Monthly Archives: January 2009

Rooting for pigs

First it was Hugh F-W with chickens and this time around it Jamie O making the general public aware of pig welfare. Even though I deem myself to well read on various food issues the programme screened on Thursday night still surprised me.

It may sound silly, but you just don’t think of pork being intensively reared, but it can be. It was good to see that the UK has a higher minimum welfare conditions compared to the rest of the EU, but these minimum conditions hardly produce happy pigs. This also means the supermarkets are flooded with cheap pork products that misleadingly appear to be from the UK, but are really from the rest of the EU where welfare conditions are poorer. Similarly, imported pig products that do not conform to UK law and/or common practice are sold alongside UK products in many stores. Not only are these welfare standards poor for pigs they are slowly killing the British pork industry as many consumers are choosing price over quality.

For me, the most shocking part of the programme was the misleading labelling. Don’t trust the pictures and writing on the front of the packaging. Even if on the front of the packaging it says “UK sourced” don’t trust it. The only place to find out the truth is to read the back label. For example Wiltshire Cured bacon isn’t cured in Wiltshire, it’s cured using a cure called Wiltshire Cure and could be cured anywhere. For those of you interested in what exactly Wiltshire Cure it I found this .

Not only was it about how pigs are treated, but also what happens to the meat after slaughter. Not mentioning any names but in one supermarket some pork steaks were found to contain only 85% pork. How a slab of meat can only contain 85% meat? That will be the classic trick of pumping meat with saline…mmmm nice.

All of the programme made me very glad we get all of our pork from Packington Pork or from a smallholding friend where we know the pigs have had a happy, free-range life. It also makes me want to rear some pigs. Not right now as we wouldn’t be able to fit them in teeny tiny garden, but you never know, in the future. Hubby’s piggy visit to River Cottage has also cemented this notion.

In conjunction with Jamie’s show the RSPCA have launched a Rooting for Pigs campaign. They are calling for:

* clear and consistent labelling on pork products.
* a better law to protect pig welfare.

In a recent poll, only 2% of those questioned understood the terms used on pork products, such as ‘outdoor bred’ or ‘outdoor reared’. So what do the different terms mean?

Free range
There is no legal definition of ‘free range’ when it comes to pork. Retailers can label the pork they sell as ‘outdoor bred’ or ‘free range’ without providing definitions. Although the perception that keeping livestock outside is best for welfare does not always hold true, free range systems in which pigs are kept throughout their lives outside in paddocks do ensure animals have freedom to move around and express natural behaviours.

Outdoor bred
There is no doubt the term ‘outdoor bred’ sends out all the right messages to consumers who want to buy pork from pigs free to roam outdoors. However, despite the often held belief that this term means pigs will spend much of their lives living outside, in practice, the term is usually used to label pork from pigs that have only spent the first three or four weeks of their lives in free range systems. ‘Outdoor bred’ pigs are born outside, and their mothers almost invariably stay outside in paddocks throughout their breeding lives. However, once they have been weaned from their mothers, the piglets are moved into indoor systems, which can vary considerably in terms of the welfare standards they provide.

Outdoor reared
‘Outdoor reared’ is usually used to describe a system in which the piglets are kept with full access to the outdoors for up to around 10 weeks of age, before being moved to indoor rearing/finishing accommodation. Production of ’outdoor reared’ pigs on any commercial scale is relatively rare.

Go on, start rooting for pigs.

Scotch Shortbread

Sunday was Burns Night and it is on this night that Scots celebrate the poet Robert Burns. The original intention was to make Cranachan, but instead swapped the traditional oats for another Scottish staple, shortbread. Okay I don’t have a Scottish bone in my body. I’m half English and half Welsh so this was really an excuse to eat raspberries out of season. Not something I do very often as no raspberries beat the ones from the PYO farm a few miles down the road. To go with the raspberries and shortbread I whipped together some cream, whisky & honey.

The shortbread came from a vintage cookbook Hubs & I were given for Christmas. I love looking at vintage cookbooks and seeing how food trends have changed or not changed in some instances. Amongst my cookbook collection I also own a 1920’s book by Good Housekeeping that instructs me how to be a lady of leisure, my role as a wife and how to organise my servants. Some of the advice in it certainly makes me chortle!

Now I usually post my recipes in grams, but in true 1950’s style, and exactly how it is written in my cookbook I’m going to write it in ounces. Incidentally if your ever looking for the best place to do cookery conversions online, consult Delia.

Scotch Shortbread
From Encyclopedia of World Cookery – Elizabeth Campbell

6oz plain flour
4 oz butter
2 oz caster sugar
pinch of salt

1) Preheat oven to 140oc. Mix flour and salt together then rub in butter followed by sugar.

2) Knead into a dough. Resist temptation to add liquid. Keep kneading the dough and it will eventually come together. Form into a round cake prick with a fork and place on a lightly greased baking tray.

3) Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool, dredge with caster sugar then slice.

Cookery Club – the beginning

CC-day arrived. I ran my first cookery class…& survived! I’ll admit to really enjoyed it. There was so many kids wanting to take part I split them over two nights and it’ll run for 10 weeks.

The aim of cookery club is in introduce new foods to the children and allow them to try them in a safe environment, acquire important life skills and most importantly have fun with food! In turn it would be nice if the things we make begin to inspire the contents of the kid’s lunchboxes. I don’t believe in lecturing people as it doesn’t work, instead by educating people you can empower them to make informed choices.

I’m really proud of the kids. This week we made fruit salad in which the children had to bring at least 1 fruit that they had never tried before. All of them were up for trying new fruits, even if at first they were unsure. I was really impressed with the selection we had; it included papaya, passion fruit, lychees (mistakenly called leeches by one of the kids), pineapple and mango. Once the kids had shown they could use a normal knife sensibly, they were allowed to use a paring knife. Thankfully there was no chopped fingers!

Next week is pita bread and while they are baking we’re going to make butter. The kids are all very intrigued about how we are going to make butter. I hope next weeks club goes as well as this weeks club.

Pickled Red Cabbage

Hubby & I have decided that the culinary theme for this year, well what we want to learn how to do properly, is preservation. Be it jams, alcohol or pickles. So this weekend we’ve had a big spring clean. Hubby has been busy in the outhouse cleaning it out, putting up shelves, getting rid of rubbish and some frankly dire nettle beer, installing some better lighting, painting it white to make it seem brighter and making Bushel boxes. He has decided to name little project River Shed HQ. Over the next few months we’re hoping to fill the shelves with various items and if they go well, blogging them on here.

After making the scouse last week and eating it with pickled red cabbage I had forgotten how much I like red cabbage, in all it’s different forms. So my first 2009 preserving project became pickled red cabbage. I’m looking forward to trying it in a few weeks once it is ready.

Pickled Red Cabbage

red cabbage
distilled malt vinegar
1 tbsp pickling spices for each 1 litre of vinegar

1) Quarter the cabbage, remove the heart and shred the leaves. Layer in a dish with a generous sprinkling of salt between each layer or cabbage. Leave for 24 hours.

2) In a aluminum/copper free saucepan heat the vinegar and pickling spices (don’t allow to boil). Take off the heat, cover and allow the spices to infuse for at least 2 hours (I did it over night).

3) Once the vinegar has infused, filter through a piece of kitchen paper or coffee filter.

4) When the cabbage is ready, drain then rinse the cabbage thoroughly in cold water to rid of the salt. Pack the drained cabbage into a clean jar and cover in the spiced vinegar.

Over the last month I’ve been tagged twice by Hayley and Victoria Plum. So here are the 6 facts about me.

1. I had a picture in the HartBeat gallery at the grand old age of 6 3/4 (the 3/4 is very important when your 6). For appearing in the gallery I was sent Tony Hart’s autograph and some book tokens. I still have the book and his autograph. This morning the sad news was announced that Tony Hart had passed away. RIP Tony.

2. I love vintage women’s fashion and have a collection of dresses and swimwear dating from the 1930’s.

3. If I had room I would expand my collection of vintage cookbooks and kitchenalia.

4. I’m a big musicals fan…Hubby doesn’t share my enthusiasm!

5. For me, nothing beats climbing a mountain/hill and admiring the view.

6. I’m lost without my handbag.

Alright mate, ‘av some Scouse

Abel & Cole recently contacted me asking if I would like to try one of their mixed fruit & veg boxes. Over the years we’ve had veg boxes off various people so I was interested to give Abel & Cole a try. The box contained potatoes, carrots, leeks, onions, mushrooms, salad tomatoes, savoy style cabbage, apples, clementines, mangoes, bananas. Most of the veg was turned into Ham & Leek pie and a lasagna leaving me with some potatoes, carrots and onions. It was then I decided to make Scouse. Incidentally they are the first company I’ve come across who deliver my favourite beer!

Scouse is a dish, originating from Liverpool, that I’ve been meaning to make for a while and it seemed like a perfect dish to not only use up the veg but to also christen by my Le Creuset dish. My teenage years were spent growing up a stone throw for Liverpool and quite regularly picked up portions of Scouse from the local bakery for lunch. Although the dish had begun to die out over the last few years, I noticed on my last visit to Liverpool it is appearing on menus again. It is this dish that Liverpudlians (aka Scousers) are thought to be named after.

There is different variants of the dish depending on where you are and who you speak to. Scouse is a lamb/mutton stew from Liverpool and was originally brought to Liverpool by North European sailors who called it Labskause. It’s what we would now call a peasant dish using cheap cuts of meat and basic veg. Blind Scouse is the same dish, but without the meat and Lob Scouse (or Lob Skows) is more from North Wales and uses beef rather than lamb or mutton. It’s by no way a posh looking dish, but it certainly fills you up. Traditionally you eat it with pickled red cabbage, which gives the dish some bite and tartness.

This is also an exercise to prove to Hubby that Liverpool does have a famous dish, which at the moment he refuses to believe. I can see his point as I don’t think I can name a single other famous dish from Liverpool, unless and chip butty counts! He wants to call it a hotpot, but I tried to explain calling Scouse hotpot is like calling Beef bourguignon a Lancashire Hotpot.

Some searching in the internet came up with a lots of variations on the recipe, some with both lamb & beef, some with herbs, some with fancier veg and one even suggesting adding tomato ketchup. I decided to stick with what I know and have tasted in turn kept it as simple as possible. It was hard trying not to add herbs to the mix! So here to celebrate the fantastic year that was Liverpool’s year of culture, I present Scouse…

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp vegetable oil
400g lamb shoulder, diced
1 large onion, cut into chunks
500g carrots, sliced,
2kg potatoes, diced
Worcestershire sauce
750ml lamb stock (you could use beef stock)
salt & pepper

1) Preheat the oven to 170oc. In a deep casserole dish heat the oil then brown the lamb. Remove the lamb then fry the onions for a couple of minutes. Return the lamb to the pan then add the carrots and 500g of the potatoes. Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce and 500ml of the stock.

2) Place the covered casserole dish in the oven for 2 hours. Stir every hour. Once the 2 hours are over stir in the remaining potatoes. By this point the potatoes that went in at the beginning will have begun to disintegrate and thicken the sauce. Add the remaining stock (if needed) and put back in the oven, covered, for a further 2 hours. Serve hot with picked red cabbage and crusty bread.

Ham & Leek Pie

We’ve now taken down the Christmas tree. The cottage looks so empty without it, and the other decorations. After a day of the fire burning the cottage it has just about warmed up. As the cottage doesn’t have central heating we can’t set it so we have a warm house to get home to. It’s a case of once we get home after a few days away, getting a fire going (which never lights as well in the cold) and sitting it out until it is warm, in amongst layers of fleecy blankets and copious warming cups of tea.

It was a bit of a surprise when we awoke yesterday morning, to get ready for the first day back in work, to find a blanket of snow coating the ground. We’ve been predicted more snow in the next few days. Cold wintry weather like this requires comfort food of the puff pastry kind…pies. I know you can make pies with different pastry, but for me the perfect pie is a pie full of filling, with a decent amount of sauce and a puff pastry lid.

A few days after Christmas the leftover ham was reincarnated into a Ham & Leek pie and as requested by the lovely Charlotte @ The Great Big Veg Challenge here it is again. In theory you could make this pie with a multitude of leftovers, just don’t forget to briefly cook the veg before you add it to the pie. In the first pie I made a few days after Christmas I added Green Thunder to the cheese sauce which was absolutely delicious.

Ham & Leek Pie

Serves 2-4

3 small leeks, sliced
handful of ham, sliced
25g plain flour
25g butter
400ml milk
75g cheese, grated
2 tsp mustard powder
1 bay leaf
Salt & Pepper
250g puff pastry
2 tbsp milk or 1 beaten egg

1) Preheat oven to 200oc. Gently fry off the leeks in a small amount of butter until softened, stir in the ham then take off the heat while you prepare the sauce.

2) In a saucepan melt the butter then whisk in the flour. Keep whisking for a minute to cook the flour. Slowly add the milk and whisk until you have no lumps. Add the bay leaf

3) Gradually bring the sauce to the boil, stirring all the time to stop it burning. Simmer the sauce until it has thickened. Take off the heat, remove the bay leaf then stir in the cheese and mustard powder. Season then add to the leeks & ham.

4) Pour the cheesy leek mix into the bottom of a deep ovenproof dish. Roll out the puff pastry to the size of the dish. Place the pastry on top of the leeks and place 2 slits in the pastry (this stops the pastry going soggy). Brush the pastry with either the milk or eggs then bake for 25-30 min, until pastry is risen and golden.

Here’s to 2009

We manage to pack so much into the 2 week-long festive break, but at the same time it was really relaxing. Most of it was spent catching up with friends, seeing the sights and indulging in some fantastic food and drink.

First stop was Bristol to stay with some good friends and their crazy, lovable cat called Simba. First night we went to their local to try some proper cloudy Somerset Cider. It was far too strong for me but Hubby, bless his big cotton socks, enjoyed a few pints of it and it sent him totally wappy. I think I may have temporarily disowned him on the way home after I spotted him wearing a traffic cone on his head. Previous years when we have gone for New Years we’ve all struggled to stay awake (we’re becoming lightweights!), so this year made a conscious effort to stay awake…and that we certainly did. On NYE we dined on delicious Beef Wellingtonfollowed by a delicious cheese board and sampled various Ports while watching the Sky Lanterns people had set off throughout the village to bring in the New Year.

Finally on the 2nd we headed out to Brean Down to the south of Weston-Super-Mare (as shown in picture above). After a short climb to the top, in which my legs were quite adamant they weren’t going to do, the view was spectacular, if a bit windy and cold. We must have spent an hour or so at the top admiring the views. The climb certainly dusted off some cobwebs.

This evening, after a long journey north trying to avoid the chaos of the M6 we eventually returned to our very cold cottage, the thermometer in the kitchen read 7oc…brrrrr. I think we’ll be having a constant fire burning for the next 24 hours to warm the cottage back through. Thank goodness for hot water bottles!

I’m not usually a resolutions fan, but for this year I would like to:
* Acquire better knife skills, ask me to finely chop something…you can forget it.
* Eat at a famous restaurant (Hubby has sorted this )
* Also keep an eye out for River Shed HQ…Hubby’s self-entitled project.

So with 305 items on Google Reader and Delicious, Fresh & Jamie Magazine to catch up on I bid you a great 2009 and I hope it is a fantastic foodie year.

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