Friday, 25 November 2011

Sloe vodka

This should have been posted a few weeks ago. We went on a sloe picking mission to get supplies for sloe gin and vodka.

Something odd was going on with the trees, some had loads of sloes, others had absolutely none, not like they had been already picked but literally not a single sloe to be seen.

This meant we got fewer sloes than in previous years, we came home with about 1lb 6oz of sloes.

The sloes were rinsed and several holes pricked in each one using a blackthorn thorn. This is a long process and best done with something interesting to listen to.

The sloes were put into a jar, then sugar and vodka added (1lb 2oz sloes, 9oz sugar and 1l vodka). It has all been left and will be strained just before Christmas with occasional shaking to make sure all the sugar dissolves. We also made a small batch of sloe gin to give as a Christmas present, using 4oz of sloes, 300ml of gin and 2oz sugar.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Pumpkin cookies

As promised I used the pumpkin scrapings in baking, and returned to show you some pictures.

Most recipes online start with pumpkin puree, so I pinged the bowlful in the microwave for a few minutes then poked at it with the hand blender. I ended up with a lot of puree.

I googled recipes, I thought chocolate would be the best option so went for cookies, adding cocoa to the recipe to make them chocolate chocolate chunk cookies. 

Honestly I am not blown away by them. The mix was very runny, it looked more like cake mix and I debated sticking it in cupcake cases but thought it might not cook through. The biscuits have a somewhat rubbery texture. Not inedible, but not "oh my gosh these are amazing".

They also used very little pumpkin puree, so I still have a huge bowl of it. I am not sure if it is worth baking anything else. I may freeze a few batches for adding to curry sauce.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween

I apologise for being a rubbish blogger of late, I keep thinking "I'll put that up" than never getting round to it. I will try to do better.

In the meantime, here's a seasonal photo for you

I am going to try my hand at pumpkin pie with the scoopings, so I will report back soon.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Raspberry vodka

This may seem a little out of season, but it works if you have a lot of later season raspberries, or do like I did and cheat, buy frozen berries from the supermarket.

Last year we tried this with fresh supermarket berries because we left it too late to go to the pick your own, it was nice, but not as fruity as I would have liked and rather expensive. Froxen berries are much cheaper and they seemed riper.

I started this a few weeks back as it will be bottled up for Christmas presents, but there is still time to make it before Christmas.

I got a little overenthusiastic with the quantities of berries and sugar because I like it sweet and fruity, you can, of course, adjust to suit your tastes.

You will need:
2l Vodka
1.5kg Raspberries, fresh or frozen
750g Sugar, most recipes seem to use granulated, but I had caster to hand and can't really see that it matters

Demijohn or large jar with a good closure, significantly larger than your quantity of vodka
A funnel if your demijohn/jar has a smallish opening

Ignore the random stuff that lives at the back of the worktop, that is not involved.

Weigh out the sugar, use the funnel to pour it into the demijohn, do this first when it is all nice and dry means the sugar does not stick to everything.

Add the berries to the demijohn. They are less squishy if you do it when they are frozen, but you get very cold fingers, whether you prefer squishy or cold is up to you, don't get frostbite!

Use the funnel to pour in the vodka. Close the top and give it a good swirl around to mix the sugar in.

Covering it will help to keep the colour. Give it a swirl a couple of times a week to start with, once all the sugar is mixed in you can just let it sit. Obviously keep an eye out for any signs of it going iffy.

After two to three months it can be strained through a jam bag and bottled up. It is meant to improve further with age, so last year's is even better than the fresh stuff, but I have not had any long enough to test that.

Other fruit can be substituted in, blackberries and sloes both use the same process.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Beef Wellington

Tesco sell bags of vacuum packed steaks, and quite often they turn up in the reduced section of the chilled aisles. They are usually a pretty good bargain, who can argue with half price British fillet steak?! As a bonus, the fact they are well sealed in the vacuum pack means you can beat them with a rolling pin for extra tenderness without getting steak juice all over the kitchen.

Since they were bargainous I figured I would try my hand at beef wellington, it was unlikely to be completely inedible, but at least if it was I would not have ruined expensive steak (see how much faith I have in my cooking skills?). It turned out very tasty, so I am sharing it here, it is maybe not the official way, but I pieced it together from ones I have seen on TV, yes I could have looked the recipe up, but never mind.

Fillet steak, either one bit per person for individual ones or a bit big enough to share
Farmhouse pate, it has mushrooms in there so saves time/faffing
Puff pastry
Egg, beaten in a jug for sealing/egg wash
Anything you would like to serve with your beef wellington, I added new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn

Set the oven warming up to about 200 degrees C.

Put the steak into a hot frying pan pan to seal it on all sides, make it nicely brown then take it off the heat, leave it to sit while you do the next bit.

Roll out the pastry, you want to make a rectangle that is quite a bit more than twice the size of your chunk of steak.

Spread some pate on the pastry sheet, just off centre, covering an area the same size as the steak, then sit your nicely browned steak on top, it will look a bit like this:

Spread beaten egg around the edges of the steak

Fold the other half of the pastry over the top and fold all the edges in, give then a good squeeze to seal them (for some reason this photo has rotated 180 degrees, logically the folds would be at the bottom). Optionally egg wash the top of the parcel if you have a lot of egg leftover.

Put the parcel of tastiness onto a non stick sheet on a baking tray and into the oven until the pastry is a lovely golden brown, it will probably be fifteen to twenty minutes.

Serve up with your choice of tasty sides, enjoy eating.

As you can see I accidentally made HUGE parcels. When the steaks came out of the bag they looked a bit small and feeble so I did one each. This is deceptive as we could have comfortably shared one parcel between two people.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Minimal muscles required bread

I have heard a lot of talk about the book "Artisan bread in five minutes a day", for the most part it has been very good talk, so I kind of fancied giving it a go, but did not want to buy the book without knowing if it was good first. Fortunately it was a case of internet to the rescue, I was directed to a link giving the basic recipe and some variations (it is a legal and legit link, they interview the author).

Decent homemade bread eludes me, while I can accept it will never be exactly like the stuff you buy (either sliced or bakery) I never seem to get it right, making something that is edible but not quite what I am after. I also don't have space for a bread maker, and am not keen on the paddle hole they leave anyway.

The recipe is easy to follow, you make up a wet dough and keep it in the fridge over night, or longer. When you want the bread you take some out, shape it and cook it, and tada, fresh bread with minimal daily effort. The daily bit probably only takes five minutes of effort, but you do need to mix the dough in the first place, which takes longer, and there is waiting and cooking time so it is not like out of the fridge and five minutes later you are eating bread, but that is ok, I mean you would have to be expeting a magic trick if that is what you are after. 

I halved the quantity, giving enough for two baking sessions. I also didn't mess about with a pizza stone, I don't have one and the sticky dough would make a horrible mess anyway I think (plus I suspect I would burn myself in the process). I just put it on a baking sheet and it seemed quite happy. I rubbed it with butter when it came out of the oven, I was told this makes the crust softer and explains why it is very shiny in this photo:

It looks good (even if I say so myself), and was less effort than traditional bread although I did have to plan ahead and mix the dough the night before, plus find fridge space for it.

It is still not quite right though. I can't deicde if I am wanting the impossible and what I class as not quite right is the same thing everyone else raves about as delicious home made bread or if I am still getting something wrong.

Since I was not blown away with it I used the rest of the dough to make a pizza. The dough is pretty sticky, so spreading it out was a bit of a pain. I baked it until it was crispy before adding the toppings.

The pizza was much more of a success than the loaf, I would maybe make pizza like this again, but I think I might still be on the hunt for the perfect loaf. Or should I give up and accept that a Tiger loaf from Tesco is bready perfection?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Great Gammon

Gammon steak with chips and peas plus trimmings is delicious. But the ones you buy tend to go leathery and nasty when they are cooked, so today I share with you the secret of great Gammon (from my Mum).

Go to your local butcher and ask nicely if they will cut you a gammon steak twice the normal thickness. This will do two people, which makes sence if you think about it since it is twice the volume of meat as a standard steak, unless you are really hungry. If the butcher says no and looks at you oddly try a different one (I got these through my Mum from a butcher 200 miles away, but you should be able to find one closer).

It should be about this thick:

Cut the round steak into two pieces and trim off the rind (unless you want it). Grill, turning several times until cooked (these took about 35 minutes, remember they are thicker).

Serve with chips and trimmings and enjoy. I was too busy eating mine to take a photo but it was juicy and delicious.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Blackberry jelly

This weekend we found an enormous blackberry patch, completely by chance. About 500g came home in a bag, just a small picking but we will try to go back for more soon.

Since wild blackberries tend to be very pippy jelly seemed to be a better idea than jam. 400g went into a pan with a little water to be boiled and mashed, then left to drip through a jelly bag overnight. I had a flash of inspiration and realised I could hang a jelly bag from the extractor fan knob. Oh, and the missing 100g of berries were eaten :)

The juice in the bowl measured just over half a pint, so it was mixed with the juice of a lemon and 8oz jam sugar (the stuff with pectin already added in) and boiled vigorously for 4 minutes. A small test on a chilled plate showed it had reached setting point so it was poured into jars.

400g of berries gave about two and a third small jars of jelly.

The part jar has already been eaten!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Ibstock country show

Yesterday (Sun 21st August) was the Ibstock country show. I found the details while I was looking for craft shows and decided it was worth a look, especially as it was such a gorgeous sunny day.

Although it was a little smaller than I expected from the website details it was very enjoyable. We arrived just after it started, I think it would have been better to get there at about 12 as we would have caught more of the arena entertainment. Nevermind, we walked around the stalls and through the craft tent, I very uncharacteristically resisted buying both yarn and spinning fibre. Watched some pony club games in the arena (those kids are crazy!) and a remote control helicopter demo and had an ice cream.

There were a few animal stands too, which always pleases me, I took pictures of those.

Shires getting ready for a demo in the arena later on.

 A Lincoln long wool sheep

Very large French lop bunny

Assorted poultry

Pigs (mmmm, bacon!)

Two steam engines, an organ arrived a little later too.

And a display of vintage cars of various sorts and ages, I particularly liked this one, it is very "Bertie Wooster"

There were a lot of other things happening, dog shows, bands, displays etc but we headed home after we had done a few laps of the field. I would go again, but like I said at the top of the post would probably head over a little later to catch more of the action.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A garden update

I have been a ittle quiet lately, I will try to do better. I thought it was about time for a garden update, some of my plants have survived my repeatedly forgetting to water them, some are even thriving!

The mini potted peach tree has two peaches under way. I was not expecting any this year as it spent all its blossoming season in a garden centre, but some little critters must have made it in there to pollinate anyway.

Possibly the best sunflower I have ever grown, although the head is a bit small, might just be the variety.

A full length shot of the sunflower and the side bed. The sunflower is about 2.8m tall. Along the side there are more sunflowers and raspberry bushes intent on taking over the world. Unfortunately the rest of the plants in here have not done so well.
You also get a lovely view of the bin. It has been moved down the garden to allow for the new recycling wheelie bin that is meant to be arriving soon, it will be an improvement on the purple plastic bags, but there is not really space for it in my garden. Some pots had to be moved to house the general bin, next year I will grow more things over the arch to hide it.

Raspberries, yum! These are an autumn variety (should be Polka, but seems overly thorned). There are lots of them this year and just a handful are coming ripe each day. They don't usually make it into the house before being eaten.

I had planned to have loads of flowers this year, but was not overly successful. These gorgeous dark blue/purple sweet peas made it though.

As did a few gerberas bought as plug plants, a yellow

and a pink.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Half a pig, is it worth it?

I was still feeling somewhat annoyed by ending up paying more than I hoped for my half a pig. I figured the best way to find out if it had been worth it was to see what the same amount of meat would cost if I bought it from the supermarket.

I used the Tesco online prices, plus the weights from my half a pig and calculated the price for each part. Just out of interest I priced up the very cheapest and the best that Tesco had to offer online (which was not always that good by the way, a mix of finest, organic and standard, although I think all British).

Joints (13.72kg)- These were a mix of shoulder and leg and I can't tell which is which, I worked it out as 1/3 shoulder, 2/3 leg.

Shoulder (4.57kg)- cheap £12.24, best £18.28
Leg (9.15)- cheap £58.46, best £73.10
Chops (5.47kg, 20 chops)- cheap £21.83, best £78.00 
Belly (2.41)- cheap £10.24, best £15.64
Sausages (3.5kg)- cheap £3.71, best £19.91

Cheapest- £106.58
Supermarket best (a term used loosely)- £204.93
Butchered half pig plus sausage supplies- £145

So in the end it worked out to be a lot cheaper than the closest supermarket equivalent, a £60 saving or more depending on what sausages you choose from the supermarket. The saving should really be higher as the quality of some of the meat priced as best is well below, in fact even the best of the best does not compare with the welfare standards of the butchered half pig (British, fully free range, organic).
It was not even that much more expensive than the cheapest options, and a lot of that I would not eat, especially the sausages (seriously what can possibly be in sausages at £1.06 per kg?!)

There were also a few extras that couldn't be priced, like back fat and bones and trotters if you have someone to eat them, that makes it even better value. There was also a good afternoon of entertainment in making the sausages!

So in all it is not only worth it for the entertainment value of making sausages and satisfaction of eating truly happy high welfare pork, but also financially. That said I will be trying to better the price when I buy the next one.

And because I don't like to post without pictures, here is a roast dinner featuring some of the much blogged about pig. I am happy to report it was very tasty indeed.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


One of the main reasons for getting half a pig was to make sausages. I like sausages but really don't like the way you get grisly bits in shop bought ones, even quite fancy ones have iffy bits in and it honestly makes me feel a little queasy.

I wanted some tasty sausages without the "bits that pucker" (as my friend puts it) and the best way to know what goes in a sausage is to make it yourself.

The meat came from the half pig and the skins, rusk and flavour mix from Weschenfelder sausage suppliers (they were very good, decent prices, every thing you could need and fast delivery).

I asked the butcher to skin and chop about half the belly for sausages, unfortunately he left it as pretty large chunks, that probably suit their grinder but were much too big for mine. First task was to cut it down to more manageable chunks. I did get rid of one or two bits that were solid fat as being belly meat it was quite fatty in general.

After the chopping came the mincing. I am very impressed with this little grinder, it coped with the 3.2kg with no problems.

Next the skins were rinsed to get rid of the salt and soaked in warm water. We used ready spooled skins, I think this made the whole process easier and is worth the extra money.

For mixing the filling we used flavour mixes to make a batch of 1.5kg pork and apple and 1.5kg of Cumberland. We wanted the first ones to be very simple and straightforward, which they were. We then used the sausage book recipes to make 500g of pork and leek and 500g of baking chorizo.

Mixing the filling, I tried using gloves but it didn't work so hands it was (apart from the chorizo, I didn't want super chili hands). You can see the mincer ready to stuff the sausages behind the bowl.

Unfortunately there are no pictures of the stuffing, all four available hands were in use making the sausages so none free for the camera.

Getting the skins on was a little tricky, I think the nozzle is better sized for hog casings and we soon learnt not to overstuff the skins as it caused bursting when we tried to twist them. We ran out of casing at the end, four spools is about right for 3kg pork.

The slightly odd looking ones were cooked up for sampling, the more normal ones were bagged in portions and left in the fridge overnight then frozen.

They were very tasty.

Lots of things to do a little differently next time though (I am writing them here so I remember)-
  1. Ask the butcher for smaller chunks of meat
  2. More flavour mix than in the instructions, they were nice but could have done with more herbiness/appliness
  3. More liquid if following the book recipes, will use the meat:rusk:water ratio from the flavour mix instructions as they were perfect
  4. 4 spools of casing for 3kg meat.
  5. Less chili in the baking chorizo, they are hot!
  6. Remember making sausages takes at least twice as long as you expect (although less if the meat is already chopped small)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

What's in a pig?

Actually, what's in a half a pig, but you could double it to get a whole one.

Yesterday we collected our first half a pig.

First up, the pig price saga- I spent ages researching prices and sources. I had been told that a half pig should not be much more than £80, but I wanted one that was free range, so knew it would be more expensive.

Prices seemed to be around the £140 mark so when I was offered £2.20 a kilo for free range organic I double checked the price and placed my order (that would be about £66 for a half). I should have triple checked, because I got a phone call saying that the price was wrong and it should be £4.20 a kilo, they did say I could cancel the order. Since I am having a whinge I will not name the supplier, following the if you can't say something nice don't say anything rule. Actually they were very nice and butchered to order, just confused the prices.

I ummed and ahhed, it was more than I wanted to pay but was pig with excellent provenance. I looked for other sources and even tried to work out what the closest equivalent in supermarket prices would be. In the end we went for it, figuring we live and learn and depending how tasty it is we can look for a different source next time.

It looks like this:

Obviously what you get depends on what you order. I asked for:
  • a female half pig- to do with hormones and meat flavour
  • no head- no room/time to deal with it, don't like brawn
  • no trotters- no dog, don't fancy eating them myself
  • no offal- just don't like it
  • about half the belly skinned and cut into chunks so I can make sausages
  • joints sized for 5-6 people 
The biggest problem with researching was that I couldn't find out how much of what cut to expect which made it hard to work out values, so on arrival we weighed each bit and noted it down, weights include the packaging.

Joints, mix of shoulder and leg, can't tell which is which- 13.7kg, 7 joints
Belly cut into strips- 2.41kg, 16 big strips
Belly skinned and diced- 3.8kg
Chops- 5.47kg, 20 chops
Chunk of back fat, forgot to weigh this

I was also offered the bones but turned them down this time.

The meat looks excellent, not too fatty. It has been rewrapped (the clingfilm was rather leaky) and frozen apart from the meat for sausages and a joint for Sunday so I can report back on flavour soon.

Today is going to be spent making sausages, once I know how many I get I will work out what it would all cost to buy individually and see if it has been good value after all.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

What mincer?

After much faffing around the half pig is ordered (more on that in another post), it will be ready on Friday afternoon, which left me with a bit of a problem as I had not got my mincer/sausage stuffer combo organised.

I have done quite a lot of research, originally I was going to buy a sausage starter kit with the classic bolts to a table cast iron type, like the ones they sell here, most likely as part of a kit with skins and rusk.

I would have preferred a stainless steel one though as it would be easier to maintain, they can be found here, but were a little out of my price range.

During my research I had seen various plastic mincers, but written them off as flimsy, until I came across this one on the Lakeland website. It had excellent reviews apart from people having issues with the suction fitting. Since time was short and there is a Lakeland shop nearby (ish, its in Nottingham) I rang them to check there was one in stock and went to collect it yesterday.

It is variously called a meat mincer (the shop and website) a health mincer (the instructions) and a pasta maker (??!! the box).

It does have three pasta attachments, but I would say it is a mincer that does pasta, rather than a pasta maker that does mince (does that make sense to you?). It also comes with two grades of mincing blade, a chopping blade, a meat tray, meat poker/suction cup key and a sausage nozzle. The nozzle is not overly long, but the skins I have come in short lengths so that is fine.

I picked up some beef to give it a trial run, just in case it was a disaster I didn't want huge amount of pork sat waiting while I frantically tried to find an alternative.

It was not a disaster, and so far I am very impressed, a huge advantage over the alternatives being that it comes apart completely and being made of plastic and stainless steel (the blades) it washes easily, no worries about stuck bits of meat in the machine.

The suction worked perfectly on the granite slab, but also seem ok on my slightly textured worktop.

The only slight problem is that the crank handle is longer than the machine so it has to hang over the side of the work surface, but I guess that does give more leverage and it was not an issue.

It will get its real test when the pork arrives, but so far it has a big thumbs up.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Fate of the strawberries one- Rumpot

Or Rumtopf if you want the German, they are behind this idea, and a very good idea it is too!

Take 440g (about 1lb) or strawberries and mix with 220g (about 1/2lb) of sugar. Leave for 30mins or so.

Put the sugared strawberries plus all the juice and sugar into a rumtopf jar. You don't have to have a special jar, but we found this one in a charity shop any large, lidded jar will do.

Pour rum on top of the berries until they are completely covered, we used about 750ml. Put the lid on and sit the jar safely on a shelf.

As more fruit comes into season (raspberries, cherries, blackberries, blackcurrants, red currants etc) repeat the process of fruit, half the weight of sugar, add to the jar and cover with rum. Frozen fruit and tinned fruit can be used too, a few pineapple slices are good.

The jar should be full by the end of the summer, leave it for a few months for all the flavours to mix and just before Christmas strain the liqud off for drinking. The fruit can be eaten too if you like. 

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Strawberry season, part two

As the garden is only producing nibble quantities of strawberries today we went to the pick your own fruit farm at Wymeswold.

Prices and a field of strawberry plants.

Many of the strawberries were not quite ripe, but we came home with a nice basketful (about 1.6kg after chopping the stalks off for £6.56- bargain!). The raspberries were not ripe yet so we came home without any.

Amusingly shaped strawberries for your entertainment.

The berries have been prepped for their various destinies, but more on that tomorrow.