Thursday, 29 April 2010

Quick update and a *phew*

Well I've just had my PDR at work and all fine, no surprises and actually feeling somewhat positive which is no small thing in itself for me recently. I got myself all stressed and worked up because I just do about these things; even though I know I am good at my job, without sounding up myself. Anyway - tizzy over. Now just gotta walk home in the rain!

Slackness and rain

My apologies for the lack of posts this week; been having a bit of an off week.
Anyway, onwards and all that jazz.
Bank holiday weekend coming up so of course it's raining. The allotment needs it though - I've been trying to finish digging over the last bed (for the brassicas) this week and it's hard going as I've got slightly clayey soil. Have next week booked off work so want to get lots done at the allotment, hoping the rain stops then!
[Pic is my first ever calabrese grown last year.]

Monday, 26 April 2010


OK - a quick rant because I'm a tad hacked off today.
Why say you're going to do something then not? What is the point other than to spread a little more cackness around this already overloaded with rubbish life? Piss poor performance. :-(

Friday, 23 April 2010

A small confession...

Ok - I went to the allotment and picked myself a small bag of nettles after work last night. I also gathered a few dandelion flowers for fritter purposes. Then....
I was hijacked by friends and forced to go to the pub so...
No nettles were harmed in the making of dinner.
Ah well - I shall do them this weekend. Found a lovely sounding spinach recipe through this months 'No Croutons Required' competition post that I fancy trying with the nettles so I'll let you know how it turns out.

It was lovely down at the allotment in the sun.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Wild Food

Considering I've spent the last week reading up on wild food, foraging for it and recipes for said 'larder alfresco' in books, on blogs and courtesy of google, I can be remarkably dozy sometimes. Off I gaily went to my allotment yesterday in the gorgeous sun after work and I know there's a big bank of nettles at the end of my plot most of the year. However I didn't even think about it only to arrive and see masses of them crying out to be picked and eaten / turned into beer. Also lots of dandelions which is something else that suddenly seems to be popping up in cordial, battered or salads. Did I have a single plassy bag on me with which to take home the bounty? No - of course I didn't. :-(

Today I will not be thwarted! I did manage to pick a couple of handfuls of perpetual spinach last night that had survived from last year so I'm thinking some sort of veg and Cornish Blue cheese dish tonight with the addition of the nettles to the spinach and maybe a battered dandelion or two for afters.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Making it up as you go along / can't be bothered food

Sometimes when I've had a long day at work followed by a busy evening I lack all inspiration when it comes to making something to eat. I just want something quick, preferably tasty and on this occasion hot; with which I can collapse in front of a dvd.
This is not good food, it's not even good for you food but I think we all have these moments. In this case it was 'open the cupboard door and see what I could throw in' night.
I'll give you what I did, then I'll tell you how it could be improved. Then I'll express my amazement that anyone would even consider following a recipe such as this much less imagine me making it again. lol

Storecupboard bake
0.75 pt veg stock
Dried Celery - small handful
Oats - large handful
Pinch Cayenne
Large pinch - prob approx 0.25tsp - garlic granules
1 tsp black onion seeds
1 pack S'burys Basics Sage and Onion Stuffing (85g dried weight box)
Knob butter
Small dash Worcestershire sauce
Grated cheese - something with a decent bit of taste to it - cave matured cheddar for me!
Black Pepper

Preheat oven to Gas 5.
Bring stock to the boil. Add celery, oats, cayenne and garlic granules and boil for approx 5-10 mins.
Lower heat to a simmer and add stuffing mix, onion seeds, worcestershire sauce and butter. Stir well and watch it doesn't stick on the bottom.
Once liquid has been absorbed remove from heat.
Stir in grated cheese - amount depends on you / strength of your cheese. I added a good handful.
Butter a ceramic oven dish and place mixture in, levelling off the top. Sprinkle with grated cheese and ground black pepper.

Bake in oven for 20 mins.

Serve with greens / carrots / salad. Or not. I actually just had mine with a dollop of mayo.
First thoughts - too salty. I think this is a combo of the use of stock, the cheapo stuffing and the cheese. Cheese has salt in it - can't do much about that.
Stuffing - another brand may give a better result; interestingly the Basics is listed as giving 0.50g salt per 50g serving but 3.25g salt per 100g serving. Not quite sure how that works? The regular S'burys stuffing has the same 0.50g for 50g serving but a lower 2.5g per 100 serving. Paxo only lists sodium content so that's a fat lot of help though I get the feeling their's would be lower still.
Stock - try with plain water or half the stock cube / powder for the amount of liquid.
Having said this it was ok in a puffy spongey sort of way. I had mine with mayo to combat the saltiness. Once it cooled down a little I think it was nicer although I'm hard pressed to put my finger on why.
You couldn't notice the black onion seeds so wouldn't bother with those another time.
I've only recently started using oats in savoury cooking so am very much a novice in their uses but I foresee them becoming quite useful as a cheap 'bulker outer' of food in the future. As I've a mind to set myself another frugal challenge month next month this could be good practice.
PS - apologies for the awful quality of the photos on this post. I use my phone for almost all the pics on the blog; yesterdays blossom being an example and generally it's not bad but these however leave a lot to be desired. Also - I think the lens may have steamed up slightly on these.


I believe I mentioned the beauty of nature...
I am lucky enough to work on a beautiful site and it buoys my spirits to see this all around me.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The finding of beauty in unexpected places

A few recent 'finds'.

Near the cathedral a fantastic old door. It leads onto a courtyard before the entrance to the house proper. I love the lion.

Sometimes as you're ambling along you just bump into something that stops you in your tracks. Sometimes it's because it took such finesse to achieve. Sometimes it's fascinating. Sometimes it's the beauty of nature after a long cold winter. (There's a bluebell in there somewhere. :-D)

Friday, 16 April 2010

Braised green veg with cheese

Ok, not the most inspired name for a dish but it's what it is.
I had leeks to use up and on inspection of the fridge for inspiration also celery and half a lettuce.
Here's how it goes:

Green Veg & Cheese
1oz butter
Black Pepper
2 Leeks
3ish sticks celery
0.33 - 0.5 lettuce (mine was Iceberg)
0.25 pint veg stock
Grated cheese (I used my cave aged cheddar)

Preheat the oven to gas 5.
Melt butter in pan over a low heat.
Slice leeks and gently saute in the butter, covering the pan. Add a good grinding of black pepper.
Slice celery into 2ish cm pieces - whatever size you fancy as a bite size basically. Reserve the leafy tops. Add to the pan and gently fry both together for approx 10 mins replacing lid on pan.
Boil kettle for stock. Whilst it's coming to the boil chop the lettuce loosely into 1-2cm slices then roughly across a couple of times - again to a size you fancy. Add these to the pan and stir well. Cover and cook gently for a further 5 minutes - keep an eye or the lettuce can get soggy.
Empty pan into a ceramic oven dish and level out. Pour over stock so barely coming to tops of veg - depending on the size of the leeks / amount of celery / size of your dish you may need slightly more or less then the quarter pint I used.

Scatter grated cheese over the top mixed with the chopped celery tops. Grind a little more black pepper over if liked.

Bake in the oven 10-15 mins until cheese melted and just turning golden.

Serve in a wide bowl with both a fork and a spoon for all those lovely juices.

This was tasty and good and gave me plenty for a couple of meals at least. You can adjust the cooking time - saute for less if you'd like the veg a bit crunchier. (As I chopped as I went this was what the loose timings were based on.) Use what cheese you like best and feel free to omit the lettuce or use a different variety; although I do think a crispy one will work best here.
Also feel free to suggest a better name for the dish if you can come up with some! :-)
PS - apologies for the spacing and generally awful formatting of this post - it doesn't seem to like multiple pics and the preview bears little relation to the post once I save it. Grrr...


I can't believe I forgot to tell you about my seeds I got at the show!! Only 2 packs from these people who specialise in organic and unusual / heirloom varieties. One was Pak Choi as I grew this last year but hadn't got any new seeds for this year yet. The other is the exciting one though - Tree Spinach!! How great does that sound already? I don't have a lot of info on the pack but it can grow up to 2 metres and that was enough for a seedaholic like me to snatch it up with cries of wonderment. (I think I rather startled some of the surrounding people with my enthusiasm actually!) But 2 metres tall spinach? I mean - how cool is that gonna look.
Still on the subject of seeds my free packs from the BBC's Dig In campaign arrived yesterday. Having just checked the site it says due to the response you can longer sign up online to receive them but can pick them up at their roadshow events. You get Basil, Carrot, Courgette, French Bean and Mixed Salad with a growing booklet. Not bad for free and considering the cost of the licence fee...
Any I don't use will be donated to a friend whose work place is starting a veg garden so they won't go to waste; and seeds last a few years in most cases anyway. More to get planted at the weekend!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

More loveliness and adventures in food

Realised I hadn't shown my beautiful olive bowl set to the wider world yet. I originally bought one of these for my parents about 5 or 6 years ago for xmas and have wanted my own ever since. Theirs is a cobalt blue though; which is actually the colour I'd normally go for but this one was so gorgeous it just edged the lead. Made by these people, and I'm seriously considering asking if they'd do me a mug I love the colours and glaze effects so much. It was my first buy of the festival and cost £10 which for a handmade delight like this I think is pretty good. I know I paid more than that for my parents one all those years back from a local gallery. Always better to buy direct from the artisan if you can.
In addition to my cave aged cheese previously mentioned I also got smoked cheddar from Quickes Traditional - they of the monster cheese in the post below. They're based just outside Exeter so a very local product. I like the taste of smoked cheese but so often the cheese is that slightly 'plasticy' type (like Edam) and I'm not a big fan of it. Next up I got some Cornish Blue cheese - one piece for me and another two at the request of friends. This company had a new product this year which was pate made with their blue cheese and either pear and walnut or fig. I went for the pear and walnut option, after tasting some of both of course. :-)

The other thing I got was a couple of oysters. I've never had them before and although there was a company at the festival last year shucking them and selling them to eat right there I didn't really want to do it with an audience in case I really hated the thing and felt like I had to spit it out or something terrible like that. I wanted to buy one, take it home, work out how to get in the damn thing and eat it in the privacy of my own home. Anyway, I ended up with 2 by accident because the lady (wife of the fishmonger) wasn't sure of the cost and when I went back at the end to pick up my one oyster (they kept your purchases on ice for you) she'd overcharged me so they had given me 2. Hmm - wasn't sure what'd happen if I hated it though.

Well - if you've never opened your own oyster they are a git to get into, they really are. I had checked online of the best way to do it, wrapped a tea towel round my hand and carefully tried to gain ingress. One broken off tip of knife later... However, I managed in the end and ate one straight and the other with a splash of lemon. Do you know what? I'm still not sure about them. I just can't decide if I like them or not. I think I had quite massive preconceptions of the texture before I tried them and this had coloured my judgement (negatively) to such an extent that to make an objective assessment eludes me. I think I may have to try again, I'd like to grill one and try it cooked as well.

The last lovely thing I had at the festival (along with a couple of pints) was a rather fine 'Mushroom & spinach with hazelnuts & white truffle oil' pie from the locally based Tom's Pies. It was mightily good I have to tell you - should you be in a position to lay your hands on these it's a 'double thumber'* from me.

Well, you may have gathered I'm quite fond of cheese, think I'm well stocked for a fair while now though!

* 'Double thumber' - a phrase my friend invented meaning a double thumbs up. I like it. :-D

Monday, 12 April 2010

Food festy

Saturday visited the snappily titled 'Exeter Festival for South-West Food and Drink.' Long winded title but a top day out. Lovely time with family and got to try lots of gorgeous cheeses and a few pints of nice ale. Check the size of this cheese out!!
Now have a fridge stocked with cheese and a beautifully glazed olive and stones bowl set.
One of the many bars - I just loved that the whole thing was named the 'Doom Bar'. It's actually the name of a local beer here, apparently named after a notorious sandbar that has wrecked many a ship over the years.
How's this for food snobbery - not just any old mature cheddar but 'cave aged' not less!! lol. Actually this was one of the bargains of the day - 900g cheese wrapped in cloth for £5 - brilliant! I hacked a bit off for ma and sis as well and still have plenty left to keep me going.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Root Soup

A yummy root veg soup I made last night, with a smidgen of blue cheese added at the end. This helped cut through the predominantly sweeter flavours of the veg I used; and needed using up as it had been - er - aging (forgotten about) in the fridge since xmas. Oops! This meant though that the small amount I had was nicely flavoursome (fearsome?!) and up to the job.

Root veg soup with blue cheese
1.5pt veg stock
Half Swede
1 Parsnip
3 Carrots
Ground white pepper
1tsp Garlic granules
1tsp Dried mixed herbs
0.5pt milk
1oz-ish blue cheese - to taste
Ground black pepper
1oz-ish butter

Put veg stock in big pot and bring to the boil.
Chop the swede into chunks and place in the boiling veg stock. Add garlic granules and mixed herbs and boil for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile chop parsnip and carrots. Add to pot and boil for a further 10 mins / until all veg soft.
Go at it with a masher / stick blender / FP until your preferred consistency / your arm feels like it's gonna fall off from all the manual mashing.
Add milk and gently warm through. Chop blue cheese and stir/melt in and season with black pepper to taste. Whisk the butter in.
Makes a substantial soup, rich with the flavours of the veg. I'd recommend adding the cheese a little at a time as you don't want to drown out the veg flavours but want the cut across the sweetness.
My first effort at one of these fabric birds. My idea for the peg on the bottom didn't really work, the weight of the bird meant it just ended up hanging drunkenly from the peg on the branch. Also the little pegs I had were however bigger than I remembered so would be too intrusive to my mind. I have smaller wooden pegs but then they would be too small to grip the branch. I think an alternative solution is needed. On the site where I originally saw these they mentioned they affixed them by sewing them on (in the comments) but I want a less permanent solution that preferably doesn't trash the bird every time you want to change it's position. I'll have to ponder that one - plenty of time for next year. :-)
And yes - I need funkier fabric and to not overstuff the tail. Hey - life's a learning curve!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Spring finally sprung?

A beautiful magnolia tree in bloom on my walk to / from work. It gives me hope we're getting to the good weather! I have many seeds to plant at the weekend so I'm hoping so.
I want a magnolia like this, it's the Stellata variety where the petals are long and thin to make star shaped flowers rather than the big fleshy ones. I think those ones look ugly when the petals get damaged and go brown.

For tonight - soup and a tidy I think. Ma's visiting at the weekend so best get the duster out. :-D

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

...and something I didn't do...

...namely Cake Sunday. There's a good reason though. Well - in actual fact me being a forgetful muppet is perhaps not exactly a 'good' reason, but it's the only one I have.
You see it being Easter and all I thought - ooh - I'll try Simnel cake. I am a lover of marzipan; many years ago it was not unknown for me to buy a block to eat 'neat' as it were. I looked at various recipes and thought that apart from the lovely marzipan it pretty much sounded like a fairly dull light fruit cake with a smidgen of ground almonds added. 'Pah - we can do better than that' thought I. Having received this years bumpf for the allotment including the info on the show I now had a new recipe - cherry and almond cake. [For the show you have to make their choice of cake to their recipe!?!] My grand plan was therefore to make a cherry and almond simnel cake - marvellous I hear you all cry. Scribbled the list, nipped to the shops (4.50pm on Saturday evening) purchased said ingredients and went on my merry way. It was only over a bevvy or 2 later that I suddenly realised - had I bought marzipan??! Had I buggery - hadn't written it on the sodding list. Doh!! And which day of the year is every shop shut - Easter Sunday of course!!
Ah - weellll - everyone will surely be full of chocolate on Easter won't they? They don't need cake do they? Cake Bank Holiday Monday has a nice ring to it doesn't it? Yes, yes and yes??

And what is it that the shops have run out of on the bank holiday Monday immediately after Easter Sunday? You guessed it... thwarted by a lack of marzipan. *Sigh...*

4 Day Week / end - this I can live with!

Ah - the joys of a 4 day week followed by a 4 day weekend followed by a 4 day week...
Hang on though - it's Wednesday already and I haven't updated on the weekends activities yet - darn! :-D Weather being doubful I found I didn't get as much done as I wanted to - although to be fair I always tend to have grandiose ideas about just how much one individual can achieve in a day with no help. Hey ho - aim high!!

Something I did do: Having found some celery heavily reduced on the CFC at my local stupormarket I bought 2 packs of it and made a rather lovely basic celery soup from scratch from one lot - making it up as I go along rather than following any particular recipe. A few years ago I wouldn't have done that; I'd have been flitting from scales to book to pot, peering at each and wondering if half an ounce out makes a massive difference so I'm pleased in a quiet way that by some magic osmosis kinda process I now seem to know what I'm doing, a bit at least.

Basic Celery soup:
Olive oil - 1 tbsp-ish
Butter - 1oz-ish
Fresh ground black pepper
1 Onion
1 bunch celery
Plain flour - 1oz-ish
1.5 pints veg stock
0.5 pint milk

Heat olive oil and butter together over a low flame. Meanwhile finely chop the onion. Add to the pan and gently cook. Chop outer sticks of celery and add to pot. Add plenty of pepper, or to your taste of course. Whilst doing this boil kettle and make stock.
Add flour to pot and stir well to ensure it cooks out and you don't get that 'flour' taste.
Slowly add a little stock and stir well each time until you have most of a pint in. Then add the rest and the milk. Add the rest of the celery; finely chopped, reserving the leafy tops.
Simmer for approx 10 mins until celery softened. Add chopped tops and simmer for another few-5 mins.
At this point in theory you would blitz in the food processor or use your trusty stick blender. As my 'trusty' stick blender gave up the ghost some time ago and I have yet to replace it and I really couldn't be bothered hauling out the FP I had chopped the celery rather more finely and left it as a slightly chunky soup. Tasted great!

A couple of notes - veg stock - I know the purists way is to make a stock from scratch but when it comes to veg stock sometimes I can't be bothered and I have to admit; I don't like the idea of boiling up all those veg just to chuck them away! Seems an awful waste to me. (I am someone who uses calabrese stalks!)
Over the years I have found myself turning away from Oxo veg stock for soup as although I like the taste I find it can be just too distinctive and ends up dominating. I would use Marigold bouillon powder - also dead handy to have around to make a quick 'cup soup', or the 'Quixo' veg cubes Aldi does are not bad. They cost 89p for 12 and each does 450ml of stock - I use one per pint.
Milk - I think you should prob use full fat milk. I had semi skimmed so that is what I used but it has a tendency to split a little when boiled; still tasted good just less aesthetically pleasing.

There you go - a quick easy basic recipe. Adapt as wanted with seasoning, the addition of diff veg etc. Makes 3-4 servings so enough for a meal and freeze the rest. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Friday on my mind

Friday found me in Shaldon. This pretty place on the coast of the Exe estuary lies opposite Teignmouth. We were there to see a friend singing with their band. It was a top night out and has definitely made me determined to visit in the daytime and sit in their garden that adjoins the shore. Crab sarnies anyone?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Easter weekend

Thinking of making some sort of easter tree, haven't done this for a few years but this post on the great Cottage Smallholder blog has rekindled my interest.
Lakeland have some cute little wooden eggs. I like the idea of painting my own more but think I may have left it a little late for that!

However - I may be able to knock one or a pair of these little fabric birdies up. Found here with a printable pdf for the pattern. I like the simple lines and am thinking of halving the size and sewing on a tiny peg - that you get for holding xmas cards up / crafting purposes, with which to attach them to the branches.

What a difference a day makes

Wow - this morning the sun is shining and all seems right with the world. Now I know it won't last; the forecast is grim for later but after the stormy conditions of the last few days it's more than welcome.

A tree was down yesterday morning at the local college - straight through the outer wall. Unfortunately I was zipping past in the minibus on the last leg of my journey at the time so was unable to snatch a quick papparazzi style shot ["not the branches, not the branches"] at the time. By the time I took this they had cleared it away but you get an idea of the size. I know it was windy but I wouldn't have thought it was that bad!
Looks like typical English bank holiday weekend weather to come. We are a nation of weather pessimists aren't we? Bitter experience I reckon that is. :-D