Tuesday, 24 March 2009

‘Smoke flavoured reformed ham with added water’

Number of days until submission of PhD: 3

Stress levels: ‘Hard crack’ and rising to ‘caramel’.

I need to write my conclusion. It shouldn’t be a particularly hard piece to write, but writer’s block has hit. Of all the times…

So, as a tactic to get my writing flowing again, I thought that I would spend 15 minutes writing a quick post. I’ve missed writing my blog the last couple of days, in a strange way it has really helped me with writing the thesis.

Since the weekend I’ve effectively been banned from the kitchen. I miss it. However, it is nice having someone to provide every meal for me at the moment, I really appreciate it.

P3240126Before I was banned from the kitchen, in need of a quick lunch last week and with me having forgotten to make any bread, I rummaged through the freezer and pulled out a pizza. Great! Then I read the label. How can a description of ‘Smoke flavoured reformed ham with added water’, sound appetising to anyone? I suppose it saves having to check the ingredients on the back of the box.

Why on earth had we bought the pizza? We obviously didn’t read the label, but then I’m not sure how long it had been in the freezer for!

Faced with this pizza for lunch, with no other quick alternative, I set about chiselling off the the ham, adding some local bacon from the fridge and a few scraps of Cumbrian cheese. It was lovely. But this will be our last shop-bought pizza. From now on (once I’ve finished the PhD and I’m allowed back in the kitchen) we’ll be making our own.

The next time I write a post, the PhD will be handed in and I will have my life back (hopefully). I can’t quite imagine what that will feel like!

…back to the conclusion.

Friday, 20 March 2009

An addition to the family…

Number of days until submission of PhD: 7

Stress levels: On a sugar thermometer, about, ‘hard ball’ and rising. I think my posts may well begin to dry-up over the next week.

But anyway,P3190120 we’ve been looking after a cat who belongs/ed to the sister of a friend. In theory it was just supposed to be for January while she was away. But time has gone on and we’ve become quite attached to him.

She has since decided that her circumstances at the moment are not ideal for a cat. As we live in open countryside where he can come and go as he pleases, she’s asked if we would keep him. Of course we will!

The only problem throughout his whole stay with us has been his name.

Apparently he was originally called ‘Madame Butterfly’ – then they found out he was a boy.

He came to us being called Noodle. But this has been changed, shortened (and lengthened) numerous times to: apple strudel, poodle, pooh (this is what I call him), knoodle, noo, even google, smut (this is what our neighbour calls him because of his ‘dirty’ black nose), doodle, chicken noodle, Mr P. Noodle (as in Pot) and Casper. Casper was the name of our cat who went missing and was sadly found dead last year. Sometimes old habits linger. Noodle will never replace Casper, but he has certainly made a place for himself in our hearts already.

Welcome Pooh! I hope you enjoy your life with us! 

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Local beer – from 50m away (literally)

Number of days until submission of PhD: Still 9

Stress levels: well, chilled (this is a temporary state I can assure you).

P3180112 Mmmmm. Sitting outside in the courtyard basking in the spring sun, editing part of a chapter, glorious. Then our neighbours peered over the gate and after chatting for a bit they told us to ‘grab a jug, and we’ll get some beer’. We came out with two jugs.

Our neighbours rent their barn (which is literally behind our ‘barn’) to a micro-brewery, and well, I have to say it’s rather good beer!

Perhaps it’s not the best thing to be drinking right now, with the rest of a chapter still to finish this evening, but maybe it will help the creative juices flow!

Vegetable growing on a small scale – update 1

Number of days until submission of PhD: 9

Stress levels: Variable. Calm when in the kitchen, the ‘garden’ or writing on my blog. Other times, simmering, with boiling-point reached occasionally.

P3180107New growth:

Yippee! Some of my seeds have started to germinate! The tomatoes and aubergines need a bit more time, but the rocket (see the picture) and my leeks have started to sprout!


Fullscreen capture 18032009 145259 Google gardening calendar: My attempt to organise my growing

With limited space and a need to produce vegetables throughout the growing season I really need to be able to keep track of when I planted certain pots and trays and when I need to re-sow.

Despite constant nagging, I still use a paper diary to track my movements and work patterns. It feels right doing it that way. But, I have to admit, for my vegetable growing I’ve turned to Google Calendars. Not only can I record (and easily check) when I planted things, but I can set myself reminders for when I need to plant again! Being optimistic, it will also mean that I can build-up a record of what works and what doesn’t all in one place, over many years.

I know - I could do this in a paper diary too. Although somehow if I’m actually reminded to do something, I have more chance of getting it done…


diginFree seeds:

Blagger’s recent post alerted me to the fact that the BBC are running a ‘grow your own grub’ project, called Dig In. The idea is that they give away five varieties of seeds for people to grow, but there will be slots on Gardener’s World and info on the web about exactly how to grow the seeds, ensuring support throughout the season. In the autumn the scheme will end with cooking advice given by Nigel Slater on what to do with all the vegetables that have been grown. A great way to encourage people to grow their own food!

Seeds will be available from bbc.co.uk/digin from the 10th April. The website is not up yet, or it wasn’t when I last checked.

Another date to add to my Google calendar!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Organic, free range or local?

veg shopping-1 Is this really a dilemma? I didn’t think so – but now I’m not quite so sure. A few instances recently have made me begun to think about the difference and importance of: organic, local and free range produce.


Where possible I try to buy local produce that is organic, and in the case of meat and eggs, free range. Recently I came across a website for an organic farm in Devon who do mail-order meat. My initial reaction to it was: ‘Imagine the food miles!’. But after thinking about it the idea might not be as bad as it seems.

OK – here are the arguments against buying local meat (I can’t really believe I’m saying this!) and buying mail-order meat instead:

  1. Purely selfishly, it is an hour round-trip to the ‘local’ butchers. If I want meat that is guaranteed local and free-range, make that two-hours to a different butchers. Mail-order meat arrives at the door.
  2. Therefore there’s also rather a lot of petrol involved too. If I bought mail-order meat, it would be delivered by a courier company who deliver to other people in the area too, meaning that although a lot of petrol may be used, it’s not just for one person. Is the principle really any different from Amazon?
  3. At the local butchers I’m not always entirely sure where the meat came from, what type of life the animal had, what it was feed, how it was killed, how far it has already ‘travelled’. I can know all of that from the farm in Devon. (Although admittedly the butcher is usually helpful when 1) he’s serving and 2) I ask!).


  1. Our local town is lucky enough to have a lot of small independent retailers and I enjoy supporting them. The local fishmongers closed-down when Sainsbury’s moved in.
  2. Convenience, I can just pop to the butchers to pick up the meat that I need, especially if I’m at work that day.
  3. The food miles still seem ridiculous for mail-order meat!

OK, the best thing is perhaps a monthly trip to the second butchers who are further away, but where I know I can be guaranteed local and free-range meat. I can always get the occasional extras from the more local butcher in order to continue to support him. If I lived in Devon, I would definitely opt for their mail-order meat, but luckily Cumbrian meat is pretty darned good, it’s just getting to the butchers when the fells are in the way!


The next problem was vegetables. I’m trying to grow our main vegetable supply this year, but I still need to buy our vegetables at the moment. Also, I will probably still need to supplement what I will be able to grow in pots during the rest of the year too.

The greengrocers are usually excellent, selling a range of great seasonal produce (including Seville oranges, damsons, quinces, chestnuts and wild mushrooms). I needed onions the other day, so after grabbing some rhubarb and purple-sprouting broccoli I went to get the onions. I was surprised to see that they weren’t local, they weren’t even British - and I needed onions! Feeling like a traitor, I went of the Sainsbury’s and brought British onions from there instead.

I know seasonal and local are not synonymous, and I’m the first person to herald the joys of produce from around the world, like Seville oranges. But, if something can (and does) grow well here, why is it imported?

The next question that this shopping trip raised (and it certainly raised many!) was: are the supermarkets so bad after all? If I can be guaranteed that I will be able to find British produce in them, then should I give the greengrocers a miss?


I don’t think that there are necessarily clear answers to any of these questions. Inevitably, I think my continual shopping around between different places will produce the best results. But it certainly got me thinking.

I felt a bit like a child in an old-fashioned sweet shop with all the jars of shiny sweets in front of me and I had to choose which ones I wanted. Rather than choosing just one sort, I think I need to pick and choose small quantities from each jar.

If you have any trouble finding your best local ‘sweets’, then I’ve found the search engine on localfoodadvisor.com is a pretty useful starting point for all things foody and local in Britain.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Rhubarb 3: Rhubarb Crumble Recipe

P3140104-1 I promise that this will be my last post about rhubarb!

To me this is the first sweet vegetable of the year and really shows that spring has arrived. There is just something so irresistible about the colour of it that I keep succumbing to its charm.

With all the talk of rhubarb, while I was in the greengrocers on Thursday I thought I’d treat us to some. Especially with ours being only about 6 inches high and ‘out of bounds’.

This evening I made the long ruby-red sticks into my favourite rhubarb and orange crumble recipe. It has made enough for 4 people, but it’s flavour is so intense you really do not need a huge portion. The other advantage is it’s really quick and easy to make!


  • 100 gr butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
  • 200 gr of a mixture of oats and flour (I used about 50gr oats and 150gr flour)
  • 25gr of caster sugar
  • 4 long sticks of forced rhubarb
  • Juice and zest from half a large orange (or 1 small)
  • 5 tbls of dark muscovado sugar

P3140102Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (Celcius).

Put the flour, oats and caster sugar in a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Cut the rhubarb into chunks about 4cm long. Add the orange zest, juice and brown sugar.

Top with the crumble mix and put in the oven for about 40 mins.

It couldn’t be easier!

Where do ideas come from?

Do you ever find yourself writing something which you never realised that you thought?

I’ve just had a really productive 16 or 17 hours (admittedly with a night’s sleep in between) where not only have I upped my word count considerably, but new ideas came to the fore. Suddenly parts which were unclear and slightly unfocused, are now structured and peppered with new and fresh insights (or a least I think so).

If only every day could be like that…

Friday, 13 March 2009

The joys of homemade stock – beef stock recipe

I take back any reservations I had about my chicken stock, particularly the part about reducing it too much.

I used it last weekend to make risotto and it was the best risotto I’ve ever made (thanks to the stock!). My stock has never tasted that good before, I think perhaps I’ve not reduced it enough in the past.

‘It tastes like it has bits of real meat in it’, was the surprised comment that I received. We both agreed that the intensity of the flavour of the chicken meant that we could have quite happily eaten just the risotto without any other ingredients, in this instance: roasted peppers and feta, and sun-dried tomatoes. Inspired by the success of the chicken stock, I decided to try making beef stock. I’ve not attempted this before because we rarely have a joint of beef, let-alone one with bones in!

While I was in the butchers yesterday I plucked up the courage and asked the lady serving me if they had any beef bones for stock. I still can’t quite get used to the idea that what you see on display in a butchers is often just the tip of the iceberg. To me it seems rude to ask for something that means them having to go ‘through to the back’ to get it. But I think this is just my hyper-sensitive mindset – they seem quite used to it.

My confidence crumbled slightly when the lady who had originally served me said, ‘He’s just gone to look. We do sell our own stock you know’.

Where was that big hole in the ground when I needed it?

I managed to reply “Ooohh, I’ll remember that for the future. I like to make my own though, thanks”, with a big smile on my face.

I was very glad I had asked, because not only did the butcher return with a big bag of bones – but they were free!

Beef Stock Recipe:

  • Beef bones (I had about 1.3 kg)
  • 3 small carrots (bendy)
  • 2 parsnips (bendy)
  • 1 stick of celery (although I’ve just found it on the counter so I must have forgotten to put it in!)
  • the top of a leek from the other day
  • 2 onions
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 250 ml of red wine
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of dried thyme or a sprig of fresh thyme
  • water

P3130055 Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (Celsius).

Cut the veg into 2cm chunks and the onions in half (or quarters if large). (I used vegetable I had lying around, I don’t think the quantities really matter hugely as long as there are at least carrots and onions in there somewhere.)

Put the meat, veg and peppercorns in the a roasting tin.

Pop this in the oven for 30 mins. P3130057

When the veg and the meat have started to go crispy around the edges, remove the tray from the oven.

Put the meat and veg in a large pot. Add the salt and thyme. 

Add the wine to the baking tray, and whilst it is still warm use the liquid to release any bits that have stuck to the bottom or sides. Then pour the liquid and bits into the pan. 

P3130062 P3130071

Bring to the boil, remove and scum that may have developed (I found that very little had formed), reduce the temperature so that it barely simmers and cover the pot. My largest pot is without a lid at the moment, it must have been packed away in the move by mistake, so I just covered mine with a double layer of tin foil.

(Be prepared for the whole house to take on the aroma of akin to a rich gravy for most of the day!)

After about 7 hours (I got a bit carried-away with writing!), strain the liquid and then boil for about 20 mins. This allows it to reduce and therefore intensifies the flavour. Also, it goes a really nice caramel colour.P3140087

Allow it to cool completely. Remove the solidified fat from the top and discard it. Put the stock into containers and store in the fridge or freezer.

This made just under a 1 3/4 pints (about 800ml) of stock.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Sunshine and seeds

I had a slight set-back with the PhD yesterday. Hopefully not major, but enough to send me into a spiral of stress! By the late afternoon I was a bit calmer and in desperate need of a break and a fix of some all-too-rare sunshine. I was also aware that it was a prime time to plant tomatoes and aubergines; and I just happened to have some seeds waiting earnestly on the kitchen table…

All the seeds that I have chosen this year are supposed to be fine to grow in pots and tubs, perfect for the courtyard. The next hurdle is not growing tons of everything, that is usually easier said than done for me. A couple of years ago I grew so many tomato and pepper plants that I turned our conservatory into a jungle – I wasn’t very popular that summer!

P3100035In an attempt to keep a check on how much I’m growing, I decided that rather than plant the seeds in seed trays I would plant them in plastic bottles. This idea came from MrBrownThumb, it is ingenious! It’s cheap and it means that I can restrict my sowing!

I cut three 2-litre drinks P3100033bottles in half horizontally. Then I heated the tip of a fondu fork and used this to melt holes in the bottom for drainage. You could use tweezers or a long nail instead. I put the compost and seeds in the bottom half of the bottle, just like in a seed tray, but the seed were placed on a slightly greater depth of soil (about 8 cm). Gave the seeds some water and popped the top-half of the bottle back on. I cut a vertical slit in the top of the bottle so that I could squeeze it slightly and get it to sit just inside the bottom half. I thought this would be better that trying to balance it on top.

Next to the chitting-potatoes on my window sill I now have three little mini propogators! One containing Gartenperle tomatoes, one with Baby Rosanna aubergines and one housing King Richard leeks. I hope that they work! I’m not so sure about the leeks, looking at the calendar I perhaps should have left these a day or so before planting them. If they don’t work, I can always blame the moon!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Keep it in the family, or amongst friends

P3090029I was asked what I plan to do with my rhubarb this year. Well, the short answer is: nothing.

The longer version is that when we decided to move over to Cumbria one of my first concerns was the rhubarb, “How can I leave that here?”. The simple answer was that I had to take it with us. So, I duly dug up the rhubarb last January, popped as much as I could into pots and brought it over to Cumbria. The previous autumn I had split it, so I was a bit wary about transporting it and leaving in it pots indefinitely, so soon after. To spread the risk I also gave some to a friend who has promised to give me some back when we finally settle.

Last year it really didn’t do well in pots and was at least a quarter of the size it usually is (that may have had something to do with my forgetting to water it). I hadn’t expected it to still be in pots now, or for us to still be in a rented house for that matter. For the time being at least it seems happier this year, but I don’t want to rock-the-boat and risk weakening it again two years in a row. So it will continue to sit by the backdoor in the courtyard and be much admired this year, so long as the cat leaves it alone. Unless of course it grows strongly and then rhubarb crumble will be on the menu!

I really should explain why I’m quite so worried about my rhubarb. This rhubarb is a little bit like a family heirloom to me. Some families pass down the family silver, but the rhubarb has been passed down on my mum’s side of the family for about a century.

It originated in my great-grandfather's vegetable plot, then moved onto my grandfather’s two successive homes, then onto my mother’s garden, and now some has come to me. My mum forgot to take some with her when she moved, so some of mine went to her new home where it now thrives.

With that legacy behind it, maybe I shouldn’t worry whether it is a survivor; like me, it seems to thrive on change wherever it is placed.

The primary function of growing vegetables is usually to create food; and at the moment with the current economic climate the practice is increasingly being heralded as a way of saving money, which is not a bad thing! But vegetables (and growing them) can also be associated with other things such as memories or family, or they may just bring out a smile on a rainy day. Surely that’s just as important?

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Grandma’s Recipes – Fish and Chips

Granny's recipes

When I saw The Spiced Life’s blogging event: ‘I want dishes that your grandma made’, it really got me thinking about the wonderful summer holidays I used to spend with my grandparents. The problem set-in when I tried to remember what I loved about my Nan’s (Grandma’s) food. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t that I didn’t like her cooking. The problem was that only one dish sprang to mind and I absolutely adored it! Even with more memory prodding I still find it hard to remember anything other than my Nan’s ‘fish and chips’.

P3060187The ‘fishman’ used to come round in his van every Friday morning, so we almost always had fish and chips for our lunch that same day. The subtle difference which made these fish and chips different from any other was the fact that my Nan made her breadcrumbs from crushed Cornflakes! As a child I used to find it really amusing that a breakfast cereal could be used with fish. This isn’t something I’ve come across since, but I’m sure other people must do this too, as the dish is delicious.

P3060191Last night I tried to recreate it. Taking some line-caught haddock, tossed in seasoned flour, covered with a beaten egg, and finally dipped in crushed cornflakes, I then shallow-fried the fish in grapeseed oil. It was served with homemade chips and peas. Nostalgia on a plate!

The result is a lovely crunchy coating. You really wouldn't know that the crumbs were made from Cornflakes.

I’m not sure that this really counts as a ‘recipe’, but is perhaps just a memory about a certain ingredient and my grandmother. But I really like the idea of this blogging-event and it certainly brought some forgotten precious memories to the fore.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Speechless (but not wordless, thank God!)

Wow. Surprised. Honoured. Amazed. Confused?

I was just flicking through Oyster Food and Culture’s latest post while enjoying a cup of tea, waiting for my chocolate to set on top of my Peanut Butter Crispie Bars (thank you The Spiced Life!) and about to go back to my waiting Word document, when I suddenly spotted the name of my blog. Double take. Was that really ‘Springtime’ written there?

Before I go any further I should probably explain my flicking, or skim reading. It’s a habit that I’ve picked up from my research. But with academic stuff it’s usually done with questions in the back of my mind: ‘do I actually want to/have time to/need to read this?’ With blog posts I flick for a completely different reason. It is just like an hors d’oeuvre before a sumptuous meal. I like to get a sense of the post, see the pictures and of course see if there are any comments! These whet my appetite for reading the whole thing.

kreativ_blogger_award So, having been completely wrong-footed I went back and read from the beginning, albeit impatiently! Then it dawned on me, my blog had actually been nominated for a Kreativ Blogger Award. Thank you so much oysterculture, I am completely dumb-founded. The blog has only existed for little over a week!

Research skills kicking-in again, I tried to find out a little more about it and the thing that has struck me most (apart from all the wonderful blogs, it has been awarded to) is the number of different rules that exist for passing it on. One holds true – you must nominate other blogs upon receiving it. But exactly how many blogs seems to be open to interpretation slightly, 5, 6, 7, 10 or 12. Another rule I found was that you should name six of your favourite things. I think I’ll go for nominating 10 blogs and miss out the favourite things.

Now, to the best of my knowledge these websites have not received the award before, if you have - sorry! (Can you receive it twice?)

So, in no particular order, here we go – have fun looking!

  1. Domestic Goddess in Training
  2. The Spiced Life
  3. A View from Carmine Superiore
  4. A Slice of Cherry Pie
  5. A Self Sufficient Life
  6. Gastroanthropology
  7. The love of photography, food and paper art
  8. Horticultural
  9. Manor Stables Veg Plot
  10. Musings from a Stonehead

P.S. Make sure you have a peek at Oysterculture’s blog. She has some wonderfully insightful comments about food and some of the cultural issues associated with it from around the world.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Bits ‘n’ Pieces – chicken stock, egg shells and seeds

My breaks today have been spent sorting out.

Chicken Stock P3050172-1

The other day we treated ourselves to a wonderful, organic, free-range chicken from a local estate. It was fabulous, so succulent! Today’s primary job has been simple: to make stock with the leftovers.

I’ve been left with a car without a current tax disc (as mine has gone on a jaunt to York) so I’ve been rather restricted to the house for the last few days and unable to get any extra ingredients.

Therefore, working on the principle that you only really need: a chicken carcass, some water (about 2 litres) and some veg (preferably so-called ‘white’ veg), I embarked on my stock-making during one of today’s breaks. To the pot with the water and chicken I added:

  • Two rather past-it parsnips
  • A floppy carrot
  • Some left-over leek tops
  • A red onion (no white ones left)
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • A good grind of coarsely-ground black pepper.

Next, I spent most of the two-hour cooking time making sure that the cat didn’t attack the protruding bits of carcass…

Result: just over 0.5 litre of yummy stock. I feel I should have a bit more, but with a hob with almost non-existent temperature control (barely simmer or raging boil) I can’t be too disappointed.

Egg ShellsP3050177

Next, I seem to have had a large collection of egg shells building up. They were duly put in the oven to be baked (100 degrees for an hour or so), crushed and stored.

I plan to use them as an anti-slug repellent for my lettuces. It’s a tip I saw somewhere, and I can’t remember where, but ‘thank you’ to whoever suggested it!

…and seeds

Lastly, while I was washing-up I was mentally planning an email to send to the seed company who I placed an order with over a week ago. There was something in their confirmation email which said “All goods will be despatched to arrive in good time for planting”. This year or next? The word impatient comes to mind again…

…but then a knock on the door revealed the postman, not an unusual occurrence, but he was clutching two small packages! I’m yet to open them but they bear the name of the seed supplier on them! You can guess what tomorrow’s breaks will be spent doing.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Springtime in snow

Cracking-on with writing at the moment, but had to go for a quick walk in the snow before it all melts!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

British Pie Week - Steak and Mushroom Pie (therapy)

It's British Pie Week (2nd-8th March)!

It would be a sacrilege to let this pass without acknowledging it. And what a great excuse to make a pie on a wet, miserable and cold day.

Also, pie-making seems to have been designed to fit with my fifteen-minute breaks (almost)!

Here's my recipe for Steak and Mushroom (with a little bit of Ale) Pie, the filling is made up from things that I happened to have in the cupboard/freezer and doesn't follow a particular recipe. I hope it works! The pastry on the other hand follows Delia's recipe, which is tried and tested.

First break (15 mins)
Filling ingredients:
1 small red onion, chopped
2tbs olive oil
400gr local stewing steak tossed in 1tbs of well-seasoned flour
200gr local mushrooms
A small handful of porcini mushrooms
1/2 tsp thyme (dried) or a couple of fresh sprigs
2 tbs mushroom ketchup
75ml port (all that was left in the bottle)
1 beef stock cube
1 can Guinness.

Start by putting the oven to preheat (170 degrees). In an ovenproof dish (I used a small-ish Le Creuset) heat the oil then add the onion. Cook the onion until its soft. Add the steak, mushrooms and thyme and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the liquid (port, mushroom ketchup and Guinness) along with the stock cube. Bring to the boil, then cover and place in the oven. Return to work and enjoy the smell of it bubbling away...

Second break (15 mins)
After an hour give the meat a stir and then make the pastry. I followed Delia's recipe, but I used all butter (as I didn't have any lard) and I doubled the quantities to make sure that I had enough. If there's some left over it will always keep. Put in the fridge to rest. Then remove the lid from the meat for the last 45 mins to allow the liquid to thicken.

I've been getting quite stressed this evening about how much I still have to do for the PhD. Sometimes I'm fine and other times it completely overwhelms me. But, standing there rubbing the butter into the flour was really quite therapeutic. I think that allowing myself the pleasure of cooking (in rationed amounts) is really helping me to keep calm about it all. At least at the moment it is.

Third break (10 mins)
After 30 -40 mins (I know, it's not an hour) take the meat out of the oven and leave to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, take the pastry from the fridge, cut it in half and roll out the first half so that it will cover a pie plate. I just use an enamel plate with a slight lip which I brought from a kitchen shop last year, but I've seen them in camping shops too.
Spray the plate with some olive oil (we have a pump and spray bottle - you can get them from Lakeland) to stop it sticking.
Then, use a palette knife to get the pastry onto the rolling pin , it makes it easier to transfer the pastry to the plate.
Cut-off anyexcess and brush the very edge with egg.
Put some of the filling in the the centre, I've just realised that the filling will easily make two pies, so put the remainder in a tub for the freezer.
Roll out the other half of the pastry and place on top.
Trim the excess pastry.
Go round the edge of the pie pressing the back of a fork into the pastry to seal it. Then brush the top with egg, prod it with a fork three or four times and pop it in the oven at 190 degrees for 45-50 mins. I have an awful electric oven at the moment which is generally quite slow to cook things, so you may find it cooks more quickly than this in your own oven.

If anyone has any improvements, let me know!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Last minute marmalade

I've set myself a new routine. I work for an hour and then take a 15 minute break. I was finding that working for 12-14 hours a day wasn't particularly productive, so I'm trying to work for concentrated short spells with programmed breaks. We'll see how it goes.

Today's breaks have been taken up with marmalade making!

A shopping trip to the local grocers on Saturday provided me with some of their reduced Seville oranges, only 50p for a kilo bag. Bargain. A bag for now and a bag for the freezer.

Now every B&B needs a plentiful supply of homemade marmalade, even though we don't actually have a B&B yet, there's nothing like being preparing for it!

First 15 min slot. This was spent quartering 1kg of Seville oranges and removing the pips into a jelly bag. The most effective way I've found of doing this is to place a jelly bag over a small bowl (to collect the juice) and then cut-out any strong white pith from the centre of the orange segments (and put this in the jelly bag too). This allows you to see the pips and easily scrape them out with a sharp knife.

Second slot (only about 5-10 mins). Blitz the oranges in a magimix in two batches. I just use a normal blade and this gives a fairly thick-cut marmalade. But the slice blade (2 mm) can be used to get a lovely fine-cut marmalade. Cut two lemons in half, remove the pips and add these to the other pips in the jelly bag. Put the chopped oranges, along with the jelly bag (tied-up with string), the juice from the bowl below the jelly bag and the juice from the two lemons into a preserving pan. Add 4 pints of water. Put on to gently simmer for two hours. Put two saucers or side plates into the freezer. And then time to make a cup of tea...

(The citrusy smell of the simmering oranges is making the whole house fill with an aroma akin to that of an orangery. I'm sure it's helping to inspire my writing.)

Third slot (two-in-one). Preheat the oven to 140 degrees and rinse out some jam jars in warm soapy water. This batch made: two Le Parfait jars (1x0.5 l, 1x0.75), an empty Peanut butter jar (340g Whole Earth) an empty mayonnaise jar (600g Hellmans) and another small jam jar.

Now you need to check the peel is soft. There's nothing worse than chewy marmalade. Do this by taking a piece of peel out of the pan and pressing the back of a fork against it. It should fall apart quite easily. When it is soft, remove the jelly bag, and add 2kg of preserving sugar and 200 grams of dark brown muscovado sugar, stirring all the time. (If you want a light orange marmalade then leave out the brown sugar.) Raise the temperature and bring the liquid to the boil for about 15-20 mins. Put the empty jam jars in the oven. I put a sugar thermometer in at this stage so I can check when it is getting close to a set at 105 degrees. At this point I then check for a set with the 'wrinkle test' by putting a small amount of the marmalade on one of the saucers from the freezer, let it cool for a while and then gently push the surface to see if it wrinkles. If not, carry on heating and try again a couple of minutes later. Put the saucer back in the freezer. I usually find I need to do this four or five times!

When it wrinkles, remove any white scum that has formed on top. I then add 100ml of whisky, but this optional, you could just put it straight into jars at this stage. The marmalade will bubble furiously when you add the whisky (I think it's burning-off the alcohol). Then leave it for 15 mins before removing the jars from the oven and using a jam funnel fill the jars.


(Admittedly, the last slot took longer than 30 mins, but I did miss a break whilst it was boiling away.)

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Bakewell Tart

After reading How to Help Eradicate the Battery System and getting over the initial shock that Cadbury's (and many others) still use eggs from battery hens in their products, it got me thinking.

Although time is of the essence at the moment, convenience food really needs to packed-up and shipped-out of our lives. Just because I have limited time shouldn't mean that we unquestionably eat whatever is easiest.

We are definitely at our worst when we are back at the house we are trying to sell. It is looking all spick and span so whenever we are there we succumb to eating microwave ready-meals and (I hate to admit it) Mr Kipling's Bakewell tarts. I'm not the world's tidiest cook, so I have effectively been banned from using the kitchen there. It would be a shame to make a mess of the place - hence the reason for convenience food. Although I think this rule needs to be broken; after all isn't that what rules are for?

The post on the battery hens really made me stop in my tracks.

When I revealed on Thursday night, that we were going to stop buying (wherever possible) any product that might contain hidden 'bad' eggs. This didn't go down very well, as it turns out that someone (who shall remain nameless!) had developed a taste for those little Mr Kippling's Bakewell tarts in the cake tin at the other house.

Well, how hard can it be to try to make a proper Bakewell tart? I had a quick search through Domestic Goddess in Training's blog and lo and behold there was recipe for a proper Bakewell Tart! I won't repost the recipe, as you can just follow the link, but I would thoroughly recommend doing just that...it is superb. I made it with locally-ground flour, local free-range (of course) eggs and some of my mum's homemade raspberry jelly - all of which made it taste and feel 100 times better one of Mr Kipling's!

I think it's been a hit in our house, but it still received an initial comment of, 'Where's the icing and the cherry?' (But he took a lovely photo for me!)