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During our travels last weekend, we visited Mr Rigg’s granny and went out for lunch with her.  We went to The White Oak in Cookham and ate the most delicious lunch.

Now we’ve been to The White Oak once before, but it was on such a sad occasion following a funeral that I can’t remember the food.  However, this time the food will stick with me for a long time.  It was superb. 

Not only has this pub been lovingly refurbished, but the staff are so friendly and polite and the food utterly scrumptious.  Sadly I have no photos of our meal, but Mr Rigg and his granny ate beer-battered fish and chips which was served on a wooden board, the chips (which were excellent) came in a tiny metal bucket. 

For my meal I choose a vegetarian main of Parmesan gnocchi in a winter vegetable broth.  When it arrived it the portion seemed quite small compared to the hunks of batter fish beside me.  However, it was delicate, delicious, beautifully presented, and incredibly tasty.  Just three homemade Parmesan gnocchi sat upon a heap of tiny cubed vegetables surrounded by a pool of clear broth.  Wow – just excellent food.

It was the kind of food I would like to eat every night of the week, but I’m quite sure it would take me many years to learn how to make gnocchi so soft and melt in the mouth, and a clear broth packed with oodles of flavour.  I guess I had better get started!

Images: The UK Restaurant Guide

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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?

After a breakfast of croissants, stocking opening and snacking on multiple treats, we don’t normally need much more for Christmas day lunch than a big plate of smoked salmon to share.

Father Christmas (thanks Mr Rigg’s mommy) sent us a gorgeous side of smoked salmon, and what couple be easier than thinly sliced seeded rye bread, thinly smeared with salty butter and spritzed with lemon juice.

Sometimes I like to grate a little lemon zest over the top, but this time I took some inspiration from my new Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals book and sprinkled over some crisp green cress. 

That little bit of greenery helped lift my feelings after so much rich and sugary food.

All helped down with a nice glass of special fizz, bought all the way back from a holiday in the Loire Valley.

13/01/11 – somehow this post was published as January 2010…rather than January 2011 – I just found it in the wrong place!

Christmas Eve lunch – a simple winter salad of warm potatoes, crispy bacon, chopped celery leaves and a dressing of mustard, cider vinegar and shallots. 

This was my first attempt at this delicious sounding salad from Rose Prince’s The New English Table – I tried to follow the amounts for the dressing, but it wasn’t quite how I wanted it, so I just tweaked the ingredients until I was happy. 

Winter potato, bacon and celery leaf salad

Feeds 4

20 new potatoes
6 rashers of streaky bacon
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
175ml olive oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
Handful of celery leaves
2 shallots
Salt and pepper

Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water until done.  Drain and cut in half or quarters.

Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crispy.

Mix together the sugar, mustard, olive oil and water – I like to use a jam jar as you can screw on the lid and shake it.  Add the shallots, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pop the cooked potatoes into a bowl.  Tear up (or cut up) the crispy bacon and add to the potatoes.  Drizzle over the dressing and sprinkle over chopped celery leaves.  Stir everything together.

What to eat for lunch when the fridge is almost bare?  My solution is homemade hummous and toasted pitta bread – all which can be made from what’s in my cupboards and freezer.

My homemade hummous is inspired by some my friend Jane made – it’s a simple matter of whizzing together a tin of chickpeas and olive oil, with lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. 

Today I’ve used 1 medium garlic clove, juice of about 1 small lemon (I find getting the amount of lemon juice right is what makes or breaks this hummous), and about a teaspoon of ground cumin.

Today I’m eating my hummous with toasted pitta breads from the freezer.  Pitta breads freeze fantastically and I always try to have a packet in the freezer ready to toast whenever I’m out of fresh bread. 

They can be easily popped in a toaster or if, like me, you are toaster-less, simply bung them under a hot grill for a couple of minutes on each side.  Beware of hot steam escaping from the pittas once toasted!

Here’s me eating my lunch in my not-so-romantic working space…

This was one of those cheats lunch that feels incredibly satisfying.  We went to the farmer’s market this morning and picked up a bag of onion and potato bhajis from one of the stalls, and from these our lunch was inspired using up some bits and pieces.

The other week we pulled up the last of the carrots from the garden – these were scrubbed, sliced into lengths and roasted in the oven tossed in a little olive oil. 

Once soft and starting to crisp at the edges, you take them out and mash them roughly with some ground cumin and dried oregano.  A final touch of crumbled feta cheese and fresh mint.

We warmed the onion bhajis up in the oven along with a couple of naans from the freezer – I used a new technique learnt from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals of scrunching up a piece of baking paper, wetting it then wrapping up your naans or tortilla wraps before putting them in the oven.  They come out beautifully soft.

In true Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals style we served everything on a wooden board, with a small bowl of Greek yoghurt and ate the lot with salad and much finger licking!

Still on the phone camera – new camera to come soon I hope!

For lunch today we had a delicious and quick meal – potato and chorizo hash with spring greens and a fried egg.  It’s a great storecupboard or leftovers meal, we used up some leftover cold new potatoes and a chorizo sausage we had in the fridge (they keep for ages).

Heat up a pan nice and hot, slice up the chorizo into smallish piece and fry until they start to brown.  Slice the cold new potatoes and add them to the pan, stirring carefully over a medium heat. 

Season with some ground black pepper and cook until the potatoes start to go golden and crisp.

Finely shred a couple of handfuls of spring greens and add to the pan and stir in.  Add a little dash of sherry vinegar and some salt (not too much, the chorizo is quite salty).

In a separate pan fry your eggs.  When they’re ready pop the potato and chorizo hash onto a plate and top with a fried egg.

Sorry no pictures – maybe when I get a new camera I’ll make it again and take some snaps.

Today I drove the many miles southward to Hanbury Hall – a National Trust property near Droitwich, just south of Birmingham.  I went to interview the Head Gardener for the sustainable food bulletin I edit as part of my volunteer role for the National Trust.

Hanbury Hall is possibly one of the prettiest Trust properties I’ve ever visited.  The formal gardens are immaculate and full of colour – lots of orange and purple. 

The house is very similar to my local Dunham Massey, but a little bit fancier and with more detail. 

They have an Orangery and a Mushroom House (where mushrooms were grown for the Vernon family back in the 1860’s), and a large orchard full of ancient apple varieties. 

But I was there to see the Walled Vegetable Garden.  Down the end of long walkway, surrounded by high Yew hedges (very Alice in Wonderland!) are two old wooden gates set into a high red-bricked wall.

Inside was an idyllic scene of a beautiful working kitchen garden.  There were chickens picking happily at the grass, neat row of vegetables – cabbages, Rainbow chard and lettuces to name but a few, bee hives and polytunnels (one bursting with a stunning display of colourful pumpkins and squashes).  Sorry – I didn’t take any pictures inside the garden!

Hanbury Hall’s vegetable garden not only supplies the tea rooms with a bounty of fresh produce, eggs and honey throughout the year, but visitors can buy vegetables direct from the garden – simply ask a gardener for a celeriac, and they will go and pull one up for you right before your eyes, or maybe you’re after ruby red forced rhubarb – they can pick that for you while you watch.

How cool is that?! 

After having a tour of the kitchen garden and doing my interview, I said goodbye to Neil, the Head Gardener and went for lunch in the tearoom. 

In the tearoom you are greeted by a counter full of cakes (like most National Trust tearooms), but here at Hanbury they are quite different – perhaps you are tempted by a slice of their rich and moist Chocolate Beetroot Cake (I certainly was!), or their Parsnip and Caraway Seed Cake, maybe it’s their Honey Cake or my favourite a Victoria Sponge?

What’s special about these cakes is they feature vegetables and ingredients from the Walled Garden – beetroot, parsnip, caraway seeds, honey, eggs, and homemade jam (made with their own fruits, of course).  I was also told their made courgette cake and even potato cake!  All sweet.

In addition to my slice of Chocolate Beetroot Cake (which I didn’t eat first, I promise!), I had a bowl of vegetable soup with vegetables from the kitchen garden, and an apple and blackcurrant juice from a local producer in Worcestershire.  The cake defeated me – I couldn’t manage the last mouthful – shameful, I know!

What a lovely visit and a delicious lunch, and a big thanks to the friendly staff at Hanbury Hall. 

If you’d like to visit Hanbury Hall you can find more details here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hanburyhall.

*Photos taken with camera phone – not looking too bad!

As I mentioned previously last weekend we headed down south to Hereford for a friend’s wedding.  On our journey home we decided to take a leisurely trip stopping off at food place along the way.  We didn’t really have a plan, just to see what we found.

The first place we came across we whizzed past, which is funny because it’s such a huge blot on the landscape it’s hard to miss!  In the midst of countryside as you head out of Hereford you come across a HUGE ‘barn’, if it can be called that, which reads ‘Oakchurch – farm shop’.

We entered this building with some apprehension and were greeted by what I would describe a confused food-cum-home-cum-DIY-mega….something-or-other!  It’s identity to me was unclear, it was utterly bewildering.  Imagine a farm shop supermarket and that’s part of the way there. 

There was a huge meat section, cheeses and produce – all local the labels told us; there were wines, beers and a selection of local cider and perry; there was a whole section dedicated to homewares (china plates and mugs, jam jars, bread boards, baskets, and every baking item under the sun).

We came away with a small bottle of local perry and a couple of packets of greaseproof bags (ideal for wrapping up edible Christmas goodies).  After visiting a friend of mine we crossed the River Wyre at a toll where the lady collecting money looked like she should have sold us some eggs and home produced honey as well as our crossing! 

From there we travelled via Eardisley and pulled in at the last minute to a natural cider and perry producer called The Orgasmic Cider Company – who couldn’t resist but stop at somewhere with a name like that?!  A friendly man told us about their different types of cider’s and perry’s and we tried some before buying a bottle to take home.

Our next foodie stop was Monkland Cheese Dairy – here we found a small shop and cafe selling homemade cheese, and a selection of preserves, chutney, bread and other local goodies.  We tried some of their different cheese and settled on their Oak Smoked for Mr Rigg and their Garlic & Chive for me.

The last place we visited was the Ludlow Food Centre, the one place I had planned to visit in advance.  The food centre is a large red brick and black timber clad new build that is light and airy inside.  It was bustling with people and on entering we were greeted by buckets of gorgeous locally grown bouquets, and local fruits including Victoria plums.

There was lots of local produce to choose from with pumpkins and squashes, purple beans, and sweetcorn.  There were modest meat, cheese and deli counters.  There were some delicious looking breads (even bread shaped like a tiny teddy bear!) and all the normal store cupboard items. 

We bought some sourdough bread sprinkled with poppy seeds, sweetcorn, Victoria plums, a bunch of local flowers, the first of the Hereford apples, two types of sausage and streaky bacon (at least that’s all I can remember!).

For lunch we ate in their Conservatory Barn Cafe – cheese and chutney sandwiches and a sausage roll for Mr Rigg, and for me roasted red pepper soup.  It was nice if slightly uninspiring food, but it tasted good.  I was very tempted by their ‘award winning’ Victoria sponge cake, but I resisted knowing that we had a tupperware of homemade chocolate cake in the car.

Today for lunch we had our first sweetcorn of the year.  After stripping away the leaves and feathery bits, I popped the sweetcorn into boiling water (not salted I read) and cooked them for about 5 and a half minutes.

The corn was drained and then I added a generous knob of goat’s butter to the pan, popped the lid on then gave it a gentle shake to melt the butter and coat the corn.

Finally all that was needed was a good sprinkle of sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  This is my absolute favourite way to eat corn on the cob – it brings back so many good childhood memories.  If I can find enough good quality locally grown sweetcorn the plan is to eat as much of it as possible (just like asparagus when it’s in season).

We have just had a day away in Hereford for a wedding, and visited some interesting foodie places along the way – I shall try and get something up soon about where we went.  Oh, and our camera is on the blink…which is not good news!

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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