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The next three challenges!

Posted on January 26, 2020 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (467)

Challenge No. 2 - Confit of Salmon with sweet dill pickled vegetables 

The time had come for the second challenge. I this case I opted this time for a relatively simple confit salmon, using Rick Stein’s with sweet dill pickled veg. It’s not a huge dish (more of a starter) so we’ll have cheese for seconds!

It was pretty straightforward. The pickling liquor was simple and the mustard mayonnaise was easy but delicious. The fish was cooked in the sous vide at 50˚ for 20 minutes.

Overall a very successful dish. The only downside was that the charred lettuce could have been more charred and perhaps presented more attractively. Definitely a dish to do again and again!

Challenge No. 3 - Roast Game Bird with all the trimmings

This was a apparently straightforward one. I used the two pheasants that Mary E had given us and opted for the Leith’s Cookery Bible version aas the basis, but also looked elsewhere for other options. The inclusion of Game Chips was one idea and clearly what the challenger had expected. Bread sauce was also a must, apparently. The Game Cook Book also suggest butter-fried breadcrumbs and brussel sprouts.

I obtained some pork fat from our fabulous butchers to bard the breasts and it was a pretty straightforward process. There were two sizes of bird, so the bigger one cooked for 40 minutes and the smaller 30 minutes. Game chips were made in the fryer and were really good (the mandoline was necessary for the thinness of the chips).

As with so many of the recipes, presentation has proved to be a challenge. What colour plate? How do you make such a dish attractive? I made a great port and redcurrant sauce to go with it and although it was very tasty, it looked like a home-cooked Sunday lunch.


Comments from the reviewers

1. Very moist pheasant

2. Breadbcrumbs, chips and bread sauce all worked well

3. Gravy tasted better than it looked – too ‘grey’

 

Challenge No. 4 - Baked Alaska with Nutella Ice Cream

This took a lot of preparation. The Baked Alaska with Nutella Ice Cream was from Monica Galetti’s ‘The Skills.’

It called for brioche for the base of the Alaska, so I made this the day before, along with the Nutella Ice Cream.


Both were relatively simple but the ice cream should have been cooled a bit more before churning in the ice cream bowl. As with so many recipes, the preparation uses a lot of bowls and stages – see below…


When it came to the making the Alaska, I made a base from the brioche and spread Nutella over the base. I made the base from piecing together the brioche, having cut it from the side, but it would, in hindsight, have been easier if I had cut across the bottom in a circle.

Assembling was straightforward – until it came to the Italian meringue. The meringue (my first effort) had been good in spite of the need to get the temperature of the sugar solution to 121˚.

Once the ice cream was on the base, I had to pipe the meringue onto it, but it was difficult to get pattern even and attractive. It was tasty but a mess.


Reviewers’ comments

Delicious! Presentation in need of work – piping was wibbly wobbly and the brioche base was visible. Ice cream was fabulous.

 




 

First Challenge - Wonton Soup!

Posted on January 8, 2020 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (46)

The reality hit home on New Year’s Day when I was asked ‘What is your first dish this week?’ Oh, hell. I really do now need to get my mind around the challenge. Do I start easy first or head in with a real challenge? It’s partly now coloured by the fact that still post-Christmas I am wanting simple and not too heavy. Perhaps a soup or light pasta dish? So decision was made. Wonton soup for Saturday lunch. The menu this time was from the RAF 100 cookbook, a great source of recipes from all over the world. The Bobotie is excellent, so it is a much-used book. Part of the challenge is to look at various recipes but almost all suggest pre-made wonton wrappers, but I want to go the whole hog, so they have to be made.


The recipe is quite straightforward on first view but if one wants to make everything from scratch (stock, wontons, etc.) then it is a time-consuming exercise. Therefore in preparation for serving tomorrow, the broth needs to be made. To begin with, I have had to make the chicken stock. I jointed the chicken and boned the legs and then roasted the carcass to put in the stock-pot. Once made, the stock is then used in the broth, which comprises pork, dried shrimp, spring onions and ginger. This is then left in the fridge overnight before making the dish.



The big day – challenge number one, Wonton Soup, will be done.

The first thing was to skim the broth, which after a night in the fridge (the broth – not me!) looked very clear. The wontons were the next job, as the dough needed making and resting. It’s a simple pasta-style dough in this recipe, but with only one egg for 250g of plain flour and some water (for pasta I use 300g of 00 flour and three eggs).


While the dough rested I made the filling – chopped pork, prawns, ginger, spring onions, sugar, salt, pepper and soy.

Once rested, the dough was rolled out using a pasta machine. Whilst the recipe suggested rolling as thin as possible, a 7 setting was too thin to handle so I opted for 6. The sheets were cut into 9cm squares and kept under cling film to avoid drying out.

The wontons were assembled by putting a dessert spoon of filling in the middle and then bringing the edges up and pinching them, giving a little twist to seal the edges.

 

The broth was finished with pak choi and spring onions, and the wontons put in boiling water for 6 minutes. The recipe called for egg noodles, too.


Review

The wonton soup was a real success. The broth was light yet tasty and fragrant. The wonton were delicious, with a really flavoursome filling. However, here are a few pointers for next time:

1. The wontons were too thick where twisted, so it is either important to seal without twisting and perhaps steaming to reduce the chance of leakage

2. The dough was perhaps a bit too thick, so maybe I should persevere with thinner dough.

3. The recipe called for egg noodles – too much, unless you are only serving a couple of wontons

4. Maybe some other veg for garnish – thinly sliced carrot or baby corn perhaps.

 

60 weeks of challenge

Posted on January 7, 2020 at 4:25 AM Comments comments (1152)

Nick’s 60th Challenge

At midnight during our New Year celebrations in the Pavilion, with Jools Holland’s Hootenanay on in the background, Suzi presented me with my 60th year challenge. Admittedly I am not yet in my 60th year – that comes in about 7 weeks – but the slip of paper contained 60 challenges. I had long bemoaned that whilst I can cook to a reasonable level, my skills centred around a few key basics and baking.


The challenge was designed to stretch my knowledge and skills and to introduce ideas, recipes and food I had never heard of, let alone cook. The challenge requires a weekly dish to be produced. In some cases, such as in sugar work, the skills will have to be put into a dish of my choice.

What on earth is Bulgogi or Luqaimat? Part of the challenge means that I must research the dishes, look at their histories and select a recipe from the myriad of recipes available. So I am going to produce a weekly blog of the background and preparation and the result with photos and videos, as well as reviews from my biggest critic - Suzi!


Why do this? Good question! Mainly because I want to stretch myself and because sometimes we eat out and think ‘We could have done that better at home’ and I want to make that true more often!

It’s also about lifestyle. As one approaches a big milestone, I want to make sure that the second half of my life(!!) is as good as the first and this is just part of making sure that in 2020 and 2021 I move forward, physically and mentally. Having had a major scare in 2019 I want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again, and I don’t unduly stress my loved ones.

Wildflower Joy

Posted on July 24, 2019 at 4:55 AM Comments comments (71)

Creating a meadow is not quite as easy as I originally thought! My first attempt is only now, four years later, beginning to look good. Last year’s attempt – having learnt from my earlier mistakes – has been much more successful.

Firstly, we had the right soil – the spoil from the new big pond was heaped up on the little hill in bottom field. Although a few perennial weed seeds blew in, the soil was not the rich top humus of the field laden with grass and other seeds, but it was the poorer, deeper, flinty earth from at least one metre down. I had a little help from my friends to plant it – in fact it made for quite a party as we all danced around treading the seeds in!


We followed the advice from the seed suppliers, Meadowmania, for sowing their Instant Sunshine Meadow Mix and around the edge of the future meadow we sowed a thick border of yellow rattle to try to hold the grass back – or at least weaken it. We sowed it in the last days of August, knowing that this was important to get the yellow rattle established and would get the other seeds off to a good start too. Yellow rattle needs the cold of winter to trigger it into germination.

It was really lovely over the winter – mild here as we are so near the Irish Sea – to see the plants begin to grow and by Easter the bare earth was a lush green.


From then on I couldn’t resist checking the meadow every day to see what new little flower had opened – such a great pleasure in the simplest of things! As the meadow started to flower, different colours dominated – the blue of cornflowers, the yellow of corn marigold, the white of ox-eye daisies, pops of bright orange and red poppies.


It’s been great to see bees and other pollinators on the flowers. The pond where the soil came from has also been a great hit with wildlife – but that’s a whole separate blog!



This field hasn’t been grazed since early last year and we have left some parts unmown, as well as planting some trees (oak, hazel and willow) and other plants (snakeshead fritillary, mallow and angelica). In the unmown areas in this field and elsewhere around the smallholding it has been amazing to see what flora has been lurking unseen. We have spotted: native bluebells, foxgloves, alexanders, cow parsley, red campion, bird’s foot trefoil, vetch, buttercups, dock, thistle, celandine, yarrow, cleavers, ribwort plantain, bindweed, ground ivy, dead nettle, lady’s smock, common sorrel, lesser stitchwort, figwort… and that’s just off the top of my head. So if a meadow is not possible in your garden, perhaps you could just leave an area unmown and see what emerges!

A huge thank you to Monya and Brian for helping put the bulk sack of seeds into small brown paper bags to hand out to people and to all my friends who helped sow the meadow! Happy memories!



So what is glamping?

Posted on June 2, 2018 at 3:45 AM Comments comments (327)

We are hoping to offer guests a great glamping experience in our Shepherd’s Huts. But to do so I have had to consider what glamping really means! If you read my last blog, you’ll know that for me a flushing loo ensuite is essential. Going outside on a cold wet night to get to the loo would remind me of inconsorpiant chilly childhood camping experiences in France. Even on a hot dry night in Kenya, going from tent to long drop (or to behind bush) was not my idea of fun – especially if there were grazing hippos around, but that’s another long story involving Cub Scout Camp at Lake Naivasha and my dear friend Janet…


It was when I was working in Kenya (more years ago than I care to count) that I first experienced a tent with a bathroom at the fabulous Island Camp, Lake Baringo. There was even room service - tea brought to you at dawn so you could watch the sun rise over the Rift Valley. Glamping indeed!



Glamping should probably involve all the best bits of camping: being in the countryside, watching the sunrise/sunset, lighting a campfire, cooking over wood, listening to the dawn chorus, lying on a blanket reading a book, making daisy chains, getting away from everyday stuff and having time to notice the bumble bees and butterflies.


Then you need to take away the bits that can be uncomfortable or inconvenient. Replace them with a comfy bed, heat at the flick of a switch, hot and cold running water, proper indoor cooking options in case of bad weather, and you have very glamorous camping experience.


Opinion is divided in this house about canvas. Nick likes the sound of rain on tent. I know what he means, but for me the romance of that wears off after an hour or so, especially if you’ve ever sleepily rolled against the side of a tent so the inner is touching the outer with soggy results. The thought of a solid weatherproof structure (with an insulated roof so the sound of the rain isn’t too loud) which can be dry, warm and comfy even in January seems to be the best business plan.


But this structure mustn’t be “normal”. Glamping is about getting away from the everyday. As a little girl, I loved making dens (actually I still do…;) and I suspect that element of taking the stuff you really want into that space under the old rhododendron bushes, where you have already secreted some cushions and your comics, is what makes for a perfect getaway. So what “stuff” do we want? A radio for TMS, binoculars so the lookout can raise the alert for Barbarians, something to read, maybe a game to play, a blanket, and, as Pooh would say “a little something” - honey? Or perhaps marshmallows for toasting?



So as Riverside Shepherd Huts prepare the first cosy den for us (see the progress below) I am gathering all those little bits together which I hope will make it a very special place to stay.






Work in progress

Posted on May 25, 2018 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (82)

I knew there would be trenches – from the electricity pylon at the back on the house to the Shippon via the water supply and via the new Calor gas tank, from the Shippon to Hut 3, from Hut 3 to Hut 1, then down the hill to Hut 2, then further down the hill to the sewage treatment plant…

What never occurred to me (stupidly), was the spoil that would have to be put alongside the trenches. Getting to our store room or the hen house is now an extreme sport. What fun! I have only slipped in once (so far!).

As many of our friends know, my husband loves to hire a little digger and this has been very handy on many occasions since we moved to Cae’r Bryniau: making holes for the polytunnel frame, clearing areas for shed bases, making a planting ditch for a hedge, creating ponds etc. However, having seen the exact and precise work of Gary on his bigger digger, I am not now sure how Nick will react. Will he give up, never hire another digger and just “get a man in”? Or will he have to hire one even more often to hone his skills?

We have planning permission for three Huts, but are only putting two in at this stage. But we thought we’d get the bases ready for all three while we’re at it. Hut 3 will go where the blackthorn thicket was by the parking area. This has meant digging trenches through the bedrock – hard and noisy work! The Calor gas tank is also going by the hen house, so more rock-breaking required.

We’re having Calor gas cookers and water heating in the Huts to take the pressure off the electricity supply, which means we should be able to run all three Huts at maximum capacity on one domestic electricity supply. The complexity of arranging all of this does now make me question our original decision not to go off grid…


So why did we take that decision? Firstly and perhaps most importantly – the loo. Believe me, I looked into compost toilets of many types. It would/should have been the green way to go (if you’ll pardon the pun!). But, the potential downsides (use your imagination) of such a facility in a small Hut would, I believe, have had a detrimental effect on the holiday experience… Of course we could have put the loo in another building/hut nearby…but I am of the mind that an ensuite is not a luxury on holiday and I am sure that many of our future guests would agree. So a water supply was needed. Plus electricity for the sewage treatment plant.


The biggest dilemma was whether to have wood burners in the Huts. The charm and romance of cuddling up in front of a fire was, in the end, outweighed by two things: fire risk and no fire risk. Let me explain. The former is quite obvious once you have heard a few tales of other people’s Shepherd’s Huts guests: e.g. putting too much wood in the burner, getting too hot, taking a log out and putting it on the floor… The latter is the risk of guests being cold and therefore grumpy. As part of our research we stayed in a Shepherd’s Huts in midwinter. It was a beautiful weekend – cold, crisp and absolutely no wind. No draft at all. In order to get the wood burner to draw we had to keep the Hut door open, which made us even colder. Brrrr!


There’s also the problem of needing just a little heat on a chilly summer’s evening, when a fire would be overkill. So we have gone for very unglamorous but supremely functional electric wall heaters. Don’t worry though - there will be enough burning opportunities outside the Huts with all sorts of fire pits and barbecues to keep even the most ardent pyromaniac happy!


Enough witter for now. But let me leave you with a picture to hint at what my next blog will be about:


The next phase

Posted on April 26, 2018 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (49)

As the April showers pelt down outside, I sit inside quietly waiting for contractors to arrive to prepare Cae’r Bryniau to receive two Shepherd’s Huts. We hope to have the Huts on site and ready to let by the middle of the summer. The planning for this started a looooooong time ago and the dream even before that, so it is VERY exciting that we are about to start the physical work.

When we were still living in the Vale of Glamorgan and travelling all over Wales at the weekends looking at potential properties to buy, we had a list of about ten things which would make for our perfect place. One of those was the most important thing – the “Ah” factor about the house itself. It had to have character, charm and we would need to fall in love with it instantly. Well, Cae’r Byniau of course met that criterion. It also had the right amount of land, was close to the coast and all sorts of other things were ticked on our list.


There was one little problem… we had been looking for somewhere with a little holiday let on site, or at least an outbuilding which could be converted. That small hitch did not stop us and we decided to put a proper en-suite bathroom in for the upstairs bedroom and run a B&B instead. We’ve had two great summers running the B&B but we are now in a position to expand and realise the holiday let dream.

Shepherd’s Huts are the perfect solution – they have low impact on the land and will be a dark green colour so will not stand out too much. They will enable guests to enjoy being close to nature but with all the creature comforts one needs to wash, be warm and cook inside in a wet Welsh summer. But there will also be a lovely space to sit outside in the sunshine and look across the island to Snowdonia, maybe whilst having a barbecue, or toasting marshmallows over a fire.


We were granted planning permission at the end of last year and since then have been working with Riverside Shepherd’s Huts to design two huts which will be a little different from each other so they have their own characters. It’s been another learning experience for me as once more I have to try to understand new things – electrical loadings, sewage treatment plants, metres of visibility required when turning onto a main road etc. etc. A lot of this is, however, in Nick’s comfort zone and he has patiently tried to explain amps and kilowatts to me when he has returned from work in Colwyn Bay.

The universe has aligned for us and Nick’s temporary part time job (Ha Ha!), which he has done for way over a year now, will be ending next month. Perfect timing as it’ll coincide with the final preparations for launching the Huts. We are not going to set a date yet for letting them as we want to get them installed, kitted out and “trialled” first and give the ground time to recover from the earthworks involved in putting in pipes and cables. As soon as we’re happy we shall launch the lettings! Watch this space - or rather these spaces:



 

Ode to the Oxford Sandy and Blacks

Posted on September 26, 2017 at 5:15 AM Comments comments (383)

 

When we decided to keep pigs, it was for only one reason – to produce meat for the B&B. We thought it would be easy. Stick them in the field and after a few months send them to the butcher and bacon will arrive.


How wrong we were. Numbers One and Two, the first of the bunch, were a pair of boar weaners, bought from a smallholder we found through the Oxford Sandy and Black Society website. We had done a smallholding course with Farmer Rob at Cwmcrwth Farm (http://www.cwmcrwthfarm.co.uk/) and learned about handling pigs, tagging, injecting and caring for them, so we thought we were ready.


Getting the piglets was easy, although their squealing as they were loaded into the trailer was unnerving. Feeding the pigs was easy (while they were little) and getting them booked in for slaughter was also easy. Even the Pig Movement paperwork was easy.



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Not so the transport to the abattoir. We had not expected that the delivery of our lively, characterful and LARGE pigs would be such a challenge. Challenging, yes. Challenging getting them into the trailer, challenging backing the laden pantechnicon up a slope to the abattoir and even worse, saying goodbye. Without realising it these sources of scrumptious bacon and sausages had stolen our hearts.


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Fast forward two years and this last week we have delivered Numbers Five and Six to the butcher. This time a different butcher; Ifan and Iwan at E T Jones, Sons and Daughter (http://etjonesbutchers.co.uk/), who will slaughter rare breeds for breeders’ personal use. One of the most upsetting aspects to the final journey by Numbers One to Four was the transport off Anglesey to the mainland, with a two-hour trip in the trailer. Numbers Five and Six had only been in the trailer for twenty minutes to get them to Cae’r Bryniau and an even shorter trip for their final journey.


The whole experience was as pleasant as it could be and yet, even with the years of experience under the belt, it was one of the hardest things to do. Numbers Five and Six, gilts this time, had superb characters and were a heart-warming sight, running across their field with ears flapping, like wannabe Dumbos, trying to catch the wind. Mind you, as Bill Clinton once said (and I’m not often one to quote him), ‘You can put wings on a pig, but you don't make it an eagle.’


And again it was a hard thing to do. What we remind ourselves, however, is that the pigs have had a fabulous life, living entirely outdoors, with an acre field to themselves. They often stood and shared a moment with the sheep in the next field before resuming their foraging, using their well-designed snouts to turn over the turf, or galloping across to say hello to one of the Labradors.


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Now, five days later and after a weekend of dicing, mincing, sausage-stuffing, de-boning and packing, we have a freezer full of the freshest, least food miles, tastiest meat and there’s only a hint of guilt, as without us they may not have lived such a fabulous life and certainly the breed may not survive unless the likes of us continue to look after such wonderful creatures.


We are committed to having pigs, if not every year but regularly. To look after pigs is to be committed, you can’t just be involved, as we thought we would be.

 

‘The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.’ Martina Navratilova



Autumn and poetry

Posted on September 25, 2017 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (4394)

This morning was one of those glorious sunny, misty ones which just makes your heart sing and also makes you wish you were Keats so you could write it all down mellifluously. It was so stunningly gorgeous that, after I’d fed the animals, I grabbed my camera to attempt to capture the essence of the sunshine on the dew and especially on the glistening cobwebs.

I have regular encounters with cobwebs in the mornings. I know where the usual suspects are: across the shippon door, across the chicken run and everywhere in the polytunnel. So I have developed a sort of Cobweb Tai Chi arm waving movement I perform, normally armed with a bucket of pellets or a hose pipe, to cut through the silken webs with my implements – rather than getting a faceful…It’s a good thing only the cats are watching!

The webs on Gorse Hill this morning were silver filigree bedecked with diamonds – and those diamonds dazzled with all the colours of the rainbow but especially a yellowy gold. My photos have not done justice to the scene, but you can get the idea.

The grass was sparkling too, heavy with droplets of dew, and provided Barbara, our Black Lab, with her favourite drink. She’s a nightmare to walk on mornings like this as she just wants to stop to lap up the dew. All the fences were dripping with jewel-like drops and the low sun showed every contour on the sheep’s horns.

The bright red of the haws and the yellow browns of the sycamore leaves were all enriched by the rising sun and the laden boughs of the apple trees were almost visibly ripening in the intense morning sunlight. So often I find the sun seems to be strongest first thing in the morning, waking the world up and giving us the energy to get going.

On a walk a few days ago (to the fabulous burial chamber, Bryn Celli Ddu), our path was strewn with crab apple windfalls so we all picked up as many as we could and stuffed them into pockets and carried handfuls back to the car. Over the wet weekend we’ve just had, I have been reading recipes to decide how best to use them. I think rosehip and crab apple jelly shall be the thing – so let me arise and go now, go to the bountiful hedgerow…

Fruitfulness

Posted on August 29, 2017 at 6:35 AM Comments comments (60)

As I stepped outside this morning, the chill air made me zip my fleece all the way up to my chin. Autumn is icumin in and Nature is showing us how to survive the seasonal challenges by displaying Vitamin C everywhere: blackberries, sloes, rosehips, wild plums and haws in the hedgerows; plums and apples ripe and really ready to eat in the orchard, with pears to follow very soon; blueberries in the fruit cage and a glorious canopy of grapes in the polytunnel.


The only problem is that one can only eat so much fresh fruit a day, so now we need to work out how to best store all of this bounty. Some ways are easy and obvious: plums, grapes and berries freeze well as they are. Nick has also been baking some sweet treats – this weekend it was Monica Galletti’s blackberry and apple bake. Positively yummy!

Fruit compote’s great for breakfast with yoghurt or on porridge, so that’s another quite quick solution. A much more time-consuming task is the making of jellies – but it’s oh so well worth the wait. Bramble jelly has to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Preserving World. A B&B guest asked earlier this year if we sold it by the jar. I just politely said that we didn’t, rather than explaining that it was in fact priceless. The time spent picking the berries, cooking them, letting the gorgeous juice drip drip drip overnight before boiling it fast with sugar, testing for a set, bottling it all up and labelling it, and finally squirrelling it away in the larder – all of this time and process is not for sale. It is a joyful, intense labour of love for perhaps five jars!

The hours spent picking blackberries are some of my favourite of the whole year. It takes complete mindfulness to select the ripest, but not mushy, berries and to avoid getting stung by nettles or scratched by brambles, blackthorn et cetera. The first berries are the best: the biggest, the sweetest, the juiciest. They lead the way at the front of the cluster and demand to be picked, completely irresistible. Many seem to reach my mouth rather than the collecting bowl.

We do get some help with the fruit glut. The hens head straight for the orchard as soon as they are let out in the mornings and any windfalls they don’t deal with are given to the pigs as a little treat with their supper. The hens also help themselves to the blackberries they can reach and, if they realise I am off to pick fruit, I have a little retinue of feathered friends following me. Then there are the Labradors, who will hoover up tiny wild plums en passant… and then, of course, there will be consequences.

Harvesting fruit is a timeless act. Hunter gatherers stopped up the hill from here in Neolithic times. Archaeologists excavating the site of the new school in Llanfaethlu found that this was one of Man’s earliest permanent settlements in Wales. Picking blackberries today, I can’t help but feel connected - not just with our forebears but with the natural rhythm of the World.


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