Friday, 21 June 2013

Richard Bertinet's Somerset Cider Bread


When it comes to baking bread, I must admit that I have become rather lazy. I used to be quite into it, particularly with regards to sourdough. I used to have a starter called Veronica and at first, the relationship was quite intense, enthusiastic and bubbly; as you might expect from an early courtship. Many happy days were spent simply mulling and lounging around the kitchen in the warm, waiting for the slow rise under cotton sheets in feverish expectation of a tangy hit later in the day. Her crisp crust was quite exquisite too. Then sadly, other commitments got in the way. Soon, the thrill was gone, my eyes wavered and began to look around in other directions. We tried counselling a few times via the unnecessary application of a teaspoon and a hefty dose of flour and water which sparked a revival each time but it was always short lived. She was too needy and I didn't have the time to give.

Veronica left me. Blackened, musty and deep in shame. The ignominy of watching her seep slowly, downwards through the plughole is something that will probably stay with me forever but you have to move on, don't you. Just like Adele did, in that album of hers.

At the risk of sparking and evoking some damning ire, I have to say that it was all Dan Lepard's fault. He turned my head with his 'no-knead' technique which has enabled me to slam out loaves of bread with little care or thought; bang, just like that. 

"What's that you say my darling? We have nothing to breakfast on tomorrow, the shops have shut and the children will starve in the morning? Have no fear, we still have time, for we have flour, water, salt and yeast! Too long? Mwahahahaha! Watch my precious, watch what I can create with a vigorous ten second pumping using the merest of my hands! Switch that oven on!"

Yes, if there is one thing that reduces me to ranting, raving, delusional demi-god, it is the no-knead technique (which OK, does need a teenie bit of kneading) and as such, this is singularly the only type of bread that I bake at home now. However, when I consider the abundant variety of recipes and methods that exist for this fundamental staple, I do realise that I am selling myself short. So recently, I decided to dip my toe back into the leavening pool and this week I tried out something that was a bit more involved and time consuming than usual. Which was Richard Bertinet's Somerset cider bread.

Now, in terms of technique, Bertinet's approach to kneading is totally different to what I've become used to, insofar that it is a lot more energetic. Actually, when I first bought his book Dough, some time ago now, I recall watching the accompanying DVD and wondering if I had paid for some bizarre food-led exercise video. I had my feet up on the sofa, I had a beer in my hand and I distinctly remember thinking "Sod that for a game of soldiers." 

Basically, his guiding principle is to scoop up the dough (which at first resembles flabby porridge) with both hands and you raise it, stretch it, flip it and slap it back down on a flourless surface, all in one fluid motion. And you repeat this action over and over until the dough becomes silky and smooth. This video will give you more of an idea but essentially what he is trying to encourage is that you get as much air into the dough as possible. So yes, it's all very aerobic and looks like it all amounts to hard work, inducing beady foreheads and sweaty bum cracks and whatnot. However, once you get the hang of it, the method is relatively easy. And watching the mix transform from a glutinous mess into something that is quite pliable, buoyant and alive is quite magical, therapeutic even.

I had forgotten all about this part of making bread and this recipe, which calls for a ferment to deepen the flavour of the bread, certainly slows things down a bit and imbues a sense of steady, calm to proceedings. It has definitely kick started an old enthusiasm for baking. For in the fridge, there is now a pot of Veronica Mark II, skimmed off from a little bit of ferment left at the end. So we could be looking at a new dawn of experimenting with friendly bacteria (fingers crossed).

The only real dangerous part of this re-ignited interest is the potential for new levels of gluttony. Once baked, the loaves were probably only allowed about 10 minutes of cooling before I smote one in half with a serrated knife and slathered it with a pack of butter. It was delicious but if I keep this up, then the conquences for my health could be serious.

Perhaps Richard Bertinet could bring out a proper exercise video. Rather than use kettle bells or fancy pieces of elastic, perhaps the slapping and stretching of huge lumps of dough could form the basis for a funky and original calisthenic routine. It's just an idea.

Somerset Cider Bread 
(the measurements for this recipe have been adjusted from the book, to make two loaves instead of four, because four would be ridiculous)


ingredients

Ferment

200g strong white flour

50g dark rye flour

5g yeast

5g salt

175g water

Main bread mix

5g yeast

375g strong white flour

125g dark rye flour

10g salt

300g good quality cider

flour for dusting

method

First make your ferment by mixing the initial ingredients together using the slap and tickle method as seen in the video and then leave covered in a floured bowl, in a quiet corner of the kitchen for about 6 hours.

It should go from this..........................................................................................................................to this

                   .
Then using a scraper, scoop out the ferment from it's container into another bowl, all in one piece, and add the rest of the ingredients and knead using the slap and tickle method again (refer to video). Shape the dough into a ball, put into a lightly floured bowl, cover with a tea towel and rest for 45 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and reshape into a ball, place it back into the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for 45 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto your lightly floured work surface and divide into two equal pieces. Lightly flour another tea towel. Mould the balls of dough into loaves and place them onto the tea towel, making a fold in the fabric between them to stop them touching when they rise. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for 1 and half hours, or until they have nearly doubled in volume.

Turn the loaves over, place on a peel or flat-edged baking tray and make on cut lengthways along the top with a razor blade or sharp knife. Mist the inside of your preheated oven with a water spray and then slide the loaves onto the baking stone or tray. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C, and bake for about 35 minutes until well coloured. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the base with your finger. 

Remove and cool on a wire rack.


They should look like this. Rustic, yet still very handsome
And this is what I had left over to make Veronica Mark II




Saturday, 15 June 2013

Preserved Lemon

Preserved lemon and Moshi Moshi flask in the background
At some stage in my life, someone must have come up and tapped me on the shoulder and started extolling the virtues of preserved lemons. I don't know when, I don't know where and I don't know how. But someone, at some point in time, must have whispered into my shell-like about the benefits of pickling these yellow, ellipsoidal, citric fruits at home. I am sure of this. And I am sure that I listened quite intently, spellbound, mesmerised even, at what my fellow advisor had to say on the matter.

Perhaps the scenario when something like this:

"Yeah right, cos like preserving yer own lemons, well you can't beat it mate. I tell ya, for about five years...maybe six *burp* I was buying me own.... off the shelf, you know and well....they were alright but they just didn't quite cut the mustard, you know what I mean? They didn't 'ave that kick I was looking for, not quite the same as the sorta shit that goes into a proper good, decent, diamond tagine. Like the sort you might find in the ol' El-Fnna, yeah? You got me? Nah? OK, well look, do yourself a favour mate, grab a load of lemons. Not waxed! No facking wax! OK? Make a liddle biddy criss-cross of a slit in the top of one of your lemons and stuff it, stuff with salt and then throw it a jar, with a load more salt. Salt and some other shit. Coriander seed, bay leaf, chillies, cinnamon sticks....*burp*...go on, throw it in, throw it all in and then forget abahht it. Don't worry abahht it at all. Leave it in a cupboard and go for a walk somewhere. Just......just don' worry abahht it. And then......and then my sunshine, you can go back.... weeks..... months...... years later. And you can find that jar of yours and then you can prise that jar open and BOOM! Bloody hell, what 'ave you got? Preserved facking lemons that's what."

And you know, after that poetic soliloquy, I probably bought the guy a pint, shook his hand and on the way home, picked up a huge bag of lemons from Londis and carried out his instructions to a tee; repeating his mantra of "Boom! Preserved facking lemons!" With arms aloft. I probably made quite a mess later that evening, scattering aromatics and sea-crystals across the floor. I probably caused a huge clatter, throwing bits of expensive, unused toot out of the expensive unused toot cupboard. All in order to house these new jars of lemons. Jars that would remain untouched for some time, left to slowly macerate, embalm and steep. I probably fell asleep on the cold, tiled floor and then probably woke at some ungodly hour, all disorientated and confused, before making it upstairs with belt buckle loose and bare buttocks flapping in the wind.

These are all probables and whether you believe them or not is up to you. Some of the above is make believe, I'll admit that. Some, ahem, is not. However, the cast iron truth is that I stumbled across some preserved lemons the other day, which had obviously been lurking deep within the dark for some time and I honestly can't remember when I set about the task of 'immortalising' them. They were obviously part of some previous project, that shamefully didn't pique my interest for long enough. But I am glad that I found them though because it led to one of those happy occurrences when something unplanned and unexpected happens. Some chicken thighs were sitting in the fridge, awaiting their final destination and whilst they are great to enjoy on their own, (unadulterated thigh meat, dark and succulent doesn't need that much jazzing up in my opinion) I quite did fancy trying out something quite different. So after a quick rustle in the cupboards, bingo, a fortuitous solution was found.

Admittedly, I did seek further consultation from other voices (other than the ones in my head) across the internethighwayweb and Cookwitch, with her Greek sensibilities, suggested simply roasting the chicken thighs with the preserved lemon, along with garlic, thyme and olives. It was an inspired idea so I went with it. Except that I threw in some extra bay leaves in for good measure, to put my own stamp on things. "Oh yaah, yaah, it defo needs the bay."

And as with most 'one-pot, let's throw everything in and see what happens' dishes, it was very good.
It really is amazing actually, the difference you get from the intensity of flavour. A squeeze of a lemon used as a light, fresh touch doesn't really compare with the feral hit of preserved lemon, which is all heavy and condense but the one thing I did learn is that when it comes to these squalid, squashy objects of beauty, less can sometimes mean more. I used one whole flaccid, alien egg-like lemon sac for about 12 thighs when half would have done. And it could have done with a rinse to honest, just a quick splash under a cold tap to get rid of the salty residue, just to save the kidneys. However, overall, the preserved lemon did transform the already handsome chicken thigh into something altogether different and special and I plan on using up my supply quite quickly. In order of course to make plenty more, to try out with lots of other dishes. After all, preserved lemons are my new favourite thing. And this time, I won't fall asleep on the job.

Flaccid, alien egg
Chicken thighs before

Chicken thighs after

Roast chicken thigh, preserved lemon, garlic, olive and thyme (not forgetting bay leaf) with cous cous, aubergine, peppers and coriander leaf


Another photo of what I said for the photo above


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Green Sauce


Fridge cleaning is a tedious yet necessary chore. As is oven cleaning. And floor cleaning. And washing up and wiping down. And all that horlicks. In fact, let's face it, it's all boring and some days would be better spent by either ignoring the tomato ketchup stains on the ceiling altogether. Or by simply starting some conflagration, good and proper, to purge the kitchen of all its sins and to start afresh. Out of the ashes and all that. The latter suggestion would probably have an impact your home insurance premiums though, so it's not probably not a good idea. Some days though, I do sort of wish that I had some form of OCD so that I could attack things inanely and without prejudice, just to get the job done, albeit over and over again. Instead, cleaning is just painful, another thing to do, in my already busy life.

Coming back to fridge ablutions for second though, it is sort of important to make sure that your cooleratory (sic) system is kept spic and span, for fear of encouraging lurgies, mould and 'matter'. I read in the news only yesterday that something like 80% of households in the UK admitted to cleaning their fridges just once a year, which is totally believable. I have seen some terrible examples in my lifetime. Incubators they should be called, not refrigerators. Propagators of exotic lifeforms. Seething after cross-contamination. Sources of bum gravy at best, death at worst. Email me and I will tell you which particular curry house on Leytonstone High Street to avoid. But that's a restaurant and not a house, so I have gone a bit off topic there. The important point is that you should really try and keep your fridge clean, no matter what.

So yes, I regularly take out the shelves and boxes and whatnot from our fridge and get them a good scrub in hot soap and water, I am proud to say. Not forgetting scooping and skirting in and around the walls of the inner white compartment with a fresh dishcloth; taking a moment or two whilst my head is stuck inside with the light on, to pretend that I am in some 60's sci-fi movie. And then everything goes back, stacked neat and tidy and all the produce goes back in. This is also a good moment to take stock of what was actually in the fridge in the first place. We are pretty good at making sure that nothing goes to waste (he says all pious and smug) but occasionally a garlic clove is found, sprouting a tall green antennae. Or a single pot of yoghurt, a week out of date, normally vanilla or something equally bland, which gets thrown away.

I do however take a different view with regards to the condiment shelf. The top shelf that gets laden with jars of jams and pickles and chutneys and mustard's and capers and olives and any other thing that you can imagine existing in a jar. You know the one. I flatly refuse to chuck any of them away for they are preserves and by the rules of preservation, they can exist in stasis forever and ever and ever. Yet really of course, they can't. Oxygen and bacteria will always win eventually, no matter how much sugar and salt has been imbued. That doesn't mean that I haven't screamed at the top of my throat before, after discovering that a 5 year old plastic ramekin of Patum Peperium's Gentleman's Relish has been wantonly tossed aside.

As I am in the habit lately of making lots of green sauce, or salsa verde if feeling all sexy and continental, there is normally a jar of the stuff on the top shelf too. Because it is gorgeous. Take any regular, mundane dish and drizzle a spoonful of this piquant, herby liquor over the top and it will be transformed. Sausages and mash, bang! Grilled mackerel, wham! Stirred into chicken soup, kajawowkerplunkapow! Recipes are pretty much the same throughout. Parsley, mint, basil, garlic, anchovy, capers, dijon mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, seasoning and a generous glug of good olive oil. That's green sauce in a nut shell. Though for more accurate quantities it is always helpful to refer to St Nige or Jamie and a little goes long way. So once whizzed up, or chopped up rather, this is something that you need to take your time over with a nice sharp knife and board, I often find that I have loads left over. So onto the top shelf it goes, topped and sealed with some more olive oil to be left indefinitely. Alright, a week.

I suspect the last batch I made definitely older than a week though, especially after spooning a tonne of sauce onto a plain brown bap with ham for lunch. I didn't die or suffer from some interminable squits but boy, the sauce was funky. The emulsification of flavours over time had developed into something extraordinarily pungent and powerful. So much so, that every time I breathed, I could feel my nostril hairs singe. And my eyebrows too. Which is all fine and dandy, if you can handle it, but I am acting in an up and coming play soon see and let's just say that I have to execute some passionate onstage kissing. Rehearsals later that day were interesting to say the least. My opposing actresses (I get to kiss two, what a cad) kept fainting after every embrace. And that was never in the script.

Suppose I better buy some mints. Or throw the jar away.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Grandpa Beard's upside-down ginger cake


Last Saturday we had some people over for dinner, namely Mrs FU's parents and her aunt and uncle, and bloody good it was too. I say that because I did most of the cooking. So yes, of course it was bloody good. A gastronomical triumph of gastronomy even. My starter of crab ravioli with a tarragon vinegar butter sauce went down an absolute treat. I would suggest that it's fast becoming a signature dish of mine actually and in years to come it's bound to become a classic, right up there with Henderson's bone marrow and sourdough, Roux Jnr's soufflĂ© Suissesse and Ramsden’s fish and chips.


Mains came in the form of two exquisite racks of handsome Swaledale lamb from the East London Steak Company, cooked medium rare to pink perfection. This was served with a superbly creamy and decadent dauphinoise, potatoes sliced thin and accurate on a mandolin with no hint of fingernails or blood. Greens came in the form of the freshest French beans known to man, shipped from Egypt and plainly steamed to a very precise point, resting right on the fence between raw firmness and pallid flaccidity. All accompanied with a beautiful reduced red wine and balsamic jus (not gravy, jus) with caramelised shallots. A sauce that should have been started by my wife but she was too busy swinging from the chandeliers, swigging from a bottle of Disaronno. I forgave her though. She doesn’t let her down that often and besides, the twins were sleeping over at their other grandparents that night.


She did however find a lucid moment to cut up and serve some stupendously magnificent slices of cake to finish us all off. The cake in question was called Grandpa Beard’s upside down ginger cake, the recipe of which was found in an old copy of Olive magazine and baked my Mrs FU’s fair hand. Now the prospect of a heavy, warm, spiced, flour-based pud does sound a bit off kilter as an option to end to such a fine banquet. It’s unseasonal to say the least and I haven’t got a clue as to who Grandpa Beard is but this cake is a cracker. Naturally, it does also help that Mrs FU is a very fine baker *sound of elbow cracking behind back*. Moreish like McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake yet with the added toffee bonus of juicy pears and crunchy walnut, it is a recipe that I urge you to try. 


I find that the true test of a dish is how it affects ambient levels of sound during a dinner party. The quieter it becomes, the more successful it is and when we plonked down the plates of cake with clotted cream, in front of our guests, well you could have been heard a pin drop. Which is no mean feat considering the volume levels that my father-in-law and uncle-in-law usual talk at. Both builders by trade, they don’t necessarily talk but more like shout, especially at each other and especially when they’ve had a beer or three. I don’t know why we put them together to be honest but next time we have them over, I might just roll in a cement mixer and stack up some bricks next to the table as an extra touch to make them feel at home. Hell, they might even inadvertently start constructing a long wished for shed at the bottom of the garden for me. Now there's an idea.


However, the point is, any dessert that can shut up both these two lovely fellas for more than a minute or two, is the ultimate testimony to its greatness. So like I said, do give it a go. Even if we are in the midst of a happy summer because there is always room in the world for cake.



 Grandpa Beard's upside-down ginger cake

125g plain flour
half tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
quarter tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
1 egg
125g light brown sugar
90g black treacle
125ml soured milk (tp create soured milk, add a few drops of lemon juice to fresh milk)
50g melted butter
clotted cream, to serve

topping
50g unsalted butter
100g light brown sugar
400g pear halves
walnut halves, to decorate

Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. To make the topping, gently melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the sugar and stir for 1-2 minutes. Smooth over the base of a 20cm cake tin with a removable base, 7cm deep. Arrange the pears on top, cut-side down, with a few walnuts around the outside, flat-side down.

To make the cake, sift the flour, bicarb and spices into a bowl, and add a quarter teaspoon of fine sea salt. Blend the egg, sugar, treacle, soured milk and butter in a seperate large bowl, and fold in the flour mixture. Beat with a wooden spoon for 1 minute, and the pour the mixture over the fruit in the tin. Put on a baking tray and bake for 40-50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (try to skewer a patch with cake rather than a pear....like, doh!). Remove from the oven, run a knife around the edge and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

To serve, remove the collar and invert the cake onto a plate or cake stand. Enjoy warm or at room temperature (but avoid chilling), with a dollop of clotted cream on the side if you wish.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Hartnett Holder & Co at Lime Wood


I could stay at Lime Wood forever. Seriously, I could. And it is a distinct option for the not so distant future, should I ever make at decent stab at earning gajillions of pounds in the meantime. No retirement home for me. No way. I want to end my days shuffling around a quirky, luxurious, slightly posh, slightly bohemian, country house hotel thank you very much.

Mornings spent in a deep leather chair, rustling through daily papers and drinking basil infused gin in the corner of some indoor yet airy courtyard bar. Afternoons relaxing on a cushioned table whilst hands ease out the knots in my poor old back, helping to expel some noxious wind. Warm evenings eating wonderful food, drinking fine wines and regaling stories from days of yore, to any ears that would care to listen. I could be a character around the place. Entertaining and fun for other people staying, who would take turns to guess who I actually was. A craggy and bloated Tory politician? A washed up film star whose good looks have flown south? The bass player from Cud! He's the bass player from Cud! Who?!

Yes, in my dotage, I am sure that I could add some colour to a place like Lime Wood but ultimately, I fear that I would only end up putting the guests off. Not for being overly ebullient or drunk or trying to cop off with the waitresses (or waiters) or anything like that. No, I think sooner or later, the management would want to curtail and cut short any planned residency because I would insist upon having a bed installed in the wonderful Hansel and Gretel smoke house they have on site. So that I may sleep, all cosied up, with hanging hams and rolls of brisket. And whilst the hotel may well be agreeable to the proposition at first; having a doddery old fart wander around the place, perma-tanned and stinking to high heaven would eventually become too much. Plus I am sure that head chef Luke Holder would soon get pissed off with having his precious cured meats ransacked all the time. I suspect that Angela Hartnett, wanting to warrant justice with a wooden pasta rolling pin, would also have to be held back too.

Of course, this sort of scenario makes no sense whatsoever. Chopping and changing the space-time continuum and imagining an alternate universe, in which I regress into an old age pensioner whilst Luke and Angela remain ageless, doesn't help when it comes to reviewing Lime Wood. But I think you can guess already that I was mightily impressed with the smoke house.

Situated in the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire, Lime Wood bills itself as boutique retreat, mashing up the classical with the contemporary and it definitely has some unusual features. Gigantic swings for two by ponds, Hunter wellies to borrow for trekking and walking off with, iron rabbits, rusted and frozen mid-hop on the lawn are just a few idiosyncrasies I could mention.

Add a peculiar, architectural schizophrenia which suggests to me that someone really couldn't make their minds up ("I am fed of this Regency shizz, build me some New England cottages..... No wait! What about a Roman basilica?") and you sort of get the idea that this hotel is purposefully aiming to be different. It's certainly a million miles away from the Travelodge near Lakeside shopping centre and if I had known about this place sooner, I definitely would have booked Lime Wood for our 10th wedding anniversary instead.

On the food side of the business, there also seems to a conscientious drive to blend originality with the traditional. The partnership of Luke Holder and Angela Hartnett is a relatively new one but since its inception, they have certainly been making waves; combining good ol' fashioned Italian home-cooking sensibilities, with a focus on sourcing produce as local as the surrounding fields. The resulting approach is that the menu should be geared towards 'fun dining and not fine dining' and judging from some of the photographs on the website, you can tell that the team aren't too fussed about being taken seriously. Which in my opinion is a good thing. Please save us, save us all from stuffy, ball crushing, overly pretentious restaurants that destroy enjoyment as well as the soul

Asparagus with brown shrimp and burnt butter
Saying that though, the lunch I had at Lime Wood was very good. I must admit, on first glance, I was worried that my starter of asparagus with brown shrimp and burnt butter was going to totter over the edge into soft oily oblivion. But the vegetables fought back with a lovely, fresh crunch and countered the melted butter perfectly. Little, beautifully sour, plump parcels of unknown origin also helped to cut through the sauce. Unknown until I asked the waitress what they were. "Pickled sultanas," she replied, after which I spent a short period of time staring into space like Homer, dribbling and repeating "Hmm, pickled sultanas...."








Turbot with smoked corn, cockles and chilli
My main course of turbot with smoked corn, cockles and chilli was even better. When cooked well, you can't really go wrong with this meaty flatfish and after digging in with my fork, I was happy to find flakes that were still firm yet quite succulent. The addition of briny seafood and a subtle hint of heat also went well with the turbot but it was the smoked corn that got me raving at the table. It was really good. These sweet nuggets of gold definitely benefit from a touch of smolder. At home, I have been trying to work out how to impart the flavour into a tin of Green Giant ever since. Chucking a tin on the barbecue doesn't work by the way.

Lemon curd, jelly with salted oats
Accompanying side dishes came in all sorts of shapes and sizes with highlights being the courgette fries and panzanella and dessert was a palate cleansing lemon curd and jelly with salted oats which hit the spot eloquently, delivering a pleasing cat's bum pursing of the lips. Although I have to say, some of the other choices made by our group, which were shared, did fall over at the last hurdle. A decadent 70's chalice of dark chocolate and caramel with honeycomb and hazelnuts threatened to beat everyone into soporific submission with it's cloying heaviness and a capricious dollop of basil sorbet unfortunately spoiled a buttermilk pannacotta with strawberries. I rather like herbs used with fruit but the serving of sorbet was just too large. My compadre did his best to finish but in the end he had to give up, smiling meekly with Incredible Hulk teeth. So if I had to be picky, I'd say that some of the desserts needed balancing out and tweaking with regards to portion sizes.


In typical topsy turvy fashion, I have neglected so far to talk about the home made charcuterie and smoked salmon that came up at the very start of meal. Largely because I want to wang on about the whole shebang like a giddy schoolboy. Actually, everytime I remember the platter, I keep wetting myself thinking about it. The salmon, brisket, rosemary cured loin and chorizo was pretty special. All delicate and light and melting on the tongue . OK, in all honesty, the chorizo was a long way off any Spanish version that I've tried but nevertheless, a UK restaurant having a crack at the Continental whip deserves full credit and I felt that the meat and fish served on that wooden board could hold it's head up high. The whole deal of setting up a smoke house has obviously been a labour of love for the guys at Lime Wood, as after lunch we were treated to a small tour of the converted fairytale cottage by sous chef, Chris Davies and the pride on his face was palpable. I got the impression that it has been a rocky road with stories about swollen spoiled hams and dark, blackened faces. Preserving might be a basic process but a lot can easily go wrong, so it seems and Chris was eager to point out that they are continually learning. Now managing to get through a ham a week, they are obviously doing something right though. And I have to say, standing there, listening to him and looking at all these lumps of meat that have been hanging for up to 24 months was the most pleasurable thing I've done in a long time.

Alas, I had to be dragged out by the scruff of my neck for fear of missing our train back to London and as such, I couldn't take any measurements, not even for a humble camp bed. But like I said, I am seriously thinking of writing to Lime Wood to see if I can negotiate some affordable rates to stay there when I'm 64. I've got a sneaky feeling that I am going to have to wait for a particular character in residence to move on before they consider me though.

For her name is Rita and she always sits at the same stool at the bar and she laaaaves the food and she laaaaaves the staff.

And she is a different story altogether.

Chris Davies with the smoker

Rolled brisket
Hanging hams

Pride and joy
Thanks goes to Lime Wood and Angel Publicity to inviting me to review