Friday, 27 May 2011

The Little People Company

This week a retail giant said, “There will be no more high streets in smaller towns.  Everybody is dropping small, expensive, inefficient shops”  As Mary Portas hits the headlines as Cameron’s sidekick, this quote presents a pernicious argument against our high street.  Is this what we want for our local towns?  In this debate issues of car parking, price and convenience ring out against uniqueness, community and service.  If you live in the Stroud valleys, fortunately you still have a choice, we have fantastic high streets on our door steps, but if you don’t use them not only will you lose them but you lose your voice to have an opinion too.
I have been exclusively using our local high streets since November and I can repeat, not only is it easy but it’s jolly nice too.  There is nothing nicer than buying something recommended by a knowledgeable assistant.  At the heart of shopping locally is great customer service and it is our job as shopkeepers to uphold this.
The other strong advantage our local towns have over those that have died is being “foodie towns”.  I think that if a town has food in it -butchers, bakers and a greengrocers, they are poised to survive.  Nailsworth and Stroud have these and Cirencester and Tetbury do too.  Not to mention great markets, I believe if people can buy their groceries regularly in a town’s independents then the other shops can survive too. 
This all comes in the same week that one of my favourite shops in Nailsworth that I have been closely involved with closed down.  This just reminds me how essential it is to use them but also what hard work it is to run a shop.  There is a popular but wrong misconception that its an easy life having a shop where you can shut up at five and just walk away. Truth is, there has never been a more challenging time to be in retail. 
I implore you, with a smile for the shopkeeper and an open purse to use your high street and play your part in seeing them thrive. 

The third child

I have been telling friends recently about the joy of having a third child.  Our third child often feels like a reward for the first two.  She is so full of life and energy she brings us constant amusement and challenges.  She arrived four and half years ago,  the tiniest, mellowist thumb sucker.  Now she keeps us all on our toes, I think I will use this post to update you on our daily adventures;
Today she picked the only allium in the garden.
A pink witch;  The picture above was the consequence of her wanting to give away my Mother's Day present.  She had sewn a beautiful flag at playgroup but she was insistent that she wanted to give it to her cousin.  To comfort my disappointment she offered to draw me a picture instead- a pink witch.
Whilst picnicking on a bench last week Josephine asked whether somebody had died on it because"sometimes people do die on benches".
It is this child in asking about where babies come from, and being told of the Mummy and Daddy's special hug, responds "next time you and Daddy make a baby I would really like to watch".
I promised to update you on the life of the third child, we have made it to July with her running circles around me.  I have been met with comments that "sometimes they are just ready for school", is it that I suspect she is just naughty.  I was very aware of not wishing away her pre school year and we have had a lovely time, but now school will do us both good, it just leaves me fearful for the teacher.
Her playgroup report claims she is well behaved and congratulates her on not only knowing the playgroup rules but sharing them with other children!
Last week it was the school fete so after having far more than the other children's allocated £5, she returns begging for another 70p for the bouncy castle, her persuasion works.  She returns grinning cheek to cheek proclaiming she tricked me and got a tattoo instead, and low and behold she had- a pirates ship on her arm.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

1986 Marjorie and Sam High St CS outside shop

Finding myself in new pastures, last Saturday I did all my food shopping in Chipping Sodbury, home of Hobbs House bakery. I can happily confirm that it is totally possible to shop locally at independents in Sodbury too. I managed to buy all I needed for an epic weekend of family feasting in one pretty circuit. Obviously I started in the Bakery with bread, there we also sell cream and milk and an obligatory coffee to drink whilst shopping. Next stop was the Hobbs House butchery, where my eagerly anticipated, well hung rib of beef was waiting for me. I also bought all the ingredients to make a pate (a more normal person could just buy their pate from Henry & Jolly Alan), some cheese, butter, eggs and a slider from outside. On Saturday’s a grill is set up outside where we bought our sliders, a perfectly pink burger in one of Hobbs Houses new ultimate burger baps.
We then purchased some birthday presents from the gift shop on the corner where there is a lovely selection of reasonably priced delights. Then we headed down to Ian’s for his fine selection of fruit and veg. It took my intrepid four year old daughter to find his ‘out the back room’, amazing, stacked high of all the dry goods you could possibly need - in our case hundreds and thousands and dishwasher salt. The service in Ian’s is great, cheery and helpful, they wouldn’t even let me carry my box of goodies to the car outside.
The only thing left on the shopping list was anchovies. Just as I was thinking Sodbury was going to fail me I whizzed to Hamptons where they were thrilled to offer me two types of anchovies. Wherever my lively gaggle stopped to buy, the service was really enjoyable and the quality inspires me to write, cook and share, all at very good value. AND there were plenty of shops that I didn’t get to try.
My plea to you is, don’t just use your local High Streets, before you lose them, encourage your friends and families to use and enjoy them too.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Smoked oatmeal

We received a very exciting looking package in the post the other day, heavy but roundish, bulky and compact.  In the package were some smoked oats from St Monan's in Scotland,  sent from friends.  This was my kind of package.  In looking through the new Peyton and Byrne cookbook that I am loving I quickly set to making chocolate digestives.  The combination of smoked oats, a large pinch of salt and dark chocolate was unique and too much for the children, but more for us.  Their preference was for the great Peyton and Byrne marble cake.
The next test for the smoked oats was for Marefield Pie.  A Wells' family recipe probably only ever to be made by Wells', but I will give you the recipe anyway.  This recipe was originally taken from a pinhead oatmeal packet by my Grandfather in law, and named after where he was living at the time (Marefield).
Tomatoes, fresh or tinned
Pinhead oatmeal
Fry the bacon, add the tomatoes to a simmer, add the oatmeal, cook until tender then add a significant amount of  roughly chopped parsley.  Serve with scrambled or poached eggs on Hobbs House bread for breakfast.


I seem to of have an obsession with dresses.  In years gone by I have spent hours surfing the net looking at dresses I can't afford.  Often in search of something specific I can't afford, be it a wedding dress for my sister or a dress for me to wear to a wedding postnatally that I wouldn't possibly fit into.  Searching the likes of Net-a-porter, Matches or Browns I mastered the technique of either looking at the awe inspiring most expensive to start, "purely for inspiration".  Then reversing to cheapest first, a hard button to hit and swallow.  Anyway with these credit crunch times and shopping locally I had diverted my passion, maybe to Elizabeth David.
Since April 29th, I have mainly been obsessing about dresses again, oh yes those of Kate Middleton but this week Michelle Obama v's Sam Cam.  I think Michelle wins hand down, partly because Sam Cam's royal wedding Burberry efforts just didn't do it for me.  So in between watching clips of grounded limo's and awkward high fives and barbecues I have mainly been perving over the dresses.

Summer supper- why's it not hot

Long live the rib of beef.
We continue to eat the rib of beef.  The rib of beef that cost me a fortune on Saturday but sat resplendent on Sunday for the ultimate Sunday Lunch to celebrate my dear Granny's 88th birthday.
On Wednesday we are still eating it with one more night to go.  Tonight I thought I must get back onto Elizabeth.  The roast beef is so beautifully pink that I can't bear to reheat it so we are eating it cold, hence the cries from the children, "why's it not hot?"  Tonight I made some salads to accompany.  An ED potato salad, new potatoes cooked on the underdone side, then peeled, sliced, seasoned and dressed with olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar and some snipped chives from the garden.  The potatoes were delicious, probably because of the lumps of sea salt, even more yummy on a bit of baguette - why do double carbs taste so good?  I also made ED's version of salsa verde, Sauce Ravigote.  I used my hand held chopper whizzer thing to cut the herbs (watercress, parsley, garden chives and tarragon), capers and a gherkin mixed with olive oil "a thread of lemon" and a splash of vinegar. I added the optional dijon too, this is pretty much as I would make a salsa verde, this is not as my four year old would who was in charge of the whizzer- the result was pureed Sauce Ravigote.  
I am now officially back on with Elizabeth David and looking forward to the changing seasons and the different recipes.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Terrine de campagne

Another attempt at terrine.  Good, good, good but a little overcooked. This is Elizabeth David's recipe for pork and liver pate.  I bought minced pork and veal from Henry's butcher along with a pigs liver and some flare fat too.  The meats and seasonings were all mixed together (I chopped the liver rather than mincing it), some brandy and wine was added too. I left this all to stand whilst we ate dinner and then cooked it in a bain marie whilst watching the King's Speech.  Being possibly the last people to watch it we were rather engrossed and forgot about the pate.  The result was a tasty, good looking slightly over cooked terrine.  None the less this is probably my best so far, the seasoning is right and it looks a lot less anaemic than previous attempts. 

The Hungry Caterpillar and Eurovision

This column for the Stroud News and Journal was written whilst watching the Eurovision, spot the songline;
This week I have unintentionally had a week off cooking Elizabeth David, this means I will be popular with the kids.  But for us this didn’t mean a low calorie week with appetites similar to that of The Hungry Caterpillar we haven’t starved. In writing this column I realize we have almost exclusively eaten veal, of course not the controversial white meat but rose veal an ethical by-product of the dairy industry.
My culinary week usually starts on a Sunday with a joint of meat that must have leftovers to get us started at the beginning of the week.  Last Sunday it was the turn of Elizabeth David’s Epaule de Veau Boulangere.  Rose veal pot roasted on potatoes made for tender meat and succulent potatoes.  On Monday night the kids had veal stir fry; veal with peppers and noodles and a chinese five spice sauce.  On Tuesday night the truffle omelette was put on hold due to an impromptu dinner cooked by the butcher brother in law.  Fortunately he has maintained his chef skills and stayed with the theme and cooked us veal meatballs with pasta and a chilli tomato sauce and some homegrown chard.  On Wednesday I made the truffle omelette for lunch - overrated, I think I need to experience some different truffles to discover their true beauty.  For dinner it was veal stroganoff and rice.  On Thursday we took the kids to the Bistro. Tired of their groans about us leaving them with the baby sitter when we indulge our habit of a weekly visit, we all headed down and, oh heck we had breaded Rose Veal and Triple fried chips.  In amongst some splendid seasonal starters and scrumptious chocolate truffles.  On Friday it was Little Chef Friday, we were out for a friends birthday and the kids cooked for themselves unaided - frankfurters in baguette and homemade smoothies!  On Saturday we ate a beautiful butterfly -we didn’t it was a skate wing- similar (here ends the Hungry Caterpillar comparison).  
This week I fed us on just leftovers and everything else was from Horsley Community Shop.  On Saturday I needed a picnic and food for the weekend in a rush, this was achieved in just two shops in Nailsworth(Williams and the bakery), with helpful advise it was quick, delicious and good value.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


 Local and seasonal are serious buzz words in the food industry at the moment.  As fuel prices rise, it makes sense to source locally and of course eat what is in season.  For me, this is epitomized by asparagus;  it’s got to be English, and despite its short season, producers race to achieve the earliest crop.  As we drove through Somerset on the Easter weekend, my heart raced at the asparagus signs at the side of the road, there is no better way to eat it than straight from the field.  
Back in Nailsworth on Tuesday, the highlight of my week was as I went to pay for my one humble packet of asparagus at the local greengrocers and I found seven for the same price in the bargain box.  So this week we have mainly been eating asparagus.  To prepare it I edge my knife along the bottom until you can cut off the woody end through a tender stem.  This year I have resorted to boiling it, after years of grilling, I learnt from the chef at the bistro that a thirty second boil before grilling or barbecuing gives a much tastier stalk.  I have also followed Elizabeth David’s recipe of boiling in bunches standing upright in the pan for less than ten minutes.
We have enjoyed asparagus with a dippy egg, asparagus in a salad and of course there has to be english asparagus in the Royal Wedding picnic.  According to Elizabeth David there is no better way to serve it than with a hollandaise or mayonnaise.  I have now perfected my hollandaise in any quantity.  By whisking an egg yolk with some salt and a splash of white wine vinegar, over a bain marie I then whisk in knobs of unsalted butter, (about 2oz per egg yolk), and stir until thickened.  As for mayonnaise, I only seem to be able to make this with a minimum of 3 egg yolks, again whisked with salt, I then add up to half a pint of olive oil drop by drop stirring by hand.  When it’s like a thick jelly I add a little lemon juice then a tablespoon of boiling water, if it’s to last. 
I urge you all to go out and find some local asparagus, and even if you just smear it in butter, never will English food taste any better.   

Roast chicken and baked beans

Last night for an impromptu dinner for four I served Roast chicken and tarragon and haricot beans with onion and tomatoes.  The chicken I am sure I have already done but hadn't ticked off in the book.  It was stuffed with butter loaded with tarragon and roasted smeared in olive oil and turned during cooking.  A flaming ladle of brandy was poured over the cooked chicken before popping it back in the oven for five more minutes to mellow the brandy.  To the juices I added a little cream and a splosh of madeira.  Really yummy but I wish I had drained the fat off first- I must get better at removing fat.  I decided at lunchtime to cook haricot beans rather than new potatoes.  This meant that I hadn't soaked the beans but I remembered in an earlier ED recipe that she said to bring the beans to the boil then leave them to soak in that water.  I left them until I needed to cook them(two hours max), I then boiled them in fresh water with an onion studded with a clove, a celery stick and a bouquet garni.  ED recommends seasoning the beans just for the last ten minutes of cooking.  The beans were then drained and the onion reserved.  This onion was fried in butter with two skinned tomatoes for a couple of minutes.  The beans were then added and some of the chicken juices.  We served this with hot wild white bread and wye valley asparagus. absolutely delicious although I think our guests believed they were baked beans!

Wild White

E71W8195 by HOBBS HOUSE bakery
E71W8195, a photo by HOBBS HOUSE bakery on Flickr.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Humble jam tart

Yesterday I realised it was time I got my head back into Elizabeth David.  I am about half way through now, not bad in four months.  A busy week had meant that Elizabeth had been overlooked.  I managed to complete all the lobster recipes with the lobster we brought home from Scotland.  Then this week was somewhat busy with Easter and our daughter's 9th birthday- she did not want Elizabeth David for her birthday dinner.  Lasagne was her choice but I did sneak in a cucumber salad and cooked asaparagus a la ED.
Last night the in-laws came for dinner they bought the meat and I did the rest.  A good opportunity for some ED action, carrots, potatoes and shallots cooked together.  the carrots and new potatoes were boiled to two thirds cooked then fried in butter with shallots and a final sprinkling of parsley.  I revisited her onion sauce which is delicious and just tastes of an Elizabeth David classic.
For pudding I made her Bourdaines  -apples baked in pastry.  Eating apples were peeled and cored. I then made her pate sablee(pastry).  This was divided up for the apples.  Rolled into an individual square the apple was placed on top and the core filled with quince jelly.  The apple was wrapped in the pastry and baked in the oven for an hour, unfortunately the jelly seemed to escape so it wasn't as juicy as I hoped.  The by product was probably more successful, I used the leftover pastry to make jam tarts filled with quince jelly, yum.
Pate sablee recipe,
6oz butter
12oz plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
5 teaspoons of sugar
Mix together, (I used my kitchen aid) until like sand then bind together with a few tablesppons of cold water.