Thursday, 23 June 2011

Impromptu weekend away #1 : Bigbury - Burgh Island - Salcombe

After a bit of a rubbish Friday the Chap came up with the spiffing idea of going away on the Saturday for an unplanned impulsive weekend break. *applause*  :-D
He suggested Cornwall and I came up with Burgh Island by Bigbury-on-Sea - which I in fact thought was in Cornwall a fair way down but turns out to be in South Devon not that far from Plymouth.  I had heard of the place from a time a fair few years back when my parents had visited.  It's a tidal island with a (very) exclusive 30's art deco hotel on it and a pub.  It is 'the pub on the island' - which is a bit of a family tale for me but more of that later.
Burgh is on a truly stunning stretch of coastline and has 2 wide sandy beaches facing it on either side of the low headland that rises to Bigbury-on-Sea - a hamlet of what seems to be almost entirely holiday homes built into the hill opposite.  It was very windy here and the beaches were popular with wind surfers and kite surfers whilst we were there.
We walked over the sand to the island and started realising how exclusive the hotel is.  You can't even get near it through the gates without having prebooked.  We saw several big *landy's crossing the sand presumably ferrying the guests back and forth.  [In past times people like Noel Coward and Mrs Simpson stayed here and the hideously expnsive suites/rooms are named after them.]  A sign said you could wander round the marked paths on the west side of the island but the rest was out of bounds as private property belonging to the hotel.  The island climbs a little to the west and south sides - there's some fab rock formations and plenty of sea birds sheltering in the lee of the rocks.  We were hopeful of seals but no luck.  Although whether we would have spotted them through the watering of our eyes in the fierce wind is another matter!
There's a small ruined building overlooking the south side - presumably a look out post was our best guess.  [According to the Wiki link above it could be the remains of the Chapel - very tiny with too big windows though I'd have said.]  The weather had cleared by then as well as the morning had been distrinctly grey and showery - we were rather lucky!  As you circle round and down you can see the roofs of the hotel over the hill and the coastline opposite the island - a beautiful vista.
There was quite the oldest fuschia bush I've seen as we came down some steps cut into the hillside - I had no idea they got all gnarly like this - looks quite odd to see the flowers sprouting directly from what looks like dead wood!  As we carried on down the hillside we more or less got accosted by a walker coming the opposite way demanding to know if we'd seen the pool?  We must have looked somewhat blank as he then expounded that he meant the seawater pool - in a tone of voice that suggested deep disappointment in us for not knowing instantly what he was referring to.  Anyway it turns out this is a pool for the hotel therefore tucked away on a side you can't see.  We carried on down past the hotel's helipad [!] and tennis court and repaired to the pub - the Pilchard Inn for a pint.  We had the local Pilchard ale - brewed on the mainland though rather than on the island - and sat outside in the sun admiring our surroundings.  It's a fascinating place dating from 1336 with tales of smugglers tunnels and a ghost but is now unfortunately split into the hotel guest's and 'locals' bar and the other smaller bar where the rest of us are allowed.  Fantastic setting though and the beer was nice and the staff friendly and a pint cost no more than it does in my local.  Outside is parked the Sea Tractor - a rather fantastic contraption allowing ingress to and egress from the island when the tide is in.  It had quite the cleanest wheels I've ever seen on anything of this size and looks like great fun.  As the tide was firmly out when we visited though we didn't get to ride it.
We returned to the mainland and thought we'd drive into Bigbury-on-Sea and find somewhere to stay - oh no!!  As previously mentioned the place looks to be pretty much all holiday / second homes with nowhere to go - not even a corresponding local to the one on the island!  Having driven round it twice and come to the conclusion that the only thing to do here was visit the local tiny shop cum post office and we'd done that we returned to the cliff top road overlooking the bays and island [where I took the photo at the top of this post from out the van window - so no complaints that it's a wee bit wonky!] and pootled back along the road.  Quick discussion later and we'd decided our destination would be... Salcombe.  I'm not sure if I'd been there before - if so it was when I was very small so I looked forward; and at the map, as Chap drove us onto the next chapter of the weekend.
*Landy - Landrover.  Big burly 4x4 / off roader / ATV.
Oh - for those intrigued by the family tale of 'The Pub on the Island' (anyone intrigued out there?) it stems from a family holiday when I was very small indeed.  I think it may have been somewhere like Solva - certainly right on the coast - and we had a self catering cottage as was normal for our annual hol in Cornwall / Devon / Wales.  I'm guessing the story came about as an inquisitive wee small daddy's girl enquiry as to the whereabouts of her father in the evening.  Certainly what I was told wasn't entirely the truth.  Ma told me that dad had gone off with the earthenware jug (this bit is true) to get some beer to bring back for them.  However - because the pub was on an island (this is the not true bit now) he could only get across when the tide was down that's why he took a while sometimes.  Now, I don't want you to think my dad vanished off each evening of our holiday leaving ma at home with 3 small girls for hours at a stretch but as time seems to expand unrelated to the actual passing of hours and minutes when you're that small I think that the probably couple of pints he had in the local before returning with a jug full of beer to share seemed enough time for the turning of a tide to me aged about 3 or 4.  Anyway - I always believed this and it wasn't until many years later that it happened to come up in idle conversation and I asked as to the exact location of this fabled 'Pub on the Island' - which seemed incredibly romantic and cool to my by then approx 11/12ish year old self.  Well - I was first greeted with somewhat blank looks followed by dawning comprehension on the face of my mother as distant bells got clearer through the mists of time.  'Oh - I made it up' she admitted unbeknownst destroying my entire imaginary vision of the place; a place I'd already firmly set my heart on going to one day.  Dad was completely unaware of the whole story it seemed and after that it became our family tale - a synonym for a place unobtainable and to me, a reminder of a happy childhood holiday scrambling over rocks and falling in the sea and other such things that made up our childhood family holidays.  I was always a little gutted it wasn't real though and thought it would be the best idea for a pub.  Well - many years later and the parents take a wee break in Devon (before I lived here so I guess about 12 years ago now) and they find... [drum roll]... A Pub On An Island!!  You can't imagine how pleased they were to be able to tell me there was one and it's somewhere I've been slowly getting round to going to ever since.  Sadly my father is no longer with us but it was truly lovely to be able to sit outstand the fabled pub and relate the story to my dear Chap.  The sun shone on us and it was a perfect day.  Go there and start your own 'pub on an island' tradition - it's worth it.  :-)

Friday, 17 June 2011

Wet weekend wins over work. Oh - and pickled eggs!!

Well - it's been a week of grey skies and latterly rainy weather this week.  Pretty much reflected my mood at work a fair amount of the time.  I'm counting down the hours to getting out of here even if it is into a wet and windy afternoon - it's got to be an improvement to being cooped up in here with the recalcitrant systems and argumentative agents / students!
This weekend we may make some more pickled eggs - ooh - I forgot to tell you about that didn't I?  Oops.  Hard boil some eggs - stuff I read on t'internet said put lots of salt in the water as this will help the peeling.  Not sure whether it made much difference to be honest.  Once eggs are boiled run cold water over - this stops that dark ring appearing in the yolk and apparently also aids peeling.  Think this may be another fallacy though.  With a decent amount of eggs they will heat up the cold water themselves fairly quickly so go back after 5 mins and change for fresh cold water.
Once eggs are cold get your jar sterilising then set about the peeling.  Another tip I read once somewhere said tapping to craze the shell, then rolling gently helps.  Hmm - see pic for how not to do it - we had to eat this one!!
Put peeled eggs in sterilised jar then pour over vinegar.  Ta da!!  Actually there's a lot more you can do with this step but Chap had picked up some 'pickling' vinegar apparently already boiled with spices in that advised pouring it straight over item to be pickled with no need to heat or anything.  We shall see.
Anyway - must dash - more on eggs after the weekend.  :-)

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Meat Cooking for the faint hearted #2 - Ox Liver and 'Bacon' hotpot

Except it was leftover roast gammon not bacon.  Chap had done the roasting the previous Sunday and had smothered the half joint [another pre-easter CFC bargain at £2 instead of a tenner - I couldn't believe it when I saw that that's how much what is effectively a big lump of ham costs normally!  What a rip off.] in English mustard and I think; a wee bit of honey.  I'll have to check that detail with him. - Yep - honey
The Ox liver was also a CFC clogging-up-my-freezer-space meaty bargain at something like 40p so I took the opportunity to combine some leftovers with the frugal liver to create a hopefully tasty dish for t'Chap [who had ended up getting sent off to Plymouth for work meaning he would be back rather later than usual] and reclaim some of the freezer space for veg stuff.
This was loosely based on a recipe I found here, after googling Ox liver.  Top pointers seem to be that it's the toughest of the livers available therefore needing a long slow cooking method, but is also the 'tastiest' - should you like the taste of liver.  Bleargh.  Even back in my meat eating days I detested liver so this was going to be an interesting cooking experience!

Ox liver & Gammon Hotpot
1lb Ox liver
2 sml / 1 lg onion - sliced
1 md carrot - chunked
1 lg / 2 sml sticks celery - chunked
4-5 big (but not the flat field type) mushrooms - chunked
2-4oz gammon in little chunks
1 heaped tbsp seasoned flour
Potatoes - sliced

Put oven on to heat at gas 3 - or if it's my oven which I know is shite at low temps use 3.5-4.
Slice the liver and toss in the seasoned flour.  Ha - damn sight easier said than done.  Liver is damn messy - muchos blood, not pleasant at all.  In fact it's pretty damn manky I'm afraid.  If you're a veggie that's squeamish don't do liver is my advice!  Anyway - having sliced the [literally] bloody stuff next comes the flouring - I feel I may have done this bit slightly wrong.  I dumped the flour on top of the liver and stirred.  This gave me a passable imitation of lumpy concrete in a fetching [NOT] pink shade.  Hmmm - promising thus far then!
Place your gooey icky pink mix in the bottom of the casserole - oh sorry - that should read 'lay the liver in the base of the casseole'  lol. 
Mix the veg and gammon together and put over the top.
Sprinkle the herbs over [the recipe said sage and of course the day before making this was when I moved the pot of sage from outside the front door to down the allotment so I used what I had] followed by S+P. 
Pour stock over until just on/over the top of the veg.
Top with thin slices of potato arranged in a pretty pattern- or chucked on any old how - it doesn't really matter and depends how much time you wish to dedicate to aesthetics.
Put lid on and whack it in the oven for 3.5 hours then uncover for another half hour to crisp the top.

That's it.  Apart from the whole unexpectedly large amount of blood and the flouring bit it actually wasn't too bad - chopping veg is kinda second nature and it's a dish you just bang in the oven and walk away from rather than one you have to hover over constantly.

Chap enjoyed it but did mention he'd have liked some tomato flavours in there.  It had crossed my mind to add a good tbsp or 2 squirt of tom puree to the stock - esp. as I was using veg stock cubes not having beef ones in the house and evidently they aren't going to have the same flavours or depth of flavour for a meat based dish.  This being the first time I made this though - or any liver dish in fact I was wary of tweaking it so didn't.  Hey ho - I know for next time.

My verdict - it didn't seem that exciting a dish when made to me - perhaps mixing the meat and veg more as well as the addition of the aforementioned tom flavour would work better.  Also - I need to work on my 'flouring the meat' technique I think!  :-D  Not bad for a first timers offal effort though.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Allotment top tipple

Although it rained [a lot] here over the weekend we did manage to nip down the alloment briefly.  There's rasps and strawbs and we have black mint growing too.  Well - there's only one thing to do with these - Pimms it is!  Well - it's not but it's Aldi's cheap version at £ 5.99 a bottle.
We discovered a rather nice adjustment to the traditional Pimms drink.  Put ice, strawbs and rasps in the bottom of a pint glass.  Pour in Pimms to the top of the ice.  Add lemonade to about half way to two thirds of the way up the glass then top up with - [wait for it] - cider!  Use something with a decent taste of apple to it [not Strongbow etc that tastes of naff all - like the cider version of Fosters] and think of the flavours of those fruity ciders that seem to be popular now.  Take a few mint leaves and scrunch them up a bit then tear and add to the drink.  Stir and enjoy!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

New IT systems - pah!

Not enough hours in the day - especially when your company makes the 'sound' business decision to get a new system that takes OVER DOUBLE the amount of clicks/movements to do some stuff as it did before!!  How is that good business sense?  Anyway - I did not start this blog to rant about work - good at it though I may be, so that's enough of that.
Time has beaten me again and I must off to dinner with the Chaps parents.  Must check on how the piglets in the field opposite are doing when I get there...  :-D

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


Trying to maintain a vaguely positive outlook [not always the easiest as I am well and truly one of life's pessimists - or realists depending on your viewpoint] and this is proving a little bit of a tussle at the moment - work is less than great; my insomnia's been kicking back in with a vengeance over the last couple of weeks and I think I'm gaining weight despite a pretty healthy diet.  [Scales also broken.]  Anyway - my damn flip flop broke on my way to work this morning - pah; then it rained on me too.  BUT...but - look at the cygnets.  This is the first family I've seen this year, they were paddling along the river on my way home yesterday and this morning here they are toddling up the bank.  I then saw a family of ducks a little further on and both things cheered me up no end. 
Although I'm not a fan of the government putting a £ sign on our green spaces they have a point about the value of nature to us all...

Friday, 3 June 2011

Pimp my noodles

You know they're rubbish food but they're cheap and easy so there tends to be a few packs lurking in your cupboard.  Those cheapo noodles that are loaded with calories and often really eco-unfriendly palm oil.  :-(
Sometimes it's what there is to hand though and as I was running out the door for work this morning this very quick make for my lunch turned out to be surprisingly nice - so I thought I'd share it.  It's a way of making cheapo instant noodles palatable with very few ingredients or time needed.

1-2 packs instant noodles depending how hungry you are / size of the pack - the cheaper they get the smaller they tend to be.
Thai green curry paste
Creamed Coconut - the solid block kind
Sweetcorn - handful frozen / tinned - your preference
0.5 fillet white fish (optional)
Mushroom ketchup

Boil the kettle and add the required amount of hot water according to the instructions on the noodle pack to a pyrex jug / bowl / microwaveable container.
Add a teaspoon-ish of the TGC paste - to your taste considering that strengths seem to vary wildly.  I've got a big tub of the stuff we got in one of the local asian food shops for about £1.69 that's vastly superior in flavour and value than what you'll get for twice the price for a quarter the amount in the stupormarkets.  It's also dead strong!
Add the noodles, fish and sweetcorn and pop in the microwave for about 2 mins.
Remove and flake the fish through the dish.  Ensure it's totally cooked through as you do so.  Judicial stirring should accomplish this - no need to burn your fingers!  [You can use pre-cooked fish; mine was.  I just flaked it in at the start.]
Grate a little of the coconut block in then stir through.  If needed pop back in the microwave for a minute or 2 longer.
Add a little splash of mushroom ketchup just for the depth and stir.

That's it - easy!  As mentioned it surprised me how good it was for a very simple dish - I think it's down to the flavours zinging out from the Thai green curry.

Well - that's all I've got time for, I'm off for the next three days - maybe see you at the Respect Festival?  So glad it's finally summer weather - yay!!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Meat cooking for the faint hearted #1 - Slow Cooker Sos

Don't fret - I haven't fallen off any wagon and am still a non-eater of meat [although I am an eater of fish making me a pescatarian not a true veggie.]  The Chap is however an eater of meat and it struck me that apart from bacon or a steak I really know naff all about cooking actual meat dishes.  Granted I could probably muddle my way through a roast with the help of instructions on the back of the label but it's not something I know - which irks me somewhat considering how much I like cooking.  I went nearly all veg at 16/17ish so before I really started cooking for myself, only returning to eating fish at uni.  [Prawns were the only thing I never gave up - one Marks & Spencer Prawn and Mayo sarnie a month kept me on the straight and narrow the rest of the time.]  Not having eaten the stuff for so long whilst I learnt most of my basic cooking skills means there's a distinct lack of meat dishes in my repertoire.
This is all kicked off due to the Chaps rather good haul of CFC bargains from the Co-op the day before they were shut for easter.  He got a plethora of sausages, ox liver, lambs liver, diced beef as well as a gammon joint and a couple of big rump steaks.  Nearly all of it ended up in my freezer and when it started to become impossible to fit my frozen sweetcorn in I decided it was time I did something about it and cooked some of the damn stuff for him.  First up then was a basic sausage [sos / snag / banger - you're choice of colloquialism] casserole.  Long ago I'd kept a recipe from a jar of sauce of some kind and this then was my basis for this slow cooker dish adapted to fit the ingredients to hand.

4 sos - ours were Lincolnshire ones [whatever that signifies - I'm afraid the niceties of that side of it are a bit of a closed book to me]
1 red and 1 white onion - it's what I had - or use 1 large white one etc, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped / minced
Mushrooms, chopped (3ish)
Tin chopped toms
0.5pt veg stock
White wine
Red lentils - 2 wee scoops - which was 6 tbsp
1tsp dried thyme
1tsp smoked paprika
Small handful greens - spinach / chard / sea beet / whatever you have to hand

Cook the sausages a bit - to help them keep their shape in the SC.
Heat the EVOO and add the onion and garlic.  Fry gently to soften.
Add the mushrooms and cover then cook gently a few minutes more.  Tip the lot into the SC and whack it on High to heat up.
Add the toms and juice from the tin, a splosh of white wine and the stock; made with boiling water as this will help the ingredients get up to heat faster.
Add the lentils and the thyme and paprika and stir all together.  Judge the amount of liquid in there; the lentils will swell so if necessary add a little more wine and/or stock to ensure there's enough to cook them in.
Chop the sos into inch-ish long chunks and add to the SC.
Cover and turn to medium or low depending how long you've got.  Mine ended up having rather longer than needed with 6 hours but it won't harm it.  Just make sure the lentils are properly cooked through.
Stir your greens in and re-cover to let wilt for a few mins before serving.

See - it's easy!! Admittedly using a pre-formed thing like a sausage seems a wee bit cheaty but it was what we had to hand after the CFC sweep bargain night - these cost us 40p a pack of 8 making this a deffo tick in the 'frugal' box.  They seemed quite 'solid' sausages - not too spongy - actually containing some meat!  Which I think will have helped them keep their form in the SC.  Otherwise the chap enjoyed it and I can [just about] claim that I can make sos casserole.  Kind of...  ;-)

Underachiever of the weekend....

Well, not so much achieved over t'weekend  - although chillaxin occurred!  The Chap ended up working unfortunately so the trip for cheaty plantlets was put off as was the shelf erecting.  I'm fully capable of putting shelves up myself but my drill has ended up on some sort of long term loan / theft by increments to a friend so I'd have to borrow the Chaps'.  Which means he would be most effronted that he wasn't doing the actual work himself and would insist on doing it; except he wan't there to do it and neither was his drill.  You see what I mean? 
Allotmenting occurred and I'll be heading there again after work to harvest some more perpetual spinach beet stuff and strawbs.  The beet stuff is great - some went to seed last year so it's been an early bonus crop - although supply is starting to outstrip our use of it!  I'll have to clear some space in the freezer and start making spanoptika or whatever it's called.  Always fancied trying it - never got round to it somehow.  Perhaps I should make it my entry to the 'Bookmarked Recipes' challenge Jacqueline over on Tinned Tomatoes is holding - I've got files full of recipes I've printed or copied off meaning to make and never got round to it... somehow it doesn't surprise me!
Anyway - lots more to be done this weekend although I shall be spending some of it attending the very good Exeter Respect Festival - a free weekend event with diverse types of music, arts, crafts, food etc. to celebrate the diversity of our fair city.  Good shout sez I!
Oh - and another good (if belated) shout - the Chiefs winning their final game of the season 21-8 against London Wasps to finish the season 8th in the table. Sweeeeet!  :-D