A shiny new toy to play with…

It’s always a good day when the post  man delivers a parcel, the tightly wrapped cardboard box is a tempting prospect that is hard to ignore. Even when I know what is inside the sense of eagerness to open the box is powerful

Unopened Parcel
Unopened Parcel


Since we moved here there have regularly been problems with deliveries going to neighbouring houses which have similar names to our house. On one such occasion our neighbours were away for a few days and got back to find that UPS had tried to deliver 3 times and each time they went to the wrong house!.

This is most likely because the first house name that delivery drivers come across are like ours (but a word less) so they don’t bother to read the full address as written. Where possible I now make sure to emphasise this crucial piece of information in the delivery instructions on-line but it’s not always possible.

As luck would have it, on this occasion they did go to the correct house for once… unfortunately no one was home at the time so the parcel was taken to the local post office!

So what is it?

What was inside the parcel you may ask? It was our shiny new mincer/sausage stuffer in preparation for when the pigs come back from the butchers around the end of this month. We will be having another trial run at making sausages very soon using meat from the local butchers to make sure we perfect our ideas in good time

Fully Assembled
Fully Assembled




Quiche can be a beautiful thing

There has been a certain mystique in my mind around making quiche and I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps because it seemed a little complicated or possibly because I believed my mother who always said it was easier to buy one than make it from scratch.

The finished quiche
The finished quiche

Now that I’ve successfully completed my first attempt I think it’s safe to say that buying one is definitely easier, possibly cheaper and certainly less messy! Despite all that it was great fun and fairly quick to make, especially when using ready-made pastry from that nice Mr Sainsbury.

This was loosely based on a recipe for Quiche Lorraine from the Hairy Bikers pie book but the only changes were to increase some quantities as I thought I needed more than they suggested. As usual I was wrong and the recipe was right so I have some mixture left in the fridge will have to be the basis of a new experiment tomorrow.

The results for my quiche can be seen in the photographs – although the spare pastry was used to make some extra mini quiches and they didn’t last long enough to get their picture taken!

Very impressive looking and extremely tasty. I had planned to keep this for lunch tomorrow but I had to be sure it was properly cooked and tasted okay first…


Only a small test slice gone
Only a small test slice gone

I blame Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

I probably wouldn’t have thought of trying to bake soda bread if I hadn’t seen it mentioned during a an old River Cottage program I happened to watch recently.

If I’m honest I would have guessed that soda bread must be something like sour dough which I believe takes some time and effort to make and that is not my sort of thing. It’s possible that I have this wrong as I’ve not made sour dough (yet) but I can’t usually be bothered with recipes that need leaving overnight or bursts of activity every so often – it must be an attention span problem on my part!

Soda bread on the other hand seemed to be just my sort of recipe – easy to make, no particularly special ingredients, very little preparation time and most importantly almost impossible to mess up! What could possibly go wrong…

I found this handy soda bread recipe on the web which also describe what to do when there is no buttermilk. This  is essential for me as we never normally have that and certainly didn’t have it when I decided to try making this! It all seemed fairly straightforward so away I went and a short time later a nice looking loaf of soda bread was cooling on a rack.

The only minor catastrophe was (I think) a misreading of the quantities when not using buttermilk but I managed by just adding more and more flour until the consistency looked about right!

Completed loaf of soda bread
My first loaf of soda bread

As can be seen, the final result was pretty impressive to my untrained eye and by the morning there was only enough left for a couple of slices of toast!

When the whole loaf goes that quickly it can’t be all bad, just imagine what would have happened if I’d made a “proper” soda bread rather than this first test run.

Sliced soda bread
Sliced soda bread

Next on my list of breads to try is maybe adapting this focaccia recipe on the BBC website which I might attempt to make into a garlic/cheese “tear and share” to go with some pasta.


Another successful cooking episode

Lavender Tea Cake fresh from the oven
Lavender Tea Cake fresh from the oven

Well, that was an action packed weekend with a range of culinary activities including another batch of my impressive scotch eggs, an excellent slow cooked pot-roast goat and some lavender tea cake as well as the Glendale Show (in the rain).

The lavender tea cake idea came about after a previous post about our lavender looking good in bloom which had included  some links to intriguing recipes that make use of the flowers.

Somehow I hadn’t considered the possibility that it might be useful in cooking as well as just using it for the scent.

If you need any proof then the pictures included here show the results for the Lavender Tea Cake experiment which were reasonably successful. Apart from a slightly soggy patch at the bottom which I suspect was my fault not the recipe!

There was a pleasant hint of lavender throughout the cake without it being overpowering and it was very well received which is always a good sign!

Slices of Lavender Tea Cake
Slices of Lavender Tea Cake

What to try next I wonder?

The lavender flowers are on their way out now so I’ll have to take a wander around the garden to see what’s available. I’m not sure that Runner Bean biscuits are such a good idea but I don’t think there is  much else happening in our garden at the moment!


There’s more to the garden than vegetables

Lavender in flower with a bee
Bee on the lavender

Our lavender is looking pretty good at the moment although I really can’t take much credit for that. Apart from the fact that I originally planted it they have been left to their own devices but maybe that is the trick? It could be a lesson I should learn and apply to the vegetable side of things when i  consider the variable results I’ve had this year.

By not interfering I’ve allowed the lavender plants to develop at their own pace, as they have nicely filled the space allowed – sometimes exceeding it so I’ve had to clip them back – there has been no need to worry about weeding around them too much, just the occasional half-hearted effort.

It certainly looks like the bees love the flowers and I’m not known for my love of bees but I am coming around to them a little. They may even have a place in the future smallholding plans but only after learning more about then and taking all relevant safety precautions!

I was interested to find this link to the Newcastle and District Beekeepers association which looks like the best place to start and at least I know there’s somewhere fairly local to get help and advice!

Butterfly on lavender flowers
Butterfly on lavender flowers

I also took this lovely photo of the lavender flowers with a butterfly as well but I know very little about the different types of butterfly and further research has taken the shine off this in the end

According to my research this is a Cabbage White butterfly and is probably the reason for large holes in the leaves of the broccoli plants. More accurately this particular butterfly could be partly to blame for the damage to my cabbages earlier in the year.

I don’t like to hold a grudge though and it does look nice even if my photo doesn’t quite do it justice!

This isn’t just some idle ramblings about pretty flowers and wildlife though, I’m now curious to find out whether I can make use of the other plants in my garden for cooking and eating.

The initial signs are good and after a quick web search there are some promising recipes and ideas. Here are the first few that I think I’ll be trying in the near future

Lavender Infused Shortbread – this looks like the easiest of the lot so I may try this first!

Lavender Tea Cake – looks good and uses fresh lavender so limited preparation needed

Amy’s Lavender Still Lemonade – the recipe says “dried lavender” but I might try fresh instead

More eggs than at Easter!

From time to time our fridge fills up with eggs even though we only have 3 chickens and there are 3 grown adults in our house. Some days we open the fridge door and there are eggs wedged in almost every available space – in fact it’s amazing they don’t fall out!

I know we could probably pass some on to No.1 or No.2 daughter and they would be glad of some free food but somehow that doesn’t always happen. It might be a lack of egg cartons or just simple forgetfulness but the result is 3 more eggs in the morning and the fridge soon fills up.

Obviously we must be more efficient in our egg handouts I guess and we  should  palm them off  give some to work colleagues, friends and neighbours as well. However my first reaction when this glut appears is to wonder what other options are available for cooking with eggs.

On many occasions we have an excess of eggs simply because we’re bored with scrambled, poached or boiled!

This led me to http://www.eggrecipes.co.uk/  and an interesting recipe for Ham And Egg Cobbler which looks very quick and simple to prepare although perhaps a little plain. I like “quick and simple” as much as the next person but when I attempt this recipe I will probably be adding some extra ingredients to add “interest”.

Ideally I would like to work with something from the garden but I’m not sure that carrots would go with this and I don’t have time to wait for the leeks to get bigger. However I could try an early harvest of some garlic and even an onion perhaps to liven things up.

Some other good general links I found were the Good Food Channel from UKTV and the BBC Good Food site but  something I’ve definitely noted for future reference is this Scotch Egg recipe from The Guardian website.

Please let me know about any other good egg recipe ideas and watch this space…

Baking better bread

Last night I had another go a bread baking with a few minor tweaks to the basic recipe and I managed to turn out a couple of truly majestic tasting but diminutive white loaves. Each of my attempts at bread making yield slightly different results, some of which are better than others  but this most recent effort was generally considered an excellent batch.

Each time I like to vary the approach slightly to get a better understanding of how that affects the results so this time I decided to split the resulting dough between two loaf tins not using a single tin as normal.

Another variation was the use of Allinson Premium White Very Strong Bread Flour which I hadn’t tried before. Maybe this explains the good results but I’m not giving up all the credit just yet.

Also while leaving the dough to prove for an hour or so in the tins before baking, I decided to put them in the oven which had  retained a little heat from use earlier in the evening.

The oven wasn’t by any means hot but just warmer than the kitchen and I believe this also influenced the results. I can’t let Allinson’s get all the glory!

If there is a downside to this batch of bread I would have to say it was the loaf size. I know we should value quality rather  than quantity but I would have prefered both in equal amounts!

Next time I think I will increase the quantities used by about 50% so that each loaf is visually just that little more impressive.

Another planned future variation will be to experiment with adding seeds (e.g. pumpkin, poppy etc) or other flavourings before baking.

I’m always on the look out for  good  bread recipes though so please pass them on to me!


Further bread making adventures

After my first 2 attempts at bread making (white bread rolls and after that a loaf) had proved fairly successful if slightly stodgy, it was clearly time to up my game and try making brown bread.

We had a great time up at the Rothbury Food and Craft Festival yesterday which had lots of interesting local produce on offer including a tasty goat burger made with meat from Lakewood goats and some excellent Brinkburn goats cheese from Northumberland Cheese.

Stoneground wholemeal flour from Heatherslaw Corn MillApparently the goat burger was made by the clever butchers at  Blagdon Farm Shop so as we had never been there before we headed over afterwards for a flying visit.

I spotted this (probably over-priced) bag of stone ground brown flour which led to the idea of making some wholemeal bread.

The fact that it was produced relatively locally by Heatherslaw Corn Mill at Cornhill-on-Tweed was also an influence I suppose but I didn’t need too much encouragement for a new bread experiment really.

After going through the process which is now fairly familiar to me, the dough was left to rise in the loaf tin on top of the oven as it warmed.

dough risen in the loaf tin before going in the ovenThis time I decided to learn from the stodgy past experience and give the dough more time to rise – a total of 1.5 hours rather than 1 hour during my previous attempts.

Immediately before it went into the oven the whole thing looked very impressive and remarkably professional for me!

There followed a tense wait with much peering through the glass door on the oven while enjoying the fresh baking smells that filled the kitchen. Eventually it was time to take it out of the oven and assess the results of my efforts.

A truly majestic wholemeal loaf and even when sliced it looked good… I think that this lunchtime will be wholemeal bread and goats cheese!

The finished loaf

sliced home-baked wholemeal bread