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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Roast Rib of Beef, Nottingham Food and Drink Festival and a bad haircut

The weather  yesterday was pretty darn hot here so, just to make the temperature even hotter, I put my oven on for three hours and roasted a large piece of rib of beef purchased from a new  butcher in the village. I probably could have got a piece from work but I couldn’t be bothered going in on my day off and spending nearly two hours commuting on hot buses there and back. Besides, I fancied having a few cool lager beers in my back garden and airing my lily white legs in the sun. The green dustbin has now been removed (the council  no longer collect them) so I can now visually enjoy a full view of my little cottage garden and lavender bush unimpeded by a  gigantic plastic waste bin.

Next door’s cats helped me with the cooking (by looking at me adoringly) and enjoyed a few slithers of raw beef for their efforts. My neighbour, Jo, dropped by while I was watching Paul, the movie, with some fresh salad leaves and some tomatoes from her allotment. I shall enjoy those today in a beef salad sandwich or two.

I took the bone out of the joint and trimmed some of the slightly blackened bits of beef around the bone. The darker meat smelt slightly off was just a bit off colour and the whole joint cost £15 so I wasn't going to throw it all away. The butcher told me that the meat came form cows near Netherfield, a place north of Nottingham. I like to buy local when I can.

I added some whole spices, cloves, cinnamon bark and star anise to the cooking process and cooked in the oven for three hours on a medium heat. I ate it later with new potatoes, roast parsnips, carrots and leeks and a generous amount of horseradish sauce. It was yummy but the house, even with the back door open, was baking hot.

rib of beef with spices

By the way, I gave myself a haircut the other day and rather messed it up. I use an electric trimmer to save money on paying a barber or hairdresser and I got inspired to trim away after a few beers and left my head looking a little varied in the length department and I broke the trimmer into the bargain. My new one cost me thirteen pounds! Ouch! At least I look OK now. What do you think folks? Beard trimmed, bushy eyebrows trimmed and a smooth baldy head.

hairy and not so hairy
I have been busy recently at work and have been working lots of overtime as well as mentoring the new young man on the meat counter and working on my NVQ level two Meat and Fish Counters. The staff on the counters thought that I’d turned spy the other day as I documented (photos) some of the meat products we sell as part of my NVQ. It was a case of cut it up, display nicely, take a photo. All good fun.

I got sent a press release a while ago about the Nottingham Food and Drink Festival. I have edited it for brevity and content and added the events I would like to attend. The previous two events have been great and this one looks equally so this year.


The Nottingham Food and Drink Festival is back for 2011, with organiser ‘We Are Nottingham’ announcing an exciting new format for this year’s event.
Extended from four days to twelve, the Festival runs from Wednesday 29 June until Sunday 10 July. Venues across the city will be showcasing the best that Nottingham has to offer with a series of seasonal and speciality Festival menus under four price categories: under £10, £11-£15, £16-£25 and over £25.

Visitors are being offered unique food and drink experiences at bars and restaurants.  There are over 120 special events in bars, cafes and restaurants.

In addition, fans of local produce will be able to indulge themselves at a special Food and Drink Festival market, taking place in Old Market Square from Thursday 30 June to Sunday 3 July. With in excess of 70 stalls, and including a demonstration area, Festival organisers are promising the largest food and drink market that Nottingham city centre has ever seen.

Nottingham has a fantastic selection of big name and independent venues and one of the broadest ranges of cuisines on offer outside of London. It therefore makes complete sense to make the venues the true stars for 2011.

For more information on this year’s Nottingham Food and Drink Festival, visit , follow @nottsfoodfest on Twitter or go to the dedicated Facebook page

Looking at the packed programme I would love to try my hand at sushi making at Chino Latino, focaccia making at Carluccio’s, the tea tasting at Lee Rosy’s Tea , Tapas Tuesday at The Golden Fleece and Beer and Food matching at The Kean’s Head. I might pass on the belly dancing at Eviva Taverna, although I do have a good sized belly these days. Incidentally, the spellchecker didn't like the word Focaccia and suggested alternatives: fogyish, dogcatcher, quackish, freakish and cowcatcher!!

I shall certainly be heading to the Market Square for the Food and Drink Festival Market to check out the olives, The Cheese Shop, offerings by Memsaab, Mrs King’s Pies, Yoyo Noodle and The Wellbeck Farm Shop. A lot of the time the events are on I am actually working so whatever time I get to browse and participate will be limited but no doubt enjoyable.

Finally, I want to catch Nottingham's sausage king, Johnny Putztai doing his sausage making demonstration and talk about different ways of using sausages in cookery.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

a canal walk, a face full of midges and a pub lunch.

I finally managed to get a day off work today and after a spate of being Mr Domestic this morning I took myself off to Beeston and the canal system for a walk and a pint or two. I met other people with dogs, joggers, cyclists and fishermen and women on the banks of the river Trent and the canal. At the marina I stopped for a pint of bitter.

Alongside the tow path there were some beautiful poppies in flower and I found  some grasses that my step sisters and I used to throw at each other as 'darts' when we were kids and out walking with Mum and Dad. We used to think it was hilarious to see our jumpers/cardigans covered in these grass missiles.

The canal path took me as far as the Attenborough nature reserve where I branched off (down Meadow Lane) and enjoyed a face full of midges along the way and a discreet pee in the bushes.

the face you HAVE to pull when encountering midges.
I also stopped and watched a bittern diving around in the air and making sudden swoops into the ponds as well as three or four graceful swans gliding around the reed beds. All the time the clouds threatened rain and then would clear giving me lovely walking conditions in the warm sun.

Thinking back to the canal part of the walk I enjoyed looking at some of the canal barges with odd names and varying levels of smartness and tattiness and wondered what it would be like to have one as a home.

After an hour and a half of walking and intermittantly spitting out midges I found myself in the pretty village of Attenborough and in need of something to eat. I had no idea if there was a pub or cafe and asked about this in the Hairy McClarey dog grooming parlour. The pink and blue poodle in mid rinse looked at me dismissively  and I was told (by a lady doggy groomer who looked about nine years old) that the Bluebell pub on the main road did food all day. As I left a Rottweiler was having its paws massaged or did I just imagine that?

pretty cottage in Attenborough

Now I have a rule with pubs. Firstly, I visually scan the outside. If it looks rough and uncared for, possibly with trampy types lurking in the shadows I call it a 'Black Dog' pub and avoid it like the plague. This name stems from eating in a pub in Grantham once called, yes you've got it, The Black Dog. The food was truly dreadful with side orders of listeria and the atmosphere was like walking into a big ashtray overflowing with old nub ends. The terrible decor, cobwebs above the bar, sticky carpets and National Front members welcome here stickers didn't help one fall in love with the place.

On the face of it the pub looked OK for what seemed like a chain pub and I tentatively ventured inside. It was almost like stepping back in time to the 1980s and the brightly patterned carpets would give you a headache if you stared at them for too long. Also some pub designer clearly had a thing about wood as the place was chocker with the stuff. It was Swiss chalet with alcohol, a big selection of nuts, a lonely king size pool table and easy listening muzac floating through the air.

I had forgotten to take my glasses with me so the very polite young man on the bar read out their menu to me. I went for steak and ale pie, mashed potatoes and peas and within ten minutes there it was piping hot at my table by the window with its own little jug of gravy. Actually for about £10 (including a pint of bitter) it was very good value and as I was peckish I wolfed down every last morsel. And the staff were very attentive, twice asking if everything was OK.

After my lunch I got the bus into Nottingham and another home to my village. It was about 4pm and after my exertions I decided a little nap was in order. Great day out.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Some very good news and Happy Father's Day to all Dads.

  • My friend Janette alerted me to the fact that one of my food heroes 'Rick Stein' is coming to Nottingham to do a book signing at the Waterstone's bookshop on Tuesday 19th July (5.30pm). Will I be there? You try and stop me! He is promoting his new cookery book Rick Stein's Spain.

  • Thankyou very much to the three people who have kindly sent in small donations via the donation button on this site. Your monies will be used to teach me more about fish and sustainable fishing.

  • Happy Father's Day thoughts go out to my Dad Bob who passed away some years ago. He always liked his plain English food and collecting berries from the wild.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

how do you like your steak done?

Just a report on cooking beef steaks properly as I often get asked about it at work. Can't say that I am an expert but I am learning bit by bit and this week I purchased two fillet steaks and cooked them slightly differently, one quite blue with a creamy sauce and the other tenderised and peppered. Each one tasted nice in its own right and each one took some careful monitoring to achieve the right degree of moistness and bloodiness.

Fillet steak is very lean and, because it has short fibres, very tender. Ask for a piece cut from the middle of the fillet, not the end. Also, if you want the best cut ensure that the butcher removes the sinewy chain that runs down the side of the chateau briande part of the fillet. A full fillet is about two foot long. It makes for superb finely chopped steak for a stir fry and raw steak tartare. The fillet can also be utilised for beef wellington for that special occasion.
tenderised fillet steak with peppercorns

fillet steak
with a tomato relish, radishes and horseradish sauce

with double cream and pepper sauce

Here is some general advice on cooking steaks and we are talking here about sirloin, rump and rib eye.

Five things to look for when buying a steak

1. When choosing a steak, sirloin is a fine choice due to its tasty, melt-in-the-mouth succulence. Good sirloin has just the right amount of fat and nice marbling. Rump steak is slightly cheaper than sirloin but it’s still a great steak for griddling or frying, with more flavour than sirloin. However, it does tend to be slightly chewier, especially if it has not been matured properly. Rib eye steaks seem a popular modern choice due to the large proportion of fattiness which helps to make the steak succulent.

2. Age of the steak is important, as the hanging process develops the flavour and tenderises the meat. So ask your butcher how long the beef has been hung for. As a rule, 21 days as a minimum and 35 days as a maximum is a good range to go for.

3. Check the beef has good marbling – little streaks of fat running through the meat. This melts when heated, helping the steak to baste itself from within as it cooks.

5. A good layer of creamy-white fat around the top of sirloin steaks is essential.

Five steps to cooking the perfect steak at home                       

1. Heat your griddle or frying pan over a high heat, until smoking hot.

2. Lightly brush the steak with a little olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

3. Don’t griddle more than two steaks at a time, and keep them spaced well apart. If you add more than two steaks to the pan at once, the temperature will drop and the steak will stew, rather than fry.

4. Don’t turn the steaks until good seared markings are achieved, then turn them over and cook on the other side (see timings, below).

5. You must let the steak rest for about 3 minutes before serving, to allow the juices that have been drawn to the surface to relax back into the meat.

How long to cook a steak for

These timings are based on cooking a sirloin steak that’s about 2cm thick. (Cooking times will vary depending on the type and thickness of the steak, and how hot your pan is.)

Blue: 1 minute each side

Rare: 1½ minutes each side

Medium rare: 2 minutes each side

Medium: 2¼ minutes each side

Medium-well done: 2½ - 3 minutes each side.

Burnt to buggery. Half an hour on the BBQ.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Curry cure. A tale of a head cold and curry.

I’m a bit under the weather at the moment with a bad head cold that’s gone on to my chest causing me to feel bunged up in my head and have irregular, sea lion impersonation - coughing fits, some strong enough to wake the dead and attract many a female sea lion. Then there’s the odd nosebleed from blowing my nose so often and the constant flow of mucus… enough said about that.

I’m currently keeping Beechams and tissue manufactures in employment and last night I pulled together some ingredients to knock this wretched cold on the head and return to normal good health and clear breathing opportunities. Pass the Olbas oil.

So, in a moment or two of inspiration I ripped up the remains of a very tasty cooked 'Willow Farm' chicken and chopped up a pungent pot pourri of purification potential prepared for the curry pot. In went the generous amounts of ginger, garlic, lemon peel, lemon juice and coriander. They all rested in a casserole dish and I mixed the lot up thoroughly and popped the lid on and stuck it in the fridge. Then I went to bed as I was too tired to cook it and eat it. Like you do.

I‘ve been doing two half days of overtime at work to help out and be a mentor of a new young man on our meat counter and on my return bus journey home today I actually fell asleep and nearly missed my stop. Thankfully the driver knew where I normally get off and woke me up. He shouldn’t have kissed me though, not without shaving first. Ahem, après slumber on le bus, I made my way home via the local Co-op supermarket and then went off to bed for  a much needed afternoon kip. That was after I had staunched another sudden nosebleed with a dainty wad of toilet roll. I hate feeling ill!!!

Tonight I added made my own special Saag Masala cooking sauce prepared loving for hours in my cosy home kitchen. Saag, or palak, dishes are spiced purées of spinach or other greens common in northern India. The spinach leaves came direct from my one acre kitchen garden of herbs and seasonal vegetables. This is regulalry visited by culinary celebrities in search of inspiration and it is spoken that Madhur Jaffrey herself often has sleepless nights dreaming about the perfect kitchen garden that is mine, all mine. You can’t have it all Madhur luvvy.

So, dear salivating readers, I lovingly puréed the spinach leaves, thinking all the while of a nourishing curry to come, and I nonchalantly flicked in a good  extra handful of garden fresh coriander leaves for herbal depth. A generous twist of freshly ground green pepper finished the dish magnificantly. The evening sun was shining romantically on my French style patio furniture as the heady aromas drifting from the kitchen began their miraculous healings. Food certainly can heal. For an apero I cracked open a chilled bottle of Cobra beer and listened to the soperific sound of the gentle waves lapping the idyllic shoreline nearby. Life can be beautiful even with a cold.

Back in the kitchen, for a bit of zing, I added the tangy juices of a bright green lime and a clean, sharp tasting lemon to the dish and  dotingly placed  the  delicious ensemble into the Aga. A nearby wood pigeon cooed a contented evening coo as the rosy twilight turned to amber gold of late evening and cast its mellow warmth on the chateau next door. The curry dish was sublime and upon reflection I conceded that the spinach was indeed, done to perfection. Madhur would have been proud, so proud.

Confession: Actually I opened a jar of Sharwood’s Saag Masala and stirred it into the gorgeous mix of chicken, ginger and garlic and stuck it into a pre-heated oven, gas mark four, for half an hour. As simple as that. In the meantime I cooked some fragrant and delicate basmati rice (from my own private plot in the Himalayan foothills of course) and enjoyed a simple curry. Tomorrow I will über whiff of garlic but tomorrow is another day and I have a one acre kitchen garden to take care of now and that cooing wood pigeon will be splendid simply served with English pod fresh peas and perhaps a mèlange of spring greens. All washed done with a chilled flinty noted Chablis from my estate in Burgundy of course.