Tuesday, 28 April 2009


On holiday for a week in Cornwall. Had to leave very early, as today is "Trevithick Day" in Cambourne and, as DH is into that sort of thing, thought he might like to see it.

Got there in time, walked round all the steam related exhibits, and then lined the street to watch the parade. It's surprising how long it takes for that many slow rolling steam engines to go past.

Especially when it's raining.

I took a photo of each and every one, but I've just added a few here

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Ox Cheeks

Had friends round for dinner last night and I had decided to try Ox Cheeks. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to eat them but, I kept telling myself, it's just beef from a different bit of the cow. I don't eat Offal (well, except Haggis, which is liver-ish but well spiced, and I eat it with lots of mashed potato and mashed carrots & swede) because I don't like the smell or texture of Liver or Kidney , and I wasn't sure whether this fell into that category.

I used the recipe from the Donald Russell website. It was for four cheeks, but here I encountered my first query. The packs from Donald Russell each had two cheeks in, so four cheeks was 2 packs. Byt each pack was 800g of very lean meat - so this would mean 1.6kg for four....surely that couldn't be right?

On the DR website it stated that each 800g pack fed 2-3, so I used both packs. However, the quantities for the other ingredients listed didn't seem enough at all, so I increased them considerably.

The first step was searing the cheeks until they were caramelised. Now, I have a fantastic and enormous hob-to-oven pan, but I had to sear the cheeks in batches. And when they coloured, they went that sort of khaki colour that Liver goes. It did not bode well.

I absolutely detest liver. I remember being forced to eat it at school, and now even the smell of it makes me heave. I have tried it since - my DH and one of my best friends both adore liver and say that home made is nothing lie the school carp - but as soon as I bit into it...well, I've given up.

Followed the rest of the recipe, and everntually got the cheeks into the oven, where they had to cook for 2.5 hours. I checked them twice, and after the first checking (at one hour) they looked completely different and the sauce looked wonderfully unctuous.

They were fantastic! I can't believe it. Really tender, really delicious, texture was like any oher braised steak. We ate nearly all of it, it could have served 5 easily, 6 for small appetites.

So here's the recipe with my adaptations:
4 Ox cheeks (I used Donald Russell, 2 packs of 2 cheeks totalling 1.6kg)
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil

2 carrots, cut into small sticks
2 onions, sliced
2 stalks of celery, sliced fairly thin
200ml port

1.5 or 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (I saved the laf tin to use on Bruschetta)
About 1 litre of beef stock (I used a can of Waitrose Beef Consomme, plus 600ml beef stock)
150 to 200ml Balsamic vinegar (don't use the really cheap stuff)
3 large sprigs of rosemary

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (150 deg fan oven, Gas 3, or equivalent). Make sure the Ox CHeeks have come to room temperature, then pat them dry with kitchen towel. I had to cut some of the cheeks, as they had sort of flappy bits which meant it would be hard to brown all over. However, keep them as largish pieces, don't be tempted to cut them small as they will just disappear in the cooking process.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil in a very large flameproof casserole, or hob-to-oven pan, until it's very hot. Sear the cheek pieces all over until tehy are brown and slightly caramelised. I had to do this in two batches, and I added some extra oil at the end. When done, remove to a plate. Don't worry about the mountain of meat in front of you. Some of it will disintegrate into the sauce anyway.

Add the onions, celert and carrots to the pan and cook at a lower heat for about 6 mins, turning them frequently. Towards the end of the time, turn the heat back up again. When they are done, pour in the port in one go, it will bubble rapidly and steam, and this will deglaze the pan. Turn the heat down, and let the liquid reduce until it's almost all gone.

Now add the remainder of the ingredients and stir, then put the cheeks back in the pan. Try and cover them with liquid as much as possible. Bring to the boil, and once it's simmering al over put the lid on, and transfer to the oven.

Cook in the oven for at least two hours, preferably 2 and a half. I checked the dish at 1 hour and 1 and a half hours in case the meat needed turning. (It needed a bit of adjustment at one hour, but it was fine when I did the second check).

We served it with mashed potatoes to soak up the lovely sauce, and roasted vegetables.

Leftover "gravy" can be saved and frozen and used as a rich beefy gravy for other meals.

Definitely one for my recipe book!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Table Birds have arrived

The table chicks have finally arrived!

DH and his friend, who are doing this together,, have been very busy getting the allotment ready for them. First they had to clear the allotment, then fence it, then convert a shed to be the chooks home and sleeping quarters.

It's a lovely large shed, the photo doesn't do it justice. The chicks are in the far corners in the first pic.

They are only 7 or 8 weeks old and we haven't let them out to free range yet. We're doing this one change at a time, and the first big change was having tehm move into their new home. The next will be getting them on to Growers pellets.

Three of the birds are very different to the others, they are very brown, so they may turn out to not be table birds. The fact that three are different may be a problem, as it sets them apart and makes them easy to get attached to. I think I'm on the slippery slope as I found that of the six pics I took this morning, three of them are of the Oddballs!

Thursday, 16 April 2009


The garden has suddenly burst into life.

The grass has been mowed, twice; the area the Girls were on up to about a week ago has recovered magnificently, so I'll be moving their paddock back there tomorrow; the Cherry and Pear trees are both in magnificent blossom - haven't seen the Cherry look this glorious for years, so maybe last year's pruning has helped!

The bluebells are coming into flower as well. We lost a lot last year when we made our terraced area, but we seem to have a good number in other parts of the garden. I've been top dressing a lot of the flower beds, and I've also put a top dressing of home compost around the soft fruit bushes.

And the table chicks have arrived in their new home. More about them tomorrow, maybe.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Wedding cake (final)

The Wedding went really well. Bride looked radiant, groom looked handsome, venue was delighful.

Here are some pics of the cake.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Some days, it's more frustrating than fun

Jasmine has been getting to be a bit of a noisy nuisance.

She is a Welsummer, and started laying chocolate brown eggs very late - she was well over a year old. She's not the cleverest of chickens, but is very pretty.

A little while ago she developed a rather unusual call, more of a honking than anything, making her sound more like a goose than a chicken. It's been a bit irritating from time to time, but she only has honking fits every so often.

In common with many Girls, she also likes to announce The Arrival of The Egge. Her call on these occasions is very loud, and goes on for some time.

Today, she announced the Arrival of The Egge, very loudly, when in fact she hadn't actually laid. Twice. The third time, it wasn't funny any more as her foghorn voice went on and on. In fact, she had produced the Egg this time, but she just wouldn't shut up about it. She went on and on and on. And on and on. And on. And on. And on. I went out and shushed her. She stopped. Then when I was out of sight, she started again. Apparently from the beginning, rather than just picking up where she left off.

So I went out again. I tried spraying water near her each time she started. After a minute of silence I'd come in, only to have her start as soon as she saw me step in to the kitchen. This "game" went on for some time. In the end, in sheer frustration (because by this time she was making such a noise I thought the neigbours would surely be round to see what on earth was happening) that I caught her and brought her in the kitchen. In the kitchen, not a bok.

Then Daisy appeared at the window, which was something of a feat as the Girls are behind netting down the garden. I caught Daisy, and put her back behind the netting. I saw Lily trying to leap over the netting as I did so, but she wasn't able to get the thrust to get over.

I got back to the house, Jasmine was still very quiet, but was frantically pecking the window trying to get out. I went round to pick her up to release her, and saw two white chickeny faces peering in at me. This time Lily and Daisy together had got over the fence.

So. I put them back, and then I put Jasmine back out in the garden.

By the time I got back to the kitchen, Jasmine was honking again. At least she's stopped the Announcement, I suppose.

I need to talk to DH about this. If this keeps happening, I think Jasmine will need to be rehomed. Our neighbours mum may be moving in with them, and I don't want this to cause problems for them - or for our relationship with them.

Jasmine must consider herself "on notice", I think.

I've just watched Daisy escape. She doesn't fly over the netting, she manged to find a bit where there was a weeny gap between the bottom of the netting and the ground - and she slowly limbo-ed under it.

Ha ha ha.

I've removed the gap now.

Poor Daisy is trying to find her limbo point, and there are now three chickens (Daisy, Milly, Lily) lined up trying to walk through the fencing. Bless 'em.