Category Archives: life

2011 highlights

It’s fair to say 2011 had some peaks and troughs but we made it through relatively unscathed. We’ve eaten and cooked some interesting  things along with meeting some fabulous people. I can’t predict the food trends for next year, but I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be a great year to remember. For me highlights of the year include:

Writing for Marks & Spencer.

Teaching myself how to decorate cakes.

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Dreams

As some of you may know in July 2010 I left my job to start a business. I had taught cookery a few afternoons a week in my old school but decided to combine my science background, food geekery along with 5 years experience in education to teach children how to cook. The last year has had huge highs and lows and it’s been one steep learning curve but I don’t regret it. The smile on a child’s face when they finally master something as simple as cracking an egg without shell going everywhere is priceless. I know the market I work in is very different to similar business throughout the country and I tailor the classes depending on the pupils and area. The main goal is for me to provide accessible, realistic, cross-curricular and creative food education for all, no matter your background or budget. One of my business goals is to make enough to fund me to do MSc Food & Nutrition Policy at City. I’m getting there slowly! Read the rest of this entry

Christmas Nibbles

Due to the size of The Cottage it does make entertaining more than 6 people quite difficult, so in the week run up to Christmas it is tradition for us to throw drinks & nibbles party as there is no room to host a sit-down meal. With the Christmas tree decked, mistletoe hanging from the beams and a roaring fire ready for chestnut roasting it officialy kicks of the Christmas week for us. We live in what could possibly be the only place in the whole of the UK that hasn’t been hit by snow this week so thankfully guests didn’t have any problems getting to us.

When it comes to the food I’m usually am incharge of the veggie and sweet nibbles whereas Hubs concentrates on the meat and fish and I have to say he’s far better at it than I am with meat and fish. He came up with the Black Christmas Pudding idea as we usually serve it up in one one form another at the party. Last night’s menu included:

Sweet Potato Stackers

Mini Toad in the Hole
Halve the recipe for normal toad in the hole and use chipolatas. Place one chipolata in each section on a bun tin, pour over batter and bake at 220°c for 15 min.

Sticky Squash with Sesame Seeds


Mini Ham & Mushroom Frittatas
Either make one large frittata and slice into bitesized pieces or bake in silicone cake cases for around 15 min

Tempura Prawns with Sweet Chilli Sauce

Onion Bhajis with Riata

Cold meat platter

Vegetable Sticks with Hummus


Black Christmas Pudding topped with Parsnip Puree
Roll black puddings in to golf ball sized balls. Fry off the balls until crispy. Peel and dice a couple of parsnips and fry off with some butter. Blitz the parsnips with a small amount of cream to give a piping consistancy. Pipe a swirl on top of the black pudding. Decorate with a tiny piece of chilli and herb leaf.

Cheeseboard featuring Winchester, Blacksticks Blue, Crozier Blue, Red Leicester and Somerset Brie.

Puddini Bonbons

Eccles Mince Pies


Beautiful Frost

The current weather that the majority of Europe is experiencing has brought some spectacular sights courtesy of Mother Nature. Where we are we haven’t had snow quite few days now but the subzero temperatures mean it hasn’t thawed. When Hubs left for work this morning his car was reading -11°c. Today is the first day we haven’t had a thick fog and instead a deep blue December sky. All the trees and plants are enrobed in a hoar frost which is beautiful. The photos don’t really do justice how stunning everything looked this morning after being touched by Jack Frost.

Today to get in the Christmas spirit I’m making Mince Pies with primary children. By the end of the fortnight, as long as the weather doesn’t jeopardise the classes, I will have helped to make over 400 mince pies. You should have seen the look of the cashier when I went to buy the ingredients yesterday. 7kg of mincemeat is quite a sight!

Introducing my Little Helpers.

Although I teach children how to cook as a day job I don’t have children of my own so while at a family party to celebrate Guy Fawkes night I recruited two little helpers in the form of Cam and Immy to help me road test some Silver Spoon products including black food colouring (used on my Black Velvet Beetle Cakes), writing icing, chocolate letters, coloured coco beans and sugar strands.

Let me introduce my two new helpers:

Cam (aged 6) loves: Percy Pigs, hates: lamb

Immy (aged 10) loves: swimming, hates: onions

I made the chocolate fairy cakes and basic buttercream before hand then the Little Helpers had free rein to try the different ingredients and decorate them how they liked. As that night was the family bonfire party from early on Cam decided he wanted his cakes to look like bonfires, of which he did a superb job and Immy’s were inspired by fireworks. Cam was very much drawn to the edible glitters (from Cake Decor) in my cake decorating box and christened them Cake Makeup. One thing I did realise when processing these photos is that my camera hates taking photos of items with edible glitter on them, it just doesn’t know where to focus and leaves the pictures blurred. Apologies to Immy & Cam as these are the best pictures I got.

Cam’s verdict:

I really liked the chocolate letters they were tasty, but I couldn’t spell all my words because lots of letters were broken. The coloured coco beans were my favourite.

Unfortunately lots of the chocolate letters were broken when they arrived with me or the letters broke when being taken out of the packet. I think the packaging could really be improved to stop breakages. There also seemed to be a distinct lack of common letters and soon ran out of useable letters.

Immy’s verdict:

The writing icing is really hard to use and Jules had to help us. When the icing did come out of the tube it was difficult to control where it was going and getting it to stick. I liked the coloured coco beans the best, they are like mini smarties!

I have since found tips on how to make the writing icing easier to use.

Along with cake making they carved some pumpkins and made Guys to go on the fire. Family tradition states that I’m in charge of the mulled wine/cider and Hubs chief firework lighter as it satisfies the pyromanic in him. After watching the display we all come back inside for a big family dinner. This year’s dinner was a delicious slow roasted lamb with roasted vegetables accompanied with Beyerskloof Pinotage then followed by a cheeseboard and sticky toffee pudding. Perfect meal for Bonfire Night if you ask me.

Cam & Im are now my official testers for food related to products aimed at children and have said how they would love to try more things. Be warned Cam & Immy give Gregg Wallace & John Torrode a run for their money.

A Glamping Staycation – the food

previous: A Glamping Staycation – the yurt

Campsites that openly encourage open fires, BBQs and have even built a clay pizza oven for you are quite a rarity and it was the pizza oven that sold this campsite to us.

We cooked pizzas in a clay oven at River Cottage last year so roughly knew what to do. First attempt at pizza wasn’t the best. We rolled the dough too big for the peel and ended up making a kind of calzone. Second attempt with a better heat from the fire and smaller pizzas did the trick. The men took the whole pizza cooking very seriously and managed to make some cracking pizzas. While they didn’t pass the official Napoli pizza rule of cooking in 90 seconds nothing beats a pizza cooked this way.  The dough was just the basic dough from River Cottage: Bread with cherry tomatoes boiled down with a splash of olive oil, garlic and herbs for the tomato sauce then topped with mozzerella, mushrooms and salami.

Once the pizza oven was mastered we then went on to the newly purchased Dutch Oven along with the tripod that allowed us to suspend it over the fire. First thing to be cooked – popcorn. A slightly mad idea of mine but I couldn’t see why it wouldn’t work. It did work…kind of. Due to the pot being a bit too close to the fire once all the corn had popped the majority of the corn had burnt to a cinder. However the Dutch Oven proved a perfect method to make a sausage and lentil casserole. First browned the sausages, took them out then browned some onions threw in some tomatoes, lentils, beef stock some mushrooms, returned the sausages to the pan then simmered until the sausages were cooked and lentils beginning to break down. Very tasty and perfect after a long day. I had intended to try and bake some bread inside the Dutch Oven, but never got around to it.

Of course cooking on a campfire means 3 essential things: toasted marshmallows, chocolate stuffed bananas and dampers. Cooking these took me straight back to Guide camp 15 odd years ago. Hubs took his role of Grr Caveman very seriously and whittled some sticks to allow us to cook the bread on. All those years of worshiping Ray Mears paid off. Rather than traditional damper dough we made normal bread dough, gently roasted over the fire then ate some with our main meal and the rest slathered in jam for our pudding. Delicious.

Foraging wise we picked lots of blackberries, which naturally ended up in a rather large jug of Pimms, plus at one point nearly picked what looked like some chanterelle mushrooms but we weren’t 100% they were so left them well alone.

As well as the food we made on site Hereford is known for its apples and cider. Something we were determined to try. There is an offical Cider Trail you can follow but the first place we visited, Carey Organic Cider , was an experience. When we turned up to the farm shop, situated in a barn in the middle of the farm, we were greeted by lots of beautiful produce that had been grown there along with an old  looking cider press and barrels of cider. Unsure as to what type of cider we wanted the gentleman let us try the cider as dry as it comes. I will say I have never tasted such a great cider. The general consensus in the group was to sweeten the cider very slightly to make it medium dry and the gentleman sweetened it with sugar there and then. It was very much like a traditional scrumpy and was rather strong stuff. The 5 litre box we bought didn’t last long. I think I’ve been converted to traditional non-fizzy cider now. Along with the cider they also sold amazing pink-fleshed apples from there. I can’t remember the variety but I think they are old variety. As stupid as this sounds they were the strongest tasting apples I’d had in a long time. Beautifully sweet and tart at the same time. We also visited Stowford Press as Carey Organics is only open on Fridays & Saturdays. The bottles be bought from here have very much been the drink of choice since we returned.

We ate breakfast and dinner on site, but for the majority of days ate Lunch off site usually at the places we we’re visiting. Best lunch was the Hampton Court Cold Platter at Hampton Court Castle (more on this spectacular place on the next post) and worst was an awful sandwich at a historic farm that has been on various BBC series recently. How can I put it, it tasted of the farm.

A Glamping Staycation – the yurt

I’m a big fan of the beautiful, diverse and lush UK. Yes we can go abroad, but with the strikes, volcanic ash etc. I was very glad we decided to stay at home even if we were taking a huge gamble with the weather. But then we are usually the lucky so-and-sos as we managed to have 2 weeks of glorious weather during our 2 week Honeymoon tour of Scotland’s Islands & Highlands and even came back with a tan.

It was Fairy Feltmaker who told us about Woodland Tipi & Yurts back at the beginning of the year and we booked it straight away before the press had cottoned on to the Glamping trend. I has also been featured in Cool Camping.

Glam + Camping = Glamping; but don’t expect it to be like a 5* hotel in the field. Your sleeping under canvas, you share the facilities, and you may see/hear nature around you; It’s still camping. Hubs & I plus friends love camping no matter what style it is. Between us we’ve wildcamped & night hiked in Snowdonia, camped under traditional A-frame tents while Scouts/Guides, slept on a site with just a cold water tap for company and celebrated birthdays under the stars in shadow of a mystical landmark. This was just another camping experience to add to our bow. A particular Trip Advisor review made me chuckle complaining about some aspects of this site, but what to you expect when camping?!

When booking, the site was already significantly full so we didn’t have much choice with weeks or yurts, but we we’re prepared to test my theory that weather is always great the week the kids return to school. I wasn’t wrong. We managed to possibly pick the sunniest and warmest week of the summer. We also managed to pick the yurt, Valley yurt, that appeared to be a bit of a sun spot and with a bit of privacy. It was lovely being able to eat breakfast outside every morning along with spending hours swinging in the hammock and catching up with some books while basking in the sun.

Inside the yurt we had a multitude of lanterns, a kingsized bed, various throws and rugs plus a wood burning stove to keep us warm. Hubs & I had bagged the proper bed while our friends slept on the foam mattresses when they joined us for a few days.

What was refreshing to see was the children on the site being what children should be. Have fun, climbing trees, making friends, going on bug hunts and playing games without TVs and games consoles to distract them.

A Glamping Staycation – food

The Beginners Guide to Country Bumpkin Life

Living in the country always brings its challenges. Last night as we were settling in for the night, Hubby went out front to put the rubbish out only to be confronted with a river where our drive usually is. The rain had been heavy, but we didn’t think there had been enough for the pond at the top of the hill to burst. Thankfully the floodwaters have subsided and hopefully our cottage is safe.

Cue mild panic, knocking on neighbors doors and remaining thankful that we were too lazy to put the sandbags away from the front door after they were delivered a month back. We’ve lived our little country cottage life for 3.5 years now and it has taught me many things.

1. Wellies – essential for country living, even better if they come in a funky pattern. I do wear my wellies quite a lot and last night amongst the sandbags and floodwater they decided to leak leaving me with a very soggy right foot. I now have my eye on some equally funky coloured Hunter wellies.

2. Candles – come to our house and you’ll find them everywhere along with random placed boxes of matches. Power cuts are a regular occurrence, though thankfully not as bad as they used to be. During lengthy power cuts it has been known for all of us to huddle around nextdoor’s gas BBQ making cups of tea. Who said the British resilience and love of tea was dead?

3. Mice/voles/rats – I have to admit I’ll never get used to little furry friends coming to visit. Thankfully Hubby isn’t bothered about them at all Although they may be cute tiny field mice looking for somewhere dry and warm I still don’t like them. I’m sitting here on the sofa freezing cold waiting for hubby to return from work as I’m too scared to get near the fire just in case Bob the mouse (our most recent furry friend who jumped out from behind to coal bucket) makes a reappearance.

We have humane traps and release our furry friends at a place called Percy’s Corner, named after the first furry friend we caught. Percy had quite refined tastes only liking to snack on pistachio & Brazil nuts plus…our sofa. More recently the mice have been under the sink. These however have less refined tastes and like to eat candles and washing powder. They are probably having a little rave under the sink high on various domestic products. Forget cocaine, get yourself to Chez Derbyshire and get high on Persil.

4. 2 wet jackets – If I was a hardcore country bumpkin I would have a Barbour jacket, but I’m yet to reach that status so make do with a Craghopper and Berghaus jacket. My old Craghopper is used for the coal bunker/ firk-out-the-drains-to-stop-the-house-flooding type of jobs. And the Berghaus? for everything else.

5. A dog or 2 – Now to be a true country bumpkin you should own a dog, but considering I have a mild phobia of dogs (plus as much as I love walking I couldn’t be doing with walking them everyday), we make do with next doors door who keep us both entertained. One thinks he is human and the other eats anything and everything.

7. Lighting a fire – I’m becoming quite a pro at lighting a fire, okay not to the extent of a Ray Mears stylee rubbing two sticks together job, but Hubby is often impressed with the fires I make…as long as Bob the mouse hasn’t popped in to say hello. I have discovered that babybel wax (my foodie shame) make great firelighters.

9. Fleecy blankets & hot water bottles – for the time when Bob makes a reappearance and your too scared to go near the coal bucket or when you can’t be bothered going outside to fill the coal bucket and make a fire.

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