I can’t believe it’s not Buddha

Consider the post office. Whether a casual user, pension drawer or dedicated ebayer, there’s nowhere quite like it for a great british celebration of understaffing, penless chains & inappropriate stock items. Consider the treasures below, viewed this very week in Withington Post Office.

If you’re trying to protect your 5 year old pair of Converse from evil chindi as they wing their way to their buyer, hoping to send your passport application on it’s way with enlightenment, or simply wish to eat soup while being constantly reminded what it is that you’re consuming, Withington PO has you covered for any eventuality. But be warned,
as you can see, their line in designer handbags is selling like hot cakes.

If there’s a more crap filled stamp pusher’s out there, I’d love to see it.

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Pea Pesto Manifesto

On a bit of a mad pesto munch at the moment. I don’t make it nearly often enough, usually making do with jars, but every time I make a batch by hand I’m reminded of what a simple, enjoyable process it is. It’s certainly more costly than buying a jar for £1 but if you buy the fresh elements when they’re reduced or on offer, and substitute pine nuts for a cheaper alternative you can half the cost.

Pea & Walnut Pesto.

175g fresh hulled peas
60g fresh basil leaves or 2 pots
100g walnuts (whole or pieces – whichever is cheaper)
75g parmesan cut from a block
2 cloves garlic
juice of half a small lemon
the best olive oil you can lay your hands on
salt & pepper to taste

No grating here. Chop or break up your cheese into cubes & place in a food processor with your 2 garlic cloves. Whizz until powdered. Now add your peas, basil, walnuts & lemon juice. Start your food processor and begin to pour in your olive oil. You’ll probably need to stop the machine & scrape down the sides a couple of times. Continue until you reach the consistency you prefer, then add salt & pepper to taste.

Serve with pasta, fish, chicken, toasted bread – whatever you like.

Pesto is a constantly changing thing which is seldom exactly the same any two times I’ve made it. Just get the flavours how you like them.
This recipe makes about 600g. Quite a lot, but it freezes well.

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Greetings, eaters.
British summertime permitting, Caron & I are heading up to Nell’s for a cider festival this weekend. I thought rather than pigging out on bar snacks, crisps etc (although they do a killer pickled egg) I’d make a few breadsticks for us to have a covert munch on.

Standard white dough as your base. I made enough to…umm…lets see. About 3 baked bean sized canisters of white strong bread flour with your usual wet rising mix, but I added a couple of handfuls of grated strong cheddar & a good fistful of finely chopped herbs from the garden…Rosemary & Thyme. Allow your dough mix to have it’s standard first rise, knock it back & flour a work surface. Roll your dough into a long rough rectangle about 1cm thick, then slice into 1cm wide strips. These can then be rolled or twisted & laid out on baking sheets. Let them have their second rise, drizzle with olive oil & sprinkle with whatever you like. I went for sea salt, black pepper & poppy seeds.

Bake at 200 for about 12 mins. They’ll soak up all of the oil & go all crisp. Should be perfect with an icy cider : )

I had a fair bit of dough left, so made a Cheddar cob too. Enjoy!


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Lemon Entry, my dear Watson

Lemon Polenta Sandwich Cake.

300g soft butter (I use salted for all my cakes)
300g unrefined caster sugar
300g ground almonds
150g fine polenta
2 teaspoons baking powder
4.5 eggs
Zest 4 lemons

Juice of 5 lemons
Enough sugar to taste
Splash of water

2 small tubs of creme fraiche
1 punnet raspberries

Ok. Grease two sandwich tins & put to one side.

Cream together your butter & sugar. Food mixer is handy here but good old fashioned bowl & wooden spoon will do if your arms are up to it. Add the baking powder & lemon zest.

Start adding your dry ingredients. Start with your polenta, then almonds, and as it becomes too dry to mix, add your eggs one by one. Carry this on until all of your wet & dry ingredients are thoroughly incorpora….incorporo…..mixed.

Divide between your baking tins & put in a preheated 180 oven. It’ll take about 45 mins. Check after 30, it should be slightly soft to the touch.

In a pan, make a syrup with your sugar & lemon juice. Boil together until it thickens very slightly but doesn’t change colour. Make this as sweet as you like it.

When your cakes are done, allow to cool in the tins for 10 mins, then prick all over with a cocktail stick and divide your syrup over each equally. This will soak in and make the cake nice & moist.

Once the cakes have cooled completely (make sure of this or you’ll melt your cream), turn out carefully on to a board. pipe dollops of cream around the outside leaving enough space between each for a raspberry, then fill in the middle with a thick layer. Place a raspberry in each space around the outside (presentation, people!) then scatter a pile on top of the cream in the middle. Gently place the second cake on top. Voila.

If you attempt to do a fancy pants lemon design on top but make a right old pig’s bum of it, you might want to cover the top with icing sugar.



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Beet Surrender

Winter has well and truly set in now. Gone are the days of wandering into the village in only a t-shirt, and any thoughts of beer gardens or barbecues have been shelved for the forseeable future. So it’s time to batten down the hatches, Artex your underpants & give a right smart & tarty salute to your radiators.

The first proper winter food I think of is soup. Here’s a dead simple recipe for a cheeky little beetroot number. Warning, then you come to blend this, either use the liquidiser with the lid firmly on, or if you use a stick blender, wrap a clean teatowel around the top of the pan, or your kitchen will soon resemble an outtake from a SAW movie.

You’ll need about a pound each of beetroot & tomatoes. Half your toms & place in a roasting tray with 1 clove of finely chopped or crushed garlic, olive oil, salt & pepper. Roast until charring for around 45 mins.

Fry one garlic clove, crushed or chopped & one large onion chopped with olive oil & a knob of butter in a large saucepan with salt, pepper and a sprig of rosemary, thyme & two bay leaves.

Let the onions sweat without colouring for 5 – 10 mins.

Peel & chop your beetroots (don’t wear good clothing when making this soup. By the end of it you’ll look like a serial killer). Add to the pan with the onions & rosemary mix.

Add your roast tomatoes. Make up a litre of veg stock to taste, rinse out the tomato pan to gather any last juices & add to the vegetables.

Simmer for 45 mins to an hour or until the beets are tender, then liquidise (carefully). Check seasoning. Serve with crusty bread & horseradish cream (I used low fat creme fraish mixed with grated horseradish from a jar, as I couldn’t get fresh).

A trick I tend to use with all soups I make, but not really part of the recipe, is to add the heel of a Parmesan wedge at the simmering stage. When you get near the end of a wedge of Parmesan, never throw the last hard bit away, as it’s great for seasoning soup. It’ll go soft but remain whole, so you can pick it out along with the bay leaves before blending.

Enjoy : )


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Tom & Sherry

Well, to be fair, I could hardly call the crop of tomatoes this year a triumph. I mean, they’re trying, bless ’em. I brought the seeds back from Italy at the start of the year, and after a longer germination period than usual, they came through like any normal seed that I would normally grow. However as time went on it became clear that the English climate (especially this year) would not be producing the mass of tomatoes I was hoping for. The fruit is there, but I doubt if it will have time to ripen fully on the vines now. Hey, there’s always chutney.

So, we enjoy what’s there & make the best of it. After gathering fruit for the last couple of days, there are enough for a simple meal. The tomatoes, cherry reds, nobblys & blacks have been halved and are currently slow roasting in the oven with my best olive oil, garlic, Salt, Pepper & a tiny splash of sherry vinegar. Once they’ve broken down & taken on some colour, I’ll give them a topping of parmesan & parsley breadcrumbs & give them another ten mins in the oven to go all golden & crispy.


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Life has been a little bonkers lately, so apologies for being a little slack on the old blog front, but I found time in my chaotic world yesterday to bake a few loaves. The first is a mixed seed & nut bread. I basically took my standard white loaf mix & added whatever I had to hand at the dry stage: half a bag of crushed unsalted pistachios (left over from the orange cake) half a bag of crushed walnut pieces and a couple of small packets of mixed seeds – sesame, pumpkin & sunflower. As you can see you get quite a gnarly loaf, but it tasted great with slabs of blue cheese & home made hummus.

I also made a couple of loaves of Focaccia. I’m not usually someone who follows recipes for bread. You can follow basic principles and advice, but once you have a feel for it & understand how it all works, you can do your own thing. However after watching Paul Hollywood on Great British Bake off, I was intrigued to see how using such a wet mix would turn out. I followed the recipe to the letter, and despite a dough that’s a bit tricky to work with, you do get impressive results. The loaves below are plain, with a topping of Rosemary & sea salt.



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