Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up!

There’s certainly a foodie vibe going on around Cambridge the moment, as demonstrated by the number of supperclubs and food-related events happening locally and new eateries opening across the City. Many different tastes and cuisines are catered for, and now there’s a new pop up in town – the Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up!

Veggie Pub Grub Pop UpThis new venture is the brainchild of Sam Dyer and Jennie Debenham, both known locally for their love of vegan food. Starting Monday 24th February, the pop up will run for six weeks at the Alexandra Arms on Gwydir Street, on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 6-9pm. The menu promises a whole host of vegetarian and vegan food delights, as well as gluten-free options.  Sam and Jennie are trying to source their food locally, including having their bread created for them by Bread On A Bike. You can just turn up on the night, but word is already spreading fast so it’s advisable to book in advance – just call The Alex on (01223) 324448.

Famed locally for her delicious vegan cupcakes, Sam is no stranger to the local food scene – she has run her own catering business, Mouth Music, as well as the kitchen at Arjuna on Mill Road, she has supplied food to hungry hordes of volunteers over the years at events such as Strawberry Fair and has also been part of the team behind the Wild Thyme Community Cafe. Jennie is also known for her food exploits and created the Liberated Feast – a vegan banquet that sources food from surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste (look out for the next one on 6th April!).

More information about Sam and Jennie’s menu will be revealed on their facebook page later this week, but I was lucky enough to hear a sneak preview yesterday and can tell you that it is going to be delicious – I’m not even a veggie, but my mouth was watering when I heard about the dishes planned for the menu! Right, I’m off to book a table… .

Sam & Jennie’s Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up
Monday & Tuesday evenings, 6-9pm (runs Mon 24th February – Tuesday 25th March)
The Alexandra Arms, 22-24 Gwydir Street CB1 2LL. Tel: (01223) 324448

A slice of the action…

Taank Optometrists opened on Mill Road in 2003 and this year they are celebrating not only ten years of the practice but also one hundred years of there being an optometrists practice at the very same site. To mark the centenary, Taank decided to host a Bake Off on Saturday, with professionals and amateurs invited to make cakes along a glasses theme…

Stilt WalkerWith special guest David Baddiel set to judge the contest, alongside owner Anjana Taank, I knew that the day would be an entertaining one. I had been tempted to enter the Bake Off myself (though I’m not quite sure how the blog headline ‘David Baddiel at my cake‘ would have gone down…) but time factors meant it was going to be a bit too rushed. However, being at a Bake Off on Parkers Piece on a beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon felt like a very appropriate and ‘Cambridge’ thing to do and lots of passers by dropped in, as well as of course the bakers themselves and eager friends and families keen to see who would be crowned star baker. In fact there was a slightly surreal moment when I looked out of the marquee and saw people carrying cake boxes and slowly walking towards the marquee from all directions on Parkers Piece!

David BaddielWhen David Baddiel arrived he was more than happy to pose for photos and sign books brought along by fans. He admitted that the Bake Off was his first such event and that it probably wouldn’t do his waistline much good, but he and Anjana soon got in to the swing of judging the contest and quizzing the entrants about their cake designs and ingredients. There were lots of cakes to get through and so I reasured myself that not baking had actually been a good call – I don’t think David or Anjana would have thanked me if they’d had to eat any more cake!

Dame Edna inspired cakeI was intrigued as to what kind of designs people would come up with, but I have to say that every single one of the cakes looked fantastic and temptingly delicious. One of my favourites was a Dame Edna themed cake made by a lady called Christine – it was beautifully made with intricate icing designs and came complete with obligatory outlandish purple glasses, in fact I tweeted about it over the weekend and even had the real Dame Edna Everage spot it and favourite my tweet!

Despicable Me CakeThe Wooden Spoon award went to Paul Mearman, who made a cake in the shape of a glasses case, and the runner up was Reuben Daly who made an amazingly colourful multi-layered cake aptly called ‘The Spectrum’. The winner was Fiona McDuff (who some of you may know as the winner of the Cambridge Bake Off earlier this year) who made an absolutely amazing Despicable Me minion cake, complete with eye chart, Taank Optometrists logo and ‘100 Years’ glasses. She had obviously put a lot of effort in to getting it perfect and explained that the main part of the cake was made with around twelve layers! I had never seen anything quite like it before and she was a most deserving winner.

David Baddiel did a great job of judging and entertaining us all throughout, in fact I suspect he’d have a very promising new career should he ever decide to diversify into cake comedy (I adore Mel & Sue, but perhaps he could stand in when one of them is off sick…?). It was a great day out and a unique way to celebrate the centenary, and next time there’s a Bake Off near me I’m definitely entering…!

Chocolate fudge sponge cake

I decided to make a chocolate fudge sponge cake on Sunday, as a Father’s Day present for my Dad. It was my first chocolate sponge but after the success of my other recent cakes I hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult. I already had the fudge chunks in the cupboard and was able to get the rest of the ingredients on Mill Road. Although most of the chocolate sponge cake recipes I looked at suggested cocoa powder, after discovering this handy conversion table I decided to use melted chocolate instead…

Chocolate fudge sponge cakeIngredients
175g dark chocolate
125g softened butter
200g sugar
180g self raising flour
2 eggs
100ml milk
30g miniature fudge pieces
White icing (optional)

Melted chocolateI set the oven to gas mark 4 and started by lining the base of a buttered nine inch cake tin with a large sheet of greaseproof paper, adding a little more butter to the paper too. I then broke up a 100g bar of dark chocolate into chunks (it’s easier to do this before you open the packet!) and melted the pieces in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. I stirred this continuously while it melted and made sure that the bottom of the bowl didn’t touch the water and also that the chocolate didn’t boil. This took just a couple of minutes and I then set the chocolate aside to cool.

Sponge cakeI mixed 75g of soft butter and 50g of the cooled melted chocolate with 200g of sugar, before beating two eggs (one at a time) into the mixture. I then added 180g of flour, 100ml of milk and the remaining melted chocolate to my mixture – alternating between adding a little of each of the three ingredients and making sure I mixed thoroughly between adding each. I gave this another thorough mix for a couple of minutes before stirring in about 30g of mini fudge chunks. I poured the mixture into my lined cake tin and levelled with my new KBF (kitchen best friend!) – the spatula – before popping in the centre of the oven.

Chocolate fudge sponge cakeI’d normally expect one of my cakes to take about twenty minutes to bake, but this particular one took thirty before my skewer test was sucecssful. I set the cake aside to cool for a good twenty minutes before removing from the tin – which was easily done as I’d made sure the greaseproof paper lining was about 1cm bigger than the tin all the way round the edge. I let the cake cool for another half hour before making my cholcolate icing – this was made by melting another 75g of dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan and allowing to cool for ten minutes, before mixing in 50g of softened butter. After mixing thoroughly for a couple of minutes it was lovely and shiny in texture. I drizzled the rich chocolate icing over the cake, starting in the middle and working out to the sides – levelling off with a spatula.

chocolate fudge sponge cakeThe cake looked delicious covered in its rich chocolate icing, but it needed ‘Dadifying’ for its presentation later in the afternoon, so I used some white icing for the lettering and scattered a few more pieces of fudge over the cake. The cake went down a treat, with my Dad managing a whole three slices (!) in a matter of minutes. I shall definitely be making this cake again – next time double layered!

Strawberry drizzle sponge cake

After the local (well, neighbourly) success of my ‘Five a day’ cake on Sunday, I decided to have a go at making another cake with some of my left over ingredients. After much indecision, I opted for a strawberry drizzle sponge…

Strawberry drizzle sponge cake...Ingredients
125g butter
200g granulated sugar
2 eggs
180g self-raising flour
150ml semi-skillmed milk
175g icing sugar
2 tablespoons of water
Zest of 1/4 lemon
5 strawberries

I preheated the oven to gas mark 4 and greased one 20cm baking tin with butter, covering the base with a circle of greaseproof paper. I then creamed together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl before beating in the two eggs (one at a time). I added a little milk then a little flour, and so on until I had used all the milk and flour. I then added the zest of quarter of a lemon, as well as three chopped up strawberries, to the mixture. I poured the mixture into the cake tin and put in the oven to bake for twenty minutes. When I checked on the cake the skewer test worked, so I removed from the oven and left the cake on the side to cool for a good twenty minutes.

Strawberry cake, before the drizzle...

The cake looked and smelled delicious and I was tempted to just dust with a little icing sugar, but I still had some strawberries to use up so opted for the original plan of drizzly icing and fresh strawberries. I mixed 175g of icing sugar with about two tablespoons of water – making sure I carefully added the water just a few drops at a time to get the right consistency. After a good mix I drizzled the icing over the cake, starting in the centre and working out to the sides. I then cut two strawberries into four pieces each and arranged on top of the cake.

strawberry drizzle sponge cake...

This cake was really easy to make and pretty quick too. The initial preparation of the cake mixture took just twenty minutes and then it was just a matter of baking for twenty minutes, cooling for twenty minutes and then preparing the icing and decoration, which took – you guessed it – about twenty minutes. It tasted lovely and moist and with a hint of lemon but a definite strawberry taste throughout… and I think I may just have found my signature sponge cake.

‘Five a day’ cake

Not that I need an excuse to bake, but yesterday was World Baking Day and I decided that it was about time I got more adventurous with my cakes. With my staples already purchased, I went to Hilary’s on Mill Road to get some fruit – a lemon, some large oranges, blueberries, strawberries and cherries (my bargain tip is the strawberries – just £1.25 a punnet!). I wasn’t sure yet quite what I was going to create, but all the fruit looked colourful and I was determined to use all of it in some way or another.

After looking at various sponge cake recipes I decided to base mine on this one, as it was for moist sponge cake – my last cake turned out a little drier than I had hoped. Instead of the vanilla extract I used fresh lemon juice.

Ingredients for '5-a-day' cakeIngredients
225g butter
400g fairtrade granulated sugar
4 eggs
310g self-raising flour
250ml semi-skimmed milk
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Oranges & a lemon
Strawberries
Blueberries
Cherries

I preheated the oven to gas mark 4 and although the recipe says it’s for making three layers, I decided to hold off on greasing and lining my cake tins until I had made the mixture. I mixed the butter and sugar together thoroughly before beating in my eggs (one at a time). I then mixed the milk with some juice from the lemon (about a tablespoon), and added this liquid to my mixture – alternating between adding a little liquid then a little flour. Although I have an electric whisk, I didn’t use it and instead just beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon – there were a few tiny lumps of flour in the mixture, but I vaguely remembered that Mary Berry had said (during the Great British Bake Off) something about this being fine and in fact making the recipe better.

I had three cake tins but none were the same size and even though I borrowed a couple from neighbours I still couldn’t find two to match, so I used two similar ones – there was quite a bit of mixture, but not enough to comfortably fill three cake tins. I lined and greased the tins adding half of the mixture to each before putting in the oven. The recipe had said that they would take about 20 minutes to bake, though it was about 40 minutes before they looked ready (I guess it may have baked quicker if I’d used three tins). I did the skewer test (inserting a skewer into the cake, it comes out clean if the cake is ready) and although a little sticky I decided that it was fine as the cake was a lovely golden brown and in any case I wanted a moist cake. I removed the sides of the cake tins, though not the bases and then set aside to cool for about twenty minutes.

Homemade orange marmaladeThis gave me time to make some orange marmalade. I grated the zest of the orange into a separate bowl first (as I would need this later for the buttercream icing) and then cut the orange in half and scooped out the fruit from inside (turning each orange half inside out seemed a good way to do this). I then cut the fruit finely and discarded any large white bits. I heated my finely cut fruit in a small saucepan, adding a couple of tablespoons of water and after about ten minutes of simmering I added about 200g of sugar – I didn’t measure the fruit or sugar, but the general rule for jams seems to be using equal amounts of suagr and fruit. I simmered this on a high heat for another ten minutes – stirring regularly – and then put a teaspoonful on a plate in the fridge. After a couple of minutes it wrinkled when prodded, so I knew the marmalade was ready.

I carefully removed the cakes from their bases using a fish slice and spread a layer of marmalade over each. I mixed up some buttercream icing by combining 250g of butter with 550g of icing sugar before adding the orange zest I’d set aside earlier. I smeared some over the marmaladed bottom layer of my cake before placing the other layer of cake on top. I then spent a good twenty minutes smearing the rest of the buttercream icing all over the cake, making sure the sides and top were covered. This looked delicious, but not particularly healthy! So I added the remaining fruit – strawberries, blueberries and cherries – as decoration.

Five a day cakeI had never made anything as visually pleasing before and have to admit I was rather proud of my creation. I had planned to take some round to my neighbours, however all but three slices didn’t even make it out of my kitchen as word began to spread that a cake was being made. A friend said I should call it a ‘Five a day’ cake as it contains five different fruits – though you’d probably need to eat more than a whole cake to actually get your official five a day, so I’d advise against relying on it for dietary RDA’s (!). It tasted delicious and the sponge was lovely and lemony as well as perfectly moist. I will probably use the same sponge cake recipe next time, perhaps with about 40-50g more flour, though I’m definitely a few steps closer to creating my own signature sponge base – and once I’ve got that perfected, I can really have fun with the decoration!

On a mission…

Mission: Explore FoodI blogged a couple of weeks ago about the ‘Mission: Explore Food‘ book that was illustrated (and co-authored) by Cambridge’s Tom Morgan-Jones and written by The Geography Collective. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a family/children’s book with lots of food ‘missions’ for children to create and activities to help them understand the life cycle of food (everything from sowing and growing it through to eating, digestion and recycling).

I have spotted that the lovely chaps and chapesses at The Geography Collective are very generously giving away a set of 50 ‘Mission: Explore Food’ books (which works out to £1,000 worth of books!) to a library service somewhere in the UK. This is brilliant and I would dearly love the books to wing their way to the Mill Road area (and hereby nominate Mill Road). Some of you may have spotted a potential glitch to this plan, which is that there is actually no longer a library on Mill Road (it was sadly shut down in the late 1990’s), but I think this makes it even more important that we ensure children (and everyone) have access to books – this is just the kind of thing that could help children enjoy books and bring them together in the community with others and help families meet each other.

Example missions

Given that there is no library on or near Mill Road, I would give the books to local primary schools (for which Mill Road area residents fall in to the catchment area), children’s activity groups and other groups that primarily benefit children/families. There could be all sorts of benefits to children, families and the wider community, for example:

  • The missions would be fun to explore for both adults and children.
  • It would help children and youngsters get involved in their local community.
  • Children would have their own project/s that they could work on/organise themselves.
  • Some of the missions/projects could be turned into community events.
  • Children and their families may want to visit local food producers and shops to ask questions, which would be really great (especially as there’s quite a local foodie theme going on at the moment).
  • The books are well illustrated and show children that books don’t have to just be about reading on your own, they can also be about action and fun.
  • Some of the missions could be specifically relevant locally – for example, there’s a local idea to set up a farmers market and one of the missions involves visiting a farmers market.
  • Children (and adults!) will get to learn a lot about the food cycle, which will help them make informed choices.

Mission: Explore Food

There are others that exist locally, but having done some research into this I feel the following Mill Road area groups/organisations would particularly benefit from sharing the books:

  • Argyle Street Housing Co-operative Kids Group
  • Cambridge & Ely Child Contact Centre
  • Coram Adopt Anglia
  • Friends of Mill Road Cemetery
  • George Pateman Court Community Centre
  • Little Bookworms Club (at Ross Street Community Centre)
  • Queen Emma Primary School
  • Morley Memorial School
  • Ridgefield Primary School
  • Romsey Community Garden
  • Romsey Mill
  • St Matthews Primary School
  • St Pauls Primary School
  • St Philips C of E Primary School
  • St Albans Primary School
  • 13th Cambridge Scouts
  • TJ Kids
  • Woodcraft Folk

I would also give a copy to the RSPCA Bookshop on Mill Road – their shop is quite a hub of activity (you can even get a cuppa there whilst browsing the books!) and having a copy of the ‘Mission: Explore Food’ book in the shop would mean people could pop in and read a bit before going on a mission around Mill Road – making it accessible to many more people (I guess this sounds a bit like a library really!). I would also give a copy to Centre 33 – not technically in the Mill Road area, but less than 500 metres walk and they do some really impressive work in providing support and activities for children who are carers to family members.

‘Mission: Explore Food’ is available as an E-book and this is currently free! You can download it via iBooks or Amazon until 31st January;  and if you want to see a quick preview of the book here’s a link to a video from The Geography Collective.

Mission: Explore FoodI’m hoping that the Geography Collective guys read this and see that our lack of library around Mill Road means these books would actually be of particular benefit to our community (though in the event that they are strict about it specifically being a library service that receives the books then I would nominate Cambridgeshire Library service). Fingers crossed!

Orange buttercream marmalade sponge

Orange buttercream spongeI’ve been an avid viewer of the Comic Relief Celebrity British Bake Off over the last few days and have spent a lot of time dreaming about a multitude of cakey possibilities. So with Saturday all to myself, I decided that a spot of creativity was in order. I looked through the Bake Off recipes online and after much salivating and deliberation (would a hive cake really be a step too far??) decided that a two layered cake ‘seemed’ doable. I had never made one before, but figured it was about time I tried…

Beehive CakeI had planned to make two sponge cake layers sandwiched together with some buttercream and raspberry jam, with more buttercream on the top and fresh raspberries for decoration. But there were no raspberries in the shops of Romsey and I had to improvise. So I decided to use marmalade and oranges instead of jam and raspberries. I bought all the ingredients at the Co-operative though I must mention that Hilary’s were very helpful indeed and said they’d have some raspberries for me first thing on Sunday morning – which was great, as I will be making another cake very soon!

I started by lining two 7 inch cake tins with very soft butter and put a circular cut out of baking paper in the base of each, and I put the oven on to gas mark 4. I had looked at a few sponge cake recipes and they all seemed to suggest that for the cake mix I would need equal amounts of sugar, butter and flour plus an egg for every 200g or so of dry mix. So I started by mixing 250g of softened unsalted butter with 250g of caster sugar. I then beat four eggs into the mixture followed by 250g of self raising flour, and gave this all a good mix with an electric mixer. The consistency seemed a bit thick (it had been suggested that a ‘dropping’ consistency was best) so I mixed in a couple of tablespoons of milk to soften it up a little.

Marmalade layerI then added my mixture to the cake tins and levelled them off with a spatula before putting in the oven for about 30 minutes. As they were pretty big cake tins they wouldn’t both fit on one shelf, so I swapped them over half way through cooking. When they were ready (looked golden on top and a skewer I inserted came out clean) I took them out of the oven and put them to one side for a few minutes to rest; and after about ten minutes I removed them from the tins and put on wire racks to cool completely. It was now time to make the buttercream – I made sure I used soft butter and continually stirred about 200g of it whilst gradually mixing in 400g of icing sugar – this got quite messy and it was at this point I realised I had forgotten to put my apron on! When it reached a smooth consistency I stirred in the zest of an orange.

Orange buttercream spongeOnce my sponge cakes had cooled completely it was time to get layering! I spread a thick layer of marmalade over the top of one of the cakes (I would have made my own marmalade but didn’t have time this weekend, though will definitely be trying it at some point given the success of my jam attempt). I then turned the other cake upside down and spread a thick layer of the orange buttercream over it, making sure I spread it right up to the edges. Then I flipped the creamed cake back over and placed on top of the marmaladed one (this had to be done in one swift move!). This looked pretty tasty, but I still had plenty of buttercream left and was determined to make something that had more of an aesthetic wow so I spread the remaining buttercream over the top of the cake. I also had a little bit of orange zest left so sprinkled this over the cake. The result – delicious orange buttercream marmalade sponge!

I was very pleased with my first ever layered cake. Though when I took the cakes out of the oven they hadn’t risen quite as much as I’d hoped, so next time I will probably add a teaspoon or two of baking powder to the cake mixture – I was reading the Afternoon Tease blog yesterday and spotted that she had made a very similar cake last year, and the only difference in the sponge mix was that she had added a little baking powder (if only I’d spotted her recipe before I made my cake…!).

Delicious homemade orange buttercream and marmalade sponge cake!

My friends and neighbours were also very pleased with my baking efforts, for which they are a very willing set of ‘testers’ (!) and now there’s only two slices left. In fact, make that just one slice…!

Mill Road and Gwydir Street on BBC Radio 4

Yesterday I went along to Clare College for the recording of Radio 4‘s The Kitchen Cabinet. The show is hosted by well known food critic Jay Rayner and the panel promised to be an interesting mix of well known food experts with local connections – Masterchef 2011 winner Tim Anderson, Michelin starred celebrity chef Angela Hartnett, food historian Dr Annie Gray and Fitzbillies‘ very own Tim Hayward.

Angela HartnettAnnie Gray is based in Ely and specialises in food and its influences, especially eighteenth and nineteenth century. Her PhD title was ‘Man is a dining animal‘ and her current research topics include the history of tea and self discipline and control at the dining table. She’s clearly passionate about her subject and I’d recommend catching one of her talks if you ever get chance. Angela Hartnett is no stranger to Cambridge, or indeed Mill Road – she lived on Gwydir Street whilst studying at Cambridge Polytechnic (now Anglia Ruskin University) and fondly recalled the hearty sausage and bean stew she had made on a few occasions (which sounded a lot tastier than some of the concoctions other panellists had come up with during their student days!). Some of you may also remember when she took on Regent Street’s Nanna Mexico in a TV cooking challenge a few years ago.

SushiIf you watched the 2011 series of Masterchef (I am a huge fan!) you’ll know that winner Tim Anderson has a particular penchant for Japanese food. He certainly knows his negi and entertainingly educated us with his vast knowledge of ingredients and techniques. Some of the specialist Japanese ingredients he mentioned were thought to be rather difficult to track down by others on the panel, but Tim Hayward reliably informed the audience that they were actually available at any one of a number of oriental supermarkets on Mill Road! I love the huge range of oriental supermarkets we have here and my current favourite is Li Ming – who have provided copious amounts of tofu for my homemade vegan raspberry cheesecakes over the last year or so, but more on those another time.

I was pleased to hear from Tim Hayward that his chef doesn’t allow Fitzbillies to have a microwave in the kitchen – I don’t really like cooking with a microwave and although I do have one myself, it only seems to get used occasionally to reheat a cold cuppa rather than to ever cook food! Tim didn’t get chance to elaborate much during the show on the background to his taking over of Fitzbillies eighteen months ago, but if you want to read more then here’s an interesting article he wrote for The Guardian.

Jay RaynerThe panellists all kindly stayed behind afterwards to chat to the audience. I suggested to Jay Rayner that he pencil Cambridge in for another visit in the future (not only was the auditorium full to capacity, but there were quite a number of ticket-clutching hopefuls who didn’t get in) and he duly made note, though conceded that it would be up to the production team. I spoke to Angela Hartnett briefly too and had hoped to chat to the other panellists, but they were all very much in demand so I didn’t get chance. The recording took an hour but the show itself is only 30 minutes, so I’ll have to wait until Tuesday to find out if the Mill Road and Gwydir Street mentions make the final cut!

FlavourAfter the show, myself and Mr Mill Road met up with a small group of other local food lovers, including Gerla from the Cambridge Food Tour and Ruth who is one of the presenters on the ‘Flavour’ show on Cambridge 105. On the way home we spotted some most excellent buskers on the corner of Rose Crescent and Market square (I had never heard a saxophone/violin/acoustic guitar version of Gangnam style before!) and although we’d hoped the days activities would inspire us enough to cook ouselves a delicious meal, we were too hungry to wait and instead opted for a delicious take away from the Rice House.

The Cambridge episode (which is the last in the current series) of The Kitchen Cabinet will be on Radio 4 on Tuesday (8th January) at 3pm. After broadcast the podcast will be available to download permanently on the BBC website.

Christmas on a budget…

It’s been a difficult year for many and if you’re on a tight budget you’ll be looking to make whatever savings you can over Christmas. Here are my top Mill Road tips if you’re watching the pennies and are yet to get organised…

TreeDECORATIONS: Sally Ann’s charity shop have Christmas decorations from as little as 10p for a 3-metre long coloured hanging decoration, and it’s also possible to make a small tree very cheaply – fold a piece of A4 card or paper into a cone shape and staple in place, then wrap a length of tinsel around the tree and secure at the top by poking the end of the tinsel through the cone opening. The bottom end can be stapled in place.

FOOD: If you’re not too fussed on whether or not you eat a traditional turkey, you can get a lovely decent sized chicken (serves 4+) for just £4.20 at the Co-operative supermarket (open today until 5pm) though they are often reduced towards the end of the day if they’re about to pass their best before date – so you may be able to get one for as little as £1.50. It’s also worth noting that with most people plumping for turkey, there’s a good chance the chickens may be overlooked. For vegetables go to Hilary’s Greengrocers (opposite the Co-operative) where you should be able to get a good selection of potatoes and other vegetables all for less than £2. As for gravy, I often make my own anyway by simply combining salt, pepper and a few mixed herbs with a little water and the juices from the meat. I have heard that the Salvation Army Day Centre (just next to St Barnabas Church) is doing Christmas dinner on Tuesday and they are open to all and also need volunteers. I don’t know opening/serving times but contact them/pop in to find out.

Pot PouriPRESENTS: The Co-operative have various different chocolate boxes and shortbread gifts for just £1, including after dinner mints. They also do chocolate selection boxes for £2. Kailash has some lovely scented candles and decorative gifts (many coming in at under £1) and they also sell socks – a fail-safe and ‘traditional’ Christmas present! For fruit stocking fillers, try Al-Amin or Hilary’s for clementines/oranges. Arjuna have some gifts ‘reduced to clear’ (see ground level shelf just inside the door, on the left).

Cuddly toysThe Arthur Rank charity shop has cuddly toys and lots of other festive gifts. There’s also the Oxfam charity shop at the town end of Mill Road (open today) – there’s usually all sorts of goodies available and I have picked up some lovely drinking glasses there in the past. In the spirit of ‘new beginnings’ you could opt to give seeds as presents – Cutlacks (open today) have a lovely selection of packet seeds and each has growing instructions on the back. Cutlacks also do all sorts of kooky and colourful kitchen gifts, such as garlic graters, jam jars and mugs. The RSPCA Bookshop (open today and also Monday until midday) has some great books and they are organised into sections so you can easily find books on a common theme – my top tip is the science-fiction section!

Whatever you do, hope you have a lovely Christmas!

Homemade wintery mulled wine

Mulled wineFor those of you contemplating making mulled wine (perhaps after sampling some at the Winter Fair…) here’s my recipe. It should make just over a litre, but you can of course vary the amounts to increase (or decrease) how much wine you get. This was only my first attempt but it was very easy – not to mention successful – so I’ll certainly be making it again. I bought all of the ingredients on Mill Road.

Ingredients:

  • 1 x cinnamon stick
  • A small pinch of ground nutmeg
  • About 15 cloves
  • Around ten small pieces of dried ginger
  • 75g of demerara sugar
  • 75cl bottle of red wine
  • About 300ml of boiling water
  • An orange

Firstly, boil the water in a kettle. Then pour it into a saucepan on a medium heat on the hob and add your cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and ten of your cloves – these were just the spices that I chose to use, but you could try all sorts of spices and flavourings such as bay leaves, cardamom, vanilla pods, fruit peel and honey. Stick the rest of the cloves into one half of your orange, then cut it in half (I learnt the hard way that it’s much easier to stick the cloves in to the orange before you cut it) and add the cloved half to the pan, skin side up. Stir for a minute then add the sugar, stirring for another minute or so. Then let this mixture simmer (so that it’s bubbling gently) for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Red wineIt’s now time to add your chosen red wine and you can just pour it all in to the mixture in one go – I’m not normally a red wine drinker and am particularly averse to Merlot, so I chose a fruity Chilean Cabernet Sauvigon. Keep the mixture on the hob and gently heat it, stirring occasionally. A couple of the recipes I looked at said to be careful that it doesn’t boil as this could apparently impair the flavour – but I have to admit I let mine boil and it certainly didn’t seem to do any harm. Once you’ve heated the mixture your mulled wine is ready to serve. The best way to do this (both to avoid spillage and also to stop bits of spice ending up in your drink) is to place a sieve over a pouring jug and pour the desired amount of wine in through it. You can then pour the contents of your jug into glasses.

Homemade mulled wineI would suggest serving in thick glasses or ones with handles, as otherwise it can be a bit hot to handle. From your remaining orange half, cut slices and attach them over the side of each glass – for decoration, but it also adds a nice boost of orangey flavour to the wine when placed in the bottom of the glass. Mr Mill Road and I didn’t want to drink all our mulled wine in one go, so went back to the saucepan and reheated when it was time for second and third glasses. I had expected the cooling and reheating to do funny things to the flavour, but it didn’t and each glass of mulled wine was just as enjoyable as the last. I should say that as it is a hot drink, it can be easy to forget how much alcohol you are drinking, so try not to overdo it – a couple of glasses is probably just enough to warm the cockles on a cold winters evening. You can enjoy your mulled wine on its own, or as I did accompanied by some chocolate truffles – I had made some dark chocolate & dragon ginger ones earlier in the day and they were the perfect addition.