Review of Smoke and Spice – Leicester

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A week last Wednesday was one year since my partner and I met. I can clearly remember waiting somewhat nervously at Leicester train station for him to arrive for our first date, in fact our first ever meeting thanks for the world of online dating.

The online dating journey had been a strange one full of unsuitable and disappointing men who never lived up to their profiles in the flesh before J appeared that day. There was the military intelligence officer who spoke five languages fluently and (like me) loved The West Wing, yet drove his car into my neighbour’s house and purred at me like a cat. The narcissist drug addict who was lost in a world of his own lies and delusions oh and not to forget the surprise racist. Yep finding a partner online was pretty tricky stuff but it turns out it was nothing compared to choosing a place to go and eat out for our first anniversary.

The search began a month ahead of time, yes really. I wanted to find the perfect mix of casual dining, good cocktails and excellent food so began the quest in earnest back in February. I was absolutely gutted to discover that 2 of my favourite places to go had closed down last year – farewell Grillstock and Boneyard, your sticky, smoked meats and potent cocktails will be sadly missed.

Whilst searching for a new smokehouse in Leicester, a Google search turned up a new place called Smoke and Spice on Granby Street, not far from the train station. Serving up “Indian street food, Indian BBQ, pan Indian curries, sides and hand crafted desserts” my interest was piqued.

The online dinner menu looked like there was something to suit both of us, 4 à la carte courses and a Thali buffet selection for the main course and all for just £9.99, PLUS some kickass sounding cocktails, there must be some kind of catch right?

I checked out their Twitter account: 2 followers, Facebook: 65. Tripadvisor was mixed: 3 reviews, 2 good, one bad, hmmm worth a punt? Yeah why not. I loved the sound of their menu and their cocktails sounded great and the last thing I wanted was for us to go somewhere pricey and leave disappointed which happens way more often than not unfortunately. It was decided, Smoke and Spice was a go.

Their lunchtime menu swaps to their larger evening offering from 5pm so we idled away a couple of hours drinking some lovely Tiny Rebel beers at The Parcel Yard, where a year ago we’d spent hours chatting away on our first meeting. Come 5:30pm off we headed down Granby street, past plenty of busy chicken restaurants, takeaways  and noodle bars until we found Smoke and Spice. Empty. Hmm, not the best advertisement.

We were greeted warmly by a lovely lady who showed us to a booth. She explained that we order our first 2 courses off the à la carte menu (poppadums and chutneys would be on their way as a first course) and then head up to the buffet for a Thali style selection for our main, then if we had room there was the dessert menu to explore. There were 3 beers on the menu and J was looking forward to trying the Brooklyn Scorcher (£4.99) but sadly only the pilsner (£3.99) was on today so J opted for that and I went for a Darjeeling Iced Tea (£6.99).

The chef brought out our poppadums and chutneys whilst our drinks were made. I was intrigued by the sound of mine, “Gin, Vodka, Rum, Tequila, Indian Chai Syrup, Lemonade, Midori. Party time in the foothills”, I could hear the cocktail shaker being used and my mouth was watering in anticipation of an über boozy delight. 

Pappadums, pickles and chutneys

Pappadums, pickles and chutneys

The poppadoms were nice and crisp with just the right amount of tart pickle and mint and coriander chutney garnish to make them interesting without being overpowering. The drinks arrived, mine garnished with dried flower petals looked pretty, sadly it just tasted like lime cordial and lemonade. I mean it was nice, it just wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I couldn’t taste the gin, tequila, rum, chai syrup or Midori but it was pretty pleasant so I happily drank it as it was complimenting the food. Should I have said something? Probably, but I wasn’t annoyed about it, I’m a pretty easy going diner and I was having a fab time.

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Our second courses arrived as we were polishing off the poppadums. J had the Palak pyaz pakoras – tender spinach, onion and potatoes coated in spiced chickpea flour batter and fried into fritters with herbal yogurt, mint coriander, tamarind and date chutney, J was more than pleased with it. He was raving about them so I tried half of one of his, he was right, they really were pretty good. I plumped for the Bombay bhel papdi as I’d never tried it before. I wasn’t to be disappointed either, this dish was a bit of a highlight for me – puffed, toasted  rice with crisps ,mint chutney, date and tamarind chutney. It was fab –  salty and crispy with a nice kick from the chutneys and pickles, a winner.

BOMBAY BHEL PAPDI v Assorted papdi, rice flakes, sev, mint chutney, date and tamarind chutney

BOMBAY BHEL PAPDI

Next up were the BBQ firebowls. I’m a bit of a wing addict so it came as no surprise to J that I opted for the Himalayan salt and pepper wings, damn they were good too. Smoky and crispy on the outside having been marinated in ginger, garlic ,soy and black pepper, the crisp skin giving way to juicy and succulent meat, I licked the bones clean. J had the Dhabi chicken tikka, I think he was a little disappointed over the small portion size but enjoyed the tender pieces of spiced chicken and the accompanying chutneys and pickles (they feature a lot).

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It was at this point that we ordered our naan breads to accompany the Thali buffet. They arrived within a few minutes, light and crispy, fresh from the tandoor, mine generously slathered in garlic butter, J’s plain. Up we went to explore the many dishes on offer at the buffet. By this point 2 other diners had arrived, they’d just doubled the dining figures.

Traditional Thali trays were provided instead of plates, it’s a shame that these weren’t warmed as it did mean the food went cold pretty quickly. There were 20 dishes to choose from, everything I tried was pretty mild and unremarkable unfortunately, nothing heavily spiced or flavoured. J and I both agreed that we couldn’t have gotten through a regular serving of any one of them by itself, but small amounts of dishes were OK, probably the best dish was the lamb rogan josh or chicken biriyani. It was a bit of a shame that the buffet lacked the punchy flavours of the previous courses, nothing was particularly bad, just rather dull and lacklustre in comparison.

thali buffet

So. Much. Food

I definitely got overexcited about serving myself and wanted to try as many dishes as possible – eyes bigger than my belly, and that’s saying something! Our very helpful waitress came up to check on us a couple of times, she was lovely, really knowledgeable. She was surprised we weren’t going up for more but I couldn’t finish what I already had and she was already telling us that the desserts are pretty special. She makes the desserts you see and was determined we try them, in a nice way nothing pushy at all.

So we had a look at the desserts menu, I spotted tiramisu, my favourite and J was sold on the pistachio and rose cheesecake. The tiramisu was heavily spiked with green cardamon with was a lovely surprise, although the pods were still in the mascarpone which was a rather unpleasant one, still despite this it was rich without being heavy and was a good end to the meal. J loved his cheesecake which was incredibly light and left him feeling refreshed and in fact ready for more!

All in all we had a really good time, the a la carte food was great, shame about the buffet being a bit disappointing but for £9.99 it’s an absolute bargain, would we go again? Absolutely. It’s pocket friendly, cheerful, relaxed and the a la carte options really are very good. Will they still be around in a year’s time? Well I hope so, although they’re going to need a few more customers.

Food: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Value for money: 9/10

Smoke and Spice: 32 Granby Street, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE1 1DE Tel: 0116 262 5620

Blackberry and sloe gin posset with rosemary shortbread

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It’s a dark, damp, wintery Sunday here at the cottage. The fire is lit, the cats are all snoozing contently and I’m feeling the need for something zingy, boozy and comforting to brighten the day, step up the winter posset.

Possets are ridiculously easy to create – back when I was a chef I always used to put lemon posset on the dessert menu, it’s delicious, very cheap to make and ready in no time at all which is an all round win for the kitchen.

I love, love LOVE sloe gin. It’s a hip flask staple on a winter walk through frosty fields and so easy to throw together in the last days of autumn. I have bottles of sloe gin in my cupboard dating back to 2010, they have outlasted several relationships and I ration them out as if they were made using the tears of unicorns. I anticipate feeling a great aching loss when the last of the 2010 batch is gone. If you are lucky enough to try some one day then know that you are indeed very special to me! If you don’t have any homemade to hand then you can easily buy a bottle, Sipsmith do a good one.

Now I love shortbread, according to my boyfriend I don’t make enough of it. He’s not a fan of adding any flavours to it mind, he’s a shortbread purist you see – plain, straight down the line, no fucking about shortbread or not at all. I, on there other hand, love lemon shortbread, vanilla shortbread and this wonderfully aromatic rosemary shortbread which goes so well with the rich posset.

If you fancy listening to me make this then click here (you will need iPlayer access as it’s on the BBC).

I’m using blackberries foraged last year that have been in the freezer, but there are plenty to be found on supermarket shelves even at this time of year.

Blackberry and sloe gin posset with rosemary shortbread

Ingredients:

For the posset:

  • 600ml double cream
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 150g blackberries
  • Pinch freshly ground pepper
  • Sloe gin (for quantity see recipe instructions)

Method:

  1.  Heat the cream and sugar together over a medium heat, stir frequently.
  2.  Bash the berries to release the juice then strain into a measuring jug, get all the juice out of the berries.
  3. Measure the juice and add enough sloe gin to bring the liquid up to 250ml.
  4. Once the cream mix is just simmering, remove from heat and stir in the blackberry mix.
  5. Pour into dessert glasses, leave to cool for 20mins then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  6.  To serve, simply dust with icing sugar and garnish with a few blackberries.

Rosemary shortbread:

  • 225g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 110g cornflour
  • 1 tsp fresh finely chopped rosemary

Method:

  1.  Heat oven to 160C.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar.
  3. Sift in flours and add rosemary.
  4. Stir, then use hands to bring it together to resemble crumble mixture.
  5. Turn onto baking parchment. Knead a few times to form rough dough. Cover with another sheet of parchment and use a rolling pin to roll out a slab around 15mm thick.
  6. Cut into rounds with a cutter or whatever shape you prefer then refrigerate for 30mins.
  7. Bake for around 12-15 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as you don’t want them to burn.
  8. Remove from oven, sprinkle with caster sugar. Leave for 2 mins then transfer to a cooling rack.

Lemon drizzle gin cakes

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Excuse my appalling icing attempts in this post, I’ve always been utterly shit at icing, one day I’ll actually learn how to do it but until then you’ll just have to try look beyond the disastrous attempts at prettying cakes and bear with me

Gin and lemon, two happy bedfellows that sing about sunnier times and come as welcome relief in these cold winter days. These cakes are light and fluffy yet boozy and indulgent, what’s not to love?

You can hear me making these cakes by clicking here (you’ll need Iplayer as it’s a BBC clip). There’s no bad language so it’s perfectly safe to listen to in the kitchen whilst whipping up a batch of these tasty treats with the kids around.

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Lemon drizzle gin cakes:

Ingredients:

For the cake mixture:

  • 200g Stork
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • 90ml Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle Gin (or you could use a citrusy gin)

For the drizzle:

For the icing:

  • 1 x 500g tub ready made lemon frosting (yeah I totally cheated and got one from Morrisons)
  • Edible decorations such as fondant flowers and white chocolate stars.

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 170C (fan). Place 12 cupcake cases into a muffin tray
  2. Use an electric whisk to cream together the Stork and the sugar until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Add flour, eggs and zest and beat together.
  4. Gradually beat in the gin.
  5. Fill the cases around two thirds full, use all the mixture
  6. Bake for 12 minutes or until the cakes pass the skewer test.
  7. Make the drizzle by combining the ingredients in a pan, heat over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil and boil for 30 seconds them carefully remove the juniper berries.
  8. Prick the cakes all over the top with a pointed chopstick or skewer then carefully pour all of the syrup over them, leave to cool completely.
  9. Put the frosting in a piping bag, pipe all over the tops of the cakes (try and do a much better job that I did!) then decorate as you please.

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World Gin Day: Hibiscus and Rose Gin recipe

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I’m currently in the hills of Andalucia in Southern Spain. I’ve been here for 9 days so far looking after my friend’s villa and animals whilst she is over in the UK. I’m in food Heaven. The abundance of incredible ingredients that grow all around the villa is inspiring, this is a country where you drive over oranges, lemons and olives as you go about your business and the local supermarket has a seafood counter with more shellfish and fish than you could shake a filleting knife at, 5 different types of shrimp alone has me jumping with excitement.

 

Whilst at the supermarket the other day I picked up a bottle of Spanish gin for just €6, worth a try I figured. Well it’s really rather wonderful, heavy with aromatics of angelica and coriander and surprisingly smooth for such a price I took it back to the villa. Here at Sheila’s gorgeous home she has both rose and hibiscus plants growing so naturally I thought these would make a wonderful addition to the newly acquired gin.

If you’ve never made your own gin before you’ll be surprised how easy it is! Last year I wrote a super easy guide for fMetro on how to make your own gin (do give it a read).

Hibiscus and Rose Gin <

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1 bottle gin
1 tablespoon juniper berries
8 green cardamom pods lightly squashed
2 handfuls dried rose petals
10 hibiscus flowers
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns

Simply drink some gin to make space in the bottle then add the aromatics and put in a dark place to preserve the colour ( it will go bright pink). Leave for a week then strain off the aromatics and pop in the freezer.

*Wordpress on IPad and iPhone is a bloody nightmare so apologies for poor layout and grammar but it won’t let me correct anything grrrr*

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Black Forest chocolate brownies

Gooey, fudgy awesome.

Gooey, fudgy, awesome.

So yesterday was my first day back doing BBC Radio Leicester’s Food Friday show with Ben Jackson since my knee operation last month. I’m still wobbly and having to use a crutch or two but by far the most agonising thing has been not being able to stand up to cook. It still hurts but my body feels completely out of kilter and my mind suffers if I can’t spend at least a small amount of time each day creating stuff in my kitchen.

One of the positives of being on crutches is that I’ve had to get a cleaner to come and help me around the house, she’s all kinds of ace and as it turns out an awesome cake maker who was telling me about a Black Forest cheesecake she made recently, a lightbulb flashed on in my mind and these rather kickass fudgy brownies were created.

You can hear me making this, it’s only 11 minutes long, by clicking on this link where you will also find the recipe. We always have a blast in my kitchen and yesterday was no different, although he did edit out my “only special people get to drink out of Lady Diana’s cup” line….

What I also forgot about was the “surprise” that I mentioned in the clip, this is simply to swap the cherries for Cadburys mini eggs, perfect for Easter 🙂

Black Forest Chocolate Brownies (makes 12)

  • 300g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 250g dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 1 handful dried cherries
  • 2 handfuls walnut pieces
  • 1 capful vanilla extract
  • Pinch sea salt flakes
  • 80g plain flour
  • 360g caster sugar
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 x 400g can dark cherries in syrup, drained

For the glaze: (optional not essential)

  • 2 heaped spoonfuls morello cherry jam
  • 50ml kirsch or other alcohol such as dark rum

For the topping:

  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 3 heaped tablespoons mascarpone
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
Method:

  1. Heat oven to 180C. Put the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water and melt until silky and thoroughly combined then add the dried cherries and nuts.
  2. Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder in a separate bowl and stir to mix.
  3.  Add the flour mx to the melted chocolate and gently stir to combine then add the eggs and continue to mix gently with a spatula until it is all thoroughly combined.
  4.  Line a 25cm x 25cm baking tray with greased baking paper that overhangs by a few cm to make it easy to remove the brownie later, and pour in the brownie mix, scatter over half of the cherries and push them into the mix.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes (it will be quite wobbly, it will harden on cooling) then remove from oven and leave to cool completely in the baking tray.
  6. Put the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 4 minutes. Brush over the cold brownie.
  7. Remove the brownie from the tin.
  8. Beat the whipping cream until firm then ad the mascarpone and mix well, put it in a piping bag and pipe over the top of the brownie to cover. Decorate with the remaining cherries and a dusting of coca.

 

My sous vide cooking experiment: Week 1

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen me getting all excited about a new bit of kit that has arrived in my kitchen courtesy of Sous Vide Tools. Now if you know me in real life you will also know that it’s pretty much the only gadget apart from an electric whisk that’s now in my old cottage.

The chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association had a dodgy meat experience in Bangkok 15 years ago which was enough to turn him vegetarian, similarly 5 years ago I had a dodgy sous vide experience at a swanky hotel in Belfast that saw me declare sous vide as the death of cooking and never looked back.

So when I was asked if I fancied trialling some sous vide kit I knew they had quite a battle on their hands to change my mind. That hotel kitchen had ruined a perfectly good, carefully sourced bit of beef and turned it to textureless mush five years ago and it had put me right off. Sous vide was the Devil, right?

Well, it turns out that it’s pretty damn hard to screw up a steak using sous vide, you really have to go out of your way to do it to the point that I now believe it was some kind of deliberate, calculated meat hating vegan that prepared that steak. What that chef had done to that poor bit of cow I don’t know but I hope to their god he or she isn’t still doing it.

So last Saturday I headed off to Cambridge to meet up with Alex from Sous Vide Tools at the Steamer Trading Cookshop where he was running demos of the Thermo Circulator that I was going to be receiving. I told Alex about my “Steak from Hell” experience and he perked up: “Wait until you try this bit of bavette that’s been cooking for 29 hours” he said. Oh god, I thought, here we go again. Then, I tasted it. Oh, actually that’s beautifully tender with great texture and still pink, not tasteless mush AT ALL, and bavette, also known as flank steak is a really tough cut. Hmmm OK hit me with your next bit of wizardry Alex.

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Next up was a chicken breast, perfectly moist and intensely chicken-y and cooked in under 1 hour. So not everything takes DAYS? Ok, so it looked like everything I thought I knew about sous vide was actually totally and utterly wrong.

I was then off to eat lunch at Alimentum which holds 1 Michelin star under the care of Chef Patron Mark Poynton. What happened next was by far the most incredible dining experience I’d had since Comerc24 in Barcelona five years ago. His food made total sense, it was exciting, surprising and perfect in every way possible. One week later and I still think about a dish of pork, langoustine and caviar at least three times a day.

some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

Some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

I had arrived in Cambridge highly dubious about sous vide cooking and what benefit it could have for me in my own kitchen, I left in complete awe of Mark’s cooking and excitedly impatient for my kit to arrive on Monday.

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that's full of dinner rather than goldfish

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that’s full of dinner rather than goldfish

Monday arrived as did the kit, a Thermo Circulator, vac pac machine, bags and a big plastic container. You don’t actually need the container, you can attach the Thermo Circulator to a big stock pot or even a bucket. I unpacked everything and got straight to work, I filled it with warm water and got rid of my temperamental toaster to make room for it on the counter. But what to cook first? Something simple I figured, I had some bargain no frills Tesco carrots in the fridge, perfect. I peeled them, vac packed them and whacked them in at 85C for 30 minutes.

A simple test of the sous vide's abilities

A simple test of the sous vide’s abilities

I took the carrots out and popped them in the fridge for later. Reduced the sous vide temp down to 64C and decided to try my own chicken breast experiment:

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Sherry and porcini chicken breast:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 4 dried porcini mushrooms
  • a few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1 fennel frond
  • salt and pepper
  • about 60ml Amontillado sherry

Vac packed and in the sous vide at 64C for 60 minutes. During the last 20 minutes I returned the vac packed bag of carrots to warm up then just put everything into a bowl. Easy, ace, nutritious, packed full of flavour and boozy, whats not to love? I’d really like this on a bed of noodles or rice if I fancy a bit more carbs.

Some more recipes from those few days…

48 hour beef ribs in quince gravy:

About 6 mins of actual "work" to make this incredible ribs

About 6 mins of actual “work” to make this incredible ribs

  • 1 beef rib sawn into 4 pieces by my butcher
  • about 60ml port
  • few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 bayleaves
  • 1 teaspoon Dorsetshire Sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons homemade quince jam (you could use membrillo)

Put everything except the quince jam into a bag and vac pac. Sous vide at 64C (so I could also cook chicken at same time) for 48 hours. Open bag, remove ribs from liquid, pan fry in very hot pan to sear then remove and set aside under foil. Pour liquid from bag into pan, add quince jam, stir and and reduce until thick and sticky (about 5 minutes). Strain liquid over the ribs.

Whipped bone marrow butter with smoked salt:

This is something I’m REALLY proud of. It’s pretty awesome even if I do say so myself and I’m having it on everything, it’s magic butter, everything tastes better when smothered in it.

bone marrow butter

  • 4 Pieces of marrow bone about 4cm diameter x 7 cm tall (mine were straight out of my freezer)
  • 2 x 250g packs unsalted butter
  • few pinches halen Môn smoked salt (I like it salty).
  • (apple smoking chips and a smoking gun if you want to smoke them after)

Put the bone pieces into a bag and vacuum seal. Sous vide at 64C for about 2 hours. Pour into a bowl and chill in fridge to set. Meanwhile whip the butter until smooth and light. Remove any stringy bits from the marrow, break up with a fork and whisk into the whipped butter until thoroughly combined and fluffy, season with some smoked Halen Môn salt.

If you want to keep some and freeze some then portion off and roll into cylinders using cling film. Chill in fridge to set. Sous Vide Tools also sent me a smoking gun to play with, IT’S AWESOME, so I unwrapped a couple of the set butter cylinders and placed them in a big bowl along with some whisky (yeah smoked whisky rocks), covered with cling and smoked with some apple wood chips before re-clinging and returning to the fridge.

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

That bone marrow pasta dish is such a thing of wonder that I’m going to do a separate recipe post for it, it’s a heavenly, silky, meaty, carby delight.

So theres a few recipes from the last few days, I have a pork belly that was brined for 12 hours and bathed for 36 that is currently being pressed in the fridge and 6 hefty ox cheeks currently languishing at 60C for 48 hours ready for my birthday dinner party tomorrow. Oh and yeah there is also some gin being infused with apple and cardamom floating about in there. It’s brilliant. I love it.

Sous Vide Tools are offering a really incredible deal for readers of this blog, I NEVER do things like this but I’ve been so impressed with the kit that I am really happy to do this offer. Basically they are very generously knocking a whopping £100 off their usual price of £449.99 (incl VAT)for their Polyscience Creative Promotion. This is a saving of £100 on the normal package price and a saving of £121.77 on the items if bought individually so a brilliant deal! I’m totally thrilled about this! All you need to do is either call Sous Vide Tools on 0800 678 5001or email them at enquiries@sousvidetools.com and quote the name “HAZEL” for your discount. This offer ends December 31st 2013 so it’s the perfect Christmas present to yourself or someone you really like!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

I’ll keep posting my sous vide recipes that I’m working on, I’m still to do fish and desserts yet.They do wonderful things to eggs just look at this duck egg…

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

Gin Jelly worms

OK so i forgot to take a picture before I'd eaten pretty much all of them!g

OK so i forgot to take a picture before I’d eaten pretty much all of them!g

The other day I saw a picture posted of some jelly woks made using some straws. Hmmm I thought, what’s better than jelly worms? Jelly worms made of gin obviously.

These are really easy to make so long as you buy quite big straws, unlike my tiny thin ones, an evening trying to blow gin jelly out of a tiny straw made me very nearly pass out. Luckily this made me discover that you can actually just squeeze the worms out.

I opted for multi colour ones with some edible glitter in, just because I fancied something a bit jazzy as they were going to be going into a cocktail.

  • half of 135g pack red jelly cubes
  • half of 135g pack green jelly cubes
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 360ml gin
  • edible glitter optional
  • straws
  • elastic band
  • tall glass
I forgot to take a pic of the original but you get the idea from this as to how to do it.

I forgot to take a pic of the original but you get the idea from this as to how to do it.

  1. Put your red jelly cubes in a microwavable bowl with 100ml boiling water and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Add the gin and stir well.
  2. Gather up your straws in a bundle, pull the scrunch bit to extend them all, secure with the band and stand them up tightly in the glass.
  3. Carefully pour in your gin jelly mixture half way up then put in the fridge for an hour to chill.
  4. Do the same with the green jelly but add a bit of edible glitter too then pour it into the straws to top up. return to the fridge until set.
  5. To release the straws you can squeeze the jelly out from top to bottom.

100% spelt flour loaf (with 2 minutes of kneading)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetMy cottage is old, with thick walls and high ceilings, in the summer its wonderfully cool to the extent that during this August’s heatwave I found myself leaving the cottage dressed for a crisp spring day and would have to instantly turn on my heels once hit with the wall of baking heat and remove a few layers before attempting to start the day again. Where this is glorious during the longer days of the year it’s also pretty damn Baltic come the winter.

I have an open fire in the living room and a wood burner in the dining room, on cold days like today when I’m working from home I’ll get the fire lit as soon as I’m up and about and work from my laptop next to the hearth. Today was one of those days and not one to waste a “day fire” I decided to bake some bread and use the heat to help the dough rise.

I’ve never made a spelt loaf before but had a bag of flour kicking about in the pantry. I had to pop to Tescos to pick up cat food so went and spoke nicely to the bakers who kindly gave me a big block of fresh yeast “we only measure by handfuls, one or two?”.

I’m now a convert to spelt, the loaf is rich and nutty which works so well with the sweet aromatic honey plus, its almost got the texture of soda bread which I adore. Yep from now on this is the loaf for me. It’s not a sandwich loaf though this one, it’s definitely one for spreading with butter and jam or marmite with a nice cup of tea, preferably whilst still warm from the oven.

Spelt loaf recipe:

  • 500g wholemeal spelt flour (I just guessed half of the bag of flour)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 400ml warm water
  • a chunk of fresh yeast the size of two match boxes (I don’t have scales)
  • 2 tablespoons runny honey
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  1. Put flour into a big bowl, put salt on one side, make a well in the centre.
  2. Crumble the yeast into the water and stir until dissolved. Pour in the well, add the honey and oil and mix with a spoon.
  3. I keep the dough in the big ceramic bowl and just knead with one hand for 2 minutes then lift the dough out, oil the bowl, put the dough back in, cover with cling and sit it in front of the fire for half an hour.
  4. After 30 mins I knock it back, dust it with more flour then put it into a lightly oiled loaf tin. Cover with a layer of cling then back in front of the fire for another 30 mins.
  5. Preheat oven to 200C. Sprinkle more flour over the top of the dough then put in the oven for about 50 minutes or until cooked through out.

I scoffed about half the loaf instantly with salted butter and some homemade quince and vanilla jam. Laziest loaf ever.

Homemade quince and vanilla jam

Homemade quince and vanilla jam

Skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage – total comfort food

skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage-6

I’m on a bit of a veg kick at the moment, when I’ve got loads of work on I tend to cut out meat, pasta and potatoes as I find it gives me much more energy and focus. Every Sunday, if I’m home, I head to my local car boot sale to buy the week’s veg from Maureen and Bridget. I’ve spoken of these two wonderful ladies quite often on here, they live just over the border in Lincolnshire and Bridget grows the most impressive veg and Maureen is the queen of pies, fruit vinegars and lemon curd.

The weather is dreary and wet today which leaves me craving comfort food. Off I went as usual in the driving rain to get my veg and came back with a mountain for less than £10: purple cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, cavelo nero, green and purple kale, red cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, bunched carrots and tops (the tops make excellent pesto), green tomatoes and a net containing about 12 onions. You can also buy 15kg bags of local spuds for £3, these are vegetables of the highest quality picked just the day before and at a fraction of the cost from any supermarket/greengrocer/market trader.

Piles of incredible veg grown just a few miles away for less than £10

Piles of incredible veg grown just a few miles away for less than £10

My wonderful friend Ben Jackson told me about skirlie early this year when he was round recording Food Friday one morning. His grandmother would make it when roasting a chicken. It took me ages to track down the pinhead oatmeal, I finally stumbled across it in the butchers in Sturminster Newton in Dorset, huzzah! Never one not to make up my own recipe I turned it into a kind of rich oatmeal risotto using chicken fat and stock from the previous day’s roast chicken and instantly fell in love.

Skirlie purists look away now as this is my version and it’s the ultimate comfort food.

chicken fat skirlie

My chicken fat skirlie that made me fall in love with it

Ingredients:

For the skirlie:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 white onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 250g pinhead oatmeal (it HAS to be pinhead)
  • 50ml cream sherry
  • hot chicken stock (or veg if you want a veggie version)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp dried porcini powder (blitz dried porcini in a coffee grinder)

8 large savoy cabbage leaves

For the béchamel: (approx measures)

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 40g plain flour
  • 400ml milk
  • 1 tsp dried onion granules
  • 1 tsp dried garlic granules
  • 2 tsp dried porcini powder
  • few gratings fresh nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 handfuls finely grated strong cheddar cheese

skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to its hottest setting. Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water, a few at a time to soften them, if the stalk is very thick at the base cut this out. Leave them to cool.
  2. In a saucepan combine the butter, onion and garlic and cook gently just to soften, don’t colour. Add the pinhead oatmeal and stir well to make sure the butter coats everything.
  3. It’s basically like making a risotto now, add the sherry and some hot stock and stir,once that is absorbed add some more stock and repeat until you can drag a spoon through the mixture and it leaves a trail on the bottom. Add the thyme and seasoning and porcini powder, stir well. You want the oatmeal to still have a bit of bite to it rather than be completely soft. Once it reaches that point simply turn off the heat and leave it to cool a bit whilst you make the sauce.
  4. Make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter, add the flour and stir, cook for a couple of minutes then whisk in the milk, keep stirring and cooking until thickened then add the rest of the ingredients and cook for a further minute whilst stirring.
  5. To assemble take a cabbage leaf and a big dollop of skirlie and make a little parcel by folding over the top, then tuck in the sides and roll the whole thing up. Put in a roasting tray, repeat with the rest. Spoon over the sauce, grate over some extra cheese then roast until the sauce and cheese starts to turn golden.

Wild hare and blackberry pie

Autumn's harvest in a pie

Autumn’s harvest in a pie

Well its’ been quite some time since I last posted anything, I’ve been really busy with my photography and doing bits with Radio Leicester (click to hear most recent recipe of chorizo sausage rolls and green tomato ketchup) and writing for Metro and then I acquired a stalker so this blog kind of took a back seat for a couple of months. But I’m back, and its Autumn so I’ve been busy foraging the hedgerows to make amazing blackberry and vanilla vodka and now this blackberry and hare pie.

We are very lucky here in Melton Mowbray to have a proper Farmer’s market, you can buy anything from a herd of sheep, a prize winning bull, a few ferrets, some shot game, foraged mushrooms, homemade butter and antiques and collectables. Its all there every Tuesday morning and costs very little indeed, except the prize winning bull that is.

I headed over on Tuesday morning with the intention of seeing what the game auction was like that day, its very hit and miss depending on what’s in season and what the weather was like for the shoots over the weekend. You can normally expect to see a couple of deer, plenty of pigeons, pheasants, partridge, rabbits, hares and wild boar plus mallards, geese, woodcocks and squirrels. This week though it was very quite, there were a lot of pigeon but they weren’t in top condition so I left those (they went at 20p/brace) and hung about for the mallard and hares. I was bidding against an old boy for the mallard but had set my max at £3.50/brace and it went on his bid at that so I came home with a couple of beautiful hares at just £5.

Skinning hares is very easy, if you fancy watching a brilliant video clip then I totally fell in love with this guy being all masterful with an axe in the woods:

You just need to be really careful whilst gutting them not to pierce anything as the smell is really pretty nasty. Go for hares with head shots so your meat is nice and clean and none of the internals have been punctured.

skinning hare

 

Two large hares left me with a great deal of meat that I butchered into legs and fillets and froze most of. I instantly fried off a bit of fillet nice and pink for a bit of a cook’s perk then got to work on this simple pie for tea.

Wild hare and blackberry mini pie  (makes 2 mini pies that each serve one person)

Ingredients:

  • about 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 hare fillets, sliced into bite sized pieces
  • a few tablespoons of seasoned flour
  • about 150g smoked pancetta cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • about 200ml of full bodied red wine
  • 2 handfuls fresh blackberries
  • a bit of sugar if the blackberries are not sweet
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • About 60ml hare blood (optional)
  • 175g puff pastry
  • 1 egg beaten
  • a few ladles of stock made from simmering the hare bones for a couple of hours

Method:

  1. Dredge the hare in the seasoned flour. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the hare, cook over a medium heat to brown and add the pancetta, cook for another 3 minutes then add the diced veg, garlic and herbs. Cook gently for about 5 minutes whist stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the red wine, bring to just boiling then reduce heat to a simmer,add the blackberries and some of the stock until everything is well covered, add the blood also if using and put a well fitting lid on, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hrs or until the hare has softened to meltingly tender.
  3. If the stew seems a little thick simply loosen with some more stock, season with salt and pepper and add a touch of sugar if it needs it, cook uncovered until you are happy with the thickness of the gravy then divide between two small pie trays.
  4. Preheat your oven to 200C. Roll out your puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut into two pieces big enough to cover your pies. Seal the sides and brush with the beaten egg. Make a little hole for steam to come out of then put in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is risen and golden.

 

 

Lychee and Rose cakes & Poppy Bumface gets stuck up a tree

lychee rose cake

Well my posts have been pretty much non-existent as I’ve been away travelling around the UK doing lots of photo shoots recently but I’m back at Wyldelight Cottage and back in my lovely tiny kitchen. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram (hazelpatersonphoto) will be familiar with my cats, Boris and Poppy Bumface. Poppy Bumface is a very strange little creature, mostly antisocial and with a voice like a drunken docker she’s more Oscar the Grouch than lovable kitty. She’s also never been allowed out of the cottage, up until last Monday that is.

The hot weather has meant that the cottage windows have been open and the ever resourceful PBF had managed to climb up and out of the living room window to the wilds of Melton Mowbray. For a couple of days she came back obediently when called, checking in every 20 minutes or so to make sure the cottage hadn’t upped and left it’s little spot tucked away in the town, all was good. Then on Thursday lunchtime she didn’t come back when I called her. I called and called but no little bell could be heard, no squawking meow. I went round the front of the cottage and could hear her crying. It took me a while to figure out where it was coming from but there she was, up in the big lime tree that grows in the park next to my cottage, she was about 17ft up and she was stuck.

lime tree

I called, I rustled her biscuits, I put tuna at the bottom of the tree and she just wouldn’t budge, she just cried. Now PBF is afraid of being alone, she cries if someone leaves the cottage to pop to the shop and she doesn’t like loud noises. I kept popping out to call her and see if she had moved but nothing. I rang the RSPCA and was told she needed to be up there for at least 24 hours before they will investigate. It was getting dark, the wind was picking up, the tree began to rustle loudly and sway and Poppy Bumface went from crying to howling with fear, it really was awful. I went round to the park (at this point I’m now in my Pyjamas), I’m rattling her biscuits and talking to a tree, it wasn’t my most attractive moment, tears welling up in my eyes and obviously having just split up with my boyfriend that was the exact moment he called: “sorry I can’t talk now I’m being a crazy cat woman in the park” is basically how the conversation went…

I didn’t sleep, her terrified howls carried straight through my bedroom window, in the morning I went out to see her. She’d now moved higher up onto a branch, not just any branch though Poppy had found a nice comfy nest to bed down in and there was a rather angry wood pigeon that wanted it back. There really was no chance of her coming down of her own accord, she just kept going higher and higher.

I rang the RSPCA again, she’s only a kitten and hadn’t had any food or water for 24 hrs now and her little voice had gotten so quiet. I was told to carry on waiting. I decided to bake some cakes for whomever managed to rescue her.

Lychee, Almond and Rose cakes (makes 10)

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 120g ground almonds
  • 120g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt (I use Halen Môn Vanilla sea salt)
  • 1 25g tin lychees, roughly chopped
  • 2 tblsp lychee juice

Lychee Rose Buttercream: (really approximate quantities as I just kept tinkering unit it was right)

  • 200g homemade butter (from Maria at Melton Cattle Market)
  • about 2 mugfuls of vanilla icing sugar
  • 2 capfuls rose water
  • 2 tablespoons double cream
  • 1 capful natural red food colour
  • 1 tablespoon lychee juice

To decorate: edible glitter, gold shimmer spray, edible flowers.

Method:

  1. Put the butter in a mug and microwave it for 30 seconds then leave to cool. In a big bowl combine the eggs and caster sugar and using an electric whisk beat until very light and getting quite firm (about 4 minutes on high power) then stir in the cream of tartar and vanilla sees and beat for another 30 seconds.
  2. In another bowl combine the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.
  3. Gently stir the cooled butter into the egg mixture being careful not to knock the air out then the butter, then carefully fold in the flour mixture then finally the chopped lychees.
  4. Divide the mixture between muffin cases in a tin and bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes or until skewer comes out clean when pushed through the centre. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
  5. Make the buttercream by beating the butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy then gradually beat in the icing sugar, add the rose and lychee waters and food colouring and continue to beat and add icing sugar. Add a bit of double cream and keep beating until the mixture is smooth. If it splits just add more icing sugar and bit of cream and keep beating. When the cakes are completely cool splodge a decent amount of icing on top then decorate.

So the cakes were made and Poppy was still up in the tree, except now she was so high I could no longer see her, I could tell she had climbed higher than the cottage roof as her cry was no so quiet. The old lager boys in the park came over to investigate clutching their cans of super strength beer, they wanted to climb up to get her, oh dear this was all going to end quite badly. I stood with them for about 20 minutes saying it was going to be way too dangerous, they were pretty adamant though. They all know mybothr cat Boris as he goes over and hangs out with them on their bench, Boris knows everyone, he has a better social life than I do.

Now at about 23 hours and after another call to the RSPCA Inspector Keith Ellis arrived, I could have hugged him, the CAVALRY! We stood in the garden and tried to spot her, after about 10 minutes she appeared, she was SO HIGH up now, perhaps 40 – 50ft, well above the height of my chimney on the roof, she was now out on a branch. Inspector Ellis called the duty fire chief from Melton Mowbray fire and rescue to come and have a look.

Fire brigadeThe chief arrives, he can hear her but not see her, he calls the truck to come to the park and the boys get out. They can hear her but she is so high up they can’t see her, they go and get the thermal imaging camera…

fire brigade thermal imaging

Then, they spot her. The chief thinks she is too high up to reach but they get the ladder anyway.

melton firemen

It’s pretty rare they do this kind of thing so they were saying that its actually a really good training exercise for them, this made me feel much better.

fire crew rescue Poppy Bumface

As thunder started to rumble a fireman named Dex suits up into a climbing harness and the rescue mission is underway. One of the guys (bottom left picture) mentions to me that when they are called out to talk down someone sat on the edge of a roof they send a fireman that smokes up, apparently most jumpers are smokers and the act of sharing a cigarette bonds the pair together which helps talk them down. He jokes that they should adopt a cat that climbs up and talks down other cats from trees, a smoking cat preferably. Boris volunteers himself by heading over to their equipment and watching on…

boris and firemen

Boris in the centre of the picture supervises the rescue…

Dex comes down the ladder for the grabber then heads back up feeling pretty confident he can get her. It was actually incredibly sweet as I could hear him meowing at Poppy Bumface 🙂 Then I heard her bell and then very slowly Dex started to climb all the way back down clutching a very frightened kitten to his chest, I very nearly burst into tears.

Dex climbs down carrying Poppy Bumface

Dex climbs down carrying Poppy Bumface

And then after 24 hours stuck up a tree, little Poppy Bumface is down!

cat in tree, cat rescued by firemen, poppy bumface

Dex my absolute hero holding Poppy Bumface, RSPCA Inspector Keith Ellis on right

Hurray for Dex! Hurray for Keith, hurray for all the guys from Melton day shift Fire and Rescue, total stars!

2013-06-18_0009

So Poppy Bumface was rescued and the wonderful day shift from Melton Mowbray Fire and Rescue went off heroically with a tin full of the lychee rose cakes covered in edible glitter and flowers (and with 25% off a photo shoot if they wanted one for them and their families, although I’m totally up for taking pictures of semi naked firemen *if* thats what they really want!). Poor Inspector Ellis missed out on a cake though so I owe him one, everyone really was wonderful and yes Poppy Bumface is well and truly grounded for the foreseeable future….

Graze The Vale food festival in the Vale of Belvoir

graze the vale of belvoir

The perfect antidote to Sunday’s Melton’s Cheese fair at the cattle market was the very first Graze The Vale food festival that took place on the Bank Holiday Monday on the Belvoir (pronounced beaver *chortle*) Castle estate. Glorious sunshine and the beautiful location of Vale House were home to artisan producers of cakes, pies, chocolate, teas, organically reared meat and other culinary delights.

graze the vale

I took Glen along to help put up the Great Food Magazine gazebo as Matt the editor was away sunning himself on holiday, even Glen had a brilliant day out which is no mean feat for a sun shy grumpy old man 😉

hartland pies graze the vale

I was over the moon to see Ian and Nic from Heartland Pies  which meant breakfast pies were in order. Heartland Pies are the only Melton Mowbray pork pie maker to use outdoor bred pork, their farmer is just up the road who rears all their pigs then Ian butchers them himself and then joined by wife Nic and sons Luke and Adam they turn them into wonderful pies. You’d be surprised how rare this is when it comes to Melton Mowbray pork pies who tend to use intensive farming systems for their pork, I long for a free range Melton Mowbray pork pie to come onto the market. Glen, who doesn’t even like sausage rolls, will happily snaffle up a couple of Heartland jumbo rolls which meant it was a porky breakfast for both of us. WIN.

graze the vale

Next to Heartland Pies was the Bluebird Tea Company who I rather fell in love with. They hand blend black, green, fruit, herbal and flower teas in all manner of incarnations. I bought their caffeine free rhubarb and custard and that was it for me, hooked. They are a young couple who are passionate about flavour and quality and even run a tea tasting club where you can get different teas posted out to you every month.

silvio graze the vale

The wonderfully exuberant Silvio was there with his Italian hog roast, Roast Events, this my friends was also really rather bloody brilliant, he marinaded the pig in herbs including fennel, garlic and onion and gently slow roasted it overnight, the stuffing was cooked in the perfumed rendered roasting juices and the crackling was crisp and addictive, yep, more aceness, more piggy delights.

coffee chocolate graze the vale

Not content with pies, teas and Italian hog roast I headed over to see Jerome who along with his wife run With Chocolate just up the road in Eaton. They source, temper, blend, design, package and produce the most heavenly chocolate, their banoffee truffle bar is a thing of absolute bloody beauty.

graze the vale food festivl

Picks Organic were there selling gorgeous meat reared on their farm or for something from a bit further afield there was kangaroo, elk and crocodile from their neighbour to get stuck into.  Thaymar ice creams were also there with their cute little van as were Sophie’s Flower Company and The Waltham Deli selling Hambleton Bakery pecan buns (AMAZING) and other hardcore indulgent delights.

graze the vale food festival

The beautiful Lara and her equally gorgeous Vale House which was home to the festival

It was a really chilled out, friendly festival, accompanied by great music (Edith Piaf and other sunshine happy music tinkled away in the background) and ace visitors and stall holders, the only thing missing was a beer tent but Lara is on the case for next year. Once the day was over and just us stall holders remained packing things away, Lara told us the news that not only had Silvio put a couple of legs of lamb in the hog roaster for everyone but she also broke out the ice cold beer and champagne from her own fridge, I bloody love this woman! As we all drank ice cold beer in the hot sun and chatted about what a fab day it had been I realised that it had been something really quite special, bring on next year 🙂

Melton Mowbray Cheese Fair 2013

melton mowbray, cheese fair

 

Last weekend saw the return of the Melton Mowbray Cheese Fair (I’d link to the website but it still only has a list of last year’s exhibitors), it’s actually billed as the “artisan” cheese fair but many of the exhibitors could hardly be called artisan, Long Clawson for example makes over 6,700 tonnes of cheese a year and I’ve worked in one of the other cheese factories that were there and they are about as far from “artisan” as you can get.

Artisan: (from the Oxford English Dictionary)

noun

  • a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.
  • [as modifier] (of food or drink) made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients: Britain’s artisan cheeses

There were much fewer cheese exhibitors this year, many of the artisan producers that were there last year were absent this time round bar a handful, but with the term “artisan” being used so loosely to include huge cheese manufacturers I don’t really blame them for wanting to distance themselves from something that devalues the true meaning of the word so carelessly.

I went along on the Sunday and was pretty shocked, not by the lack of small producers which I’d kinda expected but by the sheer rudeness of so many of the show’s visitors. It seemed entirely appropriate that it was held in a cattle market as people paid their £1 entrance fee many pushed and shoved and grabbed greedily at samples before just walking off. Everyone I spoke to in the days following the event said the same thing: “we saw people literally grabbing the knives off the tables and hacking lumps of cheese off from the producer’s tables and then just walking away.” It was depressing. Full credit to the traders though who I think must have all taken some super smiley pills because they were all incredible gracious and friendly in the face of such rudeness. I would have had people leaving my stall with toothpicks protruding from their eyes and hands after several hours of this so huge respect to all of them.

I gave up on moving around the stalls after my desire to whip out a cattle prod grew too intense and opted for a pint of Natterjack cider to calm me down, then an ale and watched the Melton Ukelele Orchestra who were absolutely ace, they played Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones and it totally made my day.

Things had quietened down a bit by then (perhaps the morris dancing had something to do with it) so I headed round the stalls to talk cheese. It was great to see David from Sparkenhoe there again (middle left on the picture above), THIS my friends is what Red Leicester is meant to taste like, its nutty, creamy, unpasturised and made on their farm using their own herd. Unsurprisingly the hands down flavour winners of the day were the unpasturised (raw milk) cheeses, of which I bought about 8 different ones (Keens cheddar, Chorlton smoked and unsmoked CheshireLaverstock buffalo mozzarella, Teifi’s Celtic promise, and 2 from the same producer whom I can’t remember the name of) which were all wonderful but my favourite of the day was Kent’s Winterdale Shaw which is Britain’s first carbon neutral cheese. Next time I’m down in Kent I’m going to head over to see them, they are a lovely family making great cheese using their own cows, just the kind of people and cheese that make this country’s food heritage something to be proud of.

There aren’t many photos to accompany this post as I pretty much just wanted to get out of there. It’s a real shame as it has the potential to be a good food fair, just drop the word Artisan or ONLY have true artisan products, get out of the cattle market and into a field with some marquees, have lots of other micro breweries, cider makers, artisan bakers, pie makers and celebrate food that is made with love and care and not forgetting MUCH more of the ukelele orchestra 🙂

Braised Beef Tendons with sticky Jasmine Rice & Pork Floss

Chinese braised beef tendons, pork floss

Cooking on a tight budget means you have to be a bit creative with your dishes such as using cuts of meat that most people overlook like awesome cow arse steaks, pigs head terrines, chicken wings/feet etc and now ladies and gentlemen it’s the turn of the humble and glorious beef tendon.

My wonderful butchers at Derek Jones in Melton Mowbray are used to me wanting bits of animals that usually go into the trim bins for mince/brawn etc and so last week when I asked them to  keep aside the beef tendons they couldn’t help but laugh as they normally go into the bin for the dogs. A visit to my butchers just wouldn’t be the same without them taking the piss in the way good butchers do 🙂 . Seriously, use your local butcher, they will look after you, share their knowledge (and jokes) and your kitchen will be all the better for it.

Asian countries are much less squeamish about which parts of animals are deemed “acceptable” to eat, and as a result enjoy so many more delicious morsels than the average UK shopper. Tendons are forthcoming in their generosity, when slowly braised in stock they not only soften to meltingly sticky, deeply flavoured delights but they release the most wonderful flavour and gelatine into the stock that makes it silky and with a depth of flavour that just can’t be beat.

Some of the ingredients you might not recognise, I pick everything up from my local Asian supermarket in Leicester which I love. Whenever I’m there I also buy 1 new ingredient that I have no idea what it is or how to use it and just experiment when I get home. The remaining braising liquid will set overnight, you can cut it into pieces and freeze separately to add to your Chinese cooking to give a wonderful flavour boost or we made a pho the following day.

Beef tendons

Raw tendons on left and in the stock on right

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 4 beef tendons
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 tsp Chinese 5 spice
  • 1 tablespoon dried garlic slivers
  • 1 heaped tablespoon hot fermented broadbean paste
  • 4 tablespoons Datu Puti (hot spiced chilli garlic vinegar from the Philippines)
  • 5 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • water to cover

To serve:

  • white rice
  • 1 jasmine tea bag
  • french beans
  • drizzle toasted sesame oil
  • crispy fried shallots
  • black sesame seeds
  • pork floss
  • wedge of lime

Method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the tendons for 2 minutes. Remove tendons, discard the water, clean the pot then return tendons to pot with the rest of the ingredients and top up with enough water to cover everything by about 1 cm.
  2. Cover and simmer for about 3-4 hours or until the tendons have reached a consistency you are happy with (some Chinese restaurants will cook them for 7 hours). Taste and add a bit more sugar/soy if needed.
  3. Make your rice using the absorption method adding the intact teabag to the rice pot to infuse the rice with its jasmine scent.
  4. Cook the beans for just a minute or so in boiling water ( I like mine just barely cooked)
  5. To serve simply slice the tendons into bite sized pieces and place on top of your rice, spoon over some of the braising liquid. Drizzle a bit of sesame oil over the beans, sprinkle with the sesame and crispy shallots and then top with some pork floss. Squeeze a bit of lime juice over the tendon.

Lick The Spoon – Easter eggs that are really rather special…

lick the spoon easter eggsOh my, these really are rather wonderful indeed. I’ve been meaning to go and visit Lick The Spoon chocolatiers for about a year now as they are based about 2 minutes walk from my sister’s house down in Corsham, Wiltshire. I live about 3 hours away (sadly) and finally managed a visit last time I was down, Lick The Spoon chocolate is now yet another reason to move back home to Bath.

Like many artisan producers Diana started the business from her kitchen table. Having spent many years cheffing her way around Europe and working her way up to Head Chef, she met her husband Matthew, started her family and Lick The Spoon was born.

Diana’s passion for high quality ingredients is evident the moment she starts chatting, she sources the best cocoa from producers such as the truly wonderful Grenada Chocolate Company who are completely organic and even run their machines using solar energy (I love them and their chocolate) and Willies Cacao in Venezuela (my other absolute favourite). Diana then blends her couvertures to compliment the ingredients she is adding to each particular product:

“I adjust the blend depending on which items I’m making…for example, the wonderful fruitiness of the Madagascar blend is a dream with orange or raspberry but doesn’t work with mint and the subtle dried fruit richness of the Grenadan is perfect in rum & raisin…I always develop my recipes to make the best of the couvertures. It’s an ongoing process of course, because cocoa is a natural crop and there are fluctuations in flavour, so I taste test from time to time (hard job!) to make sure the blends are as I expect.”

lick the spoon salted caramel eggs

 

It’s a dream job basically! Diana gave me a pack of her salted caramel mini eggs to try which were rather special. The thin layer of milk chocolate snapped perfectly as I bit in to reveal a soft, luxuriant caramel filling. I think they could be a bit braver with the salt though but otherwise it really was absolutely divine.

lick the spoon milk honeycomb egg

 

Next up was a rather magnificent looking honeycomb Easter egg.  Extra thick chocolate embeddded with big pieces of honeycomb make this an egg for serious chocolate eaters. The chocolate had a perfect snap and melted silkily in my mouth to leave big chunks of homemade honeycomb that still had that lovely sizzle as it hits the tongue. Bloody splendid stuff.

lick the spoon

Just look at that thick chocolate and honeycomb…*drool*

Lick The Spoon have a shop in Cirencester but you can find their chocolates in luxury London shops such as Harrods, Liberty, Selfridges, John Lewis, Harvey Nicks and various farm shops and delis across the country. I highly recommend popping into Dick Willows Cider farm, just outside Bath where I first discovered them, and stocking up on some scrumpy and chocolate 🙂 or you can buy direct from Lick The Spoon’s online shop.

Each of their chocolates is decorated by hand by one of the chocolate makers, who really are chocolate artists. Check out these incredible edibles:

lick the spoon

 

Great handmade chocolate made using the best quality ingredients doesn’t come cheap, and it shouldn’t come cheaply either, but if you want to spoil someone (or yourself) then I absolutely recommend shelling out (geddit? I’m HILARIOUS *ahem*) for a top quality Easter egg from Diana and Matthew.

 

 

 

Wine to drink with dark chocolate

cafe cabernetEaster is on the horizon which for many people means time to gorge on as many chocolate Easter eggs as possible. It’s always at Easter time that I really miss Woolworths, well Easter and the beginning of September, three things Woolies were ace at: back to school stationary, pick n’ mix and Easter eggs, their Easter egg aisles seemed to go on forever…

Wine and chocolate matching divides many people, there is so much snobbery about wine but like any 2 ingredients that vary so much in flavour there are good pairings and bad. When I received an email asking me if I’d like to try out a wine created with the intention of being matched with chocolate my interest was definitely peaked. Linton Park Wines are the team behind the South African Café Cabernet, they set about creating a wine specifically to match well with very dark, bitter high cocoa (70% and above) chocolate and you know what, it’s a good pairing. The wine arrived in a gorgeous box with a bar of 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate that had been blended in Belgium. The matt black bottle was pretty striking and even elicited a “nice bottle” from my wine hating boyfriend Glen, which definitely took me by surprise.

cafe cabernet

I love my reds to be so dark and concentrated that you can’t see light through the glass – the big hitters that reek of tobacco and stain your lips like you’ve been blackberry picking after just one sip.  I also like a really gentle hint of sweetness in there but the general rule of thumb is not to drink a wine thats sweeter than your chocolate, so this dark, brooding cabernet needed to be dry as a bone to compliment the bitter dark chocolate that I was nibbling on, and dry it was.

This is definitely a food pairing wine for me. When food and drink pairs well their sum is so much greater than its parts. Alone the wine, although having plenty of blackcurrant fruit and mocha spice that I love was just too dry for me to drink alone but paired with the bitter dark chocolate it became a much happier, smoother, well rounded creature all together, think really well made Italian espresso. In the name of science I decided to test the wine with a different chocolate and the dark chocolate with a different red…

cafe cabernet

Science in action….

Paired with a sweeter, creamier chocolate it’s a terrible clash, this baby needs the high cocoa bitterness to really shine, the touch of sweetness the bitter chocolate brings completes the pairing. Likewise the bitter chocolate when eaten with a sweeter, jammy Malbec was just plain wrong, the chocolate needs the dry cabernet, it really was quite striking how different the 2 wines were with the same chocolate. The sweeter chocolate and Malbec were equally brilliant together also which goes to show all those people who exclaim that you can’t pair wine and chocolate just haven’t paired the right ones.

Dark, bitter, high cocoa solids chocolate is said to be good for you as is a glass of good red wine (unless of course you read the Daily Mail which basically insists EVERYTHING gives you cancer, seriously stop reading that paper, you will feel all the better for it). When you find a happy couple that compliment each other then surely your entitled to call it medicinal to enjoy a few nibbles and sups….. *doctor face*

Cafe Cabernet also turned out to be a bloody brilliant match with our dinner that night, I’d made a spicy, tomato based creole chicken curry, not an easy wine match but Café Cabernet stepped up and nailed it, more plus points.

When it comes wine I very rarely buy one that needs to be drank alongside anything more than a cigarette but you know what, I’d definitely make an exception for this one as it gives me the perfect excuse to indulge in some really good chocolate too 🙂

You can pick up a bottle for £8.98 from The Drink Shop.

Triple Chocolate Fudge War Cake

Yes, it's actually cake

Yes, it’s actually cake

Yesterday was Glen’s 40th birthday and as he has been dreading this for the last 10 years I decided to make him a rather special cake. Now I hate baking cakes and I REALLY hate baking sponge cakes, they are fickle things that don’t like to be fiddled with and the science behind getting them to rise and stay there often goes against all my natural “bit of this, dollop of that” instincts.

Cakes for people who hate baking have got to be pretty kickass in some way as an incentive to actually bake the bloody things. For me this is usually achieved by packing them full of booze and making them ridiculously easy to make, unfortunately I had no booze and all I had decoration wise in the pantry was some crystallised flowers and edible glitter, not exactly the butchest of decorations, so I popped out and bought a bag of toy soldiers instead, aces.

This cake wasn’t without its disasters though, the first one I accidentally made using plain flour instead of self raising so I ended up with an extra flat cake layer (see below pic) to stick on the top (bonus).See, nothing bad really happens when you screw up a recipe as long as the ingredients are nice, and cooked then it will be fine 🙂 . Halfway through baking I also realised I had no icing sugar for the fudge topping so whizzed up my own by sticking some vanilla pod caster sugar in my trusty coffee grinder- forget regular icing sugar, this is the way forward. Now vanilla pod icing sugar does have a brown “heroin-y” tint to it thanks to the dark sticky vanilla seeds and it’s probably just as addictive (not really, and I don’t advise substititing smack for icing sugar either).

I posted the recipe for my Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake over on DomesticSluttery.com, it’s dead simple so you can have lots of fun with the decorating 🙂

triple chocolate fudge cake

Follow the recipe on Domestic Sluttery to get the cake to this stage then get all creative…

I picked up a bag of toy soldiers from Co-op for 50p, they have little plastic bases that just needed a camouflage smear of fudge icing before being positioned, a few more Minstrels served as rocks…

 

triple chocolate fudge cake soldiers 3

Then I gradually built the terrain with freshly grated Willies solid cacao bar as soil/leaves…And then a dusting of the vanilla icing for snow…

triple chocolate fudge cake 5

 

My mind created entire scenarios and personalities for them  by the time the cake was finished…

chocolate fudge cake2

 

I may have gotten as little carried away with my iPhone…

Defend the CAKE!!!

Defend the CAKE!!!

So there you go, ways to make cake making more fun…cover them in still life scenes.

Chilli Cheese Profiteroles with Chicken Fat Porcini Béchamel Filling

The secret is all in the rendered chicken fat...

The secret is all in the rendered chicken fat…

Savoury profiteroles are my new friend. Yesterday I picked up a kilo of spring onions from the reduced section of the supermarket for just 65p which suddenly meant I needed to make lots of spring onion recipes. Cheese and onion is one of my favourite pairings and as I was looking along the spines of my cookbooks for inspiration I clocked my Secrets of Eclairs book, eureka! Savoury Choux bites! I spent the entire day making lots of different variations, the base of this recipe I created for my Chilli Cheese Bites recipe for Domestic Sluttery and then tweaked it to make these profiteroles.

Now this filling is rather special. Yesterday I also picked up half a dozen skin-on chicken thighs for a creole curry, on a nod *ahem* to healthy living I put a bit of butter in the base of a deep frying pan added a few caraway seeds then put the seasoned thighs, skin side down into the pan and gently fried them (without moving them at all) so the chicken fat rendered out into the pan. The thighs were then lifted out, the crispy skin promptly scoffed as a cook’s perk (all healthy eating notions go right out of my kitchen window the moment crispy chicken skin is about) and the fat poured into a bowl and set to one side whilst I carried on making the curry. This deeply flavoured, seasoned fat also had the added bonus of a gentle caraway flavour and was to form the basis of a seriously naughty porcini béchamel filling.

These awesome bites are best eaten straight away and cooked in batches as you need them but you can also reheat them gently if you need to by popping them in the oven at 190C for a few minutes and they will go nice and crispy again and the filling will warm and ooze….

Ingredients:

For the smoky chilli choux:

  • 10 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 dried chipotle chilli, mashed into flakes (I get mine in bulk from Edible Ornamentals)
  • 1 tablespoon rendered chicken fat*
  • 70g butter, diced
  • 175ml water
  • big pinch Halen Môn sea salt flakes
  • 120g plain flour
  • 4 large free range eggs, beaten
  • 100g extra mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • 25g grana padano cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons garlic granules
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the filling

  • About 100ml rendered chicken fat* (with caraway)
  • plain flour (enough to make a roux, approx 1 mug-ish)
  • milk (as much as it needs to get the right consistency)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of porcini powder (blitz dried porcini in a coffee grinder)
  • 1 teaspoon powdered veg stock (I use Essential Cuisine)
  • 50g grated extra mature cheese
  • sea salt and white pepper

*how to make the rendered chicken fat is described in the introduction

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 220C. Gently fry the spring onions and chipotle in a tablespoon of the chicken fat for about 2 minutes to soften the onions then put to one side to cool.
  2. Put the butter, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to the boil, remove from heat and dump all the flour in at once, stir vigorously to mix and return to a medium heat mixing constantly for about 2 minutes, the choux will have come away from the sides of the pan and be all glossy. Put the choux into a big cold mixing bowl and leave to cool for a few minutes.
  3. Use an electric whisk to beat the choux mix whist adding the eggs about a tablespoon at a time whist continually beating until all the mixture is combined and smooth.
  4. Add the cheeses, spring onion, grated nutmeg, garlic, thyme and seasoning.
  5. Line a roasting tin with some baking parchment that you have greased with a bit of chicken fat then using a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle pipe balls of choux about the size of a cherry tomato all over the tray leaving about 3cm around each one as they will expand during cooking.
  6. Make the filling by heating the fat then adding the flour and stirring for a few minutes to cook out the flour, add the milk gradually until you get a nice thick sauce mixture then add the remaining ingredients, if it gets too thick just stir in more milk.
  7. Bake the choux balls for 10mins at 220C (top shelf in my oven) so they puff up then reduce temp to 190C and continue to bake for about 7 minutes or until they are golden and crispy (don’t open the oven door for the first 10 minutes to avoid them collapsing).
  8. Once cooked use another piping bag to pipe in your filling to the hollow centre or alternatively just slice and fill.

Quince and Vanilla Mulled Wine (the BEST I’ve ever tasted)

quince mulled wine

I’m currently sipping on what is without a doubt the best mulled wine I’ve ever tasted. On Friday night after the Radio Leicester Christmas Food phone-in (you should definitely listen to this on Christmas morning, it’s 2 hours of food chat and festive songs – YES!) we headed back to presenter Ben Jackson’s house for food and drinks. As soon as we arrived he said “right who’s for mulled wine?” ME ME ME!

This was no ordinary British mulled wine though, Ben presented us with a warm glass of Swedish glögg which he had poured over sultanas and whole almonds. I was blown away. It was straight from a bottle bought over from Sweden and it kicked any of our British mulled wines’ asses on flavour without batting a Swedish eyelid.

Ben very kindly gave me a packet of glögg spices that he’s had in the cupboard “for about 4 years”. The Glögg packet contains lots of whole green cardamom pods, loads of cinnamon bark, whole cloves and dried bits of citrus peel. The cardamom is key, lots of it but kept whole in their green pods.

Feeling the need for festive cheer I had a scout for some ingredients in my cupboards to throw in too. Normally I add orange but I didn’t have any, what I did have lots of however was plenty of quinces and lots of vanilla pods. The resulting boozy concoction has blown me away and even Glen, who hates all wine, really likes it (the highest praise indeed). Forget putting sliced oranges in mulled wine, if you can get your hands on the heady scented quince then throw it in there and never look back!

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 large quince, thickly sliced
  • 25g Glögg spices (whole green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon bark)
  • 2 vanilla pods, sliced lengthways
  • 1/2 a mug of soft brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sultanas
  • 2 whole pieces of preserved stem ginger
  • Whole blanched almonds and a few more sultanas to serve.

Simply gently warm everything together on the lowest heat (with a lid on) so everything has time to infuse. Ladle through a tea strainer into glasses that have a few sultanas and whole blanched almonds in the bottom.

Winter Veg and Seed Salad

 

Brighten up your Winter

Brighten up your Winter

Winter and salads shouldn’t be such ace buddies but they get along like a warm cosy house on fire. The fresh winter veg is crisp and refreshing with a nice winter earthiness that is kicked up a notch with bright citrus flavours from jewel-like ruby pomegranate seeds and a squeeze of clementine.

Yesterday morning was spent at a very cold and wet Melton Mowbray cattle market with the very lovely Rupal Rajani from BBC Radio Leicester. Rupal is vegetarian so was obviously delighted (not delighted one little bit – sorry Rupal) when I took her around the game auction. As we walked into the Fur & Feather shed we spotted a man with a huge fluffy grey rabbit sat on a bag of feed. The rabbit was beyond adorable, we both fell in love with it. Just as Rupal was getting her phone out to take a quick pic the man grabbed it, flipped it upside down by the neck, stuffed it in his coat and disappeared out into the rain. As we moved further into the shed people were busy stuffing shot birds from the game auction into carrier bags and holdalls, yeah this wasn’t the nicest place for a vegetarian (again…sorry Rupal).

I’m hoping I made up for all of this by making her a lovely winter salad, just to show that I can cook without the addition of dead animals really.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 red cabbage, shredded (I use a speed peeler for this)
  • 1/2 red onion, very finely sliced
  • 1 large jerusalem artichoke, pared into wafer thin strips using a speed peeler or box grater if you don’t have one.
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 clementine
  • 1 apple finely sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 pear finely sliced into matchsticks
  • handful pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon blue poppy seeds
  • chopped fresh parsley ( or mint/coriander/fennel fronds)
  • seeds from 1 pomegranate
  • drizzle of raspberry vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

Just combine everything in a big bowl and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes (I leave mine overnight).

 

Melton Mowbray Farmer’s Market Game Auction

Game, foraged mushrooms, veg, just a few of the things you can bid on at the auction

Tuesday mornings are my favourite because I head across the road to Melton Farmer’s Market, eat a bacon sandwich and head into the auction sheds to see what treats are on offer. One of the many things I love about this bustling weekly market is that you never know what you are going to find.

A couple of months ago I nominated Melton Farmer’s Market for the Best Food Market category in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. A couple of weeks ago I was stood in the kitchens prepping Sunday lunch and listening to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme on the little radio, as I always do, when I heard Valentine Warner read out my nomination. I really like Valentine’s approach to food and cooking, in fact the only cookbook I have in the work kitchen is his “What to Eat Now – Autumn/Winter” book, which sits next to the radio. I recognised my words instantly, Melton Farmer’s market had made it to the final three from hundreds of nominations, I was ecstatic! I’m still ecstatic about it, Melton Farmer’s market is the heart and soul of countryside living and it really deserves to be celebrated.

Earlier in the year I took Radio Leicester’s Ben Jackson to the market. Ben is passionate about the county and it’s wonderful food and we had a blast, as we always do when we hang out together, and I promised that once game season kicks off we would do it again. Well game season is in full swing and yesterday morning off we went to see what was on offer in the Fur and Feather shed.

Melton Farmer’s market never disappoints, you can listen to me and Ben and find out just how easy it is to bid at the game auction by clicking on this link:

Melton Mowbray Game Auction – Radio Leicester (audio)

There were pheasants, partridges, pigeons, rabbits, hares, ducks, venison and grouse hanging on the racks and on the tables were boxes of huge turgid savoy cabbages, bags of onions, plenty of massive squashes, a giant pumpkin and lots of boxes of foraged mushrooms, marvellous!

What I love about the auction is that the people around you love to talk about the food that’s being sold. Recipe tips are exchanged and foraging spots shared. Unlike pretty much everyone else that attends the auction I’m not a huge fan of the blewitt mushrooms which are called Blue Legs here. I prefer the meaty parasol mushrooms and am always the solitary bidder (likewise when I buy squirrels!) so people are always happy to tell me where they’ve seen lots growing.

Whilst there on Tuesday morning we chatted to the bidders around us, swapping hanging and cooking techniques, discussing how the price for the venison was high this week and the price of live chickens so low (just £1 for 4 birds) and that you could pick up two big plump live turkeys for just £30 today. I wish I had more outdoor space I really do, I think my chickens would object to sharing their coop with a huge turkey or two.

Lots of people outside of such a community seem to view game as being something for the upper classes, for the toffs to shoot and eat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Game is cheap, healthy and plentiful. Game isn’t a “food trend” on people’s plates round here, it’s a seasonal feast that’s looked forward to each year and welcomed back into our kitchens with gleefully hungry, open arms.

Pheasants were going for £1.50/brace, Grouse went for a whopping £13 this week as there was just the one brace and the mallards just £1.50. That huge pumpkin was sold to me for a mere £1!

The veg is always top quality and we walked away with the most perfect savoy cabbages and a whopping pumpkin that weighted in at 7.4kg for just £1. So far that pumpkin has been turned into a huge pumpkin and porcini lasagne, 50 yes FIFTY rich and fudgy pumpkin, walnut and chocolate brownies and I STILL have 1/4 of it left to use up.

It’s not just the auctions that draw me to the market every week but in the food shed you will find the wonderful Maria and her homemade delights. Maria’s homemade butter is just incredible and this week her husband Tony, who makes wonderful chilli sauces and wooden chopping boards, had been out shooting and whipped up lots of venison pâte.

In the 3 years that I’ve been living in Melton Mowbray, and using the cattle market twice a week, it has become my main source of food and enjoyment in this town. It never fails to enrich my cupboards, larder and dining table and will hopefully continue to do so for many  years. If you ever get a chance to come over to Melton on a Tuesday morning then make sure you have a wander around all the different sheds; you’ll find antiques, collectables, firewood, building wood, clothes, kitchenalia, not to mention all the ferrets, pigs, sheep, cows, canaries, geese, well the list goes on and on. Come over, come early (auctions kick off about 9:30am), grab yourself a wild boar bacon sandwich from Paul (aka The Roosterman) and take it all in, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Beetroot, Chocolate and Cardamom Brownies

squidgy, fudgy brownies that count towards your 5 a day…

Oh brownies how I love you and your squidgy, gooey wonderment. Yesterday I headed into the BBC Radio Leicester studio to see presenter Ben Jackson with whom I do the Food friday radio cooking sessions with and gardening guru, chilli head and all round ace guy Ady Dayman. I decided to bake them something using goodies from my tiny garden and despite managing to set fire to the baking parchment TWICE during cooking the brownies turned out pretty damn awesome.

Ben and Ady enjoying the brownies during the phone in…

I managed to get to the studio whilst they were still warm and joined Ben and Ady for the Gardening phone-in, you can listen to us giving seasonal gardening and food tips by clicking here. It was a fab afternoon and the brownies went down a storm, even with Ben’s producer Nam who is somewhat vegetable averse! That’s the secret to people who don’t like vegetables, cover them in CHOCOLATE 🙂

They are really easy to make too:

Ingredients:

I use a mug to measure everything out in, my mug holds 350ml water.

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 mug caster sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon cardamom powder (or 8 crushed cardamom seed pods)
  • 1/2 mug  good rapeseed oil (or olive oil would be nice also)
  • 1 capful good vanilla extract
  • 2 beetroot (about tennis ball size)
  • 1 mug plain flour
  • 3/4 mug cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
Method:
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Put some gloves on or you will get very purple hands from handling the beetroot. Peel the raw beetroot, chop roughly and put into a food processor until chopped finely. If you don’t have a processor just grate the beetroot.
  2.  In a large bowl whisk the eggs, sugar and cardamom powder until quite creamy (I use an electric whisk but a hand whisk will be fine) then whilst still whisking pour in your oil in a steady stream.
  3.  Tip in your beetroot and stir in until fully mixed together.
  4. Sift in your flour, salt and cocoa and fold into the mixture completely.
  5.  Line and grease a 20cmX30cm tin, pour in your brownie mix and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until you can insert a skewer into the centre and just a few crumbs are stuck to it.  Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before eating if you can manage to resist, sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar and serve warm with some good vanilla ice cream.
If you find that your brownies are still too squidgy for you just pop them back in the oven for a little bit longer.

Cider and Cheese Fondue for BBC Radio Leicester’s Food friday

mmm melty cheesy boozy goodness…

So last Friday was my turn to do BBC Radio Leicester’s Food Friday piece with the fabulous Ben Jackson and what better way to kickstart my morning than cider and cheese. I was a *touch* hungover after an unexpected but very much welcome few glasses of wine the night before and as it turns out, cider cheese fondue is in fact a seriously good hangover cure!

I always have a blast when Ben comes to visit, he is so passionate about food, cooking and particularly local food that we spend most of our time swapping food news, stories, new food finds/cookbooks we’ve found and basically just immersing ourselves in a month’s worth of goings on. Then I cook, we laugh, I usually add lots of booze to something and we eat, good times.

Here we are making cider and cheese fondue (1hr40mins into the show) where I actually use the phrase: “Hey it’s Winter, lets get our booze on”, yeah thats me with a hangover, yeah I have no shame.

Good local cider and ace cheese are the solid foundations to a heavenly gooey dish, fancy giving it a go? Here’s how (you could even cook along to us making it by clicking on the blue link above, totally interactive, so techno hip):

Cheese and Cider Fondue:

Ingredients:

  • 500g grated cheese (I used 100g Emmental, 200g Sparkenhoe Red Leicester, 200g Smoked Lincolnshire Poacher)
  •  1 tablespoon corn flour
  • 450ml cider (I used local Scrambler sparkling cider)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • pinch dried thyme
  • few slivers garlic, fresh or dried
  • 1 teaspoon dried onion granules
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Calvados
  • 1 heaped teaspoon porcini powder
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
Method:
  1. Grate your cheese into a bowl, add the corn flour and mix well.
  2. Combine cider, thyme, garlic and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to boil. When boiling reduce heat and add a handful of cheese. Stir in until its melted.
  3.  Keep adding cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly until all the cheese is used.
  4.  Add your onion granules, nutmeg, black pepper, porcini mushroom powder and chilli flakes then stir in your calvados.
  5. Serve hot with chunks of crusty bread, boiled new potatoes, crisps, chunks of ham, chips, whatever takes your fancy!

East Midlands Food and Drink Festival in Melton Mowbray

This weekend the annual food and drink festival took place at the cattle market in Melton Mowbray. Normally I head over on the Sunday and spend the day drinking wine, cider and beer with my favourite producers, but alas I had to work this weekend so was able to get over for a couple of hours on Saturday to catch up with people and take a few shots.

Booze o’clock

Natterjack cider is usually my first point of call at any Melton food event and this year was no different, although I opted for one of his wonderful apple juices instead of the hard stuff. Booze was everywhere to tempt me and the lovely chaps from CAMRA were making my abstinence all the more difficult with their beer tasting sessions.

Beer tasting, one of my favourite pastimes

Mark from Gourmet Spice was there, he’s ace. I always love seeing him at events and checking out all his new spice rubs, oils and vinegars. His Togarishi spice blend is awesome, the best I’ve found in the UK, blows your head off mind! His new Mango and Green Apple balsamic vinegar is an absolute cracker too. I ended up leaving with a bag full of his new goodies!

The lovely Mark from Gourmet Spice

There was cheese a plenty which always makes me happy. You should definitely seek out Sparkenhoe vintage Red Leicester, it’s made with love and care by the fabulous and local LeicestershireHandmade Cheese Company, it’s the perfect example of an artisan cheese, just heavenly. I sampled their new blue cheese Battlefield Blue, yeah that’s a cheese I could quite happily bathe in…

Handmade Cheese Co new cheese, it’s absolutely wonderful

Good cheese = a very happy Hazel

Plenty of game for sale

I was taking a shot of hanging cured meat when I bumped into the lovely Rachel who organised Melton Pie Fest, yes I’m taking photos of meat because I LOVE cured meat and look how beautiful it is…

Cured meat, come to me baby!

No one went hungry…

The lovely fellas from Pomegranate were cooking and selling an array of Iranian culinary delights

Fluffy cloud meringues, toasties and Chinese food all did well

Fear not, it didn’t take me long to find the macarons…

Pretty macarons, I had a pistachio and a lemon one, breakfast macarons are the way forward

My absolute favourite stand is always the GB Italia stand. Not only are their Sicilian wines, liquors and limoncello divine but Rosemarie is the most awesome lady ever. I only get to see her once a year but I made sure I stocked up on some Limoncello to get me through until my homemade one is ready. Even if you are not interested in food and drink your ticket cost is worth it just to hang out with Rosemarie and her total enthusiasm for life and Sicilian wine will cheer even the grumpiest of souls.

From Limoncello to purple cauliflowers, all my kinda food and booze

It took me ages to find the Great Food Magazine stand manned by editor Matt Wright. I kept asking friends who I bumped into and they all replied with: “he’s somewhere over there apparently, haven’t found him yet”. Well after quite some searching I did eventually find him behind a wicker basket stand (yeah I’m not entirely sure what that was doing there) and he broke my booze abstention instantly by his determined persistence: Matt: “Time for a beer?” Me: “Hell yeah”. I really do have no willpower, actually thats a lie I just got a half from the `Belvoir Brewery stand (located by the Great Food stand, coincidence? I think not) just ordering a half took serious willpower. This was rewarded however by the abundance of free badges on the Belvoir bar that simple said “I Love Beaver”, obviously I picked us up a couple.

Matt was behind the basket stand everyone

I also bumped into Tim Burke who writes all the news for Great Food mag. “Have you seen today’s Leicester Mercury?” He asked, errr no. “We’re in it!” He exclaimed. So thrilled to be featured in their new Food Special as one of Leicestershire’s Food Heroes for this blog!

“News, views and recipes from the Great Food magazine writer, who also contributes to the website Domestic Sluttery. Her own  blog demands a visit, if only for the hugely entertaining About Me section.” Awesome.

Really thrilled to be included, also there was Tim for his blog and Matt for the fab Great Food magazine, celebratory beers were called for.

Also there was the wonderful Just Soaps Of The Earth with her stunning handmade soaps, creams, balms and all manner of treats to make you look and smell better. I couldn’t resist her Kitchen Soap and Patchouli shower gel so I currently smell like my 15 year old self, in a good way, not in a stinky teenager cider and fags way, hmmm actually I probably smell exactly like my 15 year old self.

One is edible, one will make you smell amazing

Ace to see so many lovely friends there with so many new brilliant products, were you there? Did you find something awesome?

Pie Fest in Melton Mowbray

                                                                  Pie me!

Last Wednesday morning BBC Radio Leicester’s Ben Jackson and my fellow Radio Leicester Food Friday cook Penny, met at my cottage to prepare ourselves for a morning of pie eating. We had the enviable job of judging Best Pie in the first Melton Mowbray pie competition open to all the local pubs, cafes and restaurants. You can hear us eating and judging some of the pies on Ben’s show (about 1hr 41mins in).

Don’t we all looks so glamorous in our official pie eating garments?

It took over an hour to work our way through the pies that had made it onto the judging table and guided by Stephen Hallam, Melton Mowbray pie maker extraordinaire, we carefully analysed each pie on a number of strict criteria such as pastry thickness, texture of filling, amount of filling, quality of bake and of course flavour. Some pies that scored highly on one scored low on others and before the figures were added up for each one we really had no idea which one was going to win.

                                             Stephen Hallam and a couple of the pies

                                                        Penny and the winning pie

The winner turned out to be Miss B’s Tearooms Hedgerow pie that had a viennese pastry top and filled with blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and elderflower. It was a cracking little pie and served with a big dollop of clotted cream it was quite frankly bloody lovely!

The pie competition was the warm up for the weekend’s Pie Fest which took over the town’s market place. I headed there on Saturday for a couple of hours in the sunshine to talk and eat pie…

Ian from Hartland Pies with his kickass Melton Mowbray pork pie topped with his very own chilli jam

Luckily I arrived just as the festival opened and headed to Hartland Pies for some breakfast. Their pork and black pudding pie was the perfect solution to my breakfast yearnings but I was totally blown away by his chilli jam topped Melton Mowbray. His pastry is just out of this world, he did tell me the secret but if I told you I would obviously have to kill you so you will just have to buy one and try and work it out yourself 🙂 They had sold out of pies just 2 hours later!

 

                         The lovely Louise from Miss B’s Tearoom with her trophy

Food historian Matthew O’Callaghan gave talks about the history of the pie

Stephen Hallam gave Melton Mowbray pie making demos outside his shop all weekend

                                                       How to hand raise a pie

                                                          Jazz and pies…nice

Gorgeous freehand sewing machine tea cosies made by Createry Studio

                             Hey ladies, how YOU doin’? Mark works his magic

It was an ace way to spend a couple of hours and I’m gutted I had to dash off as I really quite fancied an afternoon sat in the sunshine eating pies, drinking ale and listening to jazz, but then again there is always next year and after the success of this year I reckon it’s going to be bigger and better again.

 

Rutland Food Festival

It was an early start for all the traders this morning on the windy shore of Rutland Water. We arrived bright and early to set up the Great Food Magazine stand, battled the wind and managed, thanks to Matt the editor’s diagram, to eventually erect a giant sail put up the gazebo and stake it down. I also managed to break my dress and have my boobs constantly fall out as I wrestled with the gusting winds that were intent on carrying the stand away (I think this combined with the bracing wind actually did the trick of perking waking me up).

                               The stand is up and there is a happy Glen

We battled with the wind but finally we had a stand, much to the relief of Glen who was still struggling to come to terms with having to get up at 7am on a Saturday morning (I had been up since 6am so my sympathy wasn’t forthcoming).

     The view from the Great Food Mag stand before the event opened, not too shabby ehy?

We had the most incredible view across the beautiful Rutland reservoir and before the show opened I managed to get around some of the other stands and catch up with a few of my favourite local producers. First stop was to see the wonderful Nicola aka Little Cakes, my absolute favourite cake maker, you should check out the photo shoot I did with her and her stunning wedding cakes.

There was the truly wonderful Hambleton Bakery who’s bread I adore and made sure I bought a loaf of their sourdough before the gates opened and they sold out (which they did after just a few hours).

                          Their brownies were just divine, if you see them BUY THEM

                               Their muffins and mini brioche made me food swoon

Also there was the brilliant Grainstore Brewery who make Rutland Bitter.  Like Melton Mowbray pork Pies and Stilton cheese Rutland Bitter actually has protected geographical status, it is only allowed to be brewed by one brewery and this HAS to be the largest one in the county. It’s only one of 3 beers in the entire country to have PDO status and a mighty lovely brew it is too!

Everyone got into the swing of things with the sun shining, the beer flowing and the bands playing. The wind had dropped to a gentle breeze and everyone kicked back and soaked up the good times.

                                     Everybody needs a bosom/dog for a pillow

There was lots of great meat to be had too, we were pitched next to Picks Organic Meats who make the most wonderful burgers that are packed full of deep beefy flavours.  I visit them quite often when they have their stall at Melton Market on Saturdays and have their own meat on sale plus wood pigeon, squirrel and more recent they also have fresh fish.

We had a lovely day catching up with fellow food lovers and discovered a cracking new band called By The Rivers who are based in Leicester, if you like your reggae and ska then you should definitely check them out. They’re a group of young lads with huge amounts of talent and have already supported The Specials. Yeah we had an ace day, even Glen who hates early mornings/daylight enjoyed himself which is basically the highest of accolades.

Wild Wood Pigeon, a Lemon Verbena Surprise and Glen gets naked…

Thursday morning and I’m in a bit of a flutter. I’m recording a baking session with Ben Jackson for BBC Radio Leicester in an hour, I’ve been frantically cleaning and mopping the kitchen and I’ve just discovered that Poppy Bumface (our kitten) is locked in the cottage next door and I can hear her crying through the wall. I’ve no idea what time my neighbour is coming home (or how she got in there for that matter) and I haven’t managed to prep any ingredients

Whilst I’m peering through the neighbour’s letterbox at a crying Poppy Bumface, (probably making her much more distressed) unbeknownst to me Boris Cat has brought a present into the kitchen. I return to find a flurry of grey and white feathers, a smug looking Boris Cat and a decapitated, still warm, plump wood pigeon on my freshly mopped floor. Feathers are stuck to the still wet floor, cupboards, fridge door and there is a little trail of blood leading to the back door. Brilliant.

Boris Cat, hunter extraordinaire

As bad as his timing was,two things are very impressive about this, 1: Boris wears not one but TWO bells on his collar and therefore sounds like a herd of reindeer as he moves (and looks like a feline Mr T.   2: The body of the wood pigeon was completely untouched, it was a clean kill, just the head removed which I don’t eat and the body presented to be by the oven. Couldn’t help but be massively impressed by this.

The back door was wide open and there on the doorstep stood my 2 chickens looking rather shaken at the murder they had clearly just witnessed! The last thing I wanted was for Ben to arrive into this scene of blood, feathers and traumatised chickens so I very quickly plucked the pigeon, removed the breasts, heart and lungs, popped them in the fridge and cleared the kitchen (and fed the chickens some hemp seeds and grapes to try and reassure them that all was well!).

Despite my somewhat flustered state the recording went well and if you want to listen click here. I am 1hr 41mins into the broadcast.

So I had 2 wonderfully plump wood pigeon breasts, a heart and liver, what to make? I just kept it really simple and pan fried it with butter, seasoning and sherry. A forage about in my garden delivered lots of edible leaves and flowers. By picking lots of different leaves and flowers I was able to try different combinations. It was absolutely beautiful. The big surprises were how incredible the combination of lemon verbena and pigeon was. The sharp herbal lemon twist just balanced the earthy pigeon and sweet sherry. The lovage leaves were another surprise combination that I’m going to be exploring. In fact everything was just delicious.  The liver was like the most delicate mousse, far superior to any chicken liver, more like foie gras. I’m guessing it’s down to the wood pigeons gorging themselves on the chicken corn and mash that I put out every day.

“Give me back my wood pigeon, I caught it, it’s MINE!”

Ingredients:

  • 2 plump wood pigeon breasts
  • 1 pigeon heart
  • 1 liver
  • big knob of butter
  • salt and pepper
  • sweet sherry (big splosh)

Salad leaves:

  • chard
  • wood sorrel
  • lovage
  • beetroot
  • lemon verbena
  • tarragon
  • fennel fronds
  • chives
  • nasturtium
  • celery
  • pea
  • lollo rosso
  • frisee
  • rocket

Flowers:

  • chives
  • fennel
  • viola
  • runner bean
  • rocket
  • borage
  • french bean
  • nasturtium

Method:

Melt the butter, season the breasts and fry for a couple of minutes each side. The outside was nice and caramelised but the inside still pink. Towards the end of cooking add the heart and liver, cook for a minute then add the sherry, flame and spoon the juices over the meat. Add chopped chives, transfer to a plate and rest for a couple of minutes. Arrange leaves and flowers on a plate, slice the breasts in half and place on the leaves along with the heart and liver and spoon over the juices from the pan.

It was such a beautiful afternoon in the garden, eating free food and drinking red wine. I even gave myself a whole hour off from working just to enjoy the garden with Glen…

Wood sorrel, my giant sunflower, courgette flower and my aces trainers 🙂

I don’t think Boris was ready for Glen doing some naked sunbathing though…

Boris can’t believe it when Glen starts stripping, no idea what he’s laughing at

Marmite Lamb, Blackberry Beetroot, Lamb and Mint Yorkies and Green sauce

Sundays round my cottage mean one thing: a blissful afternoon in the kitchen – the red wine is open and The West Wing is playing on my laptop. Today was no exception and somewhat more excitingly I had a hunk of salt marsh lamb.

As I was getting a quick olive oil and rosemary marinade together for the lamb, it suddenly occured to me that Marmite would actually be a wonderful addition too, it’s salty umami flavour bringing out the meaty sweetness of the lamb, so in that went too. I can happily report that it was indeed a total triumph and will forever more be included.

I also had a few beetroot to roast too, and as I was washing the dark purple earthy little things, I glanced at my big bottle Bridget’s blackberry vinegar, and just like the marmite, it just made total sense to add bung that in too.

Now when it comes to yorkshire puddings I never just make plain ones, why miss an opportunity to add more flavour? I am a massive fan of Essential Cuisine‘s powdered stocks. Their flavour just can’t be beaten when it comes to bought stock (okay, they are actually better than my homemade ones too, sshhh) and because they are in powdered form they are absolutely brilliant for adding to sauces, batters and just sprinkling over meat and roast potatoes.  When I roast a chicken I use their chicken stock and some chopped sage to boost my yorkies to super sexiness, roast beef gets the veal stock and horseradish sauce treatment and today’s lamb was graced with lamb stock, mint and rosemary.

And what sauce for my meal? Well a quick forage around the herb garden produced a beautiful, vibrant kickass green sauce that made everything just that little bit more awesome, just as a good sauce should.

For the Marmite Lamb:

  • hunk of lamb (mine was a bit of shoulder and it was achingly tender)
  • drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 heaped teaspoon marmite.
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped dried rosemary

Mix the marinade ingredients and cover the lamb, leave for at least an hour then roast in the top of the oven on its highest setting until the fat crisps and browns then move to the shelf below. Roast until the centre of the lamb reaches about 60C then take it out and rest for 15 minutes under foil that’s covered by a tea towel.

For the Blackberry Beetroot:

  • Small beetroot, washed but not peeled
  • big glug of Bridget’s thick blackberry vinegar (if you don’t have a thick syrupy vinegar then use your thin blackberry vinegar plus a big drizzle of balsamic glaze)
  • black pepper
  • sea salt flakes

Put your beetroot in a pot and pour over your vinegar then add your salt and pepper and mix well, leave to marinate for an hour then put them in a roasting tin, cover with foil and put in the top of your oven at its highest setting for an hour. Check them, if they are soft then remove the foil, give them a bit of a mix then roast uncovered to caramelise slightly.

For the Lamb Yorkies: (makes about 16, you can never have too many yorkies)

  • 300ml eggs
  • 300ml milk
  • 300ml flour
  • 1 tablespoon Essential Cuisine lamb stock powder
  • chopped fresh mint
  • chopped dried rosemary
  • few grinds black pepper

Just whisk it all together in a big bowl, leave for 30 minutes then whisk again, leave then whisk (thats just how I do it, works for me every time, electric or rotary whisks are perfect). Put a bit of dripping or oil in the bottom of your muffin tin hollows, heat in the oven (at highest setting still) until smoking then quickly pour your mixture in so that it about half fills each muffin hollow then put in the oven until well risen (about 20 minutes).

For the Green Sauce:

  • couple handfuls mixed fresh herbs (fennel fronds, chives, parsley, tarragon, mint)
  • dried chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like it, I like a big pinch)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • big glug extra virgin olive oil
  • zest of one lemon
  • Filipino spiced vinegar (distilled white vinegar that has garlic and chillies steeped in it)
  • few grinds black pepper

Just bash it all together using a mortar and pestle and leave to infuse for about an hour.

Oh there was also peas involved but you know what peas look like 🙂

Borage flowers at Sysonby Knoll

The borage field

I found myself on the other side of town at the Sysonby Knoll Hotel recently. I’ve been meaning to go for a while but it was a tweet from them that mentioned a borage field next to the hotel that clinched it. I’m a huge fan of edible flowers so the thought of a whole field was too much to resist, so off I went.

I could hear the borage field before I saw it, the gentle hum of thousands and thousands of honey bees drinking nectar guided me past 2 wooden hives to the most beautiful sight…

As I wandered through the humming field of blue and purple flowers I passed another of my favourite edible wild plants. For as long as I can remember we used to pull the stems of what we called Applesaps and suck the sour appley juice from the stems like straws. They taste just like wood sorrel and I’ve only just found out that their proper name is Himalayan Balsam and its thought of as a highly invasive weed! Their beautiful pink flowers are just stunning and look like orchids but more excitingly their pods explode when you touch them releasing their seeds! There was plenty of Meadowsweet growing along the riverbank too not to mention all the apple trees, sloes and a huge fig tree with a few plump figs hiding amongst the foliage.

I drifted around the beautiful grounds for about an hour and picked a few borage flowers to crystallise later.

Crystallising the borage flowers

The flowers are now carefully stored away for a rainy day that needs brightening up. It really was a lovely way to spend an hour, and when I look at my own precious solitary borage plant in my herb garden, it always reminds me of that sunny afternoon in the blue humming field of bees.

Cream Tea at Stapleford Park

I can’t believe its taken me nearly 3 years to finally get round to visiting Stapleford Park! It’s only about a five minute drive away from my cottage and since we visited on Tuesday I’ve been kicking myself for not going sooner.

My sister and her two children came to stay with me for a couple of days and asked what there was to do around Melton Mowbray. Aha! My sister loves big country houses so we piled into my car and headed out into the beautiful Leicestershire countryside in search of a cream tea.

On arrival we instantly knew it was somewhere really rather special. Beautiful landscaped gardens lead up to the most stunning hotel which just screams indulgence and pampering. My favourite room was the taxidermy room though, I’m a huge fan of dead animals hanging off walls!

The heady scent of lavender and freshly cut grass instantly had us ready to sit down, relax and soak up our surroundings (there are loads of really rather handsome chaps about  which was also rather nice!).

My niece Nyla took an instant shine to the giant chess set and was happily amused in her own little world whilst we got on with checking out the menu, confident that she will one day become a chess master as a result. Sarah and I both opted for the cream tea whilst my nephew Daniel opted for the rare roast beef sandwich which must have been good as it disappeared too quickly for me to try a taste!

The scones were lighter than light, the homemade strawberry compote was heavenly and the Cornish clotted cream was absolutely heavenly although I was a little disappointed to find it wasn’t local cream, Lubcloud dairy make the most wonderful thick cream that would have been just perfect. I could have also done with an extra scone too, 2 of those little beauties just wasn’t enough to scoop up all that lovely compote and cream! I went for a pot of lapsang souchong tea which was served in a beautiful heavy silver plated pot and the friendly (and immaculately dressed) staff happily provided lots of milk for my niece. At £9.50 per person the cream tea is not cheap but everything was beautifully made, the setting was perfect and to be able to wander the stunning grounds in the sunshine made it absolutely worth it.

We had the most wonderful afternoon at Stapleford Park, in fact once we got back to my cottage we vowed that next time we will stay the night (despite me only living 5 minutes away!) and take advantage of their amazing spa and swimming pool. I’m definitely bringing my Dad for a round of golf on their course next time he visits me, mostly because I want to drive around in their golf buggies but it’s been ages since I played golf and what a place to get back into the swing of things (sorry!).

So if you find yourself in the Melton Mowbray area and want to treat yourself then definitely get yourself over to Stapleford Park, in fact just treat yourself and stay there wherever you may be and take me with you!

My beautiful family:

Lets look at that divine cream tea again….