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We have finally found some time to spend in our garden and on our allotment.  Being there is one of the most peaceful times, I find myself with an empty, calm mind and it’s blissful.

We are trying to do little by little at the moment rather than our usual tendency to over-exert ourselves one day and not come back for weeks.  We have got some bark chippings down to mark out four beds and have started to plant in some seedlings.

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These peas I’ve grown from seed – I’m just hoping the bunnies or slugs don’t munch on them.

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I love wandering around our allotments, mainly feeling sad that ours doesn’t quite cut the mustard!  I find it so interesting to see the different ways in which people grow things, how some plots are wild and sprawling, while others are neat with wooden boards and smart sheds.

So here’s a look around our allotments in Partington…

I love the brick path that has been set into the ground…

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A year ago Buddy came into our lives.  Twelve months ago he was a rather forlorn, sorry-looking thing – skinny, timid and very much alone.

A very skinny looking Buddy March 2010…

He’s now come out of his shell, is bouncy, loving, smart and full of beans.  He may still be a nutcase outside, anxious around other dogs, and occasionally greet us when we get home from work with a can of tinned tomatoes in his mouth…but we love him.

Here he is today, looking handsome, healthy and still pulling that woeful look that I first fell in love with at the dogs home.

Buddy March 2011

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There are some fantastic Christmas markets in Manchester at the moment, full of delicious foods.  From Raclette melted over new potatoes and gerkins, to spaetzle and paella there are all kinds of goodies.

One of my favourite things at the Christmas markets is Flammkuchen – a German style pizza topped with a creamy sauce, bacon and onion.  When I cook so much at home, it always feels quite expensive to eat at the markets.  So instead we decided to give it a go at home.

I went in search for a recipe – mind you, it took me a while to get the spelling correct!  I was inspired by this recipe because it used quark – an ingredient I’ve seen before but never known what to do with it.  Here was the perfect opportunity to quell my interest – turns out it’s like cottage cheese without the lumps.  Quite nice!

Flammkuchen

Pizza dough
Creme fraiche
Sour cream
Quark
Pancetta or bacon
Onion
Black pepper

Preheat your oven 220°C.

Roll out the pizza dough as thin as you can.

Finely slice the onion – the thinner the better as the onion isn’t pre-cooked.  I used pancetta rather than bacon and sliced it into lardons.

In a bowl mix equal amounts of creme fraiche, sour cream and quark. 

Spread the creme fraiche mixture over the pizza dough, top with sliced onion and bacon before popping it into the oven for about 10-15 minutes or until it’s golden.

All it needs before eating is a good grind of black pepper…or not if your Mr Rigg.

Any other suggestions on what to do with the remaining quark would be graciously received!

Today when Mr Rigg and I went to do some food shopping in Chorlton we discovered that the Manchester Markets were set up outside the library.  Of course, I couldn’t resist a quick snoop.

There were a couple of meat companies, a greengrocer, a sweetie stall, a bakery, and a number of cake stalls.  I bought a lovely moist piece of gingerbread from one stall (I think they were called Peach Pie…) and then my eyes fell upon a stall with large glass jars filled with multi-coloured macaroons.

Now I’ve seen the trend for these pretty sweets all over the internet – they seem especially popular in the US at the moment – dainty coloured macaroons sandwiched together with a thin layer of something scrummy in the middle.

The girl selling macaroons today is currently making them from home and has called her little business The English Rose Bakery – which I think is a lovely name.  Having never tasted these kinds of macaroons, I decided today would be my first taste.

I came away with a little tissue paper bundle of macaroons in chocolate, raspberry and salted caramel flavours.  We have devoured the chocolate and raspberry ones, with the salted caramel one left for later.  An after dinner sweet morsel – what a treat!

The two we’ve tried so far were delicious – the chocolate macaroon with a thin layer of chocolatey filling, and the raspberry one I think was spread with raspberry jam. 

If you live in Manchester and fancy a sweet treat for a party, as a gift, for your wedding, or just to indulge yourself, visit their website: www.englishrosebakery.co.uk


Above image: The English Rose Bakery 

Last night we had a simple supper of homemade trout pate spread thickly on slices of pumpernickel bread topped with a morsel of homegrown lettuce.

The recipe was inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s version in his book River Cottage Everyday.  I had planned to follow it to the letter, but it seems that I picked up soft cheese rather than crème fraîche while out shopping, so I ended up making it up and tasting it as I went along. 

We ate the pate on slices of the Barbakan’s pumpernickel bread, which was delicious – dark, sticky and chewy.  Every mouthful felt good for you.  It has been agreed we must eat more of it more often.

Here’s my version, without exact measurements – mix and taste, then amend.  Alternatively follow Hugh’s recipe.

Smoked trout pate

Feeds 2 for dinner or 4 as a starter

Approx 250-300g smoked trout (I used a combination of smoke trout and hot smoked trout)
A couple of spoonfuls of soft cheese/cream cheese
A dollop of mayonnaise
A couple of teaspoons of English mustard
Lots of lemon juice
A good grinding of black pepper
A bunch of chives, snipped
Chive flowers

In a blender add half the smoked trout, the soft cheese and mustard.  Blitz.  Add more soft cheese if it’s a bit dry and the mayonnaise.  Add a good amount of lemon juice and the ground black pepper. 

Blitz and then taste.  You want it to have a good punchy kick of mustard, but not overpowering.  And a nice fresh lemony background taste.  I added a tiny splash of water just to loosen the pate a little.

Flake the remaining smoke trout and stir into the pate – this gives a nice texture.  Also stir in the snipped chives and the chive flowers which you should pull from the head.

Eat with pumpernickel or a dark rye bread and a crisp green salad.  This would also make an excellent canapé - a tiny chunk of bread spread with pate and topped with a piece of lettuce or a sprinkling of chives and chive flowers.

Tomorrow I am heading off to the Making Local Food Work conference in Manchester – super excited, looks like there’s a really interesting group of delegates and some great workshops and talks.

Hopefully I will come back with some new ideas for my volunteer work in my local town – I always love finding out what other people and groups are up to.

The past two weeks I feel have hardly seen me eat a homecooked meal.  I have eaten all kinds of food all over the country – some good, some bad, some better than others – but what I can say is that I am ready to eat platefuls of my own, homecooked food.

Here’s my two weeks in food.

1. Bradford ~ unexciting council catered sandwiches but delicious, spicy, vegetable samosas.

2. North Yorkshire ~ sandwiches under cling film, pretty tasty chunky cut ham sandwiches, good looking fruit scones but needed a minute in the microwave to soften.

3. London ~ more platters of sandwiches, this time M&S and fridge-cold, very nice goat’s cheese and sweet pickled carrot on grain bread shame about the cold.

4. Lancaster ~ disappointing pub meal in hotel, lots of local produce but cooked terribly, worst ‘crab’ cakes ever eaten – thick, grey stodge – yuk!  Nice chocolate ice cream to save the day.

5. Kirkby Lonsdale ~ country pub lunch, good tasting ploughman’s with mustard yellow piccalilli, thick roast ham, and a Scotch Egg – dry bread but a won over by a chocolate milkshake.

6. Manchester ~ Polish lunch at training, a truly delicious beef and potato stew!

7. Chorlton ~ work Christmas party at Ostara, divine winter solstice vegetable and spice soup (a secret recipe!), scrummy cider pot roast ham with all the Christmas trimmings, but a sadly disappointing chocolate yule log. More on Ostara here

8. Manchester ~ another wonderful Polish lunch, cheese filled pierogi’s topped with caramelised onions, and sausage and cabbage stew – am on the hunt for this Polish takeaway for more more more!

My conclusion – a dismal meal can always be saved by excellent chocolate ice cream.

ostara1

Next week in Manchester is the annual Food & Drink Festival.  All week long there will be different foodie offers at various eating establishments around the city, and a number of ‘fringe’ festivals in suburbs of the city. 

My regular grocery shopping district is Chorlton, a part of Greater Manchester that is stuffed full of wonderful places to buy, eat and enjoy excellent food and drink.  Recently we heard about a newish restaurant called Ostara, a ‘modern British restaurant’ that claims to serve food made from the ‘finest organic and locally sourced ingredients available.’

ostara

N and I decided it sounded well worth sampling to see if the food was as good as it promised.  Situated on a busy street in Chorlton, Ostara greets you with a warm but stylish interior of mossy green walls, sleek but functional wooden furniture, framed botanical prints, and vintage bottles filled with seasonal flowers and foliage.

ostara2

We ordered Fentiman’s Old Fashioned Lemonade while we looked through their weekday set menu.  At 2 courses for £11 and an option for 3 courses at a price I can’t remember, it seems very good value for money if they provided the quality ingredients they advertised.

The menu was full of options that I would have happily chosen.  In the end we opted for starters of a goats cheese and onion tartlet and a wild mushroom pate with carrot chutney, and for mains N chose bangers and mash and I decided to try the savoury steamed pudding with leek, spinach and Red Leicester cheese.  I have searched online for their menu so that I could give you the full description of these dishes, but to no avail.

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N’s goats cheese and onion tartlet was deliciously creamy and very cheesy.  It came with corn salad (or mache to some people) and something that tasted like an unusual pesto – if only I had written down the description from the menu.

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When my pate arrived I was delighted.  I was expecting a smooth pate, but it was in fact a very coarse pate made from wild mushrooms, many of which were distinguishable.  In a small dish I had what was described as carrot chutney, which was in fact marinated grated carrot with what I think were coriander seeds spotted through it – it was delicate, and fragrant and spicy and went wonderfully with the pate and toast.

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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my savoury steamed pudding, and when it arrived to first look at it was slightly odd.  A large dome of soft beige pastry.  However, once I dug my knife into it, out of it oozed this buttercup yellow sauce dotted with tiny chunks of vegetables.  It was as delicious as everything else we had eaten so far, although I did struggle towards the end with some of the pastry. 

ostara6

N’s ‘bangers and mash’ were in fact two fat sausages (I believe from out door reared piggies) and a colcannon mash which was laced with slithers of savoy cabbage.  The fat sausages were perfectly browned, and meaty but not overpowering (like some we ate in Italy, which were a little too meaty for our tastes). 

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Both our dishes were accompanied by the same vegetables, which we found refreshing compared to restaurants that serve different vegetables with each dish.  These were cooked exactly to our taste, tiny carrots soft and giving but still with bite in the centre, vibrant green sprouting broccoli that hadn’t been cooked to a mush, and finally some green beans, still crunchy in the middle.

What a treat!  Ostara serves up delicious, British-inspired, seasonal food that leaves you feeling like you’ve just eaten a wonderfully prepared homecooked meal.  If you’re in Manchester – don’t forget to stop here for a bite to eat.

So, I must confess, I was hoping tonight to share a lovely meal N and I had last night at a fab new restaurant in Manchester…however, it appears I have left our camera with all the great images of our meal in our car…which in turn is in the garage having its exhaust fixed.

Fingers-crossed the car will be back tomorrow and along with it the camera. Then I shall share some scrumptious food, including a divine wild mushroom pate and a savoury steamed pudding.

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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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