Monday, 27 June 2011

A Busy Weekend

Here we go again, after the last post I realised that I hadn’t updated you on the mixer saga, I was told by the makers that it was still under warranty so I sent it back. (I can’t find the paperwork for it, so not sure if the warranty was for 1 year or 2), anyway it got lost en-route but is now found. I got a call yesterday, it’s NOT under warranty, but because of the mix-up and because they are good lads, they are going to send me a re-conditioned one. RESULT. I must admit that I was surprised; I thought they would just send me the old one back. It’s refreshing to find that attitude and if I ever need another one, or get asked for a good make I will say without hesitation ANDREW JAMES. Not only that, it is a very good mixer.

Anyway, I was at an Italian food fair on saturday, some lovely food, but a bit expensive I thought. I already do the bread; have been warned off the sweets and biscuits, so that just leaves the flavoured oils and vinegars. Well flavoured oils are easy, I infuse with home grown Garlic or herbs, but I have never tried flavoured vinegar. At £6.50 for 200ml when basic balsamic is on sale in our local 99p shop (500ml bottle) it must be worth a go.

So this morning I picked about half a pound of mixed berries (wild strawberries, blackcurrants and early raspberries), washed them and put them in the slow cooker with 300ml of balsamic vinegar and about 100g of dark brown sugar. I stirred it all together and then ignored it for an hour. The aroma filled the house. After that time I mashed the berries in and ignored it for another hour. Then I strained the lumps and seeds out of the mixture, put it back into the slow cooker and left it on high with the lid off for about 30 minutes. It was starting to set around the bowl so I let it cool a bit and bottled it. I tried a bit on some ciabatta that I had left over, and it tasted very similar to that at the food fair. Total cost to me for 250ml was less than £1. All I need now are some of those ornamental bottles and I can rustle up some Xmas pressies for my foodie acquaintances.

I needed to clear out my freezer to make way for all the soft fruit, and I found a collection of bits of bread that I had saved for some unknown reason. Sliced up and cooked in a slow oven (125C) for 2hours, then blitzed they made good breadcrumbs.

Peter next door has given me some big jars for my pickled beetroot, I used to buy a big sack locally in Kent, and now that I am down here I need to find a new supplier.

I also dug up the Anya potatoes from their bag and got about 10lb.Still got one bag to dig, but I can’t remember what sort of spud they were.

We have (Well Yvonne has) been eating a lot of marmalade recently, so I decided to make some red Grapefruit marmalade, I have a W.I. recipe which I have used before, but this time it didn’t seem to want to set, even after boiling for nearly an hour and a bottle of Certo. When I looked it had made much more than last time as well, and I know I used to right quantities. Naomi (daughter #2) reckons its GM fruit, I’m more inclined towards Aliens myself, anyway after re-boiling for a further 15 mins it has now gone rock hard – but very tasty.

Took the dogs out this morning and discovered loads of brambles in flower, so I think that there will be all manner of things Blackberry style later, i.e. wine, cordial, jam and maybe some Balsamic Glaze as well. And as I take the dogs out early in the morning, I can get them before anyone else has the bright idea. Seriously though, there are so many down there that there’s enough to go round.

Fish Pie.

I do like a good fish pie, and here is my foolproof method.

300g mixed fish pieces, smoked haddock, cod and salmon

2 Cod portions in butter sauce

150g grated cheese

Some Ikea Gravlax sauce (or similar)

Mashed Potato to cover.

Mix everything except the potato together in a casserole and cover with the mash.

Cook at 180C for 40 minutes.

Whilst we are peeling potatoes,

What’s the difference between:

1) Bake potatoes, halve and scoop out the flesh, slice the skins into small strips, oil and sprinkle with cheese, and pieces of cooked onion and bacon. Return to the oven until bubbling.

2) Fry potato peelings until soft and starting to brown, place in an oven dish and sprinkle with cheese, and pieces of cooked onion and bacon. Return to the oven until bubbling.

The clue is that one of them is described by my wife as “Delicious” and the other as   ”A stupid idea with potato peelings”

Now I suppose its all about perception. After all both taste the same (Largely because they ARE the same), but the peeling is seen as waste, because it’s a by product and not the object of the exercise.

But in the interests of frugality, and by that I don't mean hair shirt No-thank-you-ness why do we think of the peeling as waste. In the same way that Hugh F-W says respect the animal by using as much of it as you can, then surely we should use the same logic with all our food, vegetables included.  

 Try frying onions until soft, with a bit of Garlic if you like, let them cool a bit and mix in the fried potato peelings and a good handful of grated cheese. Put it all in a greased casserole for about 25 minutes at 180C.

Made Blackcurrant wine today as well, 2lb currants, 2.25lb sugar and 1 gallon water, all mashed together, I will strain the pulp out in the morning and add the yeast. It should be fermenting by lunchtime. I haven’t been taking enough photos of my activities for this blog, you’ll just have to use your imagination, but then there’s a limit, I guess most of you know what a mixture of water, sugar and berries looks like. Or maybe not.

Monday morning, added the yeast at 7 this morning and its fermenting as we speak, the rose petal is nearly ready for racking, and I have Rhubarb and Elderflower that will be ready to drink for Yule.

Thought you might like a picture of my dog Fliss in a very fetching hat.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

My Cat

Picasso is 15, and has had a very eventful life. When he was about 5 he was hit by a car crossing the road, and returned to us with his jaw hanging on by bits of tissue. The vet did an amazing job on his mouth, and you can hardly tell that there was ever a problem, he has a couple of teeth missing but that’s all. However we think he suffered a bit of brain damage because every now and then he will “Turn” and attack you for no apparent reason. He was a celebrity at our old house, and not content with being fed by us, used to frequent at least three other houses, where he would pretend to be a stray and get fed. Georgina’s boyfriend was at his mates house in a road around the back of our garden when in walked Picasso, “that’s Georgina’s cat” he told the group, “Is it? We thought he was a stray and we’ve been feeding him for months” came the reply.

He got so fat that he used to get stuck in the cat flap; I had to take the screws out so that he wasn’t marooned in the doorway.

He was most put out when we moved, as now he only gets fed from us, however he has done the rounds and all the neighbours seem to know him, especially the lady with the chickens.Although none of them feed him I expect he tries it on.

He is constantly pestering for food, if I feed him at 6 in the morning before I take the dogs out, he will assume that I have forgotten when I return and start again. Then when Yvonne gets up, he starts on her, in case I hadn’t told her.

I keep the dog biscuits in a cupboard under the stairs; I had to put a lock on it as he worked out that by scraping at the door he could open it and get into the sack, we hear him rattling the door in the middle of the night even now. If you open the cupboard and turn your back, he is straight in
Here they are

Just stick my head in and fill up

Mission Accomplished, time to go

Friday, 17 June 2011

Rose Petal Wine and Rain.

It’s another rainy day in Devon, it’s been like it all week, and the good weather that we had since March is quickly forgotten. Suddenly it feels like an imposition having to stay in, having to drink tea in the front room and not in the garden, not being able to potter outside etc. But and it’s a big one, not having to water every night to keep the veg and flowers growing, the rain is especially welcome as we are on a meter. The water butt is full, that will do for a few nights as well, and some of the more thirsty veg, such as potatoes have been harvested.

Enforced confinement to the house has meant a bit more cooking, I made the usual cheese rolls (See last post) and a Sandwich loaf from a Michel Roux Jr recipe with a bit of a tweak. Basically instead of Golden Syrup I used Honey, not really that radical and different I know, but I think the flavour is better. Anyhow his recipe is at

Next up some rose petal wine, this was one of Grandmother Winnie’s that I remembered from childhood but had no recipe, found it at
The only thing I didn’t do was add yeast nutrient, and it seems to be fermenting nicely. It’s the one on the left, the other is Elderflower from the Garden, the second brew, which I’m trying to make dryer than the first lot, which stopped fermenting when it was still quite sweet.

I managed to get 150g of dried elderflower in stock as well, mainly from the dog walking expeditions, so that will keep me in cordial until next year. The next big wine effort will be pea/broad bean pod, they are nearly ripe so hopefully I’ll get enough pods from the garden.

Strawberries have been a disaster this year, I read all about the bumper crops and have to restrain an urge to get annoyed. When we moved in last year, we were too late to do anything to the plants but we had loads of berries. SO this year I weeded and trimmed, put straw and slug pellets, also netting and guess what. They all got grey mould and the slugs have still tucked in. So I’m buying the things and my Jam plan is on hold. At least I’ve got loads of Blackcurrants.

We have got wildlife: A couple of Slow Worms in the compost, so I expect we will have a family in September, it’s just a pity they’re not earning their keep and eating all the slugs around the strawberries.

I guess that’s what you get living in the country.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Bread Rolls

Well the bread making is on hold, coz my stand mixer has collapsed, it was spewing oil out of the gearing and into my dough, so it’s started its journey back to Geordie Land. It left me on Tuesday last week and by Wednesday evening had got 13 miles. According to the online tracking, it’s taken up residence there ever since. I spoke to the helpline today, and they were somewhat perplexed “It should have gone on by now, we’ll have to make sure it’s not hiding in a corner somewhere” I know the South-West is paradise an no-one ever wants to leave, but this is a bit OTT.

Anyway at the moment I can’t stand for long as I have knee trouble, well a torn cartilage to be precise, waiting for surgery, standing for more than about 5 minutes makes it very sore and kneading dough is out of the question just now.

So here's one that I made earlier.

Cheese and Onion rolls.

Make up a dough with 500 g of Strong white flour, 350ml water, 10g each of yeast and salt and 75g of chopped onion fried until soft.

Allow to prove for 90 mins then stretch into a sheet about 12 inches long by 6 inches wide. Excuse mixed units, but it’s a sign of tortured genius (or a nutter) Spread about 200g of grated strong cheddar over he dough sheet and roll it up like a Swiss roll. Cut into inch thick pieces and place on an oiled baking sheet, leaving room for expansion

                                    Cover with a cloth and leave to rise for about 45 minutes.
Spray the tops with olive oil and bake at 220 degrees C for about 15 minutes until golden top and bottom; you may need to check after 10 mins depending on your oven.

When they look like this let them cool (If you can) and enjoy. I used to sell these at work, one of my customers Frank, brought a dozen and collected them at the start of a night shift. He took them home in the morning, left them in the Kitchen and went to sleep. When he got up, there was one left! Speaks volumes. Very nice with soup, or filled with ham and mustard.

And the thing is, you can substitute lots of things for the onions, try mushrooms, or peppers, or sundried tomatoes or a mixture of all of the above, I’m going to experiment with cooked potato and curry powder/chutney, or dried chilli, watch this space.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My First Potato (Gardening Part 1)

My First Potato (Gardening Part 1)

 Way back in March, I planted 6 plastic bags of potatoes, all mixed varieties from mail order and local garden centres. I can’t find any of the packets so I don’t know what they all are, but some have yellow flowers and some have purple ones.

I did all the earthing up and watering like you’re supposed to, remembering my last foray into potato growing, when I produced a hedge of enormous size but no tubers, and have been itching to harvest them, but frightened of what might (Not) be there. Having read that you can start to harvest from when the flowers appear, I rather cautiously shoved my hand down into one of the bags and being careful not to disturb anything groped around. Imagine my surprise when I found this little beauty, not the saucepan but the tuber.

It made my day but as I have meals for the next few days there is nothing to do with it, into the fridge with you! I will check them out again at the weekend. Curiosity did get the better of me and I found a few more, as long as I get more than 30 potatoes from all the bags I’ve got back more than I planted although at a cost of about £35 for the seeds and the compost and the bags I need about 3 tonnes of spuds to make it worthwhile. At least I can use the bags again, and the compost, soon as the pots are up I’m planting Lettuce and Chard. Perhaps this means that I’m a “Proper” Gardener now.

I do have Peas and Broad Beans showing,

These pix are on maximum zoom, but look promising, also my tomatoes have fruit forming and it’s only June 1st.

Just put the straw under my strawberries, I thinned the plants out last year and moved them around, also got some in pots

Blackcurrants are coming on as well, and starting to turn

And the Grapes are forming nicely

I never had much success with veg before, it must be the soil, or perhaps I’m just more focused on technique, and I do mostly remember to water, even though we’re on a meter.

I will be back later with part 2 of this, but hunger calls, also I need to take more pix.