Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Fresh Basil Cafe, Belper

Gosh, it's been a while since I've posted anything! Sorry! Things have been a bit hectic just recently with two weddings and much to do at work. Anyway, I thought it was time for another post.

One of the weddings I was at was in the small town of Belper, in Derbyshire. A quick search of the Internet before I went revealed that a cafe called 'Fresh Basil' was a good place to eat, so I thought I had to check it out:

Inside was a wonderful Deli, with all kinds of meat and cheese for sale. There were also a number of tables set out, in what was obviously the cafe part of the establishment. I was very keen to have some kind of local, Derbyshire speciality if possible, so I was delighted when looking over the menu I spotted "Hot Derbyshire Salad". I was, in fact, about 10 minutes too late for ordering food, but to their great credit, they made it for me anyway, which I think says a lot. It's a shame that this level of customer service isn't more prevalent. Anyway, the dish that arrived was truly something to behold:

It's a mix of hot black pudding and bacon, with sliced apple, served on a bed of leaves with a balsamic vinegar dressing. It was really good! I have to say, I'm not always the biggest fan of black pudding, but here it worked really well. The sharpness of the fresh apple perfectly balanced the heaviness of the black pudding.

Anyway, I can most heartily recommend this place, if you should find yourself in Derbyshire, near to Belper. It was definitely worth the visit for me. The wedding was good to, of course! :-)

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


Well, I'm on holiday in Cornwall! I am staying in the village of Mousehole, which is a lovely place on the coast. I haven't had too many opportunities yet for sampling local produce, but no trip to Cornwall would be complete without at least one Cornish pasty:

I really like Cornish pasties - there is something so earthy, if that's the right word, about the design. It's so obviously designed as a means of holding the steak and potatoes and other bits and bobs together in a package that can be easily held in the hand. Of course, this really is the whole purpose of sandwiches and things like that - food in an edible package. This particular example was enjoyed during a visit to Healey's Cornish Cyder Farm (see here) and a fine Cornish pasty it was to! The cider farm was a really interesting visit as well (cyder, with a 'y' is a Cornish variant of the spelling of cider, apparently). The guided tour was worth the money I felt and we were taken round the farm and shown how the cider is produced. We also got a ride in a trailer pulled by an ancient tractor, which took us around the orchard where the apples are grown. One interesting part of the tour was a small 'museum' where they have a collection of old machinery used for cider making in the past. According to our tour guide, a Cooper (someone who makes barrels) would undergo a 7 year apprenticeship before being able to qualify as a professional. At the end of their course, they would have to produce an inverted barrel which should look something like this:

Now, I profess to know absolutely nothing about wood work, but this looks a hard task to me! Not only did they have to get the shape right, but it also had to be completely air tight and this would be tested by immersing it in water and watching for any bubbles coming out. If they failed this task, they would have to do another 2 years apprenticeship before having another go! Unsurprisingly, many dropped out along the way. Our tour guide knew of only one place in the UK now where barrels are still made in the traditional way, by one man, up in Scotland. I think it's kind of sad that these traditional industries have died out so extensively and how we generally have so little respect for manual trades such as this compared to past times.

Cornwall is also famous for clotted cream, although there is some competition between Cornwall and Devon for which is the best! I couldn't possibly go without a traditional cream tea of scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream:

Very nice. The clotted cream came with a particularly thick crust, which is of course how it should be:


Friday, 4 September 2009

Home grown

I was up in Lincolnshire visiting family earlier this week, who, being in possession of a reasonably sized garden, are much more into growing fruit and vegetables than I am! Actually, the apple trees seem to have produced an abundance of fruit this year compared to previous years.

They have also had an excellent crop of runner beans, although I think everyone ends up in the same position with runner beans in that you wait for ages and then they all come at once! Someone from work was selling runner bean chutney a couple of weeks ago - a product of a glut of runner beans and wondering what to do with them I suspect, but an enterprising one at that.

The squash were also looking good:

And, I couldn't help but notice that the hawthorn berries were ready to be picked:

So, I have gathered a good crop of hawthorn berries. I plan to have another go at making fruit leather in the manner described by Ray Mears on TV a couple of years ago. I tried this once before (see here), but it didn't really work properly, so I'm keen to have another go. Watch this space!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The first crop of tomatoes!

225g of tomato goodness! Actually, there are so many tomatoes still forming that I am beginning to wonder what to do with them all. Though we did have some stormy weather last night, so I think a few of the longer branches might have been damaged. None have broken off, so we'll have to see if they recover. However, it looks like I'll easily have enough to make a good quantity of chutney! Super.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Blacksticks Blue cheese

I tried this cheese the other day. I'm generally a fan of blue cheese, so I though I'd give this one a go. I have to say, it's fairly good! I enjoyed it with biscuits, always the best way to enjoy cheese in my opinion. Well, crusty bread works well to I suppose, but biscuits felt the way to go in this case. I'm not sure how best to describe it really, it's kind of creamy like Stilton, but maybe not as much. The flavour was subtly different as well, I recommend giving it a try!

According to the British Cheese Board (, 65% of adults admit that cheese is one of their favourite foods. Well, there you go.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Plants - Grow your own chillies, sweet peppers and tomatoes!

To my great delight, I noticed while watering last night that some of my tomatoes are starting to ripen! It's such a great feeling, watching plants grow knowing that you're going to be able to enjoy the fruits (literally!) of your labour very soon. I never cease to be amazed at how few people even try to grow their own, it's great fun and requires very little space. I only have a small patio and yet I can still grow a decent quantity of tomatoes, even if they are now a little on the rampant side:

Unfortunately, my attempts to support the plants with canes has failed, with the result that they have tumbled all over the place. However, they still seem to be doing well, though I am concerned that some of the fruit is resting on the ground which probably isn't good. I'll have to do something about that soon.

The chillies are continuing to do well, actually, they are nearly all ripe now I think, so I shall have to pick them soon:

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Wild blackberries

The season for blackberries seems to have come rather early this year! I am lucky enough to live next to a large park with plenty of wild blackberries, so I took the opportunity to head out and gather some.
My plan is to use them to make jam, although I may need to get more then this for that. Actually, I was surprised that there weren't more ready to be picked, though as you can see from the pictures, there will be plenty more in a few days time. I try to avoid picking any that are below roughly waist height, since these are easily reached by dogs and foxes...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Plants - Grow your own chillies, sweet peppers and tomatoes

All of the fruit I'm growing seems to be doing really well! The chillies are coming along nicely and I think some of them will be ready for using fairly soon:

The sweet peppers are also looking good:

I'm not sure how much longer it will before these start to ripen, but I don't think they'll be ready for a while yet. I have three other sweet pepper plants, one of which is now flowering, but the one featured in the picture is along way ahead for some reason. Treating them with washing up liquid solution for the white fly didn't do them much good and resulted in the leaves curling up a bit, but the good news is that they are all producing new leaves which look perfectly healthy!

Last, but not least, the tomatoes are doing amazingly well and I'm looking out every day now for the first red fruit:

These are just the fruit that are easy to see, there are plenty more hidden underneath the branches of the other plants! The leaves have started to turn a bit yellow, which I think happens has the plant starts to put more energy into producing fruit. I have pinched some of the tops out to let the plants focus on ripening the fruit and I have been giving them a little liquid fertilizer every time I water. Hopefully, this will mean that I get lots of great tasting tomatoes!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Home made, fresh chicken stock

Well, I promised a post on making fresh chicken stock from a roast chicken, so here we are! Obviously, the first step is to roast a chicken, which I assume you'll have done. I will also assume that you have eaten your fill of the meat and are left with a carcass which looks something like this:

Using a sharp knife, remove as much of the meat as you can. This can be used for all sorts of things, such as stir fry's, risottos, etc, so it's worth keeping and we don't really need it for making the stock.

If you followed my recipe for roasting a chicken, then you'll have the vegetables (onion, carrot, celery) left over from the roasting tin. Put all of these, along with the carcass into a large saucepan and add enough water to nearly cover everything:
Now, cover the pan and bring to the simmer with a low heat. Leave it simmering for approximately two hours or so. You'll need to check on it from time to time to make sure it isn't getting too dry, so add more water every so often. After about two hours, it should look something like this:
When it is done, the bones will be completely clean and the carcass will have fallen apart. Now, to extract the stock, simply strain this through a sieve, using a fork or something similar to squeeze out every last drop of juice. When that's done, you should end up
with something like this:
Once this has cooled down, it can be frozen and kept for quite a while. Fresh stock is excellent for making risotto! Enjoy.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Plants - Home grown chillies

Well, the plants I'm growing are continuing to do really well! Actually, I noticed the other day that the chillies are starting to ripen! So, some good curries are not too far away. The sweet peppers are coming along nicely to, but they are still green.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Roast Chicken

Roast chicken is something of a British classic in my opinion - and very simple to do! Simply take a chicken, season it with salt, freshly ground black pepper and some herbs. In this case, I've used parsley and basil, which I find add a good flavour to most dishes. Chop a couple of carrots, an onion and some celery and place around the chicken, as shown in the picture. The idea of these vegetables it add flavour to the gravy, which we will make from the juices that come from the meat. I usually lightly drizzle olive oil over the chicken and the vegetables as well. Then, simply place in the oven. It's best to follow the cooking guidelines on the label of the chicken as times will vary depending on the size.

As it's cooking, take it out of the oven a couple of times to baste it. Simply tip the tray up and use a spoon to cover the roasting chicken with the juice that will have formed in the tray. Once the chicken is cooked, it's time to make the gravy. This is really easy and I don't know why more people don't make their own gravy when the cook a roast - the flavour is so much better then the dried gravy granules that you can buy. Remove the chicken from the tray and leave on a plate to rest, covered with a sheet of kitchen foil to keep the heat in. Using a sieve, strain out the contents of the roasting tray into a suitable container, such as a measuring jug. Then, pour a few table spoons of cold water into the roasting tray and stir this around to pick up the last of the juices. Pour this into measuring jug with the rest of the strained juice. You will probably find that the gravy separates into two layers, the top one of which is fat. It's probably not a good idea to have too much fat in your gravy, so you can use a spoon to carefully remove as much of this layer as you can. Once that's done, you can thicken the gravy if you want. To do this, simply mix a little flour into some cold water in a cup. Then, place the gravy into a small pan on a low heat and slowly add the flour and water mixture whilst stirring, until you get the desired consistency. That's it! It might sound a lot, but it really is very simple and the same procedure can be used to make gravy from other meats as well as chicken, such as roast beef.

I like to keep a roast simple, so in this case I served it with boiled potatoes, English green cabbage
One of the great things about roast chicken is that you can use all the left overs to make the most amazing fresh chicken stock, but I'll cover that in another post. Enjoy!

Friday, 24 July 2009


Well, I haven't posted for a little while now, but needless to say the plants have been getting on well! The tomatoes especially have been growing like anything and are now producing fruit: I am really looking forward to being able to eat some of these! Although, judging by the number of flowers on the plants, I'm going to be inundated with tomatoes. I shall probably have to make some chutney, so that I don't have to waste any. But, that will be great as I can then have tomato goodness through at least some of the winter.

The sweet pepper plants are also doing OK, although they suffered a major attack of white fly. I dealt with this by spraying them a strong solution of washing-up liquid in water, which isn't terribly good for the plant, but is much worse for the white fly. I gave them three treatments in all and it seems to have done the trick, so fingers crossed!
As you can just see in this photo, these are starting to produce fruit as well, which is exciting! Hopefully the washing-up liquid wont have done too much damage.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Pad fried British chicken breast with sautéed vegetables

This is a great recipe for chicken breast, which I absolutely love. Like nearly all of my cooking, it's very simple, although does perhaps require a little more effort than many of the recipes on this site.

First of all, lightly season a chicken breast with salt, freshly ground black pepper and some dried basil. I tend to use dried herbs for this kind of cooking, saving the fresh stuff for use in salads and stuff, where it has more impact.

Then, heat some oil in a pan, you going to want it to be really quite hot to start with, but not quite smoking. Place the seasoned chicken breast into the pan and fry on a high heat on each side until brown. This will take around 2 to 3 minutes for each side. The idea here is to seal in the juices of the meat. Once sealed, turn the heat down and cook for about 20 minutes, turned occasionally. If the chicken breast is really thick or you want it to cook more quickly, then you can 'butterfly' it. To do this, simply cut it length-wise down the middle, but not all the way through, so that you can open it up, in a manner similar to opening a book. This way, the two halves will be thinner and so will cook much more quickly.

While that's cooking, it's time to sauté the vegetables. In this example, I used the most exciting British vegetables I could find. At this time of the year, that includes quite a lot, so I have used red and yellow sweet pepper, courgette, aubergine, mushrooms and spinach. Simply slice and chop all the vegetables, as you would for a stir fry. I fried some chopped onion first and then added the aubergine, followed by the mushrooms, the courgette, the pepper and finally the spinach, waiting for around 2 minutes between each and stirring continuously. I used a good handful of spinach leaves, which looks a lot when you first put it in the pan, but the leaves shrink to a fraction of their original size as they cook. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and some dark soy sauce. Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly.

I find that you can often tell when the chicken breast is cooked through by poking it with a sharp stick, or a fork, whichever is most convenient at the time. The idea is to make a small hole through the skin and into the meat. If the juice that comes out of this hole (you might need to press down on the chicken breast around it) runs clear, then it is probably cooked. Like all recipes, I suggest you try this out just on yourself to begin with, so you can remove the meat from the pan and cut it in half to check. With practice, you'll get it right.

Once everything is cooked, slice the cooked chicken breast into strips and serve on a bed of the sautéed vegetables, with boiled new potatoes. Nice.

Friday, 26 June 2009

British soft fruit

This is without a doubt one of the best times of the year for buying British produce in supermarkets! On a recent trip to my local supermarket, I found strawberries, blackberries and raspberries in the fruit section and aubergines and courgettes in the vegetable section, all grown in Britain.

I'll come to the vegetables in a later post, but for now I want to talk about the fruit. I always think that soft fruit grown n Britain tastes better, which I think is simply because it hasn't had to be shipped or flown a great distance to get here. Or, it could just be that we grow different varieties of fruit here, I don't know. But, I do know that it tastes great and that's the main thing!
I like to eat fruit with my breakfast and a great way to do that is to blend the fruit up with some natural yogurt and have it with some kind of cereal in place of milk. Here, I have rinsed the strawberries, blackberries and raspberries and then added them to around four or five large dessert spoons of natural yogurt. Blend this all together briefly – I don't like it to get too smooth, I think it should still have identifiable bits of fruit in it. Then, simply pour over a bowl of cereal, in this case I'm using an oat and honey cereal. You could add some sugar if you want, I didn't because of the honey already in the cereal I'm using.
That's it! Something very simple, but hopefully it'll inspire you to go out and buy British soft fruit while you can. Remember, it's a relatively short season...

Thursday, 25 June 2009


My attempt at seeing how much food I can grow myself at home, despite only having a small patio, continues to go well! The tomatoes are doing splendidly and are beginning to produce flowers, as you can see here:
I've had to do some minor structural engineering to support them though. I've grown tomatoes before and the plants do seem unusually bad at supporting themselves. Looking at the leaves and the stem closely reveals them to be covered in lots of tiny hairs, which makes me wonder if in the wild the tomato plant would sort of 'Velcro' itself to other plants growing around it. Otherwise, I really don't see how they would get on in the wild with no one to make some sort of supports for them. Of course, tomato plants such as these are the result of many, many years of careful selected breeding, so it's quite possible that the original tomato plants were more than capable of supporting themselves. Through selective breeding, plants will have been developed to produce the most fruit, which could well have lead to plants that seem intrinsically top heavy and unable to support themselves.

I have also been growing chillies, although I haven't blogged about these before. A friend has very kindly been looking after these for me whilst I was in the process of moving, which was much appreciated! However, I now have them in my flat and they are doing really well! They have produced fruit before and I did have an attempt at making curry from them, which worked well, but I am looking forward to perfecting it. I did try eating one of the fruits whole, straight from the plant, which was something of a mistake. They may be small, but they are very powerful! The plants themselves make quite nice house plants as well; they produce small, pale purple flowers which actually smell really nice. When the sun shines on them through my patio doors it makes the whole living room smell! Home grown chillies and free air freshener to boot, you don't get much better than that.
The sweet peppers I planted are also continuing to do really well:
I believe that these will get to be about one or two feet in height before producing fruit, so they have some way to go yet. It's interesting that one of them has got to be much bigger, by almost a factor of two in terms of height, then the others. I'm not sure what could have caused this, except perhaps it has had more sunlight, so I have rearranged them to see if I can't even things out a little bit.

I have also planted some butternut squash seeds, which have germinated and are growing very quickly:

This is quite impressive as I only planted these just over a week ago! These will be able to go outside once they are strong enough. Luckily, I have two spare spaces in the grow bags I'm using for the tomatoes, so I shall plant these there.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Wild Venison

You've got to admit, there's something inherently exciting about any food with 'wild' in the name. 'Wild boar' sounds so much better then 'pork', for example and I'm sure even 'wild carrots' would attract more attention than the common or garden variety. So, when visiting a relatively local farm shop recently I came across wild venison, well, I could hardly turn down the opportunity to try it out. They sold either fillet steak or rump steak, so I went for the rump steak as it was slightly cheaper. I incidentally also bought some carrots while I was there, although they were not described as being 'wild'.
Venison is quite an interesting meat – it's quite dark in colour and has a heavy, almost livery smell when raw. It's also naturally very lean, as the packaging in this case testifies. It can be cooked just like a fillet of beef or any other steak really – in a pan. Of course, there are many other ways of cooking venison, pot roast in particular springs to mind, but I quite like to have the steak almost just as it is. So, simply season lightly with salt and black pepper (freshly ground if possible!). Then simply place in a hot frying pan, or as I'm using here, a grill pan. The pan needs to be really hot before the meat goes in as we are aiming to seal in the juices and hence the flavour. If the pan was too cool and the meat heated up slowly, then it would lose a lot more juice.
Cook on one side for three to four minutes, before turning and repeating the same on the other side. I tend to turn the heat down a bit at this point, so that I don't fill the kitchen up with smoke, but it should still be kept fairly high. How long you cook it for depends on how you like your steak. Deciding when a steak is done the way you like it is something that takes a bit of practice (best to get this right before cooking for guests!). My method is to press my finger onto the top of the steak in the pan (you have to be fairly quick, to avoid getting burnt) to feel how firm it is. You can then compare this to either your top lip, the tip of your nose, or the centre of your forehead. This isn't as crazy as it may sound! If the meat is as soft as your top lip, for example, then it will be rare. Likewise, if it feels more like the tip of your nose, then it should be roughly medium. Obviously, if it is really firm, like your forehead, then it will be well done. Note that this is really only good as a rough guide line! You'll need to try it out once or twice to get the hang of it. If you're just cooking for yourself, then it doesn't matter if you cut the steak in half to see how it's doing in the centre and if it's not done well enough, then simply put it back in the pan for a few more minutes. If you are aiming for medium to well done, then it helps to turn the steak over occasionally since this makes sure it gets more evenly browned, which makes presentation easier and it will slightly speed up the cooking process.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Well, it's been a busy couple of weeks there, so sorry for not posting for a while! But, while I've been away the tomato and sweet pepper plants have been doing really well. I have now transferred the tomato plants to grow bags, which are outdoors. It will still be a while before they have any fruit, but hopefully they'll do well. The sweet peppers are also looking good and I have now separated the four strongest plants. It's always sad having to throw away all the others that have grown so well, but none of them would survive if left in the same pot and I simply don't have enough pots (or space) to keep them all...

Thursday, 21 May 2009


Well, the tomato plants I'm growing are doing really well! They are almost ready to be planted out in a grow bag. In the end I kept the five strongest seedlings and planted them into individual pots. I only photographed one of the five, which happened to be the biggest, but the others are similar. The peppers are not growing anywhere near as quickly, although they are coming along. I have decided to wait until they grow their second set of leaves before transferring them into separate pots, just like I did for the tomatoes. Actually, this works out really well because by the look of it they will be ready for this at just about the same time as the tomatoes are ready to plant out.

I don't know quite how many I shall keep, probably only three or four. I have to remember that all the other seeds I have bought but not planted yet will need some space!