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Perhaps an unconventional Christmas meal, but with only two of us to feed a turkey or goose would be too much, and with some exquisite stewing venison in the freezer from Dunham Massey it seemed only natural to have venison stew.
We bought our venison from Little Heath Farm a few weeks ago when they received a delivery from the National Trust property just down the road. It is nice to know that the main ingredient in our Christmas meal came from within 5 miles and most likely had a lovely life roaming the parkland at Dunham Massey.
With a large part of my University days spent studying Native Americans both in the UK and Canada, it seemed only apt to follow the recipe for venison stew from Jamie’s America book. Based on a Navajo stew, this recipe is incredibly delicious and is the second time we’ve made it.
My only addition was to make some parsley and suet dumpling, which I popped into the stew towards the end of cooking. There is something very moreish about dumplings – I think I could eat a plateful drenched in a couple of spoonfuls of stew liqueur.
Mash potato was made with our allotment grown potatoes, which must be said have been a bit disastrous. Whether it’s the variety, how we’ve grown them, or how we cook them, but the potatoes just disintegrate into soupy glue if not watched carefully.
I have learnt that the trick with them is to watch them carefully in the water, looking for the moment when the outside starts to break down, but leaving them long enough to make sure they are almost cooked through.
This time I put it through my wonderful French mouli that I picked up at the carboot – it was fantastic! With the help of a little cream (maybe a lot…) and butter, and some seasoning, the mash turned out all right.
What did you eat for Christmas dinner?
Tonight we enjoyed a picnic dinner at our allotment after an hour or two of raised bed construction. This is what we managed to achieve – one half of my new herb bed:
We ate Majorcan new potatoes boiled then smothered hot in goat’s butter and lots of salt and pepper … grilled blackened sausages from Little Heath Farm in Dunham Massey dunked in Wilkin & Son’s tomato ketchup …
sliced tomatoes sprinkled liberally with salt and garnished with torn basil leaves (totally unseasonal but irresistable as the weather starts to warm) …
and slices of coffee coloured seeded bread from Red House Farm smeared with Oxford Blue cheese …
Sitting on an old rug looking out over our allotment eating good grub – what a blissful way to spend a weekday evening. Buddy peered down at us from the boot of the car, his nose twitching as the smell of sausages wafted up his nostrils.
Two little robins hopped around the allotments, perched on the spade…
then a tub of chicken manure pellets…
and finally an orange plastic bottle balanced atop a bamboo cane…
Today we have been busy at the allotment enjoying this fabulous heatwave. Covered in suncream we got about moving the ‘shed’ (it’s more storage than shed) forward about a foot so that we can get to the raspberries more easily.
Then we built a compost bin from old gates and a pallet. We feel like proper allotment owners now.
Here’s the before…
And the after…
We stopped lots to eat delicious chunks of frosting coated chocolate brownie cake.
At lunch we sat on the grass in the shade of the car and devoured hunks of bread smeared with gooey camembert.
We cleared a sizeable patch of the allotment which I’m planning on turning into a herb garden with a small patch of grass where we can sit and picnic during the summer.
Then we filled out new compost bin with bits we had dug up and a well-rotted heap of rabbit droppings.
Our day finished with the first barbeque of the year and dinner outside.
Sausages (from Little Heath Farm), lettuce, cherry tomatoes with basil and Parmesan, and bread.
It’s been one of the nicest, most relaxing and productive days we’ve had in a long time. Rosy cheeks all round.
Apologies for not having posted for a few days, I have been busy cooking for my parents who came to visit for a day, eating great food, and being a bit stunned by the fantastic hot weather we have been blessed with.
My pea plants seem to have doubled in size since last week, stretching skywards. We have so much lettuce and salad leaves I don’t know what to do with it all! I really want to tell you about some lovely salads that I have been creating over the past week, and to show you pictures of a gorgeous French style strawberry tart that my lovely friend Natalie made.
For now I am tired so I shall leave you with a picture of burgers from tonight’s barbecue – homemade burgers from Little Heath Farm and homegrown lettuce leaves:
Friday was N’s birthday, which could mean only one thing – a fantastic weekend of good food. I sat down and imagined if I were N, what would I want to eat for my birthday weekend.
So the feasting began on Thursday night with a curry from our favourite takeaway. The British favourite of chicken tikka masala, with poppadoms, mango chutney, onion relish, and garlic and coriander naans. We balanced this, of course, by having brown rice…
We also made chocolate brownies, enough for N to take to work and for us. Following Nigella’s recipe from her book How to be a Domestic Goddess, we baked a tray of chocolate brownies with enough chocolate, sugar and butter to use of one’smonthly recommended allowance. Three and a half bars of 70% dark chocolate…one and half pats of butter…and what I can only remember as a jug of sugar. But seriously, these chocolate brownies were heavenly. It really matters what chocolate you use – if you used Bourneville it would taste of Bournville, so make sure you buy the best dark chocolate you can afford.
When I came downstairs on Friday morning to examine the insides of the brownies after N had taken half the tray to work, I thought that I had undercooked them. It looked (and tasted) like the liquid mixture I had scraped into the pan before cooking. These brownies improve with age. In fact, the centres of each square almost transforms into a truffle, it is so dark and dense and soft. I will post the recipe another day as it is one everyone should try.
N finishes work early on a Friday, so I laid out the table with all his cards and gifts (the bunnies spent their pocket money on two jars of sweets from our local old fashioned sweet shop), hung a string of balloons across the living room, and piled chocolate brownies into a mountain, dusted them with icing sugar and stuck in some candles.
My birthday present to N – the best sirloin steak I could buy from Little Heath Farm, with melted blue cheese and chips. I admit, the chips weren’t homemade, but there is something intrinsically scrumptious about the finest quality steak served with frozen chips – perhaps they serve to highlight how incredible the steak is.
As you might imagine, but Friday night we couldn’t eat another thing.
Saturday evening we made homemade pizzas (which had been planned for Friday tea, but were pushed on a day due to the last minute revelation of steak and chips). We ate the pizzas standing up in the kitchen straight from the oven, served with thin slices of Parma ham, crisp wild rocket, torn basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. They were so delicious that they were eaten up before I had a chance to take a photograph – such is the way with truly divine food – you just can’t wait to faff around with the camera, you just have to eat it straight away, hot from the oven.
Next weekend it’s my birthday, which means another excuse to eat more good food…yum.
Last night for tea we made homemade meatballs with linguine and a tomato sauce. When it comes to following recipes, I’m not very good at sticking to them unless requires precision – things like pastry I’m not yet confident at “adding a little bit of this ” and a “little bit of that.” Instead I often use recipes as a guide, or more often than not just the title or photo of a recipe to make my own version.
So last night I created my own spaghetti and meatballs after seeing a delicious photo in Jamie at Home (one of my all time favourite recipe books, and probably my most used). Most of the time I don’t have all the ingredients a recipe calls for, and I’m not very good at planning ahead and going out to stock up on the right ingredients. So instead I substitute with ingredients I have hanging around in my fridge or cupboards, or just work my way around them.
We made our meatballs from mince beef (from Little Heath Farm) rather than sausagemeat. We mixed the raw meat with breadcrumbs (I blitzed up a few slices of a Sweet Poppy Seed loaf from Barbakan), some dried herbs that my mom had brought me back from France, and some salt and pepper. N shaped them into small balls and we cooked them in a good glug of olive oil under brown and crispy.
No spaghetti in the house, just angel hair or linguine – I opted for linguine I felt as the angel hair was too thin for a thick tomatoey sauce and meatballs. The tomato sauce consisted of chopped garlic, parsley stalks finely chopped, a tin of cherry tomatoes, and a glug of balsamic vinegar – plus seasoning. This was blitzed up, spooned over the cooked linguine, and the meatballs piled on top, finished with a handful of chopped parsley. The recipe called for peas. I wanted peas, planned on having peas, but forgot the peas. Oh well. Maybe next time.
I am terrible at remembering to bring my camera with me when we go out. This morning we went down to our local farmers market at Abbey Leys Farm (http://www.abbeyleys.co.uk/). It’s a beautiful day – blue skies, sun shining, the countryside frosted with white icing – but bloody freezing. All our favourite local producers were there, everybody wrapped up in scarfs, hats and mittens. And I forgot my camera. And didn’t even have my phone which takes pretty good photos. I will learn, I promise – it’s so frustrating to want to share a lovely experience and not have any pictures to show of it.
For now I shall just have to tell you that we came away with a basket of farmhouse butter (from Preston), a string of onions (from Southport), half a dozen organic eggs (Abbey Leys), mini chocolate butter Stollen (from Warrington), a raspberry thickie made from Cheshire yoghurt (Tiresford Farm), and a french country loaf (from Love Bread in Knutsford). We had a quick chat with Sue at Little Heath Farm and emplored her to start making cocktail-sized sausages over the Christmas period – I have been craving those little sausages you find at Christmas parties that have been baked in the oven with honey and wholegrain mustard – yum! We also saw the Pie Man (Neil from The Great North Pie Company) who had, as usual, sold out an hour and a half into the market.
It has been a nice week for local food – the first ever Lymm Farmer’s Market was held at Oughtrington Community Centre to raise funds for their badly needed new boilers. I went down to volunteer and help out during the morning, and it seemed to be a big hit and a great success.
There were some of the local food ‘big boys’ like The Great Tasting Meat Company (http://www.greattastingmeat.co.uk/) , who were cooking up sausage and onion buns for chilly customers.
Our local box scheme providers – Northern Harvest (http://www.northernharvest.co.uk/) – were there with some fantastic bundles of cavalo nero, the only kind of kale I seem to manage. This was later cooked up into a fantastic Italian Bread and Cabbage soup.
And some businesses from further afield who were new to us, like The Piemill (http://www.piemill.com/) from Cumbria.
N is busy in the kitchen whipping up some Smoked Mackerel Pate for lunch. There was a near disaster when we discovered we were out of lemons, but the pate has been rescused with a few store cupboard staples – a glug of white wine vinegar (to give it a tang) and some lemon flavoured olive oil that we brought back from Croatia. It tastes almost as good, and is about to go down a treat on the bread from the market…
I think I am getting a cold, which feels miserable, so to cheer myself up I thought I’d write about my favourite local farm shop – Little Heath Farm.
Little Heath Farm embodies the essence of a really good farm shop for me. Although it wouldn’t matter where they were based, they are situated in a beautiful little village in Dunham Massey. Just down the road is Dunham Massey National Trust which has a deer park, and my favourite place to walk – brilliant for families.
Their farm is hidden away down the aptly named Cow Lane, past a picturesque orchard with white geese. The farm shop is in an old barn off their courtyard. There are three rabbits who seem very well fed on left over veg, one called Munch who always seems a bit to keen to go for your fingers should you feel overcome by how cute he is and stick your fingers through the wire to rub his nose. Then there is Trevor the turkey and ‘his girls’ who he protects every time a car pulls in by turning bright blue and making a lot of noise.
Inside the farm shop is simple, baskets of locally grown vegetables, a couple of shelves of honey and jams, trays of local free range eggs, and cabinets of their free range pork, lamb and beef products. For this is what they do best, lovingly produce fantastic meat products. All of the farm shop’s signs are a distinctive black with white writing, like a blackboard, which I hope they will never alter as for me this is unique to them, and something I instantly associate with them.
Sue and her young shop assistants are friendly, knowledgeable and really helpful. One weekend when I was hosting lunch for my partners parents and granny, I decided on pork – not that I’d ever cooked it. The morning before I turned up at the shop and was presented with a choice of three cuts that Sue had carefully chosen and set aside for me, she also gave me a detailed recipe for how she cooks pork, which I was guaranteed would be perfect and I couldn’t mess up – it was, and went down a treat with everyone.
I think if I ever had a blue day, popping into Little Heath would cheer me up. Visiting the farm shop, although it is just food shopping, reminds me why life is so great, it’s one of those moments when you stop and think, “I’m happy to be alive.”
So if you are in the Manchester/Cheshire area, call in to visit Sue and treat yourself to something delicious for tea. This is a true, rustic, real farm shop, not one of those super posh deli’s on a farm where the person producing the food is nowhere to be found.
Little Heath Farm, Cow Lane, Dunham Massey, WA14 4SE.
The fantastic weather over the weekend meant a perfect opportunity to enjoy the English countryside. On Saturday we went for a walk along the canal, and picked a meagre amount of blackberries that are currently in the freezer as I can’t dedice what to make with them yet – blackberry junket or hedgerow crumble?
Sunday heralded a local food festival, held in a nearby town (Altrincham) in their covered market – which with the sun blazing down was more like a greenhouse. It was great to see so many people out and about, enjoying locally made and produced food, and sampling dishes from local restaurants. We bought our festival currency and scoffed down a vegetarian curry, a chicken tikka wrap, a glass of Spanish beer and two slices of pizza for lunch on Monday. Sadly, I forgot my camera and haven’t any pictures to show for the fantastic food on offer.
Our favourite local farmers were there – Sue from Little Heath Farm – a table laden with delicious cuts of beef and pork, and a hamper displaying the local veg they sell in their modest farm shop. The ‘pie man’ as he’s affectionately known in our house – Neil from The Great North Pie Company – a new addition to the local food scene, hadn as usual sold out an hour into the festival and by the time we arrived all that was left was his empty pie stands and a handful of leaflets.
We sampled some freshly squeezed apple juice from a stand celebrating local allotments, fought over the last few crumbs of one of the best Victoria sponge cakes I’ve ever had – from Hulabaloo Cafe – and went home carrying a treasured bottle of local ‘Discover’ apple juice an an ‘escargot chocolat’ – a French breakfast pastry like a cross between a Danish pastry and a pan au chocolat. De-lish!
As I haven’t any pictures to show of all this loveliness, I shall post a shot of the weekends harvest from the garden – freshly dug potatoes and a variety of tomatoes.