Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Made (or at least started the making of) today:



A-salting the duck breast for proscuitto before chilling it for 24 hours in the fridge


Read Full Post »

MY APOLOGIES, but the photos for this post died with Lycos. There is a photo backup somewhere, but currently I’m not planning on resuscitating it.”

Continued from Part 1 below.

After lunch we got stuck in making the actual oven.

First the base was paved with fire bricks – these are what the food is baked on, so ordinary bricks don’t work, as they 1. don’t retain heat the same way and 2. would fall apart. Brick crumble – not a good addition to your diet!

Kate tapping down the fire bricks at the oven mouth

The cob walls have to be a certain minimum width for the oven to cook properly, and the inside of the oven the correct shape and size and as smooth as possible for optimum air flow and heat distribution. Kate showed us how to work out and build a sand mound of the necessary measurements from slightly damp sand. It looked rather like an old-style beehive to me:

Measurements for the oven interior
Sand beehive!

After we’d built and smoothed the mound, it was covered in wet newspaper so the cob wasn’t removed when the sand was removed:

Smoothed sand with wet newspaper layering

We then started to build the inner layer of the oven with the strawless cob, carefully pushing handfuls of it against the sand mound and into each other, layer by layer, spiralling up – but remembering to leave a gap for the oven door:

The first level of the inner layer | The inner layer almost complete

The outer, insulation layer with the straw needed to be at least four inches thick. We built the layer up in the same way, but this time we got to plonk it on much harder and slap it all together – great fun! Took me back to making mudpies in the yard as a child:

The outer layer being constructed

The door blank (a thick slab of wood) was pressed into the layers and an outline cut out with a penknife around it, so that it would fit snugly.

The door  |  Door creation

Any pits were then filled in and smoothed with a trowel until there was an even, pit-less dome. Using a paintbrush and water, the cob was then ‘washed’ to give a final smoothing finish. Then the scraggly edges were removed and smoothed, leaving one beautiful cob oven!

A bit of final finishing  |  One beautiful cob oven

The oven can then be decorated by sculpting more cob on top of the oven. We decided to do a salamander – which is; 1. a lizard, which is an earth creature, 2. a mythical fire elemental, and 3. the name of a medieval kitchen grilling tool. A pretty good pun I thought…

Nena sculpting the salamander’s back  |  The salamander’s head (I did that bit!)

When the sculpting is done, we removed the sand from the oven. This helps it dry quicker. You can also paint the oven with lime pigments when it is dry, which takes two weeks. After 1 week of good weather you can light a fire in the interior and that will help the drying. After two weeks you will be able to cook you very own pizza, bread, stew, etc in it. And there we have it – one bread oven, ready for business:

L to R: Bren, Rozzie, Derek, Rowan, Nena, Joel and myself (wearing the famous daisy gumboots!). Lil and Ben had to leave a bit early.


Kate not only runs her excellent one day courses on how to build a pizza oven, but also 5 day courses on how to build a cob house. Kate herself lives in a lovely little 200+ year old cob cottage and is building another next to it.

I was amazed to learn from her that the earliest cob/adobe building that is still in use is a 10,000-year-old building in Jerusalem. Cob has a high thermal mass, and is ideal for houses because it keeps the interior cool in summer and hot in winter, varying only about 1°C.

It’s very stable as a building material too – cob has a compressive strength of about 5-15 tons per foot! The minimum thickness required for cob structures is 7-8” and house walls are usually about 24″ thick, but there’s no need for a framework in a cob house as it is load-bearing. You can also incorporate other techniques such as straw bale construction with it, as in the cottage above

I’ve put that down on my agenda for 2011, and am looking forward to it already.

Check out both courses and some beautiful examples of her work on:



BENZER, K. Build Your Own Earth Oven Hand Print Press, 2004, 2nd ed. ISBN 0-9679846-0-2

EVANS, I. & SMITH, M. & SMILEY, L. The Hand Sculpted House Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2002. ISBN 1-890132-34-9. www.chelseagreen.com

WEISMANN, A & BRYCE, K. Building With Cob: A Step-by-step Guide Green Books Ltd, 2006. www.cobincornwall.com

Read Full Post »

Pink peppercorns

> I’m particularly fond of the scent and odd, slightly tart resinous flavor of pink peppercorns. They make a lovely contrast in salads, and go particularly well with more delicate poultry, such as poussin.

Sometimes known as Peppertree or Peruvian Pepper, calling it a ‘peppercorn’ is a misnomer, as they’re not actually a pepper at all, but the berry of the Baies Rose (Schinus molle) plant, a South American tree totally unrelated to Piper nigrum – the producer of white, green and black peppercorns – or indeed any other member of the pepper family. It’s actually more closely related to ragweed!

Finding a good source is tricky though. The ones I bought on my trip to Hediard in Paris were large, yielding and loose-skinned with an ethereal sweet aroma and beautiful rose-pink sheen. Sadly all the jars I’ve bought in supermarkets previously have been small, hard and flatly-flavored (aka stale), doing this lovely spice no justice at all.

So I highly recommend only buying them at spice specialists or quality food stores (I must admit to being highly prejudiced against buying spices in ordinary British supermarkets, but history has supported my opinion). Also, if you can, buy organic, as apparently the plants are often sprayed with PE3, a nasty pesticide.

Read Full Post »

Hello WordPress

We’ve moved!

WordPress is now the hotspot for my culinary chatter.

And to start it off on a high note, part 1 of 2 posts on my recent backgarden kitchen-building adventure:  Making an Earth Pizza Oven.

Read Full Post »

MY APOLOGIES, but the photos for this post died with Lycos. There is a photo backup somewhere, but currently I’m not planning on resuscitating it.”

Build an oven in your backyard, with clay and sand from your own garden…. Sounds complicated, and in rainy old England not a really good proposition, right?

But no! It’s amazingly straightforward and workable, and a fortnight ago I took a weekend break in Norfolk to learn just how to do this.

My teacher in all things clay, sand & straw was Kate Edwards, of Edwards Eco Building. She teachs people how to make pizza & bread ovens from cob in their own backyards, and happily for me, the day of my course was clear, hot and gorgeous.

Beautiful Norfolk countryside

I arrived a little early, and took a leisurely stroll up the track road to the course site, before being given a lift halfway by Nena, one of the other participants. All up, there were nine of us on the workshop – myself, Ben, Bren, Derek, Joel, Lil, Nena, Rowan and Rozzie (sorry if I’ve spelt any of your names wrong), and once we’d all arrived and had a cup of tea in hand, Kate gave us a quick but fascinating introduction to the world of mud building, both ovens and domiciles.

Cobb oven: What we were going to make…

Cob is basically a mix of clay, sand, water, earth and straw; known as adobe or unbaked earth in other parts of the world and lived in by half the world’s population. Our first practical lesson was to learn how to recognise the type of sand and clay that makes the best cob. This involved us (OK, a couple of the guys and Kate) digging out the freely-available material from a hole in her garden:
Rowan in a Hole, digging out the sharp sand, watched by Kate, Joel and Bren
After being taught the right consistency for sand and how to identify clay (an easy, but very necessary lesson!) we then dumped a sand and clay blend onto a tarpaulin and set about mixing the two together – by trampling on them:

Rozzie and Rowan doing the Mud Jig trampling the cobb

A little bit of water was added to bind the cob together better and the mixture adjusted so it was the correct sand/clay percentage combination. The mixture got trampled and turned, using the tarpaulin like a bedsheet foldover.
Joel and Kate flipping the tarpaulin. L-R: Joel, Rozzie (hidden), Rowan, Bren, Nena, Kate, Ben & Lil.

When it was the right consistency it formed a giant sausage when turned:

Kate showing us the right consistency of mixed sand and clay

 When it was mixed thoroughly, we added a handful of straw into half the batches, and then trampled and turned it again. This would be the outer, insulation layer for the oven:

Nena, Kate and Rozzie working on trampling the insulation layer of straw into the cobb

Soon enough, we had enough cob to build our oven. It was rather like an energetic aerobics workout and quite easy and fun. It didn’t take anywhere near as long as I expected, though definitely something you want to drag your friends and family along to help with! At this time we broke for lunch. Kate had fired up her own garden cob oven just before we arrived, and it had been burning away merrily as we worked. When the wood had burnt down to coals they were pushed to the sides of the oven, the floor was swept of any coal dust (never a good meal additive!) and the mouth stoppered up with a thick slab of beech for five minutes. Then the door was opened and individual pizzas were slid onto the oven floor, the door shut again for three minutes, reopened and the divine smell of fresh pizza hit our noses:

Wood burning in Kate’s own home cob oven – love the shape!

The oven stoppered up with a beech door

Sliding lunch onto the fire bricks

Delicious Pizza Lunch!

The pizza was fantastic. Fresh, tasty, piping hot and just all-round good. Totally worth the effort spent to build the oven.

The cob oven goes through a range of temperatures as it cools down, so you can cook more than one dish on the same day, e.g. bread, scones, stews, roast veggies, etc. After lunch, Kate popped in these large potatoes so she could have baked potato for dinner. They also came out smelling great:

Kate’s dinner: Baked Potatoes

Next part: Building the Oven

Read Full Post »

MY APOLOGIES, but most photos for this post died with Lycos. There is a photo backup somewhere, but currently I’m not planning on resuscitating it.”

One of the things which make Christmas Christmas for me is cake. Fruit cake, to be exact. When I was a child, every year Christmas dinner was finished off with a piece of heavy, decadently-rich and treacley fruit cake, the top guarded by a diabetes-inducing layer of jam, marzipan and a quarter inch of stiff white icing. The vast majority of fruit cakes you buy in the shops are either suety bricks of stodge, or dry bland offerings filled with tasteless fruit. I am firmly convinced the only fruit cake that truly deserves the appellation ‘Christmas Cake’ is one made at home with fresh ingredients, care and love.

The recipe my mother has used for years is one she says is originally from Good Housekeeping (my mother’s cooking bible). It’s served our family on special occasions for over 40 years – as Christmas cake, Wedding cake, Christening cake and Birthday cake. This is only the second time I’ve made it myself, and although one ‘corner’ crumbled a bit on me it has the right consistency, weight and divine fruity scent of my childhood, so I shall declare myself satisfied and look forward to consuming it at Christmas with my friends.

By rights this should be made early November (as mine was) so it can ‘ripen’ and you can add a thimbleful of brandy to it every couple of weeks. It’s such a rich cake however, you can make it the week before and it still tastes wonderful.


Creamed butter and sugar

Nevin Family Christmas/Wedding/Birthday Cake

1lb 14oz (850gm) mix of Sultanas, Raisins & Currants (omit the currants for a lighter tasting cake)
5oz (140gm) Glacé Cherries (red and/or green)
3oz (85gm) Mixed Peel
3oz (85gm) sliced or chipped Almonds
12oz (340gm) Plain Flour
½ tsp Mixed Spice
½ tsp ground Cinnamon
A pinch of Salt
10oz (285gm) Butter
10oz (285gm) Sugar
Grated rind of ½ Lemon
5 large Eggs
3 Tablespoons Brandy (optional)

7″ square or 8″ round Cake Tin/Silicon Bakeware
Baking Paper

Preparing the bakeware

If you are using a tin:

Cut 2 sheets of greaseproof paper to cover the base with a small turnup. Cut a length of doubled-over greaseproof paper long enough to line the inside wall of the tin with a small overlap and secure with a small pin. Brush all with oil or melted butter.
At the same time prepare a length of doubled-over (or 2 sheets) brown paper to wrap around the outside and extend approximately 3 inches above the sides of the tin. Prepare a piece of brown paper to cover the top of the cake.
Another double sheet of brown paper or newspaper should be placed underneath the tin when it is put on the shelf in the oven. This will prevent burning the fruit.

If you are using silicon bakeware:

Prepare a length of doubled-over (or 2 sheets) brown paper to wrap around the outside and extend approximately 3 inches above the sides of the tin. Prepare a piece of brown paper to cover the top of the cake.
Another double sheet of brown paper or newspaper should be placed underneath the tin when it is put on the shelf in the oven. This will prevent burning the fruit.

Making the cake

  1. Make sure the fruit is clean and then mix (excluding lemon rind) into the flour, salt and spices.


  2. Cream the butter and sugar and lemon rind until pale and fluffy.


  3. Add the eggs, a little at a time, and beat well after each addition.
  4. Fold in ½ the flour and fruit to the creamed mixture with a tablespoon. Mix well. Fold in remaining flour and fruit and if you use brandy add it at this stage. Mix well.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin pushing it into any corners and making sure there are no air pockets. Working from the centre raise the level of the cake’s surface so that the sides are higher than the centre.


  6. Bake at 150*C, 300*F or Mark 2(gas). Place on a shelf in the lower part of the oven to allow the air to pass freely over it. Put the sheet of brown paper over it for the first 2 hours and then remove to allow browning.
  7. It should take 2 ½ to 3 hours but this can vary depending on your oven. It is cooked when the sides of the cake are starting to come away from the paper and a skewer or knitting needle poked through to the bottom of the cake comes back with only the moistness of the fruit on it.
  8. Remove from the oven and stand until cool.


  9. Turn out onto a cake rack. Peel the greaseproof paper off carefully.


  10. To store the cake wrap it in clear plastic film. If a richer taste is desired holes may be made in the top of the cake with a skewer or thin knitting needle and 1-2 sherry glasses of brandy poured into the cake. 2-3 months storage improves the taste.




Read Full Post »

Finally this weekend I received a spot of summer! In what has otherwise been the most dismal English summer I can remember – though I must point out I’m currently in another country. A wonderful day spent in Greenport, Long Island, NY with my twin and brother-in-law; blazing sun, lovely blue sky, warm ocean breeze, and seats at Claudio‘s seafood restaurant on the dock, right beside the water. Lunch consisted of a starter of delicious raw oysters, a dozen split between the three of us. Fresh and tasty, they slipped down easily in no time.
For my main I ordered a side salad – which had a very tasty house dressing and the interesting (and successful) addition of julienned daikon/mooli – to go with an appetizer of crab cakes. These were solid little patties of fantastically fresh and scrumptious crab pieces – just the thing you want to be eating when you’re sitting on the dock of the bay! I also ate several of Jenny’s spiced, chilled and still-shelled shrimp; delicious, though a little more labour intensive.
After lunch we wandered into the outdoors bar – the one with the sign reading “Stray kids will be fed to the sharks” (I’m sure they’re talking about goats) – and listened to an excellent covers band doing CCR, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Chris Isaak, U2, Peter Gabriel and others for an hour or so before heading out to Bedell Cellars to try their latest (and extremely nice) wines. Why can’t all summer Sundays be like this?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »