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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Cooking, cooking, cooking...

I've a had a mad spate of cooking lately as there have been some good half price offers on at work and therefore I've been buying things I normally would love to eat but can't justify the cost of. Namely, bulk purchases of British lamb chops, chicken breast supremes, succulent lean rump and sirloin steaks. I must say that I have really enjoyed cooking and eating them!!

                              Chicken breast with pasta, creamy pear sauce and basil and mint leaves

This was the day I went a bit mad on the tapas front and started catering for twenty even though there was only lil old me. I didn't (couldn't) eat it all at once honest, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting inspired to create all the dishes. This was my first excursion down the route of making patatas bravas too,

One lot of tapas style food inspired me to make a reduced version later in the week along with a small three or four bite quiche I got cheap from the local Co-Op store. Nice snacky food. Tasty and easy to put together. The eggs were laid by my neighbour's hens and the home made mango chutney given to me as a gift by the local ironmongers. The tomatoes were bought at the village greengrocers and beat any Supermarket tomatoes hands down.

On another day of culinary fun I salivated at my lamb chops cooking in the oven and served them with some simple vegetables with fresh garden mint. I can't abide skinny lamb chops so I made sure the ones I bought were big and chunky.

I so rarely buy steaks that being able to get them half price in the last couple of weeks has turned me into being more of a carnivore than normal. I do like my steak quite bloody and have become addicted to Tesco's peppercorn sauce. Again simply served with a few vegetables and a glass or two of Merlot.

The other day I got inspired to make a vegetable dish (I know, shock horror! Phil does vegetable dish.) based on the French potato dish, Gratin Dauphinois; a bake of thinly sliced raw potatoes layered with cheese, crushed garlic, pepper, a flicker of nutmeg and covered with double cream and milk. In the traditional bake Gruyere cheese is used but I didn't have any so I used up what I had left of Parmesan and Brie. I also got my Dauphinois confused with a Boulanger dish and had already thinly sliced a lot of onion so I added that in the layering anyway. Didn't do any harm. The moment it comes out of the oven all bubbling hot and brown from the melted cheese is heavenly!

served with olives, peppers filled with ricotta cheese and some Spanish cured ham.
I always like to make a solid amount of food when I'm cooking but hate to waste food too. Often what I have left I will reheat the following day or offer my neighbour some. I don't know why but my neighbour's cat also seems to know exactly when the meat comes out of the fridge and he'll often get a small titbit before I start my cooking then he'll give himself a good lick all over and fall asleep contentedly by my window.

Monday, 30 July 2012

A trip out to Batman's Wayne Manor...

Today I spent a lovely three or four hours out and about with my best mate Jeanette. We had a coffee at Waterstone's bookshop in Nottingham, enjoyed a galette and crepe at Aubrey's in central Nottingham and went out on the bus to Wollaton Hall and Deer Park on the outskirts of Nottingham to check out the historic building that was recently used in the Batman film - The Dark Knight Rises - as Wayne Manor.

We accidentally met an American lady on vacation who had recently seen the Batman film and thought Wollaton Hall and grounds were "charming" but wasn't sure how it had featured in the film!!!! Wayne Manor - home of Bruce Wayne!!

I complied a silly Sir Michael Caine does an audio tape visitors guide to Wayne Manor as Alfred the butler for Janette at which she had a Bat-giggle or two.

Around the grounds were clear evidence that Batman had been here as you can see (well those who are in tune with Batman anyway) he has left his mark.

Back in Nottingham Jeanette and I had a drink at Lee Rosey's in the city centre and saw a poster up for one of Nottingham's own foodie super heroes- Dave The Cockleman!

If you too fancy a visit to see the historic house that features as Wayne Manor in the latest Batman movie then check it out at


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Patatas Bravas - my own - easy to make sauce.

Fiery potatoes - Spanish dish.

Take six cloves of garlic, one small red onion and two tins of chopped tomatoes. Chop garlic and onions. Set aside. Open cans of tomatoes and put in saucepan.  Gently fry onions and latterly the garlic and drain off surplus oil. Add into tomatoes and add one heaped teaspoonful of hot smoky paprika or as the Spanish say - pimenton. Mix well. If the mix appears too watery might well be worth reducing it until less so. Put into a food mixer and blitz until pulpy.  Ideally leave to strengthen in fridge overnight but if in a rush you can use it  straight away.

For other great Spanish dishes I recommend Rick Stein's fabulously tempting Spanish book and accompanying DVD also available at

Patatas Bravas with spicy chicken.

Par boil as many potatoes as you feel you need  ( I did two large potatoes for one serving) then roast in oven until crispy and brown. Empty oil out of roasting tin and set potatoes aside. Time the rest of the meal around putting sauce mixture liberally over the roast potatoes and warm through in a medium oven for half an hour. Delish!

home made tapas selection

Monday, 23 July 2012

A proud moment - recieving my NVQ certificate.

On Wednesday 11th July my friend and work colleague Rebecca and I were chauffeured from Nottingham to Sheffield to receive and be presented with our NVQ awards. The award for myself was in the area of Meat and Fish and Rebecca’s was for the Delicatessen on Tesco’s counters. We had both put a tremendous amount of work into the awards (the equivalent of five GSCE’s A -C) and were proud to be finally getting the certificates at the Celebrate Success award ceremony at the Sheffield United football ground at Bramall Lane. There were over two hundred other recipients from across the country also receiving their certificates and well deserved praise for efforts.

We all enjoyed a welcome glass of champagne or fresh orange juice and a meal before the award ceremony itself. Prior to the meal people were invited to look around the football ground if they chose. Having a distinct lack of interest in football I said to Rebecca “Oh look, some grass and some seats.”

Everyone had dressed up to look good for the event and I got my dicky out  and it looked well with my new shirt and smart trousers and jacket. Rebecca looked very smart too in her ensemble. We noticed that there were a lot of recipients in a similar age group to us which was very gratifying. The food was nice, a rich tomato soup followed by roast chicken breast and vegetables and a chocolate dessert.

After lunch, followed the award ceremony itself. Each Tesco store’s winners were announced and had to go up to the platform to receive their certificate and have a photo taken, all to great applause. Our table was the furthest table away from the platform so we got the longest applause. Yay!

Tesco offer the Level Two City and Guilds qualifications in Replenishment, Service, Fish and Meat, Bakery and Delicatessen Counters and ‘The Apprenticeship’ in Retail is made up of three parts:

Knowledge Workbooks and Competence and Observation exercises.

Key Skills in Maths and English provided by an external provider

Technical Certificate in Retail Knowledge.

The knowledge workbooks were research and written projects based on Teamwork, Counter and Customer Perception, Maintaining Food Safety and Food Law, Stock procedures, Promotion procedures, Meat and Fish counters daily practices, Processing Fish and Shellfish for sale. All of the afore-mentioned had to be supported by extra documentation gathered by the ‘apprentice’. The Delicatessen module was very similar in construction.

As part of our experience we each had to do a ‘presentation’,  towards the end of the process, and Rebecca did an excellent in depth, twenty minute presentation about the history and processing of the  Galbani  company’s Dolcelatte cheese along with some lovely samples. We learnt that Dolce means "sweet" in Italian. Dolcelatte is a blue veined Italian soft cheese made from cow's milk that tastes sweet, sometimes called Gorgonzola Dolce.Rebecca is very knowledgeable about cheese and made the presentation very interesting and extremely tasty!

For my presentation I presented a book of meat and fish knowledge referencing my counters I work on, that I had photographed, written and complied myself and still have to educate myself and others on the cuts and high standards of presentation. From doing this I learnt a lot more about the fish and shellfish side of my work.

The Key Skills in Maths and English monthly sessions I did find a bit frustrating due to personal worries about my lack of skills in the maths area. But as the months went on I got a little more confidence in the maths element and was relieved to hear that I had passed after the final exams.

All in all, the City and Guilds Level Two qualification was well worth doing and helped me to learn more about the food retail world and to document my own knowledge and add to my twenty years worth of meat trade knowledge and practice. The practical elements of doing the qualification at work were occasionally a challenge for Rebecca and myself but I felt humbled at the Celebrate Success Awards by hearing stories of other folk from Tesco who had completed the programme and had to work alongside very tough personal challenges. An example would be the lady whose husband had been diagnosed with cancer during her learning period and she still struggled on even throughout his illness and eventual death and felt greatly supported by her workmates and manager. For two others who spoke emotionally and publicly about the process of doing the apprenticeship their experience was often compounded with a feeling of pride in the confidence building aspect of the work and the support they got. Both said that initially their confidence in learning was rock bottom one even saying to her manager “I can’t do that. I’m not clever enough.” And by gaining some support and self belief they both passed. Very well done to them and also to us.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Shellfish moi?

Having enjoyed some great king scallops with roe (the orange bit)  the other night, simply fried in butter with a  twist of black pepper, mingled with a few fresh basil leaves and Parma Ham I have the intention of eating more fish and shellfish.

And thus inspired I have ordered a moules pot (£16 from a company who sell through Amazon) and very much look forward to some proper moules in white wine, garlic and shallots with some fresh crusty French bread. I have no means of cooking frites! It hasn't arrived as I type but I expect it in the next few days!!

Oh dear, the French Odyssey DVD has found its way to the TV. Rick Stein's now his now well departed doggy Chalky still hates the vet and can't go to France! Chalky is in a proverbial angelic doggy video loop! I love watching Rick's programme about his barge trip across France and one of my favourite bits was about the mussels cooked in the South West of France Eclade style.

The mussels are laid in a big circular group and cooked through in dry pine twigs. The ends of the mussels are all upward turned in order that the ash doesn't go into the shells and the mussels themselves. I would like to try this sometime. Mussels with a piney smoky taste I guess. The Eclades in France are usually for special occasions, big family occasions and often accompanied by lots of nice white Charante wine.

The first time I tried mussels was not so long ago in Lille at specialist cafe on the famous market place. It was 2008 and since then I have been hooked and particularly like live mussels farmed in Scotland and love the fresh ozone smell before they are cooked. Yum.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Beef fillet ends for a stir fry.

I decided to make a stir fry last night and bought some beef fillet ends (ends of the fillet steak muscle) and some ginger, garlic, mushrooms and green pepper. The three pieces of fillet ends were quite large, about 450g for the three, and I sliced them thinly and then prepped the garlic, pepper and ginger root. I have plenty of the beef left for another time.

Before I started the stir fry I cooked enough boiled rice to feed the African continent, twice. I almost always mis-judge the amount of rice I need to cook! Then I put that to one side whilst I got on with the stir fry.

For those of you that notice, I have changed the format and style of my blog here back to the old version. The all singin' and dancin' all bloggin' version was ok but I had to put a comment on my own blog to get on the dashboard to see if I had any comments (!?) and then delete my own comment. I prefer the old version and like the new copyright symbol by the header. Maybe it will prevent people from  copying my pictures and text.