Birthday Bonanza

The Birthday Girl

When my Dad retired in 2017, my parents purchased a Nissan converted camper van to enjoy their retirement in. My daughter turned nineteen two weeks later and our first trip out in their new found pleasure was to Chatsworth, Derbyshire where we set up camp in a secluded spot by the river. Pulled out the folding chairs and fired up the burners for sausage and bacon rolls, coffee and birthday cake. We watched a group of elderly swimmers disappear down stream and in glorious August sunshine, a wonderful day was had by all.

Chatsworth House August 13 2017

Three years later we are living in a global pandemic and life has changed beyond recognition. The pubs and restaurants are open once more, encouraging customers through the doors with half price food and cheap drinks. I cannot speak for everybody, but I am more than happy to enjoy more freedom from a deckchair beneath the shade of a tree. So yesterday when my daughter turned 22 we decided to have a repeat of 2017.

This time we went to Bradgate Country Park, Leicestershire. The thermostat on the latest heatwave had been turned down a few degrees, which was gratefully received. And the sun broke through the clouds just as the deckchairs were being set up. The local supermarket caused a menu alteration when half its fridges broke down, this time we munched on burgers and hotdogs just as delicious. We strolled through the park where deer roamed and a family of swans nested. Giggled at a row of ducks upon a wall in front of a sign saying no swimming, and raced some paper boats my father made: personalising them with amusing versions of our names. There was race tampering and a couple of wreckages, but Little JC was victorious.

Deer in Bradgate Park
Duck Stop at Bradgate Park

Happy 22nd birthday Rebecca and here is to many more fabulous days. Stay safe everybody.

National Bakewell Tart Day: Maybe, Maybe Not

Dear Wikipedia, famous for its swathe of inaccuracies. I was recently planning a post on a national or international food day and came across National Bakewell Tart Day on August 11th, listed under United Kingdoms national food days. A practised researcher I proceeded to delve deeper into this and hit a brick wall. I discovered from the 10th-16th August is Afternoon Tea Week and some sources claim today to be National Raspberry Tart Day closely related, but sorry Wikipedia I think this is another faux ou inexact. Moving forward: I like Bakewell, I’m from Derbyshire and I love food. So here is a post to celebrate Bakewell and the tart it is known for.

Michael R Gentry

From nearby Derby, I have regularly visited Bakewell since a child. Sat down to coffee and cake in many of the quaint coffee shops in the town. Wandered round the gift shops and of course the bookshops: Hawkridge Books, Book End, The Bakewell Bookshop and Maxwells. I have strolled the Monsal Trail and eaten fish and chips with my feet dangling over the wall beside the rive Wye, where ducks are aplenty and you sometimes spot a fast swimming trout. Bakewell has had a market since 1330 and the Monday market remains popular today, usually boasting around 100 stalls which have been reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic. The notorious Bakewell Show is hosted at the Bakewell Showground attracting visitors from far and wide to the town. Finally what Bakewell is famous for its tart, or pudding, but sorry Mr Kippling not Cherry Bakewell.

Crocstar Team

Reap the Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Inflammation is the bodies natural bodyguard, protecting damaged tissue at times of infection or injury and aiding the healing process. Essential blood cells and proteins required to do this, reach the damaged tissue by increased blood flow. This is why the skin around the area becomes inflamed, appearing red and warm to the touch. And in the case of infection these increased cells will appear as pus.

Inflammatory diseases are natures bodyguard gone rogue, sending in the tough guys to tackle a non existent antigen and instead attacking healthy tissue. Known as autoimmunity symptoms they include: fatigue, aches and pains, depression, food intolerances, skin problems and weight retention. Treatment is a complex balancing process with varying levels of success. However scientists have identified certain food types with anti-inflammatory benefits. Here are a few known edible Ibuprofen.

Almonds

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Nutrient Profile

  • Fats including monounsaturated
  • Protein
  • Fibre
  • Vitamin E
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Copper
  • Vitamin B2
  • Phosphorus

Almonds contain vitamin E and manganese, both have strong antioxidant properties which help prevent inflammation, ageing and cancer. Consuming the thin brown outer layer of almonds maximise antioxidant benefits, as this is where the highest concentration of these nutrients are found. Plant proteins in almonds help maintain healthy muscles and tissue. And a moderated consumption of almonds not only reduce harmful levels of cholesterol in the blood, but also C-reactive protein levels which the liver produces in response to inflammation.

Avocados

Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Nutrient Profile

  • Fats including monounsaturated
  • Fibre
  • Protein
  • Folate B9
  • Vitamin K1
  • Potassium
  • Copper
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B5
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Carotenoids
  • Persenones A & B
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B1
  • Zinc

Avocados are beneficial in our diet, because they contain many nutrients rare in other foods. They are low in sugar and high in fibre. The combination of monounsaturated fats and unique antioxidants give them anti-inflammatory properties and protect against diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

A-Z Recipes

A Little Bit of Fun With Food

Featured Image by 41330 from Pixabay

Here is my list of recipes from A-Z. It was great fun trawling cook books and the internet to find a recipe alphabet. Please feel free to add your recipe choices, or personal experiences with the list I produced.

Anzac Biscuits

Anzac biscuits are a rolled oat biscuit widely associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC). It has widely been said, that serving ANZAC soldiers would receive these biscuits from wives and womens groups because they stored well. In fact this is probably a myth, and although these biscuits were indeed made back home, they were actually sold at fundraising events in support of the war effort.

Anzac Day is celebrated on the 25th April to commemorate all serving Australians and New Zealanders who lost their lives in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

Women’s Weekly Food

Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse is a fish stew that originates from the Provencal port city of Marseille. Traditionally made by local fisherman with the bony rockfish they were unable to sell to the markets and restaurants. Three kinds of fish, Herbs de Provence, leeks, onions, tomatoes, celery and potatoes are used. The dish is traditionally served with toasted slices of bread and rouille (a mayonnaise made of olive oil, garlic, cayenne pepper and saffron).


DW Euromaxx

Corn Chowder

In the USA recipes for corn chowder can be found as far back as 1884. It is a thick creamy soup made with corn, onion, celery, butter, milk or cream or slight variations of these ingredients. Chowder is popular in the North American regions of New England and Atlantic Provinces of Canada. Today it is a popular canned soup throughout the US.

Noreen’s Kitchen

Blueberry Explosion

The humble blueberry successfully rebranded as a superfood, thanks to a piece of research ‘Plant Pigments Paint a Rainbow of Antioxidants’ published in November 1996, by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in AgResearch magazine.

Native to Britain is the closely related Bilberry found growing wild in heathland. Blueberries did not travel across the Atlantic to the UK until 1952. A Canadian parson named W T Suckling placed an advert in the Farmers Chronicle, offering 80 free plants to anybody living in Britain. Dorset farmer David Trehane was 1 of only 4 people to reply, and on the 7 March 1952 received his clippings. The acid soil in Dorset heathland offered perfect growing conditions for the plants to thrive. In 1957 David Trehane ordered 1,000 plants which crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary, and the Dorset Blueberry Company was formed.

A lover of bargains I had a glut of cheap blueberries in need of using up. I decided to try an experiment with shortbread. The taste was superb.

So Here it Is: Blueberry Shortbread

Ingredients

  • 125g Self Raising Flour
  • 50g Soft Brown Sugar
  • 100g Cold Butter
  • 150g Fresh Blueberries

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C, Fan 160C, 350F, Gas Mark 4.

Add the flour and butter to a mixing bowl and form into fine crumbs with your fingertips.

Stir the sugar into the crumb mix and then add the blueberries.

Press into a grease lined baking tray and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden.

Featured Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Storing Cakes for a Later Date

Image by MiVargof from Pixabay

With the exception of fat-free cakes, if willpower allows, most cakes freeze well for up to 4 months. It is essential the cake is completely cool before freezing to avoid the cake becoming soggy, dense or rubbery. Freshly baked cakes should be left to cool for at least 3 hours. Freezer condensation will influence the texture and taste of cake so it is essential to keep moisture away. The best way to do this is by wrapping cakes before freezing. Aluminium foil works well but can tear, plastic wrap also works but may need a couple of layers. Ensure as little air as possible is between the cake and wrapping. Placing the cake in a tin after wrapping offers an extra layer of protection from moisture, knocks and odours. When you are ready to serve the cake simply remove from the freezer, unwrap and defrost for 40 minutes before decorating.

Image by LuAnn Hunt from Pixabay

Frosted cakes can also be frozen. Place the decorated cake in a metal tin and place in the freezer away from other food for 4 hours. Remove from the freezer and gently wrap in aluminium foil, or plastic wrap (be careful not to crush frosting, or leave any cake unwrapped). Place back in the metal tin and return to the freezer.

Featured image by Julio Pablo Vázquez from Pixabay

Picnic Heaven Replaces Picnic Hell

Childhood memories of squashed bland ham sandwiches, bruised apples and crushed crisps left picnics at the bottom of my to do list. Enduring them more than enjoying them something had to change, and in a desperate attempt to please my outdoor palate I recently began tinkering with the contents of my picnic basket.

These days I stay away from sliced bread in my sandwich, preferring wraps, pittas and good quality rolls. Secondly the filling needs some pizazz, the supermarkets are filled with dull pots of sandwich fillings, for very little extra effort you can be left licking your lips rather than rinsing your mouth out.

Marinated meat has become a particular favourite of mine, experimenting with a variety of marinades and flavours. Leave to marinade for as little as twenty minutes, but I often prepare the night before and stand in the fridge overnight. Yogurt is a popular staple choice with my family.

Spiced Chicken and Lime Pitta

Ingredients

  • 6 Boneless/Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • 1 Cup Low Fat Yogurt
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1 tsp Ground Coriander
  • 1 tsp Ground Turmeric
  • 1 tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Method

Slice the chicken into strips or bitesize chunks. I used thigh because it was available, but equally use breast.

Peel and chop the onion. Remove the core and seeds from the pepper and dice.

Prepare the marinade by pouring the yogurt into a large bowl and stirring in the spices and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken and vegetables and stir until everything is thoroughly coated. Marinade for a minimum of twenty minutes. I leave overnight to allow the meat to become tender and the flavours infuse.

Add a little oil into a large frying pan and add the marinated meat and vegetables. Cook for at least fifteen minutes on a medium to high heat stirring often, until the meat is cooked through and brown.

Prepare pittas with salad of choice and add the meat.

Featured image by Kristine Lejniece from Pixabay

Eat Out to Help Out: Half Price Meal Scheme

Image by analogicus from Pixabay

UK customers can enjoy half price meals throughout August at participating restaurants, cafes and pubs under the government “eat out to help out” scheme.

The chancellor Rishi Sunak made the announcement last month, in a bid to encourage the public to resume indoor dining and boost the economy, as lockdown restrictions continue to ease.

The scheme capped at £10 per person and excludes alcohol runs Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout August. It is available at over 70,000 outlets including: food chains and Michelin-starred restaurants. Diners can take advantage of this scheme as many times as they like, on top of other discounts and offers. Simply enter a postcode into the governments website to find participating venues.

The offer is automatically applied to the bill with no need for vouchers, and the government reimburses the eatery. Customers are advised to book as the initiative is likely to be popular.

Featured image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Foraging for Fruity Booty

The humble blackberry produces an image of warm summer picnics and birdsong. Packed with nutrition including: vitamins A, B, C, E and K, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. High concentrations of anthocyanin are responsible for their dark purple colour, and these powerful antioxidants are believed to have a wide range of health benefits. Just a handful of blackberries around 9-10 count towards your five-a-day.

This week I noticed the brief season of overpriced blackberries in British supermarkets. Thankfully they need not nudge a dent in your wallet. From late July through to October they are ready to harvest, growing in abundance pretty much anywhere and yielding large amounts of plump fruit. However picking them is not for the faint hearted, growing upon thorny brambles amongst nettles and thistles. It is a wise idea to wear trousers and long sleeves. Carrying a walking stick is a handy tool, as the largest fruit often grow deep within the bushes and something long and hooked can tug the fruit within reach to pick. Despite this, foraging for tasty fruit is rewarding and fantastic fun. Just remember to leave a few fruit on the bush to feed the birds and other wildlife.

So pies, crumbles and jam aside. What tasty recipes can be produced with your fruity booty?

Apple and Blackberry Loaf

Ingredients

  • 250g Self Raising Flour
  • 175g Butter
  • 175g Soft Brown Sugar
  • 1 Eating Apple
  • 200g Blackberries
  • 1 Orange
  • 1/4 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas mark 4. Grease and line a loaf tin.

In a large mixing bowl rub together the flour, butter and sugar into fine crumbs. Set aside 5 tbsp of the mixture with the mixed spice for the topping.

Beat the eggs, adding 1 apple grated and the zest and juice of 1 orange. Add the baking powder to the dry ingredients, and gently stir in the egg mixture. Fold in 150g of the blackberries into the batter and pour in the tin. Add the remaining 50g of blackberries and the set aside topping.

Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, check, and if turning brown cover with foil. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes. Once baked the loaf will be firm to the touch, but check with a skewer which will come out clean when ready.

Featured image by JL G from Pixabay

Homemade Takeaway: Chinese Chicken Curry

A Taste of East Asia in Your Kitchen

Covid-19 has changed our lives beyond recognition. Despite lockdown gently being lifted, we are a long way off from business as normal. If you are wary of eating food prepared outside the home, this is a tasty alternative to a classic Chinese curry.

Using common store cupboard ingredients, it is also gentle on the purse strings. You can of course use chicken breast if preferred, but I like the taste and texture of thighs, and at almost half the price I am converted. Alternatively try strips of beef or pork. And for a vegetarian version replace the meat with fleshy vegetables like squash, courgette and aubergine, using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Ingredients

  • 6 Boneless/Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • 1 Large Onion
  • 1 Large Clove Garlic
  • 2 tsp Medium Curry Powder
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 tsp Granulated Sugar
  • 400ml Chicken Stock
  • 1 cup Garden Peas
  • 2 tsp Cornflour
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Method

Dice your chicken into bitesize pieces. Season with salt and pepper and coat in the cornflour. Cover and set aside until later.

Put 1 tbsp of vegetable oil into a wok or large frying pan and heat on a low to medium hob. Peel and dice the onion and garlic. In a small lidded jar, place the spices and shake until combined. Add the onion to the pan and allow to soften and turn opaque, approximately 4-6 minutes. While the onion soften prepare the stock. Add the garlic to the onions and heat for 1 minute, then stir in the spices. Pour in the stock and sugar, turn up the heat to high. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and reduced by half.

Remove from the pan and blend the sauce until smooth.

Wipe the pan with kitchen towel and add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil. Fry the chicken on a medium to high heat until browned, approximately 10 minutes. Pour the sauce into the pan and shake in the peas, stir until combined and bubbling. If the sauce is a little thick add water to loosen. Simmer for 5 minutes and then serve with a choice of rice or noodles.

Featured Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Sponge Cake Woes

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Candles blown out signifies another birthday over. And a traditional Victoria Sponge is a classic. Grease two 20cm round cake tins. Beat 200g/8oz sugar and butter until pale. Add a teaspoon of baking powder to 200g/8oz self-raising flour, gradually fold into the butter and sugar along with 4 eggs. If the mixture feels a bit stiff add 2tbsp milk to loosen batter. Split between the cake tins and bake at 190C/fan 170C/gas mark 5 for approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown and the cake springs back when touched. For the butter cream filling beat 100g/4oz room temperature butter, gradually add 150g/6oz of icing sugar and an optional drop of vanilla extract. Spread the butter cream onto one half of the cooled cakes and half a jar of strawberry jam onto the other, and sandwich together. Dust with icing sugar. Voila!

Baking sponge cakes is reletively simple, but there are a few mistakes that can steal perfection from the final product. Below are a few common sponge problems and the solution.

PROBLEMSOLUTION
BurntBurnt cake tastes terrible, but it can be salvaged. Simply cut away the burnt edges using a srrated knife, and smother with frosting.
Cake Mixture Overflowing Use the correct size tin for the cake, and fill your tins a maximum of two-thirds full.
Cracked TopIf the cake rises too quickly it will crack. Check the oven temperature using a thermometer. Too much raising agent will also cause the cake to crack. Decorating the cake will cover any imperfections.
Crunchy EdgesGrease the cake tin with minimal fat, otherwise as it melts it effectively frys the sponge.
DryAccuracy is essential. Use the correct size eggs and measure liquids. To much dry ingredients will absorb moisture. Check your oven is not too hot, and don’t leave in the oven too long.
Didn’t RiseAdd raising agents and check they are not out-of-date. Not baking long enough can be the reason cake hasn’t risen, pop back in the oven for a couple of minutes. If the tin is too big the sponge will spread thinly, giving the appearance it hasn’t risen
Split MixtureStop creaming butter and sugar when they begin to look curdled and add dry ingredients.
Stuck to the TinUse greaseproof paper cut to size in the base of the tin. Allow cake to cool thoroughly before attempting to remove from tin. Run a knife round the edge of the tin to loosen cake.
Sunken MixtureThe cake will sink if the batter is still raw in the middle. Add to oven for a few more minutes and insert a skewer, if it comes out clean cake is cooked. Check oven temperature is not too cool. Raising agent problems can be responsible for sunken cakes. Sunken cakes can be covered with frosting.
Tastes BadToo much raising agent will leave a bitter tase. Certain cake recipes require a lot of egg, disguise the egg taste with flavourings, for example vanilla extract.
Too HeavyNot enough raising agent can leave sponge heavy. Mixing at every stage is important, incorporating air in the batter.
UndercookedCalibrate oven correctly using a thermometer, ensuring it is not too cool.

Pork Shoulder Steaks in Honey and Mustard Sauce

A hearty and comforting pork dish, with a blend of honey, mustard and lime. Serve with choice of potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 4 Pork Shoulder Steaks
  • Dash of Olive Oil
  • 1 0nion
  • 1 Gala Apple
  • 4 Medium Size Mushrooms
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 Chicken Stock Cube
  • 1tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp low fat fromage frais
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • 1tbsp of Cornflour
  • Quarter Pint of Water
  • Salt and Pepper to season

Method

Pre heat oven to moderate, 180ºC, 356ºF, Gas Mark 4.

Add a dash of olive oil to a hot heavy based frying pan. Fry pork steaks until brown on both sides. Place browned pork on an oven tray and pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

Dice onion, apple and mushrooms and crush garlic cloves. On a moderate heat, add to the frying pan used to brown the pork. Saute gently with a wooden spatula until soft and translucent.

Add honey, mustard and lime juice, plus quarter of a pint of water and stock cube. Simmer for ten minutes allowing liquid to reduce.

Meanwhile mix the cornflour with a little water to make a slurry. Add to the frying pan and stir until thickened.

Finally add fromage frais, simmer for five minutes and season to taste

Serve with the pork shoulder steaks and choice of potatoes and veg.

Delicious!