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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!