Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Continuing Adventures of the little black fox

Hello blog. Remember me? Of course you don't.
So it's been mmummble since I last wrote, here's what I've been up to.
I opened a tearoom in Crowle, north Lincolnshire. It was a pretty lovely place, full of local arts and crafts, homemade vegetarian delights and tasty beer. Unfortunately it was rented from a seemingly harmless old dear who turned out to be a singularly foul example of humanity who would rummage through our bins looking for stuff to sell to neighbouring shops, sneak into the shop at night and go through out stuff and occasionally be visited by the RSPCA, who would take away her mistreated dogs. She also refused to perform any repairs or maintenance on the property, even when big chunks of plaster started talking off in places. Fun times for small business owners.
So understandably, I decided not to renew the contract when it came up. It's a shame, but something's you're best of walking away from before it all goes to hell.
But things have not all been bad, the brewery is still going well, and another little thing has been taking up my time
This is Freddie. He was born in August. His hobbies include teething, hitting things with other things and coveting his Ma's food.
He is also surprisingly well adjusted considering he spent his first 6 months dressed as either a skeleton or a pirate.
39 could be considered a bit late in the day to start having kids, but he is without doubt the best thing to ever happen to me, even if he is fond of pulling my hair and stealing my glasses.
Wherever you are, I hope you're happy and we'll!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Still Alive

Hello blog!
I'm a little shocked that people are still reading and commenting here, especially as I am a poor and inconstant blogger. So what have I been up to since last I wrote?

In July we moved to a new brewery! A bigger, better, shinier new brewery. Isn't it pretty? No more fiddling around with a paella burner, or using a pump from a coffee maker to transfer hot wort. The new brewery is also around twice the size of the old one, and instead of being in an industrial unit somewhere in Scunthorpe, it's actually in the Isle of Axholme, at a Holiday Park. So at the end of a hard days brewing, we get to sit in the Lakeside bar overlooking 7 Lakes, drinking our own beer, out of our own fancy glasses (we still have to pay for the beer).
We are also bottling beer, which can be bought from us at several Farmers Markets and Food Fairs, and also from shops!

(If you fancy actually drinking our beer, you can order it from
It turns out that Setting Up Your Own Damn Business takes time. All your time. You will crawl out of bed cursing, you will drink more than you should. You will fall asleep on the sofa to repeats of QI on Dave most evenings. Your love of spending hours making traditional Mexican food will be a distant dream, as on the days when you actually have the time to do it, you'll just want to sit on the sofa and drink your own bodyweight in tea. And, weirdly, it will be worth every damn minute.

Also having a ferret helps. This is Custard in his Fortress of Doom (aka several boxes stuck together and connected by plastic tubes). He's a rescue. We also have a goldfish that I obtained in a fight with a Carny.

But enough about me, how are you?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

I Aten't Dead (still)

Hello Blog.
Yes, it has been a long time. No chutneys, no recipes, no knitting. Whatever have I been doing?
Well, in February MikeyFox & I were made redundant. A lot of serious conversations were had, business plans were written, sacrifices were made to the appropriate deities, our firstborn was offered to the local bank in exchange for coin of the realm & some evening classes were taken, and thus was born The Goddamn Plan
Behold! We now have our Own Damn Brewery! In April we started renting a unit in Scunthorpe, and a crash course in plumbing, engineering, carpentry & electronics followed. B&Q was visited frequently. There were tears, there were several litres of chamomile tea, there was a cafe opposite the brewery, where we were taken pity on, and given copious amounts of strong, sweet tea, extra chips & small items of furniture. MikeyFox finally got to make use of his graphic design skills, electricity was applied, malt & hops were ordered & we made our first beer in July.
The first brew shall not be spoken of. First brew are never fun, or easy. But things improved, we figured out how to improve things, fixed the bits that broke, or exploded. Beer was made, and people liked drinking it. We started bottling the beer in August (which sold out in half an hour, oops!), and in December had our first local market stall
You see those little jars at the front? Its mustard and chutney. My mustard and chutney. Made with beer. Our beer. For sale. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

But enough about me, how the devil are you?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Mango & Orange Curd

Now that our 3 little chickens have settled in and regrown all the feathers (and a fair bit of - ahem - insulation), they've started popping out eggs like feathery little pez dispensers! We get two eggs a day, occasionally three (and one time after they escaped and ate the neighbours petunias we were surprised to get four!). Life BC (Before Chickens) was one of limited eggs, usually bought from the woman up the road who keeps chickens & geese free range in her garden & sells her excess eggs. Now I have a dozen or so eggs a week. They get given to friends and family, but still, it's a lot of frittatas! So I've discovered the delights of curd!

When I was a cub, lemon curd meant one thing - watching in mild bemusement as my Mum stomped around the kitchen whipping up lemon curd (as well as strawberry jam, shortbread and Victoria sponge cake) for the WI Country Show in the hopes of winning the coveted trophy. Lacking any kind of competitive streak, I could never understand the appeal of baking for trophies (or, in my Mums case, So-Pat-Down-The-Road-Doesn't-Win-It), but nevertheless whisked eggs and creamed butter, and dodged any flying cutlery.

Curd is an intensely flavoured spread made with a decadent mix of butter, eggs & sugar. Such indulgent fair needs citrus to curb its enthusiasm, so lemon, lime, orange and even raspberry are added. But it was still always a little too rich for my tastes. But I was in my local Asian grocers and saw a box of Alphonso mangoes... hmm.

Alphonso mangoes, named after Afonso de Alberquerque*, the 16th Century Portuguese military commander and Muslim-botherer (known as The Lion Of The Sea. If you take a moment to think about a Lion in the sea, and how pissed off he might be about it, you're halfway there. Bearded, damp & psychotic comes to mind.) are not the sort of thing you'll find in your local Tesco. It has a short season, late April to June, and is grown in Western India. It comes either individually wrapped in tissue paper or in a cardboard box of 4 or 6. Alphonso aren't cheap, but they are worth it! Sunny yellow skin covering buttery, honey-sweet saffron coloured flesh (and don't I get all poetical when it comes to fruit!). I usually just buy one or two with every intention of making something delicious with them, but they end up being gulped down, furtive & messily, over the sink. This time I bought a box of six. Two to gulp down like the gluttonous little fox I am, two to make into mango sorbet and two to make into curd. And what a delicious curd they made!

If you have a temperamental hob, make this in a double boiler (or bowl over a pan of simmering water). If you trust your hob, make it in a heavy bottomed pan. For best results you'll need a sugar thermometer which, double boiler or not, will help avoid the dreaded curdling.
If mangoes aren't your thing (and may the Cephalopod Horrors from Beyond preserve you, you poor soul) 450g of any fruit puree you can think of should work too. I've made this recipe with apple & lemon (which was softly sweet and soothing, like a fluffy yellow blanket) & Pineapple & lemon (a sharp, sweet, tangy curd, I think I'll replace the lemon with grapefruit next time). I plan on making guava & lime & banana & lemon soon too. Play with the recipe & make it your own, just remember it needs the citrus element to balance out the sweet richness.

Mango & Orange Curd
2-3 Alphonso mangoes (or two regular ones)
Juice & zest of 2 oranges (or 100ml orange juice)
125g butter
400g sugar
4-5 large eggs, beaten

Cut open the mangoes & scoop the flesh into a blender. Give the stones & skin a good hard squeeze to get as much of that lovely flesh & juice out. Add the orange juice & zest & wizz to a puree.
But the butter, sugar & mango pulp into a large pan over a low heat. Whisk until the butter & sugar have melted. You'll need the sugar thermometer at this point. Make sure the buttery mangoness is no hotter than 55°C, 60°C at the most. Any hotter and your eggs will scramble. And it will be a sad day, a day of mourning. Dogs will howl at you in the street, for They Will Know. Pour the eggs through a sieve into the pan (the sieve is to catch any of the stringy white bits that wont blend into the curd and make it look a bit unsettling. You can wizz the eggs in a blender, since its already had mango in it, instead) and whisk thoroughly. If it looks like it's starting to split, remove from the heat and whisk madly until smooth.
Keep the pan on a gentle heat, giving it a whisk and scraping down the sides every minute or two. After ten minutes or so, it will start to turn thick & creamy. Don't rush this stage, and keep an eye on the sugar thermometer, which should read 82-84°C when its ready.
Pour into warm, sterilised jars & seal.
Use within 4 weeks, and once opened store in the fridge.

Serve on toast, spread on warm bread, spoon into yoghurt, spread onto sponge cakes, blob on the top of muffins, add to pastries, stir into cake mix, use it as an excuse to make meringue pie, swirl into ice cream and always, always lick the spoon!

*Hot dog, jumping frog...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Mr Brock

We have a new visitor to our Shack-In-The-Marshes. He stops by most evenings. He's a delightful old gentleman. His vision isn't much, and he's a bit curmudgeonly, but I enjoy his company.

He is known as Mr Brock (Brocc is the Old English word for badger, from the Celtic Brokko meaning grey), and he pops in most evening on his travels to snaffle up any spilled chicken feed. Badgers are unlikely to kill chickens (on very rare occasions they may go for a sick bird, but they are carrion eaters and are more likely to be found eating a bird that has died of natural causes than one they have killed themselves) and the chickens don't seem too troubled by his visits (though they are usually tucked up in bed when he comes calling).

If you have a badger that wants to come into your garden, there isn't much you can do about it. They are very strong and can move surprisingly fast. I'm of the opinion that you can waste a lot of time and energy badger-proofing your garden, or you can provide them with a better choice of food and reduce any risk of damage to your veggies. Badgers love peanuts (unsalted), apples & pears, but also appreciate dog or cat food and a drink of water.

So we have a sack of dry dog food & some unsalted nuts, and many evenings of watching Mr Brock snuffle around.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Cassoulita (Mexican style Baked Beans)

Exciting Things are happening here in North Lincolnshire. We are perilously close to setting up a gorram brewery! The site has been located & forms filled out in octuplicate, the bank shamans have been appeased with offerings of cash flow charts & SWOT* analysis, and after some intense negotiations, it is agreed that there will be beetroot beer. It will be called 'Best Beeter'. You may not believe me, but that wasn't my idea.

But anyway, I promised Mexican baked beans, and here it is.

Cassoulita is a Mexican inspired dish of beans, sweetcorn & vegetables baked in a rich pasilla chile sauce (though you can use guajillo instead, or if all else fails chipotle). I can't think of a nicer way to spend a rainy afternoon (we're having a lot of those at the moment), and it fills the house with warm, comforting spice.
We've been eating it on sourdough toast (sourdough will be blogged about soon!), though it's lovely on baked potato, with eggs or veggie sausages.

Pasilla sauce
4 dried pasilla chiles
1/2 cup ground almonds
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp tomato puree
750ml vegetable stock
250ml boiling water
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Deseed the chiles & soak in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain & combine with all the other ingredients, adding the stock a little at a time, in a blender & wizz until smooth. You have pasilla sauce, that wasn't too hard, was it? If you can't get pasilla or guajillo chiles, replace with 4 tbsp of chipotle paste.

1 batch of Pasilla sauce
500g beans (pinto, black beans or borlotti work well, but you can use any), soaked overnight & cooked. Or 3 cans of beans, drained.
2 sticks of celery, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 red onions (say it with me) finely diced
200g sweetcorn
2 tbsp vegetable oil
bunch of coriander, chopped

Preheat oven to 150C/300F/G2. Heat the oil in a large casserole dish. Fry the onion, carrot & celery until translucent. Add the pasilla sauce & beans & stir. Cover & bake for 1 hour (if you don't have a big casserole dish, you can transfer the beans to an oven dish & cover with tinfoil). If you fancy, remove the lid after 40 minutes & top with shredded cheese, anything you fancy, though Monterey Jack is pretty good.
serve with avocado and a squeeze of lime.

Om nom nom!

*aka we will fight off our competition with reasoned debates, responsible pricing structures & a sack full of doorknobs.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Boston Baked Beans

Baked beans are one of those things that pretty much everyone is familiar with, though the name is a bit of a misnomer, as the beans (usually haricot beans, little white beans known as navy beans in the US, despite being neither blue nor associated with the Village People but due to their being highly nutritious & having a long storage life, which made them a popular foodstuff in the US Navy) are usually stewed rather than baked. Baked beans come from the French peasant dish Cassoulet, a slow cooked stew of white beans and pork. In Brazil these bean stews are called feijoada, in Spain fabada, in Greece fasolada.
In the US baked beans are made with pork rind, maple syrup, offcuts of barbecued meats or molasses, depending on the region. Boston baked beans are traditionally made with molasses & pork, so are sweet, but rich & complex, rather than sugary. Here in the UK baked beans just means beans in tomato sauce in a can. They are cheap and available everywhere from Fortnum & Mason to the smallest corner shop. So why make your own?
Well, because its a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon, it tastes a hundred times better than the stuff in tins and sometimes its nice to spend the afternoon pottering around the kitchen being bloody minded enough to spend the best half of the day making what is essentially the ultimate in fast food!

I used pinto beans in this recipe, because I'm a maverick like that. You can use any beans you fancy, and if their not white, ninjas from the Society of Historically Accurate Foods will not sneak into your house at night and steal all your teaspoons.

Boston Baked Beans

400g dried white beans such as haricot, cannellini or butter beans(or 3 400g tins - don't drain them though!)
125ml molasses (you can use black treacle if you can't get molasses)
2 tsp yellow mustard powder
2 tbs tomato puree
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
salt & pepper

If using dried beans, soak in plenty of water overnight. Drain, place in a large saucepan & cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil & cook 10 minutes before reducing the heat. Simmer until tender (sorry to be vague, but cooking times for beans varies depending on age & size) & set to one side. Don't drain, you'll need some of the cooking liquid.
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/G2.
Tip the beans into a large ovenproof dish, reserving the cooking/can liquid. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (if you are using tinned beans you wont need any salt. If using dried beans, 1 tsp salt should do the job). Pour over just enough cooking/can liquid to cover the beans & cover with foil. Place in the oven and bake for 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours. Check every hour in case they need topping up with water.
Remove from oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Serve any way you fancy, though I recommend cornbread or sourdough toast.

Next time baked beans - Mexican Style!