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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Day so far...

First of all I want to wish all my readers a 'Merry Christmas' and to let you know that this house is a Brussels free home. I've been working long and late hours in my job at Tesco in the last few weeks and finally dragged myself home at 8pm last night. My regular bus had stopped running at 7.30pm but the bus time table didn't show this! Luckily I managed to get another service home and was mightily relieved. I really didn't fancy a five mile walk home in the cold and wet after working all day. And £30 in a taxi was totally out of the question.

I forgot to get the lamb rack out to defrost last night so I had to sit it in a bowl of cold water for a few hours when I crawled out of bed this morning. I'm planning to have it with some greens and roast potatoes for my Christmas dinner. The joy of blogging will mean that later on I will be able to add a picture of the cooked meal to this blogpost after I have published this post.

So far I have treated myself to a shave and shower and several cups of tea and a couple of bacon butties for breakfast. I've had BBC Radio Nottingham on in the background and aside from a sad story about a man having his car stolen with Christmas gifts and his father's ashes in the boot all has been upbeat in local radio land.

I've phoned family and friends around the UK and beyond and got in touch with others through Facebook and Twitter.

And here it is ... Christmas dinner 2013

Monday, 23 December 2013

"It's startin' to look a lot like Christmas..." English village shop fronts.

As I went out Christmas food shopping today I noticed a real Christmassy feel to the shops and their frontages around my home village of Ruddington and my work town of Beeston. Plus Shane and Stuart in the local butcher's shop central Ruddington, although knackered from hours of preparation in the run up to Christmas were still jolly in their serving whilst I bought some of their delicious Lincolnshire sausage and home cured streaky bacon for sausage and bacon cobs for breakfast over the next few days. By midday they had already sold out of chipolata sausages and sausage meat. One customer came in and asked if his ordered Turkey Crown could now be stuffed. The butchers were tired and very very busy and extraordinarily diplomatic in their response and agreed it could be done tomorrow as a Christmas favour. I know plain speaking butchers well enough to be diplomatic myself and say - Enough said.

Thomas's vegetable shop on the Ruddington High Street had folk queuing down the High Street at 10am this Monday morning and by midday it was almost impossible to see the staff for the crowds packing out the small shop! Great to see independent businesses doing well and offering a friendly and knowledgeable service. There were crates and crates of Brussels sprouts stacked by the shop frontage. The village post office, next door, was doing a roaring trade in posting last minute Christmas cards and gifts, although with only two days to go I would be surprised to envisage many of these items reaching their destinations by Christmas Eve! Anything destined for Brussels had very little chance!

In Beeston yesterday I took a few minutes prior to my work day to photograph closed and existing premises on the High Street. Hogg's the butchers used to be a very well established, thriving butchery business and still the shop is empty after eleven months of closure, although virtual imagery has been introduced to make it appealing for potential foodie buyers. I heard that the rates are very high for the High Street businesses in Beeston. Shame then that such practices discourage independent businesses from opening.

Barnsdale's the Beeston butchers was open early for a pre- Christmas Sunday trading period. I hope that they did and do well in their independent trade.

The Sunday before Christmas meat and fish trading 2013.

I have been working a few late shifts recently to help with the pre-Christmas sales of meat and fish and to help wrap a huge amount of cheese for the Tesco Beeston deli. Mainly I have been on the meat and fish counters selling 21 day aged and 28 day aged beef rib roasting joints amongst other things and on the fish counter I've helping prepare all the fast selling whole salmons and salmon sides. Yesterday (Sunday 22nd December) the fish counter had in some mirror carp. We don't normally stock these but they sold well at £8 per kilo. My friend Paul did a fantastic job of creating beautiful display with his stock of fish and shellfish.


The yellowy looking fish (above) is the mirror carp. Personally I was concentrating on making an attractive display on the meat counter and promoting our offers throughout the Sunday trading period. I was surprised that it wasn't that busy - only a bit busier than a normal Sunday. Then Christmas Day this year is on a Wednesday and so in reality when customers like to buy fresh it is more likely that the main trade is going to be today and tomorrow. And guess who has a day off today? Me!!! I was asked earlier today if I could go in and help as they are very busy with a member of staff going off sick as well. Unfortunately I couldn't help out as I have had a few pre- Christmas sherries to go with my home made mince pies. Otherwise I would have happily gone in and helped out. Working under any influence of alcohol is a offence under supermarket laws so potentially I could get the sack. Not worth it.

Although I had to jiggle my display around during the day here are some images of my meat counter display earlier on during the Sunday.

We have no leg of pork or sausage and bacon offers on so I didn't bother to photograph that side of my cabinet. The racks of lamb went well at half price and we had a few customers buying substantial pieces of 28 day aged Carvery  beef rib joints. I plan to have a rack of lamb for my Christmas dinner. Less than an hour cooking time, delicious and accompanied by a selection of quality vegetables it will be perfect for me on my own at Christmas.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Baby it's cold outside! Time to warm up inside! Spanish beef stew? Why not?

This morning I was busy blogging about the theatre reviewing side of my life  when I realised that I had not eaten much save a bowl of cornflakes and several cups of tea and three chocolate digestives. It was 2pm so I high tailed it to my local butchers and greengrocers to grab some casserole steak and veg for a stew. Then I decided to hot things up and invent a Spanish style stew by adding chorizo, paprika and butter beans to a normal stew mix. Soufie the cat enjoyed a few raw beef slithers too.

I tossed the now cubed beef in plain flour and browned it off in a frying pan and later in the cooking added some sliced red onion that made me sneeze a lot. Then I added the sliced chorizo and boiled the prepared carrots and new potatoes.

Whilst the meat was cooking I added some dried paprika and black pepper and stirred it into the frying meat and onions. The carrots and potatoes were now well under way and I realised that I needed some fresh coriander and nipped to the greengrocer on the High Street. I am lucky that I live so close to the main shops in my village and I am familiar with their opening hours. The butchers is looking particularly festive with his window display investment. From the greengrocers I purchased a bunch of fresh coriander and 60p worth of diddy cherry tomatoes to throw into the dish.

                        Me returning from the greengrocers with my fresh herbs and tomatoes.

                                                  Fresh coriander and cherry tomatoes.

To try and thicken up the Spanish stew I added a little cornflower. Maybe I didn't add enough as all it seemed to do was make the gravy a slighter whiter colour! Oh well, it tasted nice enough anyway and my neighbour Mick enjoyed a bowl full too with some fresh bread when he came home from work.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Food and Drink Fair at Donnington Park - better than BBC Food and Drink at NEC

Some while ago my friend Janette and I went to the BBC Food and Drink Show at the NEC and found it to be far too crowded, lacking in interesting good food and drink stalls and instead, stand after stand of kitchen gadget companies vying for culinary space with a few olive based commercial  - very large companies - stands in between. Following on from my own visit to the Festival of Food and Drink Fair at Clumber Park (Notts) in late September 2013 and subsequent blogposts I was invited as 'press' to check out the Donnington Park event. It was certainly worth checking out and I came back laden with mouth watering foodie treats!

Rather than walking miles as I rather foolishly did last time, my friend Janette, drove us to the venue which was taking place in one large hall and a courtyard area outside for refreshment stands. More about what I call 'the courtyard' later. There was a nice variety of local producers from across the East Midlands and the selection of stands and their produce was very well thought out. |There was a good variety of stands and this made for a an interesting and exciting visit.

I revisited some of the stands featured in the previous blogpost and found some terrific new ones. There were lots of tasters for food and wine and everything looked very tempting indeed. As always I was particularly attracted to the meat based stands and thus sampled and naturally, bought some, deliciously fresh, almost sumptuously warm, direct from the processing, black pudding from the George Stafford black pudding stand. It was yummy guys and I can't wait to have it in my full English breakfast tomorrow before I go to work! That is if it lasts beyond supper time!

The venue was a good size and it gave the visitor a decent view of what was on offer and even though it was nicely busy, one wasn't shuffling uncomfortably around NEC style;  unable to get a chance to see the stands properly and talk to the enthusiastic producers. At Donnington it was much more open and variable! My only gripe was that the courtyard area which housed the hot food refreshment stands (mostly cooked meats based) was only signposted by a banner above the door that led into the courtyard space. Maybe for the future I would suggest better signage and proper tannoy announcements about the opportunity to purchase the meticulously prepared hot food. It takes hours to roast a whole pig and it can be delicious. Custom is needed though not only to savour the yummy crackling and mouth watering freshly cooked meat of the roast pork but also to encourage the providers to return again next year. At the recent Lincolnshire show the placement of such stands was very central and everyone had to go through this area in order to reach the other spaces. This arrangement made for a full on foodie experience and the customers hungry for more! Hungry customers that are satisfied spread the word of their experience and come back for more!

Anyway, this time, I went for a gorgeous hot BBQ steak cob marinated overnight and with a simple salad and a home-made pesto dressing. The two guys, David and Stu were very interesting to listen to and make a fab rib eye steak cob. If you go tomorrow do visit their stand (The Duke's BBC Co) or check out their website at

My friend Janette also suggested that more vegetarian options may be considered for the refreshment area although she was very pleased, nay, delighted, with the pizza guys who made her a veggie pizza from scratch. I tried a few slices and it was very good! I almost felt guilty taking a few volunteered slices from her paper plate. But NOT TOO guilty!

For those interested in vintage kitchen wares or even vintage vehicles this food and drink fair offered lots to be snapped up and snapped (photographically). I posed decadently by the lacy 1950s pinafores and hope the picture is never published! All part of the fun of the day!

Not only were there the fab food stands and food related stands but there was a visit and eagerly anticipated demonstration from Paul Hollywood from The Great British Bake-Off fame and another very entertaining session from Rachel Green both of which graced the Cookery Theatre. Lots of fabulous tips to survive the holiday season! The was lots of inspiration  from the Creative Christmas stage too!


For some quality producers I would recommend checking out these sites Bellota Speciality and Fine Foods. Bellota's cured meats are to die for! I tried a few and was salivating between each tiny trial piece. What is it about cured meats that I love so much!? I think it is the care that  goes into the processes and the climate in which it is produced and the deep palate pleasing taste. A lot of their products are produced in remote mountainous regions which benefits the cured meats both
climatically and in temperature. Also for cheese lovers the very best of cheese can be found at a wonderful Derbyshire based establishment (tel: 0129884935).
As Janette and I were arriving - things were feverishly hot as the regions best bakers of all ages were battling it out creating home made cakes, tasty sweet and savoury pies and gloriously decorated cupcakes all with the hope of collecting fantastic prizes from Renshaws and the main title of Donnington's best baker!
After the event Janette and I went over to Ferres Centre for Arts and Crafts near Melbourne (Derbys) for a cuppa and some delicious Bakewell Tart. The tea shop space has been extended since the last time I visited but was still as popular as ever but retained its quirky array of a myriad of old teapots above the diners. We had a pre-Christmas  mooch around the arts and crafts elements of the historic centre and I purchased a fun cow based card to send on to my butchery friends at JT Beedhams. Next year it is planned that I am going to them to do a day of sausage making! Bring it on!
Merry Christmas Everyone!


Thursday, 28 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving to all my legions of US and Canadian readers!

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving for this year! Good luck and prosperity to you all my American and Canadian readers! Plus to my English friend Dave Bilton and his wife Christine currently living in Texas.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Just what are those dudhi and mooli veg in my supermarket and how do I cook them?

We walk past them everyday in the supermarket but most people have no idea what to do with them. No rude comments si vous plait. They are on sale with the ladies fingers and the yams but what are they and how can I use them in cookery? I went intrepidly into my Tesco fruit and veg section and checked them out for you.


Moolis are often found in Asian supermarkets and sometimes called daikon or Japanese radish. It looks like an overweight and pallid carrot and is part of the radish family and can be used raw in much the same way. It is an important ingredient in the cookery of Japan, China, India and Vietnam where it is served raw, pickled or cooked. It is believed to have originated from the Mediterranean.

The grated vegetable is used in a variety of ways including as a garnish for sashimi and can be used in stir fries thinly sliced. Western chefs frequently use it in Asian style dishes and it is particularly popular with vegetarians for its low calorie content and high levels of vitamin C.

Plantain: a staple of East and Central Africa and parts of Asia, plantains are kinds of banana that can only be used for cooking. They have a tough skin and a starch level that renders them unappealing until the cooking heat converts it into sugars. Edible plantain starts green, turns yellow, gets black spots and when fully ripe are all black. For all intents and purposes they can look like the bananas you certainly wouldn't want to buy but read on. When they are green and starchy they can be sliced and fried into chips or crisps. Once the interior is sweet and ripe they can be mashed, baked or boiled. However they are best fried and served with fish, meat or vegetables. They are especially loved in the Caribbean.

The dudhi is also known as Lauki or Lau in north India, sorakaya in Telugu. The English name for this vegetable is 'bottle gourd' and they come is various shapes and sizes the one shown above being the  most common. It is not recommended to eat the dudhi raw. Extensively used in Indian cuisine, the dudhi can be a very flexible ingredient. HERE is a great example of the dudhi used in Indian halwa cooking.

Japanese yams: known in Japanese as yamaimo (mountain potato) or taro root the Japaense yam has been revered for its medicinal qualities in the Far East for thousands of years. Yamaimo is unusual for a yam in that is  most often eaten raw. Grated, it is served on top of a bowl of noodles or with rice. Then it is known as tororo. Traditionally it is eaten on the third day of January to aid indigestion after New Year excesses! The taste of raw grated yam is extremely sticky - an acquired taste but, apparently, one worth acquiring. Thinly sliced with soy sauce and with wasabi it is crisp and juicy and when cooked it is gluey and soft.

Okra or ladies fingers. Okra is a fantastic vegetable whose texture varies dramatically depending on how it's cooked. If you like it gooey and glutinous, add it to an African-style stew; if you prefer it in whole chunks, try it in a classic American gumbo. Okra is also known as ladies’ fingers because of its shape, and is widely used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and southern US cookery. Quote: BBC Cookery.The BBC Food website is worth looking at for inspiration in cooking with okra.

Tip: Rather like choosing sweet young courgettes for their taste and texture when choosing okra choose okra that is evenly green and about 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) long. Too large and the okra will have a flat taste, and may be too tough to eat. Too small, and the okra will be difficult to cook.
Avoid okra that look shrivelled or are soft when squeezed. The okra should snap rather than bend.

Hope that is helpful and has at least given an overview on those strange veg that have become part of the shopping experience for a multi-cultural society and hopefully will broad and enhance our cooking choices.

Thanks to the book 1001 Foods for much of the practical information on this blog post.

Monday, 25 November 2013

"Oh for God's sake - get a room!" or Eating face in public.

You meet up with a good friend for lunch. A glass of wine, a spritzer and some shared tapas. You chat convivially having not seen each other for a while. The food arrives with the drinks. It has arrived quite quickly as there aren't many in La Tasca today. All is pleasant. Outside is autumnal and a bit chilly. Inside is warm and about to get a whole lot warmer. One might say hotter than the steamiest jungle and it is nothing to do with the amount of chilli in the patatas bravas.

He spots them across the dining room - the older lady with luxuriant blonde hair with her young boy lover in jumper and jeans. First the hands meet on the table top, fingers entwine, eyes look deep into each others. The fascinated pupils widen with mutual interest and lust. Lips part. Her glistening tongue flickers enticingly. He stirs and moves his legs wider.The older woman strokes his blushing cheek with a delicate loving touch and tussles his long public schoolboy floppy fringe. She brushes his lips 'accidently' with her womanly fingers and leans forward for a kiss. She won't take no for an answer. He eagerly joins his lips with hers. They nearly knock over their full glasses of deep ruby red wine. Some of it sloshes on to the table. She grabs a paper napkin and mops it up. They giggle. They kiss again, passionately, with more, satisfying wet sloppy kissing noises. No-one is in the world but they...

"Oh for God's sake! Get a room!" I mutter under my breath as the lusty couple re-enact at least twenty shades of grey over by the window table. I whisper to my friend Janette of the goings on - going on. She smiles and feigns interest in the peckish pigeon in the alley next to us. The pigeon is trying to demolish three left over Yorkshire puddings. I wouldn't deny this experienced lady and her boy lover their carnal joy but not while I'm nibbling on me Spanish meatballs and sucking on my spicy prawns! It's most distracting. Even more distracting when it turns out that the boy is actually a girl.

Once upon a time I went to a pub in the centre of Nottingham with Janette's husband Rick and we were enjoying sipping  a  satisfying ale or two when we noticed a young couple having a right old time necking and kissing and desperately resisting tearing the clothes off each other's backs. This was in the snug at the Bell Inn. No pun intended. There's hardly room to lift your beer glass to your mouth never mind hump your new lover over the bar! Do these people have no decorum!?

Does anyone else have these circumstances where you want to cry "Oh for God's sake! Get a room!"

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A fantastic Food and Gift Fair at the Lincolnshire Showground.

I would have made a short film of the stalls and their owners at the Lincolnshire Food and Gift Fair at the Lincolnshire Showground yesterday, except that the place was packed with visitors all excited about the local food and drink goodies on offer to try and to buy. I love events like this where the exhibitors are so genuinely enthusiastic about their products on sale. This brief  film was made shortly after my visit to the show and a return to the beautiful city of Lincoln.

I arrived at lunchtime, just in time to hear the end of some delightful choral singing by the All For One Choir and find my way around the two main halls via the aromatic linking hall full of folk enjoying an oven baked pizza, a treat from the smoky barbeque or one of the delights for sale at Nottingham's own JTBeedham's stand. I had a chance to speak for a few minutes with my friend Johnny Pusztai and to take a few pictures of his team before the inevitable queue built up at his stand. The long hot sausage cob with onions was super!

Their were around 150 stands at the show so finding time to speak to everyone was pretty much impossible but I did manage to sample a little wine at Abbey Vineyards and say a quick 'hello' to my acting friend Natalia at their busy stand. Later on I heard all about an enterprising new beer brewery and tasted two light beers (American hops) at Greg's Brewery and met the very enthusiastic owner and former chef, Greg. I preferred beer A as it was a nice balance of fruit and hops. It reminded me of many a continental beer along the lines of the popular Dutch beers/lagers.

Looking around I was naturally attracted to the meat based stands such as Mountains Boston Sausage - Purveyors of Fine Foods and  as Tom Barker Bowles from The Mail on Sunday once said - they do make a damn good breakfast sausage. Check out the company's website at

Not only do they do fine sausages but they are celebrated for their gluten free products, Scotch beef, English pork, English lamb and English poultry and their delicious bacon and prize winning gammon. Additionally you can shop in store and online for cooked meats and pies, BBQ packs, hampers and selection boxes and a gourmet range is also available. All their products are delivered fresh and the delivery is temperature controlled. It was a pleasure to briefly meet two of the friendly staff on their stand yesterday and the sausage roll I purchased was yummy.

Modens [gold ward winning] Lincolnshire Plum Bread was selling like - well like - juicy plum bread ought to sell. The queue at the stand was two deep! These Lincolnshire folk certainly know a good food thing when they try it and buy it! The original recipe for the plum bread was developed in 1936 in the beautiful rural Lincolnshire town of Spilsby. Modens,, say that the recipe has changed very little since 1936 and it is a very popular Lincolnshire delicacy, delicious with a spread of pure butter and your favourite cheese.

Cote Hill Farm  tempted the visitors with their sumptuous display of soft cheeses including Cote Hill Yellow - a mild cheese with a subtle twang, Cote Hill Red - a firm Alpine style cheese with a nutty taste and matured in a semi permeable membrane. The punters were keen to sample their new cheese the Cote Hill Reserve - a washed rind cheese, described by Cote Hill as elegant and complex with a depth of flavour. The cheese is washed in a local beer by Tom Woods. Finally there was the Cote Hill Blue. Even reading the promo leaflet  quote by Tom Bowles of the Mail On Sunday about this cheese had my mouth watering - this blue cheese has a beautiful creaminess the sort that envelops the entire mouth in a sumptuous embrace that gently subsides to leave a slightly bitter kick and a buttery sweetness that lingers for minutes to come.

Uncle Henry's Heart of Good Food were doing a good trade and I picked up one of their leaflets for their Christmas Meats and Produce all of which seemed very good value and great quality. Uncle Henry's are based at Grayingham Grange Farm at Grayingham near Gainsborough. See the website or visit them on Facebook. For those who follow Twitter they have a presence at @unclehenryslinc.

Woodlands Farm Organic Home Delivery are definitely worth a look in as they offer free delivery within Lincolnshire, Rutland, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire and more importantly, were the winners of the Green Business Award in the RSPB Stepping Up For Nature Awards. See their site at One of the guys on the stand ( friendly marketing chap Karl McGrory) told me that Woodlands produce is farmed organically and bio dynamically working with nature to produce wholesome, nutritious food in a method which cares for the natural world. Karl has recently joined Woodlands and is passionate about local food. He is a keen grower and a former chef in a Michelin starred restaurant and a dedicated Woodlands customer. They are based at Kirton in Lincolnshire.

                                                         Rose Cottage pies to die for!!!

Ancaster Butchers of Ancaster, Grantham had a lovely tempting stand and they are a small, {Gold Award Winning} family butchers that source 90% of their meat within a radius of fifteen miles from their shop. I learnt that their wholesaler, I.G. Topps buys all of his meat from the field, not from the market which means less travelling stress  for the animals. Their beef is slaughtered at twenty to twenty two months old and the bread is either a French Limousin Cross or Lincoln Red. After slaughter I G Topps will hang the meat for two weeks before Ancaster Butchers can have it in the shop and all the beef that they buy can be traced back to the field using the beef traceability method. The lamb they use is a   Suffolk breed and the breed of pig is Large Whites. For further detail see their website at

As you might expect from a foodie county with links (or is that lincs?) to the east coast there was evidence of the current fishing industry among the exhibitors including Chapmans Fishcakes who offer a great variety, tradition and modern in the world of fishcakes and fish based products including smoked haddock and bacon fishcakes and Thai style fishcakes to the traditional fish and parsley. They utilise all the best that Grimsby can offer in fresh fish and shellfish and use Piper Maris potatoes in the fishcake mix. From its heyday as a fishing port Grimsby has now reinvented itself as the food capital of Europe.

I spent a good few hours enjoying this fabulous promotion of the finest Lincolnshire can offer in food and gifts and I would certainly recommend a visit next year. All of the exhibitors can be found at this LINK and thank you to the promoters for inviting me along this year on the back of the food and drink event at Clumber Park earlier this year. Especial thanks to the lovely couple, Josie and Robin for driving a stranger (me) back to Lincoln. It would have been a long long walk! I hope that you both have a fabulous Christmas and that the show was a great success for you all at the Lincolnshire Show ground! Lincolnshire certainly knows and excels in its food and drink!

Phil Lowe

                                                                  Lincoln Cathedral.