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Shropshire Recommendations

The pub I went to on the way was in Whitchurch and called the Black Bear. Great food, lovely fire and fab staff. Worth checking out the church as well, which is right next door, very beautiful stained glass and so much history.

I stayed at the Mereside B&B which was very lovely, and you can stay without breakfast which suited me perfectly. There is a mini kitchen in the room and the farm is only a couple of minutes walk from The Mere. Very easy to get to and off-road parking as well.

As well as The Mere, Colemere and the surrounding area was very beautiful and easily accessible. Lots and lots of wildlife nearby and plenty to photograph.

The other wonderful pub I went to was The Cross Foxes near Wrexham, which is a Brunning and Price pub. I had a small serve of their Ham, Egg & Chips so that I could leave room for dessert and I was still too full to manage it. Best chips I’ve ever had, right by the river and another gorgeous fire inside.

The National Trust property at Erddig was a little odd because it was off season and quite a lot of it was closed, they were redecorating as well and with very few visitors around it felt a little desolate. There was however a wonderful bookstore and I came home with an armful of books!

Other than those places mostly I spent my time walking, anywhere and everywhere. It’s a great part of the country to simply get out and hike around, lots of well marked paths and beautiful scenery. Even in the -7 degree weather I was happy wandering around.

Fingers crossed I’ll be going back in a few months time.

Vick.

The Cook and the Gardener

Since I started blogging my recipe reviews over on the Huffington Post UK blog I’ve more or less completely stopped reviewing cookbooks on this blog. I’m organising a full archive with links to all of the cookbook reviews I’ve done. It’s taking me a while because I keep changing my mind about how I want it organised – this is nothing unusual for me! That will be coming soon.

I’ll be doing a couple more cookbook-ish things as well in the future but for now I thought I would do some mini reviews of books that have been out a while but that I have gotten out of the library recently and enjoyed. So here’s the first.

The Cook and The Gardener – Amanda Hesser
Absolute Press – 2005
Illustrations: Kate Gridley

“The Cook and the Gardener” is all about Hesser’s (the cook) time spent at the Château du Feÿ and the influence of Monsieur Milbert’s (the gardener) walled garden and wonderful vegetables. This is pretty much the ultimate lifestyle/recipe book.
There are vast quantities of notes and long written sections with recipes dotted between them. The recipes themselves are organised in a seasonal frame with the best ingredients from each month highlighted one at a time. There are no photographs at all but small illustrations dotted through the book. It feels like something to sit and read on a Sunday afternoon while jotting down ideas for recipes for the week ahead.
I am always on the lookout for cookery books that can become staples in the kitchen. Books like Delia’s Complete Cookery Course or the Ballymaloe Cookery Course where you know you will find the right flavour combination, a good lunchtime idea or the timings you need for a roast dinner. “The Cook and the Gardener” is along those lines and has a very impressive number of recipes. There is a lot of writing in here so if you want just recipes this is probably not the right book but if you like the story behind the food it is very well written.
There are beautiful and rustic ideas all the way through that are inspired by classical French cooking as well as some lovely and innovative recipes. Some of the meals can be quite long and often run over several pages which makes it a bit more awkward to cook from but there are also lots of quick soups and sides. The notes that Hesser has included are wonderful and give a real insight both into her own cooking and also the way that you can adapt recipes to suit your own style.
This is not an easy book to get hold of anymore but I would highly recommend grabbing it if you do come across it. Lots of beautiful ideas for everything from large dinner parties to a comforting, simple supper dish. A real treat.

This Week

This has been a strange week. Up and down weather. Lazy and very busy days.

I read ‘The Mistaken Wife’ by Rose Melikan, ‘Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales’ by Gwyn Jones, and ‘Ratcatcher’ by James McGee. I’ve also been reading a lot of poetry but mostly in mixed collections.

I’ve tried to describe what is going on with my rather confused mess of a life over here. I’ve also posted my reasons for not putting my poetry online anymore. I am thinking at the moment about writing a couple of poems specifically for the blog though.

I’ve reviewed ‘The Good Table’ by Valentine Warner over on the Huffington Post UK blog. I put a few pictures from my Shropshire holiday online.

Work has been up and down for some very boring reasons, once again I need to write a to-do list. And then do everything on it.

In other very important news I bought some Toffee Nut syrup from Starbucks. Now I never need to leave the house again. Plus, I am seriously considering using all of next week to do a very full write-up of my time in Shropshire. You have been warned.

Vick.

This Week

This week seems to have gone very quickly. There have been lots of showtunes and many new recipes tested.

I’ve got a great selection of cookery books that I’m reading right now, and most of them I will probably review. I tried loads of new veggie recipes out over the past couple of weeks and one was the partner of a new Steak and Ale recipe. I’ve also reviewed ‘Clarissa’s Comfort Food‘ by Clarissa Dickson-Wright on the Huffington Post UK blog.

I’ve read ‘The Blackstone Key’ and its sequel ‘The Counterfeit Guest’ by Rose Melikan and re-read ‘Clockwork Angel’ by Cassandra Clare and I’ve been listening to Edward Petherbridge reading ‘War and Peace’. I’m quite sure I read something else recently but I took a load of books back to the library yesterday and can’t remember what it was.

I’ve taken lots of pictures and have been using them to create images and banners for the websites that I help to create in my slightly-more-real life. Every time I write a ‘this week’ post I realise I still haven’t done anything about the business on here. I keep the two things so separate in my mind, maybe I shouldn’t be doing…Speaking of which, back to work!

Vick.

Steak and Ale Stew

A little while ago I had a beautiful Steak & Ale stew and decided that I should try and make my own version. After putting the above picture online and ranting on about how much I loved it I had four different people ask for the recipe. I’m not very good with recipes I have made up myself, being more of a throw-it-in-without-measuring kind of gal but this is pretty much what I did.

Ingredients:
500g stewing steak (Mine was pre-cut into 2 inch square cubes-ish and worked well but whole would be fine)
500ml ale
350ml beef stock
10 shallots peeled but whole/2 onions peeled and cut into quarters
1 large carrot cut in half
1 large parsnip cut into 8 with centre removed
1 tsp roasted garlic/2 cloves crushed fresh garlic
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp tamari/soy sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Pepper

Recipe:
Marinade the beef in the ale with some pepper for a couple of hours and then remove the beef.
Pre-heat the oven to 150°C
Add the garlic and ale to a heavy casserole dish and boil rapidly to burn off some of the alcohol and reduce the liquid a little, after a couple of minutes add the sugar, tamari and balsamic vinegar and keep simmering for a few more minutes.
Add the meat, shallots, carrot, parsnip and stock to the ale and cover with a lid/foil.
Cook in the oven for 3 hours.
Remove from the oven, stir and turn the heat up to 160°C. Replace in the oven uncovered for another hour.
Once cooked I removed the steak and veggies and put the casserole dish with the sauce in over a very high heat to boil on the hob to let it reduce down to a thicker gravy – purely a matter of taste here as to how much you want to reduce the liquid.

Notes:
Very heavily adaptable recipe, change the veg or flavourings, add cumin or cayenne for heat, ignore the sugar, increase the garlic – really, anything goes.
I don’t believe in browning meat before putting it into a stew, it’s messy and it never seems to add anything to a dish, if you’re a fan I wouldn’t add flour though and try to use very little fat as it will make the dish too oily.
I don’t really drink alcohol and so my knowledge of ale is woeful, the better quality the better the taste in the overall dish is a good rule to use. Better yet, if you like ale, pick something you know you like the taste of!
It is completely heavenly the next day in a sandwich (see picture!)

I actually wrote this late last night and this morning I saw this article (via his twitter account @StevieParle) by Stevie Parle about the benefits of slow cooking. In a very much related note, keep an eye out for a review of Stevie Parle’s new book in the near future…

Vick.