Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gremlins in the system

A week after moving across to selfhosting at I’m back at the old blog domain temporarily. Turns out all you lovely blog readers meant I exceeded bandwidth within a space of a week! My hosting company won’t upgrade my account outside office hours so the new blog won’t be back until Monday. Hmm maybe a sign I need to change my hosting company. Once the new domain is back up and running this blog will automatically redirect.

Sorry for the faff! If you’re looking for a recipe on the new blog this weekend email me at and I’ll email you the recipe.

Blooming Baskets

Hanging baskets don’t have the best reputation. They can sometimes be considered naff with their garish trails of bright flowers that sometimes look like they have been thrown together (don’t get me started on their fake counterparts) but you don’t have to plant your hanging baskets with pansies and fuchsias; All of the baskets in our back garden contain either fruit or vegetables. Planting fruit and vegetables in hanging baskets can be a great way of growing-your-own in limited space.

Tomatoes – This was the the first vegetable we attempted to grow in baskets and the Tombling Tom variety works best. Just be careful of blight which can ruin your whole crop.

Strawberries – We’ve planted many varieties over the years and all have worked well apart from the white alpine strawberries we tried last year. The advantages of growing strawberries in hanging baskets is that they are not as accessible to pests (apart from birds) and because they are hanging the you don’t get the problem of the strawberries going soggy on the ground. To help protect the strawberries from birds cover the plants in netting.

Pea shoots – Last year discovered this gem and I have Alys Fowler to thank. You don’t need fancy peas from the garden centre. Plain and simple Bigga dried peas from the supermarket will work just as well. You simply sprinkle the peas over the soil and cover with a thin layer of soil and keep watered.You are able to grow them in baskets as you are literally harvesting the plants for their leaves rather than the peas. You can however transplant the plants once they have grown too much for the basket and grow in to fully fledged pea plants.

Salad leaves – Perfect as they are literally cut and come again. I prefer to use packets of mixed salad leaves for variety. Growing salad leaves is far easier than buying packets from the shops as in our case we struggle to get through a packet of ready prepped salad before it goes off.

Herbs – Most herbs that don’t grow too tall like mint and thyme work well in hanging baskets.

When growing in hanging baskets make sure the basket is well drained but also don’t get waterlogged. We usually line our basket frames with a husk/moss layer (watch the birds pick this out during the nesting season) then a thin plastic layer with a few holes to allow the water the drain through. Also balance the baskets on a bucket to stop them rolling around while trying to fill them with the compost.

Have you tried growing anything unusual in hanging baskets?

Brown & Green – Little Eaton

Given the Midlands has great food heritage, wonderful places to buy food can be few and far between. In amongst the rough there is some diamonds. Brown and Green is one of these. Their aim is to provide local, artisan & ethical produce. They have a shop in Trentham Gardens, that I had heard great things about, and a couple of weeks ago they opened a sister store at Derby Garden Centre near Little Eaton. I popped in on the opening day and was really pleased with what I found and have since returned with Hubs to stock up on picnic essentials for a trip to Kedleston Hall.

It’s great to see so many local brands being stocked from the delicious Needwood Ice Cream (I think the best ice cream you can get), Quirky Cookies, Septimus Syder to the Aged Leicestershire Red, plus from the other side of the Midlands Coopers Gourmet Sausage Rolls (Hubs adores their sausage rolls with black pudding called Piggy Black) and Westons Stowford Press which brings back memories of last year’s holiday. On our trips there I’ve also spotted venison salami, some amazing looking savory eggs plus lots of other fabulous products.

If your ever in the area I seriously suggest you visit. The garden centre where it’s based is good too. What I love about Brown & Green is that it’s down to earth, fabulous quality, reasonably priced and friendly. Not all food stores are like this and it’s a shame. Good food is for everyone, not just for people who can afford it. If I was to run a food shop I would run it exactly like Brown & Green. Thank you very much to Brown & Green’s Susie for the photographs.

Brown & Green,
Derby Garden Centre,
Alfreton Road,
Little Eaton,
DE21 5DB
01332 835244

Sweet & Sour Chilli Chicken

I’ve realised I don’t blog main meals much any more. This is partly because the light in our kitchen isn’t great once the sun goes down plus I’m not as good at making them look pretty. I happened to mention this dish on Twitter and promised to blog it.

This meal is a big favourite in our house. It’s full of flavour and I’m sure is healthier than a takeaway even with the quite high sugar content. The blog where I got this recipe from is no longer online so I’m glad I scribbled it down when I did. The original author said how it is based on a toned down recipe for General Tso Chicken that her granddad used to make at a restaurant he worked in. The only alteration I’ve made to the original recipe is to double the sauce quantities as I prefer it saucy and to add the veg. It really is delicious plus after the initial prep you can fling it in the oven and forget about it for a bit. A perfect Friday night dinner.

I usually serve with plain boiled rice, but if we’re feeling a bit naughty we’ll have it with egg fried rice. If you like it spicy add some more chillies.

Sweet & Sour Chilli Chicken
Serves 2-3

2 chicken fillets, diced

½ cup cornflour

2 eggs, beaten

salt & pepper

Red pepper, cut in strips

1 Red chilli, finely chopped

¾ cup of soft brown sugar

4 tbsp tomato ketchup

½ cup rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp garlic salt (if you don’t have this replace with a clove or two of garlic)

spring onions

1) Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in frying pan. Season the flour. Dip the chicken in the flour then egg. Fry until browned on each side then place in ovenproof dish. Mix the peppers and chillies in with the browned chicken.

2) In a jug mix the sugar, ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce and garlic salt. Pour over the chicken and make sure it is well coated in the sauce.

3) Bake at 180°c for an hour. Stir at 15min intervals to stop chicken sticking. Sprinkle raw spring onions over the chicken before serving.

On the move

Please excuse the blogging hiatus, we’re on the move. The tiny Georgian cottage that has been our home and inspiration for the last 6 years is getting new owners. If it wasn’t for this house I’m not sure if our love of food would have blossomed so prominently. When we first moved in, as a newly engaged couple all those years ago, we didn’t have a freezer and limited cupboard space so it became the perfect opportunity to learn how to cook from scratch. The rest, they say, is history.

It hasn’t been an easy decision to make but if all goes well, touch wood, we will be swapping low beams and outhouse for ceiling roses, walled garden & chickens. Just like the Victorian Farm TV Series we’re moving through the ages.

The majority of the house has been packed and hidden away in storage including our cameras plus the majority of the kitchen making blogging slightly difficult. The garden stripped back after the December snow damage is now a blank canvas itching for colour.

While we’ll be sad to see it go it does however solve the question that has harboured us every festive season. Where on earth will we put the Christmas tree?!

BBC Good Food Show with Tourism Ireland

This year Hubs & I attended the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC after being invited by Tourism Ireland. On the Tourism Ireland stand it was great to see so many producers who were passionate about their product. Not all the products are currently available in the UK but the intention is that they will be soon.

The first person we met was the fabulous Joe O’Flynn from Rathsallagh House. He explained to us and let us taste their delicious famous Breakfast Ham that they serve to their guests every morning.

Flahavan’s At this time of year breakfast isn’t breakfast without a big bowl of creamy porridge. I had heard about these oats after reading blog posts about them. I have to agree they are super creamy and I’ve enjoyed having them for breakfast these cold wintry mornings.

Ballyhoura Apple Farm While on the stand we tried both an Mulled Apple Juice and Apple & Beetroot Juice (not sure if this one is available yet). Maurice Gilbert, the owner of Ballyhoura Apple Farm, was bubbling with enthusiasm over both of the products he was showing at the show and I know why. Both the juices and the apples he gave us to try were delicious. I particularly liked the Apple & Beetroot juice and it’s interesting that a product like that could be appearing in the market.

Cashel Blue & Crozier Blue Hubs adores blue cheese, I’m not so much a fan, but both the Cachel Blue and the Crozier Blue are deliciously creamy and I would happily eat them if they appeared on a Christmas cheese board. The cheese is sold relatively young but once left to mature will intensify in flavour.

Harty’s foods. Melanie makes a really great pepper jelly. Perfect sweetness and heat from the chillies and delicious with some of the breakfast ham we tried. What I liked about the jellies, along with the taste, was the colours of the jelly. They were crystal clear.

Ballymaloe Country Relish Their products are made down the road from Darina Allen’s famous cookery school. We have a couple of jars of their versatile relish which were looking forward to trying with lots of different dishes.

Dee’s Organic Wholefood Burgers Dee’s aim is to produce foods that are jam packed with the good stuff. Both her Omega burgers and spicy bean burgers appeared to be selling well at the Good Food Show. We are yet to try the ones we were given but I’m looking forward to trying them.

As well as the food stalls there were many hotels, guest houses and other accommodation being promoted on the stand. While Hubs has been to Ireland many a time with work I’m yet to visit and we’re now both thinking of popping over for a holiday in 2011. Many thanks to Tourism Ireland for inviting us both to the BBC Good Food Show.

Midlands festive food & gift events

Many thanks to Claire from for letting me use this image.

November and December is a great time in the Midlands for food and craft fairs. Perfect for discovering new producers and picking up some gifts along the way. As a few people have asked me about what happening locally in the next few months I thought I would dedicate a blog post to it. If you know of any events I’ve missed please let me know.


Thursday 18th November – Thursday 23rd DecemberBirmingham Christmas Craft Fair & Frankfurt Christmas Market 10am – 9pm. Around Victoria Square and New Street along with Chamberlain and Centenary Squares. It is now the largest outdoor Christmas Market in the UK. 

Friday 19th November – Sunday 21st November Chatsworth Christmas Market 10am – 5pm. Stalls are located on Lodge Hill, leading up to the Stables, and admission is free.

Saturday 20th November – Sunday 21st November Fabulous Places Christmas Market 10am – 4pm. Round House, Pride Park, Derby. £1 entry, free for under 16’s and Derbyshire Card holders. I went to this last year and can highly recommend it.

Saturday 20th NovemberFood Gusto Christmas Fair 9.30am – 4pm. Packington Memorial Hall. LE65 1WH

Saturday 20th November – Northfield Farm Christmas Fair 9am – 4pm. Oakham LE15 7QF

Wednesday 24th November – Sunday 28th NovemberBBC Good Food Show 9am – 6pm. NEC Birmingham. Keep and eye out for the wonderful Gower Cottage Brownies and Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies there.

Thursday 25th November Christmas House Party 9.30am – 5pm. Rudd Moncrieff, Nr. Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 3AZ. Festive food workshops, Inspiring floral demonstrations, Stylish Gift Wrapping,and Christmas shopping

Friday 26th November – Tutbury Festival of Christmas begins at 5.30pm

Saturday 27th November – Art Market 9am – 5pm. Market Square, Burton on Trent. Featuring local artists and foundation degree students.

Saturday 27th November – Sunday 28th NovemberChristmas Craft Fair 11am – 3pm. Kedleston Hall, nr Derby. Enterance £1. Free bus service from Derby bus station every hour leaving at 10:30,11:30,12:30 & 13:30. Return bus service from Kedleston Hall leaving at 12:00,13:00,14:00,15:00 & 16:00.

Saturday 27th November Rockafellas Christmas Fair 11am – 3pm. Rockafellas, St Nicholas Place, Leicester LE1 4LD

Saturday 27th November Artists and Makers Christmas Craft Fair 10am – 4pm Melbourne Leisure Centre, DE73 8GF

Saturday 27th November SoURCE Christmas Fair 10am – 4pm Moseley Exchange, Birmingham B13 8JP

Sunday 28th November Seasonal Sundays Entertainment from 12 noon. Ferrers Centre, nr Ashby de la Zouch LE65 1RU

Saturday 4th December Christmas Craft Fayre 11am – 4pm. Rosliston Forestry Centre. Free entrance. There is a superb garden centre opposite. It’s small, but full of the most beautiful plants and the staff are very knowledgeable.

Saturday 4th December – Saturday 5th December Christmas Market 10am – 5pm (last admittion 4.30 pm). Sudbury Hall. No additional charges. 

Saturday 4th December – Saturday 5th December Christmas Food Fair 9.30am – 4.30pm. Baslow Village Hall, DE45 12P

Friday 10th December – Saturday 11th December Festive Gift Fair 11am – 6pm. QUAD, Derby.

Saturday 11th December – Sunday 12th December Christmas Craft & Gift Show 11am – 6pm. Calke Abbey. Free event (normal admission charges for Calke Abbey apply)

Sunday12th December Seasonal Sundays Entertainment from 12 noon. Ferrers Centre, nr Ashby de la Zouch LE65 1RU

Sunday 19th DecemberChristmas Fine Food Fair 11am – 6pm. Free event (normal admission charges for Calke Abbey apply) I’m waiting to hear back from the National Trust to check this event is still going ahead because it has disappeared from the website.

Sunday 19th December Seasonal Sundays Entertainment from 12 noon. Ferrers Centre, nr Ashby de la Zouch LE65 1RU

As far as I’m aware all these events are running. Please confirm with venue before visiting.

Chocolate Beef

A few weeks ago Vanessa Kimber from Prepped put a call out for people to help her test recipes for the cookbook she is currently writing. Along with English Mum & Alison from Banjoli I stepped up to the challenge.

With it being Chocolate Week it made sense to test a recipe for Chocolate Beef. Chocolate is often used in savory dishes to help give a richness to the sauce. What I noticed in this recipe was that once you added the chocolate to the pot the smell of the dish completely transformed.

What is great about this recipe is that it is perfect for a slow Sunday. You can put it in the oven and forget about it. One night we had it with horseradish mash (highly recommended, and don’t be stingy with the horseradish) alternatively with the addition of mashed potato to the sauce to help thicken it, it makes a fantastic filling for a pie/pasty. Shin of beef is quite easy to find at the moment as it is a trendy frugal cut of meat. It is also the perfect cut of beef to cook so slowly it begins to fall apart.

I have to thank Vanessa for the photo above. I did take one, but it didn’t turn out very well!

Chocolate Beef

Serves 4 – 6

2 tbsp rapeseed /olive oil

2 banana shallots OR mild onions

3 star anise

5 cloves

I kg shin of beef

4 celery sticks

4 large carrots

1 tin plum tomatoes

500ml water

½ bottle fruity red wine

50g  dark 80% cocoa chocolate

1 ½ tsp sea salt

1) Preheat oven to 150/ 300/ gas mark 4. Finely chop the onion and sauté in the rapeseed oil in a heavy based pan that can go in the oven with a lid.  Add the diced beef a handful at a time, and sauté until brown.

2) Add the star anise and the cloves and put the celery and carrots in the pan whole.  Add the tomatoes and water and stir well.

3) Add the wine and salt, stir well and transfer the pot in to the oven Cook for 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and stir in the chocolate.  Return to the oven and cook for a further 2 hours

Veg Plot Swap

The thing about owning a veg plot is that it is easy to get overwhelmed with various fruit and veg. This is when it comes in handy to have friends who also have veg plots and this is when the veg plot swap is born. Due to the size of our veg plot it’s rare for us to have a glut, but we certainly are the recipients of other gluts that we usually give back in the form of baking. Some people in the village have become enterprising and sell their gluts at the bottom of the drive with the help of an honesty box.

Redcurrants were the first of our recent veg plot swaps.1kg was turned into redcurrant jam, 1kg juiced and now maturing in rum to make an alcoholic cordial ready for Christmas and the final 500g is in the freezer ready for rhubarb & redcurrant jam making in the near future. Another alternative would be to make a Summer Pudding. Great way of using up not only leftover fruit but also leftover bread.

Courgettes. If you follow me on twitter you would have heard my sighs of despair with all the courgettes we’ve been given recently. Not being one to throw food away I’ve been cooking them in many ways. I’ve tried different recipes, one of which made me to bake one of the worst muffins I’ve made in a while, and have fallen back on the delicious courgette & feta fritters, oven-baked frittata plus courgette cake with lime cheesecake icing.

Growing a veg plot has certainly encouraged us to be creative in the kitchen. If you’re looking for inspiration and advice with gardening and veg plots head over to Fennel & Fern’s new community.

Fresh from the Oven – Pide

This month’s Fresh from the Oven challenge was hosted by Pei Lin and she chose the challenge to be Pide. Pide is not a bread I had heard of before but like always was keen to give it a go. It originates from Turkey and is used to break the fast after Ramadan.

I don’t know if it the heat we’re having at the moment here or the fact I never have much luck with recipes written in cups but I found the dough really hard to work with and I ended up adding quite a significant amount of flour to the dough to get it to be workable which in turn dried the dough out too much. Hubs said he like it and has been using it for sandwiches so it can’t be that bad!

I won’t give you the recipe I converted to as I don’t believe it is the best, but here is Pei Lin’s original recipe which seems to be far more successful than my conversion attempt. Apart from me mucking up the conversion the only alteration I made to the recipe was to top it with fennel seeds & nigella seeds instead of sesame seeds.

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