!

An unexpected visitation from the Pasta Fairy who was obviously deeply distressed by the death of my former pasta making machine and thought I needed a new one with extra bells and whistles.

Many, many thanks, dear Pasta Fairy :-)

Now.  What shall I make first?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Late summer cooking

I had a kilo or so of cherry and other small tomatoes from the garden and the allotment and no room in the freezer to store them.  So I chopped them all in half and popped them in the oven with a very little extra virgin rapeseed oil.  I roasted them in a moderate oven until they smelled really tomatoey and were just starting to turn black on top.  Then I put them in the blender and strained them through a fine mesh strainer for about an hour.  Then, not needing a clear broth, I pushed all the remaining juices out with a stout spoon.  I then added them to some chicken stock that I happened to have handy (though you could just as easily have used vegetable stock) and simmered to reduce just a very little.  I served my roasted tomato soup with a hefty drizzle of double cream from the local dairy, and some cheesy garlic toast.  To say that all it was was roasted tomatoes and chicken stock which i made just with the chicken carcass and nothing else, it was extremely delicious.  No onions, no herbs, no flavours or seasoning.  Pure tomatoey heaven.

Then the question arose.  What did I do with this?

I took a hefty chunk and cut it into small pieces which I then roasted with some sliced red onion and a couple of garlic cloves.  I put it all into the blender (I bought a blender after the food processor died; I can do most things by hand but mashing, mouli-ing and straining vegetables by hand doesn't appeal at all).  I then thinned the result with more chicken stock and served it as soup with grated cheese.  It too was very delicious.

While I was in the kitchen, I made lasagne sheets with my trusty rolling pin and made up  a huge lasagne with beef and mushrooms and onions and garlic and marjoram and tomatoes and zucchini, moistened with tinned tomato juice and garnished with parmesan just before serving.

The end of August and beginning of September in Derbyshire is a wonderful time for domestic foodies!!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Super-duper long weekend

It was the August Bank Holiday weekend in England and Wales this last weekend.  Which meant that I actually got a four day weekend.  SHU is closed on the Tuesday as well :-)  A nice, extra-long weekend.

And mostly it was a foody weekend.  Tabitha, Gareth and GingerRich came for lunch on Sunday and we had slow roasted lamb shoulder, with slow roasted pork, and roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and a medley of vegetables from the garden

We followed this with plum crumble and a custard ice cream ("oooooh," said Tabitha.  "Plum crumble.  Haven't had any plums since (Grandma) Val's plum tree in Eltham.  Shall we have ice cream or custard with it?"  I thought about this.  No reason why we shouldn't combine the two and make ice cream with some Bird's custard.  Not that I usually make custard using custard powder - but no reason why I shouldn't from time to time - I have a tin on the baking shelves in case of custardy emergencies!!)

I spent Tuesday making summer soups and a lasagne and sundry other things. The freezers are now full to overflowing.  But we can't afford to buy a third one so are just going to have to start eating our way through the contents of the existing ones.

But on Monday we went into Sheffield and went with Taffa and Gaz to the Sheffield Fayre in Norfolk Park.  I had never been to Norfolk Park before.  It's quite a large park on the edge of the city centre.  It's built on a slope (this is Sheffield, after all!!) and has what is pretty much a natural amphitheatre to one side.  Which was extremely useful because what was mostly happening at the Sheffield Fayre was a series of historical re-enactments.  There was a battle between WWII German soldiers and the Russians (the Russians won).  There was an American Civil War battle re-enacted (not sure who won that!!). There were demonstrations of cannons - which made all the dogs bark.  The dogs have my sympathy - cannons are extremely loud!!!!  There were Roman soldiers chatting to Napoleonic Officers. There were Roman soldiers sitting in an Allied tank, having seized it and a couple of rifles.  There were medieval tents pitched not too far from a Roman encampment.  Talk about a rip in the space-time continuum!  (And those Romans got everywhere!!) There were also fairground amusements and food stalls and market stalls.  There was a craft tent and various other tents - but no foodie tent.  And there was a set of amusements that Taffa and Gaz went into while The Builder and I pottered about looking at other things.  Chloe, the girl in the goldfish bowl; Yvette the headless lady; the flea circus; and the Monster show which had children leaving looking pale and aghast and on the verge of tears!!  It was a good afternoon.  And the sun shone and it was pleasantly warm and we all had a good time.  Best of all - entrance is free!! (And we avoided paying the car parking fee by finding a free parking space on the street :-)  )

The photos are here

I believe that Freyja spent the Monday tidying up her dining room.  Oh well.  Each to their own :-P

All in all it was a lovely weekend. Although, having had Monday and Tuesday off has seriously confused my sense of which day it is.  But I'm sure that'll sort itself out in due course.

The weather has improved as well.  It's turned distinctly autumnal.  Cool, fresh and misty mornings.  But offset by a sudden rise in temperature during the daytime - and lots and lots of sunshine.

My gadgets continue to die.  The bathroom scales were the most recent gadget to pop their clogs.  It was either when The Builder weighed himself on Sunday morning - or when I took the scales down later in the day to weigh this

Whichever - by the time we had put the squashy/pumpkiny/thingy on - they had given up the ghost and have steadfastly refused to weigh anything ever again.  We have reverted to the trusty tape measure which I am hopeful will not die!