Sunday, 31 March 2013

On another note (no. 7) - The Great North Pie Company

Another British Street Food review - a first draft and unedited at present, but wanted to get it down on virtual paper. For all those living or holidaying in the Peak District, and foodies everywhere.


Neil Broomfield
Unit 18, The Bramhall Centre,
Tel. 07989 428 294 (Neil)
       07536 096 667 (Sarah)
Facebook: The Great North Pie Company
Twitter @GreatNorthPieCo
I visited Bakewell Farmers Market on 30th March 2013. The Great North Pie Company visits Farmers markets at Wilmslow (3rd Sat. of month), Marple (last Sun. of month), Bakewell (last Sat. of month) and Treacle Market in Macclesfield (last Sun. of month), and others.

'Simple Simon met a pieman going to the fair;
Said Simple Simon to the pieman "Let me taste your ware".'
In the days before fast food and convenience stores were invented food was sold from trays carried by Street sellers at Fairs and Markets dating back to Medieval England - a popular place to sell your 'ware'. 
Carrying on this ancient tradition of artisan pie making is Neil Broomfield - a man once charged with the job of keeping the Manchester Met running on pies! No ordinary pieman, Neil's journey of looking and searching has taken him from Surveying, to Patrolling ( the streets of Manchester for the Greater Manchester Police) to searching for the perfect pie. Ever a man of high ambition and drive, Neil, who trained alongside top chefs like Paul Heathcote and Jeff Baker in Mitchelin starred kitchens, now just wants to be 'one of the best pie makers in the country'.
For a man who says he has 'no plans for world domination...' but focuses purely on the quality, Neil is surely raking in the awards for his amazing artisan pies - Great Taste Awards, British Pie Awards, Fine Food Awards - I could go on -and I will - but later...
The day I visited Bakewell Farmers Market it was Neil's partner Sarah's Mum and Dad who were running the show. Dressed as quintessential piemen in flat caps and aprons with 'Great North Pie Co' embroidered on them, Sarah's Mum and Dad really looked the part. Standing behind trays of 'Short rib of beef, potato and white onion cream' and 'classic Lancashire cheese and onion' they were doing a brisk trade. Framed by tables and Industrial metal poles in the Agricultural Business Centre - home of one of UK's top five livestock markets - it is a one-stop shop from field to plate. No fake hay stacks and two-pronged pitch forks hanging for display, this is earthy farming - unromantic, honest and as traditional as one of Neil's 'chicken and red willow beer pies.'
The pies are hand-crafted using all-butter pastry, and the menu changes with the seasons. On sale that day was the Spring 2013 menu:
R & J's Yorkshire beef, slow braised short ribs with corned beef spices, baked potato, caramelised white onion cream, homemade pickle with caper and raisin, poppy seeds and sesame.
Corn-fed Goosnargh Chicken, "Headless" light ale, button mushrooms, carrot and apricot chutney from Galore! Stuffing breadcrumbs, lemon, caraway and ajowan seeds.
Dewlay's Tasty Lancashire cheese, caramelised white onion, white pepper, nutmeg and Japanese panko breadcrumbs.
Kenyon Hall farm Desiree potatoes, spring cabbages and vegetables, coconut milk and virgin coconut oil, grain mustard, black onion and mustard seeds.
...and now to all those awards, and the reason so many come flocking to this little pie stall...
Great Taste Gold 2*, for Cheshire Blue, Leek, Apple, Spiced Walnut Breadcrumb (2012)
Great Taste Gold* for Steak and Oxtail, Smoked Mushroom, Bacon and Bramble Jelly (2012)
North West Fine Food Producer of the Year 2011
Best Vegetarian Pie in Britain - The British Pie Awards 2011
Best Fish Pie in Britain - The British Pie Awards 2011
As TV Chef Simon Rimmer said: 'Just unbelievable, I was blown away by the quality of the pies'...what more can I say?
Best wishes,

Monday, 25 March 2013

March 24th - The sound of snowflakes and a little touch of treacle

Dear Nigel,

I am sitting here writing this in my little cottage with glaring white light streaming in through the windows. It is not the harsh brilliant sunshine though but the reflected dazzle of a world of white trying to get in and warm its toes by my stove. Winter is back with a vengeance and the tiny buds of my flowering currant are like bleeding fingertips against the sheets. It's quite as deep as at any time these past few months. This morning I went out for a walk in the meadows and walked straight into a drift up to my waist - the kids thought it was hilarious.

A different timetable and train of thought descends. This time round I am not so organised, the freezer not so full. There is no hope of digging Archie out at present - at least it is possible, but I can't really be bothered. There's something of a pyjama mentality that sets in: make do, eat and sleep when you feel like it, dress as you so desire, and rediscover things you'd almost forgotten about.

For me, this included Bread making, since I haven't really made much for a little while. But, the freezer was empty, the nearest shop about 4 miles away, and here was the perfect opportunity to experiment a bit and tweak my recipe. I found some malted wheat flakes in the cupboard and a tin of treacle. Lately I have been wondering if my taste in bread has been artificially sweetened without me knowing it by supermarkets sweetening their bread to make it more palatable. There is something in the beeriness of my homemade bread that I want to temper; and treacle did the trick without adding sweetness. It is something I remember my granny adding to the liquid, instead of sugar. We feed the rest of the bought loaf to the birds on the bird table, since the dog makes short work of it otherwise and the poor birds don't get a look in.

The raw fresh air and snowball fights take their toll and, as I listen to some Celtic singing whilst  pottering about in the kitchen, the little ones have been lulled to sleep under throws on the sofas and have to be carried up to bed. I expect school will be cancelled again tomorrow.

You are making 'Duck with ginger and citrus' (page 134) and marinate the duck pieces, both legs and breast, in salt and ginger syrup to keep them juicy and succulent, then cook them with slices of orange and lemon. 'The oranges around at the moment are wonderful - heavy for their size, small and firm, and impossible to peel without leaking juice all over the place.' The preserved ginger adds a little necessary seasonal warmth to the dish, and right now that's exactly what is needed here. The dish is accompanied by nutty brown basmati and some steamed greens like bok choy, choi sum or more seasonally local sprouting broccoli. I love the little purple florets you get at this time of year, even though the colour all but disappears into the water when they are steamed.

Flavours for a Winter day need to be strong. This dish sings and the pudding which follows cools. It is an ice cream for a winter's day: 'Espresso and dark chocolate ice cream' (page 136). The flavour is deep and intense, 'pungent with slightly bitter beans'. It is made with a custard base of double cream and egg and is the kind of ice cream that you can almost chew. You say there are flavours of ice cream that are particularly suited to cooler days, such as vanilla,'dark chocolate, Liquorice, lemon, orange and cinnamon...(with) a note of warm spice or a bite of citrus that seems right when the sun isn't shining ( the scent of lemon blossom on a winter's day in Amalfi is exhilarating)'.

You seem in your element at this time of year - and maybe element is exactly the right word. You like the cold, preferring a winter sunset to a sun-drenched beach. I send you a note and find you've disappeared on holiday to Kyoto when others would be looking for an all-over tan and the scent of fried flesh. I like a landscape where green things still grow, where grass is jewel-like and not tired-looking. These are the holidays I come back from feeling refreshed and not dehydrated and leatherned.

Happy Holidays,


Friday, 22 March 2013

March 22nd - Roundhouse in the trees and in good taste

Dear Nigel,

Last weekend I had one of those rare 'adult' moments when all my sprogs were elsewhere and I and a friend were sitting having lunch in an adult-friendly space. Apart from the odd designer baby (the must-have accessory for those who can't afford a handbag dog) it was mercifully child-free. Sometimes I just want to do child-free. Sometimes I want to dress up in nice clothes, eat nice food, have a real conversation with someone close and just relax and pretend to be that other sophisticated me - if only for a while.

The space in question is known locally as The Round Building at Hathersage. It is an award-winning design by Sir Michael Hopkins for David Mellor. Although the David Mellor kitchen shop in Sloane Square, which opened in 1969, has attracted those who favour good design for many years, it is the Round Building in the High Peak which really sets it all in context.

David Mellor was born in Sheffield and originally trained as a silversmith before becoming a designer. The Round Building is off the road to Sheffield here in the Peak District, and is the purpose built cutlery factory making superb modern cutlery and kitchen knives which sell in the two shops - here in the Peak District and in Sloane Square.

Passing by, you would hardly know it was there, hidden surreptitiously  in a clump of trees on the site of the old gasworks. (The Round Building echoing the old gasometer on whose site it is built). It is worth a pilgrimage (if you're coming to this area) alone for the Design Museum, and the factory is open for viewing on weekdays - so you can see your kitchen knives being made.

Sitting in the cafe by the Museum watching a huge traffic light change colour ( David Mellor was responsible for the design of the national traffic signal system), I turn over the menu to find a lengthy scroll of names - a kind of who's who of those with good taste- and there, half way down the list, a certain Nigel Slater.

I turn to your diary to remind myself of something I read recently. And here it is: March 7th - 'For some time now I have been curious about glass and why some is more beautiful to look at, and look through, than others. Windows made from old 'crown' glass have soft waves and little bubbles, like tiny seeds to catch the light, while drinking glasses that are uneven in the hand, with ripples and furrows, make the water within sparkle. Small things, but they matter to me. I like drinking water from a hand-made tumbler with dimples and folds.'

I come away with another couple of little chopping boards designed by Corin Mellor because they are just the right shape and weight and using them gives me pleasure. Nowhere could that oft used quote by William Morris be more apt than here: 'Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.' (A little over-used, perhaps, but pertinent.)


Thursday, 21 March 2013

On another note (no. 6) - PatisserieLola

Another British Street food review for you - completely uncensored and unedited - for those of you living or holidaying in the Peak District, or in fact anyone who is interested in good food. You're in good company. Richard Johnson has just e-mailed me 'Blooming perfect!' - so I guess that's a goer then


Sara Davies
35, Valley Road,

Tel. 07771356697

I visited Chesterfield Farmers Market on 14th March 2013.
Sara visits farmers markets in Chesterfield (2nd Thursday of month), Sheffield (4th Thursday of month) and Bakewell (last Saturday of month). Also Sharrrow Vale Road market, and Nether Edge Spring market (both in Sheffield).


Ever found yourself drooling outside the window of some small French Bakery, gazing longingly at the mountain of beautifully displayed hand-made desserts inside? Well, you can enjoy those same warm feelings just a stone's throw from home in Chesterfield  Farmers market where Sara Davies invites you to her pop-up French Patisserie - "PatisserieLola".

A Baker who paints, or a painter who bakes. Whatever she does Sara does it with flair and passion. From the the hand written descriptions, the scattering of tiny pastry tins, to the beautiful paintings of flowers that set off the towers of cake and fruit so well. Very French, very Juliette Binoche, if you get my drift. And Sara has a little of the 'Vianne Rocher' about her too - you'd think she'd almost be able to guess your favourite, given the chance...

Sara makes Artisan French Desserts in Chesterfield using only good quality seasonal ingredients (local wherever possible). The eggs are free-range, the flour British milled.

Take away a slice of Andalucian Orange and Almond Torte made with fresh orange zest and ground almonds, or French Raspberry and Frangipane Tart, studded with fresh Raspberries and lined in real French sable pastry for true authenticity, and indulge in an act of pure wickedness.

Desserts on offer that day (although since things are seasonal the menu is constantly changing) included:-

Baked with soured cream in the cake mixture, which gave a wonderfully soft creamy taste (-as I can testify since it didn't take me long to get my choppers into this one), and covered in a mound of vanilla butter cream and fresh Blueberries.

A French-style chocolate cake made with dark chocolate for density, lots of eggs, a lovely gooey ganache filling, and dusted with icing sugar.

French Sable pastry lined with Frangipane (a sweet pastry cream made with ground almonds) and dotted with fresh Raspberries and a covering of slivered almonds. French sable pastry is a rich, indulgent and crisp pastry made with unsalted butter and icing sugar. Once tried, never forgotten. The crispness always makes French pastries seem light to my mind (at least that's what I tell my expanding waistline).

This one was GLUTEN FREE for those of you who need to know, and made with ground almonds instead of flour, fresh orange zest, and decorated with slivered almonds and icing sugar.

was a loaf cake made with fresh lemon juice and rind and a simple lemon icing on top.

A super-rich cake made with lashings of Golden Syrup for a fudgy texture, filled with a deep coffee butter cream and speckled with cocoa and coffee beans on top for that "wow" factor.

It was hard to choose. Believe me.
Of course you may be thinking 'oh, it's just a few cakes'. Well, I challenge you to walk past without lingering with intention and desire, as I did.

And, on a cold windy morning with hands in pockets, a vision like PATISSERIELOLA that transports you to a world of Juliette Binoche and 'Chocolat' and all things truly French and exquisite, is just what you need.

Oh, and when she's not creating fab deserts, Sara is dabbling away on her easel creating these lovely paintings - something to delight the eye and the palate.

Add a little wicked French Indulgence to your day.

Best wishes,


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

March 17th - Injured birds and frugal housekeeping

Dear Nigel,

My family has a habit of taking in Injured birds. Over the years all sorts of people have come into our lives, and out again sometimes. Take Mel.

Mel arrived when my daughter Hannah was in the Lower 6th studying A levels. She arrived home one day with a friend. 'This is Mel,' she said, 'and she's coming to live in my room.' And with that they disappeared upstairs. I was in no position to argue since I had two small babies to look after, neither of whom were walking, three step children and three of my older children still living at home. Luckily it was a big house.

So Mel came and lived with us for three months. She lived in Hannah's room. Meals were taken up there by the two of them; I don't remember ever doing Mel's washing (I think Hannah took care of that). And then one day she left, moving on to the next stage of her life, and I haven't seen her since. We had bridged the gap for her between a turbulent home life and moving in with her boyfriend - a hole where she could have so easily fallen.

And then there were the two little boys who lived on the road behind us once, who were sent out to play most weekends to keep them out of harm's way. It took me a while to realise what was going on - to put two and two together - seeing their mum on a Monday with a thick dose of make-up on that didn't really hide the newly blackened eye. We changed our routine so we would 'be around' more, and, without ever speaking, she realised she could just send the boys over to us when necessary.

We all like to think it doesn't go on. We live in our own imperfect bubbles thinking that everyone else's life is a little more perfect, a little more sorted. We miss the signs.

One of my sons has a friend with a more chaotic life than most. Over the last few years this young boy, only sixteen, has come and stayed with us whenever the need arose. He sees us as his adopted family and looks relaxed and happy when he is with us. I took my 'fledgling son' with us when we went to the beach house in the Autumn half term because I thought he needed a holiday. He spent most of his time with me and the little ones, since my lazy son had trouble getting out of bed.

We rockpooled and built castles, and I watched as he chased Sophie and Molly around the ruined castle on the headland, like the ten year old child he should once  have been: A child grown old far before his time. Last week his mum committed suicide. I say we are going to the beach house again in two weeks time and would he like to come. He thinks so. And maybe he will say nothing but let the tide wash over his feet and throw stones at the seagulls. I look, almost guiltily, at the photo of my children all together on Mothers' Day, and I think about my fledgling son who lost his mum. On Mothers Day.

Back in the kitchen you are involved in a bit of frugal housekeeping, of the type that I try - at times - to emulate. (If I were a more organised cook I'm sure this would happen a little more frequently). The 'housekeeping' involves a roasted pork shoulder which is reincarnated as a 'broth enriched with the treasure from the roasting tin and trimmings of meat from the joint' on day one, and a substantial sandwich on day two. My mother would be proud of you.

The 'Pork shoulder with ginger and anise' ( page 121) is almost pot-roasted, without the crackling (which is saved for later - no waste).It is given a different orientation by the 'seasoning of anise, ginger and black peppercorns (which) set the tone for the soup and sandwiches that follow.' The broth on day two is made into 'something light, fresh and vital with masses of Chinese greens...while the addition of green peppercorns (gives) it a deep, marrrow-warming heat.' Szechuan pepper will give a hearty kick to the back of the throat, along with the 6-8 small hot chillies. This is a main course soup to drive out the mad March winds. I don't think I have ever added pork to a soup before but I can see how this would work with its Chinese influence - pak choy rather than spinach, I think. 'Pork broth with pepper and green leaves' is on page 122.

We all know it well 'that sublime moment, usually late at night when you are a little bit pissed, when you come across something delicious hiding in the fridge.' In this case it is the pork for your pork sandwiches, but, great foodie as you are, you have been dreaming about these all day. And you admit to a little pre-planning in the making of a slaw ( love that word) with a spicy mayonnaise slashed with lime juice and using leaf coriander instead of lettuce. The pork meat is teared to shreds and added to the slaw and the skin and fat turned into crackling and added to the baps on top of a handful of coriander and a mound of pork and slaw. ('Pulled pork baps with carrot an galangal slaw' is on page 125).


Thursday, 14 March 2013

March 14th - Most of my eggs in one basket

Dear Nigel,

Mothering Sunday was a fair success here I'd say.

For one, I managed to get 6 out of 7 over here and in the same place at the same time. Son no.2, Christopher, gets excused on grounds that he works for a Swiss Bank in Frankfurt (and has very kindly booked the two of us into a Day Spa when he comes home in May).

2. We managed to go out for lunch without either the older ones provoking each other into an argument or the younger ones taking the place apart ( - other people's children are always so much better behaved I find).

3. Despite the fact that two of them had moaned about 'Mum always taking us to a National Trust place', and me having promised that we would do something different this time; and then changing my mind and booking lunch at The Manifold Tearoom (National Trust Ilam) anyway ( - because the food is nice and such good value and they won't mind the little ones colouring on their tables); they all went in good spirit. That's success.

You have been enlarging on your Surf and turf success from the Simple Cooking series on BBC1 by making a similar dish to the trout and parma ham, but this time using salmon and bacon. This is most fortuitous as I have just bought both for the weekend. I keep my lemon thyme complete in little sprigs in a little lock'n'lock box in the freezer, along with most of my other herbs, for that occasion when none is available in the garden. Today is a case in point as we are snow-pocked again. Not sure what herbs are up yet anyway but I did spot some chives the other day (though it's anyone's guess where to start digging).

Salmon is always such a simple and well-received supper and rarely requires much work. This recipe for 'Bacon-wrapped salmon' (page 114) takes no more than a couple of minutes to prepare and fifteen minutes to cook. As I seem to spend so much of my time as a taxi driver it is good to have suppers like this one that I can get on the table very quickly after we get back. Tomorrow's dinner sorted.

I have been using a lot of leeks lately. They are so good at this time of year, and easy, accommodating vegetables, particularly baked in some kind of creamy sauce. So I'm very pleased that you are offering another new alternative to the chicken and leek pie I have planned for the weekend. It is a Leek and mushroom pie with skin-on mash (page 116) with a whole host of my favourite things - tarragon, creme fraiche and dry Marsala. I came across a wonderful local farmer near Ashbourne who has a mushroom farm and visits many of my local farmers markets. I also bought some wild Scottish porcini which were the only mushrooms they had imported, but these have long since been gobbled up in a simple omelet, so I'll be going back for more.

I am reading your description of The Great Banana Debate. ( I believe I have made similar points myself at some point in an earlier letter.) I'm glad you have also noticed the degree to which the point of ripeness of the  Banana is of HUGE significance to half the human race. Certainly in this house it is a big issue. We like our bananas almost the green side of under-ripe. Because of this I have a freezer full of chopped banana (deemed too ripe by the family yet no where near remotely brown) which I use frozen with strawberries to make wonderful smoothies. I also have a particularly naff looking yellow duvet bag from Lakeland, which actually works, to keep bananas from ripening in the fridge (and has its uses for those of us who are not able to pop to the shops every other day.

Before I turn the page I try and guess which camp you will be in and am almost relieved (although why I don't know as this is ridiculous) that you favour the crisp, almost under ripe banana. I feel almost vindicated, having been virtually chastised for years for not eating a 'properly ripe' banana. Therefore there must be something wrong with me and my taste buds. No.

So you provide the perfect recipe for all those overripe bananas: 'Nigel's chocolate muscovado banana cake'. According to monumental Twitter activity, this cake 'trended'. So I am probably arriving at it a bit late to be trendy. Thank god. It is still on page 119 and I predict it will become a well-thumbed page in this house, too. I hate waste and the compost bin is getting more than its fair share of forgotten and unloved bananas. I did try some banana biscuits last week but I think the recipe was a little hard ( sorry Miranda Gore Browne - they would have been better as shaped biscuits but you said fork biscuits would be alright - I beg to differ). The kids were not particularly impressed - so I'm thinking of turning them into a topping for an apple crumble instead.


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

On another note (no. 5) - Leek Oatcake Shop

Another review for British Street Food which, unfortunately, turns out to be outside my remit i.e it is takeaway food from a shop and not a van or market stall. So, rather than waste it completely, I thought I would place it here for all those of you living in or holidaying in the Peak District.


2, Heywood Street,
ST13 5JX

Tel. 01538 387556

If you like visiting working museums and restored Industrial buildings then grab a load o' this. This is history in action. This is history that never went away in the first place: A traditional Staffordshire Oatcake shop with the original shop front which has remained completely unchanged since it opened in 1964. Now that's something you don't see everyday!

Nestled at the bottom of Heywood Street in the quirky little Staffordshire Moorlands town of Leek is the Leek Oatcake Shop. Freshly painted in green and cream with the original Edwardian street sign on the corner, the little shop is sited next to one of the many old mills for which this area is famous. (This is William Morris territory - where he lived and studied the Art of Dyeing, and "Industrial heartland" for the Arts and Crafts movement, supplying William Morris's firm with much of its silk).

Inside the little shop things are functional and basic. The room is dominated by two massive iron griddles which are kept constantly hot and ready. Staffordshire Oatcakes have been made in the traditional manner in this little Oatcake shop since 1964.

A constant stream of people come in and out for this is food for the workers - this is where the real locals get their lunch. And why not when a Bacon and mushroom oatcake can be had for £1.55? - You probably couldn't buy a sandwich for that. And the food is hot, cooked in front of you and ready-to-go in minutes.

Alan and Pauline Smith are serving constantly from 5.45 am most mornings.

MONDAY - WEDNESDAY  6 am - 1 pm
THURSDAY - SATURDAY   5.45 am - 1 pm
SUNDAY                            6.45 am - 12 pm

A proper Staffordshire Oatcake is a type of pancake made from oatmeal, flour and yeast (and usually, as in this case, to a 'secret' recipe). A thicker version, a Pikelet, is also available.

Fillings are a basic mix-and-match range of bacon, sausage, mushroom, egg, cheese and onion. A FULL BREAKFAST is £3.70. No wonder so many people pop in here on their way to work!

There is no Website, no e-mail, no Facebook page - Alan scowls when I suggest the question. He goes back to work, his honest weathered face under its white bakers cap turned to pouring out the batter circles on the griddle and flipping them over at just the right moment.

Simple, honest food is what is provided here. The queue tells me all I need to know about advertising.

So here's "word of mouth" - Do what the locals do and grab a piping hot Full Breakfast while you're on the go in Leek.

Best Wishes,


Saturday, 9 March 2013

On another note (no. 4)- Maxine's Mobile Pizzas

For all those living in or visiting the Peak District, here is the completely unedited and uncensored version of my review for British Street food of Maxine's Mobile Pizzas. So that you can go and try one for yourself.


If you thought mining was dead round here, you should see Maxine work a shovel. Pizza from Peel to plate in three minutes flat; Maxine knows how to get them out. Under the jaunty bunting and pirate headscarf Maxine is feeding the people of Derbyshire the same kind of home made pizza you might expect to get from any Italy.

11, Leek Road, Buxton, Derbyshire. SK17 6UD.
Tel. 01298 73539
mob.0781 051 6571
Twitter @MaxinesPizzas

I visited Buxton Farmers Market on 7/03/13.
Maxine visits Farmers Markets in Buxton, Bakewell, Sheffield, Mansfield and Rode Hall, Cheshire.
Also the Treacle Market, Macclesfield (last Sun of month) and Leek Fine Food festival (3rd Sat of the month) and the monthly Buxton Saturday Bazaars in the Pavillion Gardens.


A feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Watch Maxine deftly role out your pizza to size, spread with tomato sauce and sprinkle on the toppings of your choice. Then she slides it onto a huge iron peel and into the fiery clay oven.

Whether the weather is dull or bright all eyes will be drawn to this wonderful little pot-bellied stove with its quirky chimney. Flames glow at your from within. And you can watch your pizza cooking in the time it takes you to slap out your money on the counter - 3 minutes - and it's done, bubbling hot, a little charred and crispy at the edges ( - and all the better for it) and tasting lip-smackingly good.

All the ingredients are fresh and locally sourced. The flour comes from Caudwell Mill near Bakewell and even the wood for the oven comes from local sustainable forests.

Maxine makes five basic toppings:-



HAM AND MUSHROOM (using real gammon)

HOT AND SPICY - jalapeƱo peppers, red onion, black olives and piri piri sauce

CHICKEN, COURGETTE AND PINE NUT - roast chicken, courgette ribbons and toasted pine nuts

BEETROOT AND RED ONION - a wonderful vegetarian option using fresh beetroot (not pickled) and red onion.

.....or you can do what I did and mix and match your own toppings. I opted for Ham, Courgette and Black Olive - and it was fab.

The pizzas are incredibly good value at only £3.50 for a 8" pizza
                                                                   or £7.00 for a 12" pizza

Maxine also makes a Gluten free pizza base.

She has also been known to make impromptu "specials" like a Breakfast pizza (incorporating a full English) for early starts, and a SWEETZZA (which is apparently chocolate sauce and crumbled jaffa cakes baked in the oven and then sprinkled with mini marshmallows) and beloved by children everywhere.

Ever wanted to see the real Pied Piper in action? Come to Maxine's Mobile Pizzas and find out why so many do.

Best wishes,


March 8th - British Street food and nasturtiums for capers

Dear Nigel,

A little while ago I got a lovely e-mail from Richard Johnson (who writes food columns in 'The Guardian') asking if I would like to do some reviews on Street food in my area for British Street food. The brief was as open and as wide as I want to make it....but I could immediately see a few flaws in the fabric.

Richard's writing was full of glowing testaments about cutting edge creativity and wonderful new eating venues popping up in the city and at festivals, and I could feel a small knot developing in my stomach with every sentence I read. Wonderful this, fantastic that - Amazing! What Richard had failed to appreciate was how difficult a project this was going to be in an area like this. You have to understand that this is a highly traditional area - people vote the way their parents did, (some even appear to still be wearing their clothes), and trying something new that Grandma never made is for some a step too far.

So trying to set up a small business in an area like this is going to be an uphill battle. Added to that the current climate (which can't help anyone), seasonal difficulties - most of the big fairs and events here are held in the Summer, and the problem of trying to trace tiny sites on the Internet, and I could see that I was going to have my work cut out before I even started.

But start I have, and my first visits have been to Farmers markets in Wirksworth and Buxton. And in Buxton I found Maxine.

Maxine has a wonderful  pot-bellied  stove with a quirky chimney, which sits on a little mobile trailer. She visits farmers markets, festivals and weddings, making wonderful freshly prepared home made pizzas and cooking them on the base of her wood-fired clay pizza oven. All the ingredients are locally sourced and the flour for the pizzas comes from nearby Caudwell's mill (which I can testify makes a superb range of flours). Even the wood for the oven comes from local sustainable forests.

 I chose my own mix of Ham, Courgette ribbons and black olives and the pizza was exactly like the simple charred and crispy  pizzas Christopher and I bought from the back of a little bakery in Rome many years ago when we were on an art tour and struggling  to find anywhere to have a cheap supper. Like Maxine, the very kind Italian baker took my ten year old son and I into the back of his bakery and let us watch as he slid the fine dough pizzas onto an iron peel and into the wood-fired oven. We were hot and weary, with barely enough money left for food, and the simple kindness of a stranger probably holds a stronger memory for us both than the Sistine chapel ceiling.

So I wrote my review and e-mailed it off for approval. After a couple of tweaks to the opening paragraph Richard was satisfied.
'Nice!' he wrote,'...what's next on your list?'
'Next on my list is to go to bed and read a book for a change,' I replied. It was almost 10 o'clock. Do you food writers stay up all night?

One of the most heartening things about your writing are the human touches and admissions that make us feel, 'Ah, Nigel..he's just one of us'. Like the Mars bar in bed or Beans on Toast for a quick satisfying supper, we feel alright admitting to the same, away from the food snobs who would deride our simple pleasures. With beans on toast you 'like the sweet commercial sauce and the thick toast, which, just for the record, I always butter'. (Quite right.) Being you, of course, there is always further invention - perhaps with cans of beans in your own sauce,'stirring in bacon, mushrooms or whatever is to hand (chorizo and black pudding are favourite additions).'

This recipe for 'Beans on Toast' (page 107) sits on a lump of sourdough loaf, to which I am completely addicted. It is a straightforward midweek supper using cans of pinto, haricot or butter beans in a sauce made with chopped tomatoes, bacon and onion. The magic ingredient is a teaspoon of treacle. I always think tinned tomatoes need the addition of a tiny bit of sugar to give that taste of sun-ripened tomato. There is an almost bitter unripe taste in most tins of tomatoes. Lucy Boyd ( daughter of Rose Gray) urges us to use tins of whole instead of chopped tomatoes as she thinks they taste less watery as better tomatoes are used.

You are very partial to a jar of capers '(which) are without doubt one of the most used seasonings in my kitchen.' This reminds me of a time when I used to pickle the seeds of nasturtium plants, which have a very similar flavour to that of a caper. Of course you are free to disagree with this. But I used to add them to the tops of home made pizza as piquancy offsetting the anchovies and olives. You are also using capers against fish in your 'Sea bass with rosemary and capers' (page 111). Along with lemon, 'the two have almost magical powers when they appear with fish' - allowing you to use that rather flaccid term 'mouthwatering' - 'that over-used term that I have banned from any piece of writing or programme that bears my name.' Few culinary partnerships, like caper and lemon, have the power to make you salivate. The sea bass is baked under a layer of browned potato slices and a lovely dressing made of rosemary, chilli, sherry vinegar, capers, lemon juice and black pepper.

I will have to visit my fish man on Tuesday, but the Beans on Toast is a good store-cupboard standby for any cold windy day when the stomach needs more a trench than a lining. Thank you for that.



Sunday, 3 March 2013

March 2nd - In fine fiddle and a slow cooked shank

Dear Nigel,

Away from the chill night air, against a star-studded sky, the little road winds round into the village of Foolow. After  driving many miles around dark country lanes over the unlit Peak District hillside, I am always gladdened by the sight of two glowing china ducks on a bedroom windowsill of the first cottage leading into the village. Already my feet are starting to warm ( as Archie's heating system seems to have given up the ghost of late) and I think I hear the sound of glasses clinking, people laughing and feel the glow from inside.

I have been playing fiddle here at this pub for over ten years now. The landlady, Marilyn, retired and her son took over. She still turns up to sing. Various musicians have come and gone, new faces and old, but mostly the place remains the same. Other pubs may be quainter, more rustic in their appeal, more chic, more welcoming, but what this pub has is continuity.

 Over in the corner in deep conversation are Wendy and John who take groups potholing in the nearby limestone tunnels. Penny and Barry, who used to run the pub many years ago, come in later when the music is in full flow. (The last time I saw Barry outside the pub he was dressed as Sherlock Holmes and taking some Americans out shooting, narrowly missing shooting my dog.) And quiet Mike the drystone waller, over by the bar in his old checked shirt, who likes to come in for a pint and to listen to the music. He nods at me and smiles and returns to his pint. There seem to be drystone wallers everywhere at the moment repairing walls before lambing is well underway.

All these people somehow eke a living out of this beautiful countryside, dominated by farmers and the tourist industry.

The music is good tonight. Brendan Fergus is in fine form and his guitar, banjo and mandolin ripple effortlessly from his well-worn hands. Instruments are littered everywhere. I am sitting next to a bedside cabinet and, before I have time to contemplate this fact, its owner returns and sits down on it. Apparently the bedside cabinet is some kind of drum which the man, a stranger to me, has made himself. It sounds good for all that, and he plays along for an hour or so and then disappears into the night along with the bedside cabinet, without a word. There are a couple staying in the village sitting supping by the wall. He is an Irishman from Leeds and keen to get his hands on Brendan's cherished customised guitar with its mother-of-pearl inlaid initials. We play a few Irish numbers, him and me, and he tells me he is from Ballyclare.

But the best of the evening comes long after the witching hour when the bar is closed and only the hardcore locals remain. Then, after the last strains of a slide guitar disappear into the night, a few ballads. My fiddle and I have been together for many years now. Originally a lovely old English baroque violin, seeing me through my childhood exams, it now masquerades as a boxwood fiddle. It has a fine tone. And, in the wee hours, it has a chance to sing, of famine and loved ones gone to America. And there is total silence here  in the pub. The conversation peters out and all is still. I treasure the moment. They say entrainment is the power to hold people in the palm of your hand. Now that truly is a power worth having.

You are making 'Lamb shanks with black-eyed beans' (pg 103) in a cast iron casserole. It is rather heartening to find that your casseroles are rather like mine ie. 'scarred from bean-based recipes forgotten in the oven..chickpeas leave bubble wrap-type rings on the base; cannellini the sort of snow you get on an untuned television screen.' Thought I was the only forgetful cook with a set of less-than pristine Le Creuseut.

Lamb shanks have become a bit trendy of late, on the menu of every gastropub around, so not quite the cheap cut of meat they used to be. That said, they are delicious,  particularly because they are the hard-working cut from the top of the front leg, and as such have a wonderful deep flavour. But the cooking is everything and getting it right is a bit hit-and-miss. Better to have plenty of time to give the meat as long as it needs to fall off the bone than to try and hurry it to get it on the table. As you point out, 'with the lamb shank we must enter a different mindset, one where something is done when it feels like it, not when a recipe says it should be.'

Everything is done to add depth to this recipe. The lamb shanks are lightly browned, a thick oniony sauce made in their cooking fat, and the meat slowly cooked in the beans and oniony sauce until it 'can be persuaded to part company from its bones.' There is always something very satisfying for the cook about this point. Of course, if you are lucky to have a bottom oven in an Aga, you are probably well-versed in the making of this already.

Here is something new to me - the passion fruit. I know it well and love it, particularly wrapped in a meringue roulade, but I had no idea that I was probably using the fruit before it is properly ripe. Indeed, I don't think I have ever given it much thought at all. The fault lies with never having known what a ripe fruit is. You say that  ' the dark, spherical fruit is most usually sold unripe..smooth, a dull purple packs of four from the supermarket.' This is the way I have experienced it, never knowing what it is like to pluck one from a tree in some faraway climate. You say to 'keep them till the skin has thinned and its surface is covered with dimples, like a golf ball. Like us, the passion fruit is better for a few wrinkles.' (Bless you, Nigel. )

'Eaten too early, the passion fruit has an astringency that will remind you of the pomegranate'...(think I have known that taste), 'kept till ripe, it will give you intense fruit flavours and bright, clean, fresh-tasting juice and seeds.' I will take note of this and let my passion fruit breathe for a while next time. It is good to learn new things and to tighten up your knowledge.

The recipe is for 'Passion fruit creams' (page 106), each one an individual in its own little espresso cup - a lovely finish for a dinner with friends when anything heavier is just a little too much. 'Just before you serve the creams, spoon a little puddle of the passion fruit juice over the top. As each diner digs in with their teaspoon, the juice will trickle down into the depths of the cream.' Perfect.