Archive for February, 2010

Saved – We’ve Got A New Milkman

Friday, February 26th, 2010

We received a letter today with our milk and our milkround has been taken over by a gentleman from Wetherby, called John Moore.  He has been in the dairy trade for over 20 years and we hope that means this Great British tradition of a milk round can be preserved for some time into the future.

Here are some numbers for your local North Yorkshire milkman:

Simon Elliott 07791 963 105 : Thirsk Carlton Minniott Sowerby South Kilvington Sessay

John Moore 07905194794 : Boroughbridge Aldborough Marton Cum Grafton Minskip Roecliffe

Let’s keep this Yorkshire and Great British tradition going so why not tell post the names of your milkman here.

Also, see my previous post for sights, sounds and memories at

Recipe for Vanilla Fudge and Coconut Ice

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Fudge and coconut ice

I know this is really quite pathetic but I have only just cracked how to make fudge in the last year.  It always seemed to burn every time I tried to make it – the problem is that most recipes don’t give the mixture long enough for the sugar to be transformed into fudge.  I would then always turn the heat up too high and it would stick to the bottom and start burning, or turning the sugar to toffee and then burn.

Vanilla fudge 

450g    Caster sugar (organic & Fairtrade)
50g      Unsalted butter, diced
170g    Can evapourated milk
150ml   Full fat milk
½ tsp    Organic Fairtrade vanilla extract (Steenbergs is of course the best!?)

  1. Lightly oil a shallow non-stick baking tray – about 18cm.
  2. Gently heat the sugar, butter and milks in a metal saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Bring to the boil and bubble away gently, stirring continuously (and I mean all the time with no breaks) for 25 – 30 minutes.
  4. When the mixture reaches the soft ball stage or 116oC, remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract.
  5. Beat until the mixture becomes thick and pale in colour, then pour into the baking tray and leave to cool.  When cold cut into 2.5cm squares.
  6. For a variation, you could stir in 150g of organic chocolate rather than the vanilla extract, for a rich dark chocolate fudge.   

Coconut ice

397g    Can of sweetened condensed milk
500g    Icing sugar, sieved
350g    Desiccated coconut (organic if possible)
Few drops of red/pink food colouring (optional)

  1. Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the condensed milk and the sieved icing sugar, then stir in the desiccated coconut.
  3. Now divide the mixture into 2.  Put the first half into the prepared cake tin and press it into all the edges.
  4. Add the food colouring to the second half of coconut mixture and knead until the colour is evenly through.  Put this into the tin on top of the white layer and spread out. 
  5. Leave to set in a cool place, then cut it out into 1-2 cm squares.

How We Are Reducing Our Family Environmental Impact – Insulating the Loft

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

One of the major users of energy in a house is for heating the building.  Space and water heating in homes gives off about 20% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, which is about 5 tonnes CO2 per home every year.

However, one of the key issues for old houses, and in our case very old house, is that they have not been built with the benefit of modern technology that has invested much time, effort and legislation to make housing more heat efficient and so retain much of the heat within the building rather than to radiate it out into North Yorkshire – it’s a godforsaken task to heat up Northern England.

So as a start, you need to keep as much heat in as possible.

So my theory has been simple work down from the roof to the ground floor slowly but surely insulating the house.  We will work from the top downwards, as hot air rises so you want to capture it as it tries to escape upwards first rather than worrying about the ground levels at the outset.

The first thing, we felt, was to get insulation laid in the roof between the joists.  This had been done using old fashioned roof insulation over 10 years ago, insulating to 100mm in depth.  But we decided to insulate again with a cross layer of 200mm recycled glass mineral wool blankets.  For the first attempt at this, we bought recycled mineral wool – each pack of this Knauf Insulation Space Blanket contains 2.4 wine bottles (it was a 200mm thick roll of 1.48m2) and has a R value of 4.50m2K/W.   Government advice is to get insulation to about 300mm.

I liked this because it comes in a roll and encased in fire retardant polyethylene film, so does not need all that cutting and special equipment that normal loft insulation needs, and even more important it’s currently subsidised by e.on under some Government scheme to mitigate climate change so it was half price at Homebase, costing just £5.74 per roll.

It has got a metallic coating which Knauf Insulation claims reflects heat and so keeps more heat in – I think this sounds a bit spurious!

That means that the 35 rolls that I bought cost £143.50; this should mean that we recoup the energy savings within 2 – 3 years (assuming that we will save 10% of our fuel bills and that we had covered the whole roof void with the same insulation, i.e. multiply cost by 3/2; 25% of heat loss in total is through the loft and we already had 100mm in place, so I reckon 10% would be a good estimate for additional savings).

It was pretty easy to lay it and took me about 5 hours over the other weekend to buy the kit and lay it over two-thirds of the roof void.

Typically, however, when I got into the roof, I discovered that the heating engineers (or plumbers as I would have known them) never completed the lagging of the pipes nor the insulation of the water tanks, which was okay as they never relaid the insulation so the heat from the house kept the area around the tank warm – so muggins here had to finish that off as well.

Now feeling a bit good about myself, I bought something last week that’s a bit less simple to lay but definitely a greener alternative.

There are two main alternatives: one from newspapers (Warmcel) and the other from British sheep’s wool and recycled polyester (Thermafleece).  These both have the same levels of insulation capability as mineral wool, but I chose Warmcel and bought 15 bags of this from £165.27, costing £11.02 per bag inclusive of transport to us.  The Thermafleece is roughly double Warmcel again for the same price per m2 for the same depth, i.e. four times as expensive roughly as the recycled mineral wool insulation and so tripling the payback period.

So going back to my payback calculations – Warmcel has a payback of 4 – 6 years, which I am happy about, but Thermafleece has a payback of 8 – 12 years, which is too long for me.  Basically, I think for the cost-reward, it’s probably best to go with either the Space Blanket or (to give you a greener feeling about life) go with the Warmcel.  I cannot see the point with going for Thermafleece unless you feel romantically attached to lining your house in a woolly jumper.

But you do need to put the insulation down yourself as it’s pretty simple, and if you get a builder to do the work, you will blow any meaningful chance at getting a payback.

To buy these greener insulation materials, try these to web sites:

The demise of the milkman

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Our milkman has decided to call it a day – bad back is his reasoning – and no-one wants to take over his route around Boroughbridge. 

I suspect that the weather has also caused havoc for him; I know that rounds have been taking at least twice as long at night and other milkmen have been slipping and falling over in the freezing temperatures.  I wouldn’t want to be out in the depths of the night with temperatures sometimes below -10oC.

Last year was also another bad year for milkmen as Dairy Farmers of Britain went into administration in June 2009.  So I guess that means we will need to start going to the local shops for milk.

There is a note of nostalgia in my views about milkmen.  They are one of those quaint little strands that makes England what it is, but we cannot and must not stand in the way of progress, I suppose.  However I shall miss the neat array of glass bottles sitting on the doorstep, the routine of putting out the bottles to be reused (very green compared to big plastic bottles), while my ears will no longer be subconsciously woken up by the sound of the milk being delivered.

Electric Milk Float

Electric Milk Float

While our milk here has never been delivered on an electric milk float.  That high pitched whine of the milk float was one of the sounds of the English cityscape and much like the sound of the cuckoo is disappearing from our landscape.  I loved the sound of the milk float when I lived in London.

There’s a whole site on milk floats at with sounds and videos at  My favourite audio file is

The demise of the milk man reflects the rise in the grocery multiples who dominate the shopping habits of Britain and, I guess America and every major economy now – Tesco is big in Thailand and Eastern Europe.  We like the convenience of driving to an out of town supermarket, piling the car up with all kinds of goodies and then trundling back home, or we love the convenience of shopping online and getting our groceries delivered by Tesco or Ocado or Asda.

Times change.  It may be nothing but the previous milkman also ran the village Post Office, but that closed about one year after he stopped doing the milk round.

Is this the end of rural England, or is rural England really just a myth that we all think made England what it is?

BT Has Let Us Down

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Many apologies for anyone trying to reach us by email at the moment but currently Steenbergs has no internet service at the factory. The website is not down and is still fully functioning and we are able to access orders from a site elsewhere – this service is not affected by BT.

The problem is due to what should have been a simple upgrade service on Sunday which sadly went awry. 48 hours later and BT has currently “forgotten” to book a service engineer (promised yesterday) and so we have been let down again.

We do have the telephone service and faxes are getting through, but we currently have no access to our emails so many apologies if you are expecting an answer. We aren’t being dilatory we just haven’t received the email.

I seem to remember that when we moved into the factory 3 years ago we ended up having similar issues and ending up being dealt with by the Customer Services Main Board Director’s Assistant.

It does seem staggering in the age of technology that these disruptions in service can still occur and with such apparent lack of priority and follow through!

Will keep you informed.

Update 17/2/2010 at 3.15pm:  After two engineers being out here since 8.30am this morning, BT have fixed the faulty transmission equipment at the Melmerby Exchange and Steenbergs is finally reconnected to the ether.

Recipe – Pancakes Stuffed With Mixed Mushrooms In A Cheese Sauce

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Following on from making pancakes per Sunday’s post, we used the 8 pancakes, or crêpes, that this made by stuffing them with a mushroom filling, covering them in a cheese sauce and baking them in the oven.  This is how we made it. 

Selection Of Mushrooms - Chanterelle, Shiitake and Chestnut

Selection Of Mushrooms - Chanterelle, Shiitake and Chestnut

How to make the mixed mushroom stuffing

75g / 3oz butter
1tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
500g / 1lb mushrooms, wiped, stalks removed and chopped
25g / 1oz fresh breadcrumbs
Pinch of nutmeg powder
Pinch of paprika
Pinch of ground white pepper
1tbsp chopped fesh parsley
1tbsp crème fraiche

You can use any mushrooms for the mushrooms.  I actually used 100g of shiitake, 100g of chanterelle and 300g of chestnut mushrooms for an extra woody and earthy flavour.  Champignons from the shops can be a bit flavourless.

Melt the butter and heat the oil together in a saucepan and then add the finely chopped onion and garlic.  I whizzed them up quickly in a food processor.  Cook these gently until translucent which will take about 5 minutes.

Now add the chopped mushrooms and fry at a high heat until cooked through but not burnt.  Stir in the breadcrumbs, add the seasoning and the crème fraiche together with the chopped parsley.

To stuff the pancakes, put about 1 tablespoon of the mixed mushrooms in the centre of the pancakes and then spread along its length and about 3cm wide.  Now fold over half the pancake and roll up the pancake.  Place the stuffed pancake in a baking tray.  Repeat this for the other pancakes.

Putting Mushroom Stuffing Into Savoury Pancake

Putting Mushroom Stuffing Into Savoury Pancake


One Pancake Well Stuffed With Mushrooms

One Pancake Well Stuffed With Mushrooms

How to make the cheese sauce

50g / 2oz butter
50g / 2oz plain flour
500ml / 1pt milk
A pinch of ground nutmeg
A pinch of paprika
A pinch of ground white pepper
125g / 5oz greated cheddar cheese
50g / 2oz grated cheddar cheese (for sprinkling over the final dish)

To make the cheese sauce first melt the butter in a heavy pan, then add the flour.  Stir this well.  Let the mixture cook gently for about one minute then add the milk little by little, stirring continuously after each addition.  When all the milk has been used, add the first lot of grated cheese and the seasonings and stir in thoroughly.

To finish off the stuffed pancakes

Pre-heat the oven to 180oC / 350oF.

Pour the cheese sauce over the stuffed crêpes and then sprinkle the last cheese over the top.

Bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling.

Mushroom Stuffed Pancakes In Cheese Sauce

Mushroom Stuffed Pancakes In Cheese Sauce

Serve immediately.  We served ours with new potatoes, peas and a salad.

Classic Pancake Recipe

Sunday, February 14th, 2010
Shrove Tuesday is the traditional start of Lent.  It has become associated with pancakes in Britain and so everyone spends the day making pancakes.  We regularly make pancakes for breakfast which the kids then top with cinnamon sugar or lemon and sugar, so I have decided instead to try a savoury pancake recipe, but more of that later.

First, let’s start with a classic pancake recipe.  This is the type of recipe that everyone needs to be able to bang out without really thinking about; it’s a staple, basic meal.  We make it without measuring anything – a bit of flour, a couple of eggs, some salt and add milk until the consistency is about right.  So while the recipe is a simple pan cake recipe, it was actually pretty difficult to work back to a workable recipe.

Ingredients – for 8 – 10

110g / 4oz plain flour
1 free range egg
1 free range egg yolk
Pinch of salt
275ml / 10fl oz full fat milk (traditionally you should use 50:50 water-milk mixture, but I like to give it a good, rich flavour)
1tbsp sunflower oil
1tsp sunflower oil or butter or lard – for the frying

Eggs and Flour For Pancake Batter

Eggs and Flour For Pancake Batter

Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl.  Mix in the salt.  Make a dent in the flour and drop the egg into this.  Add a small amount of milk, roughly 2 tablespoons and with a metal hand whisk, thoroughly mix the egg and milk into the flour.  Now add some more milk and whisk thoroughly again.  Carry on doing this a little bit at a time until the batter is becoming runny.  Now add the rest of the milk, the 1tbsp of sunflower oil and whisk again.

Whisking Pancake Batter

Whisking Pancake Batter

You need to slowly add the milk at the beginning as this ensures that the pancake batter is thoroughly mixed through and there are no lumps.  Now leave the pancake batter to prove for about 30 minutes; it really is worth leaving the pancake batter to prove as this makes the final pancake rise to a fuller height.

We often tweak the recipe in the morning by adding a pinch of cinnamon powder as this really makes for a nice, warming and homely flavour.

To make the pancakes, add a teaspoon of sunflower oil and spread it evenly over the skillet using perhaps a piece of kitchen paper.  You can use a similar amount of either butter or lard, but we like sunflower oil.

Leave it to heat through throughly until sizzling hot – be a bit patient as the reason why many people say that the first pancake just doesn’t work is that they don’t wait for the pan to get hot enough.  Add about half a soup spoon (2 tablespoons) full of pancake batter to the frying pan and spread it over the pan. 

Heat through until the top is just dried through and then flip over using a spatula and heat the other side.  You can lift the edge up to check that it is getting a nice light brown if you are worried that it is going to burn.

Frying Pancakes

Frying Pancake

Serve straight away or keep warm in an oven at about 125oC/ 300oF.

You can then top it with a teaspoon of sugar or flavoured sugar, or sugar and lemon, or (for the kids) spread with Nutella or another chocolate spread.

How do you like yours?

How We Are Reducing Our Family Environmental Impact – Getting Started

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

I thought we could share how we have tried to reduce our carbon footprint and what we are still looking at doing.

To start with, I need to give some background about us. 

We live in an old three bedroom cottage in a rural location.  The house is built of brick and the core of the house was built between 300 and 400 years ago, so (to repeat what was unhelpfully said in the survey when we bought the house) the house does not meet modern building standards, which (of course) was one of its key attractions to us.  It is also grade 2 listed which creates additional problems.  We are a family of four – two adults and two children who are not yet teenagers.  Both Sophie and I work together in our own small business 9 miles away.  Also, I absolutely hate doing DIY so we were never going to cleverly improve our house all by ourselves.

As a household, we now have total estimated greenhouse gas emissions as 9.2 tonnes CO2e per year, compared to the UK average of a total of 12.4 tonnes CO2e per year,  based on a carbon calculator provided by The Open University and stats that they use – different methods give different answers. 

The first thing we did was tackle all the easy things that we were terrible at.  Here are some of our howlers and some of those things that we have improved on very quickly:

  1. Changed the timing on the central heating from all day to 2 hours in the morning and the evening;
  2. Reduced temperature on thermostat by 3oC from 18oC to 15oC;
  3. Putting curtains up in every room and started closing the curtains at night or (in this cold winter) upstairs during the daytime;
  4. Changed all our light bulbs from old fashioned incandescent bulbs to low energy lamps;
  5. Switched off electrical appliances at the plug when not in use, especially computers, TVs and radios, i.e. no standby and computers and TVs are not on when no-one is around;
  6. Reduced, reused and recycled more of the packaging we get and unwanted  stuff like clothes, toys and books – friends and our local Oxfam have been very happy about this;
  7. Halved the number of fridges and freezers we had – we used to have two of each and have reduced that down to one of each.  Both were given to friends of friends rather than being chucked;
  8. Put low energy plugs onto the fridges and freezers reducing the general levels of electricity being used by the remaining appliances – not sure that these really work but they sounded neat;
  9. Share car journeys whenever possible, which as we work together means five days out of seven can be done in the same car – this reduced our car movements by ten every week.

And that’s about all we did.  We do not have a tumble drier and only iron rarely (a karate gi and my shirts but only so very rarely); we do not use mobile phones (I don’t actually have one, but Sophie does have one for emergencies) or similar things like Blackberries.  We already cooked most of our food from scratch, buying organic & Fairtrade, as well as local where possible.

For more on saving the world, there’s good information at:

What have other people done when getting started on being green?

New Information About Global Warming

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

I’ve been reading New Scientist this week (6/2/2010) and there were 2 interesting articles on climate change this week:

  1. Water vapour fingered in climate change:  this reported that a rise in water vapour in the atmosphere fuelled 30% of global warming in the 1990s, while a 10% fall in 2001 has slowed down global warming in last decade by 25%;
  2. Imports mean UK emissions are up not down: this is a report commisioned by defra that they are now sitting on that shows that while national carbon dioxide emissions are down by 148 megatonnes between 1992 and 2004, this was outweighed by a 217 megatonne rise in embedded carbon dioxide emissions from imported products over the same period. 

A fuller report is found at Environmental Science and Technology but in essence all this says is that the fall in greenhouse gas emissions in the UK is mainly due to the fact that we have exported our greenhouse gasses to India and China, together with all our manufacturing capability and much of our social and health and safety issues.

What do you reckon – is the UK Government seeking to hide an embarassment that actually undermines its supposed adherence to the Kyoto process?

Recipe For French Macarons

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I came across this recipe on the truly amazing food blog of the Californian pastry chef living in Paris – David Lebovitz – which can be found at  And I have been meaning to have a crack at making his chocolate macarons for well over 6 months but strangely I never had the courage as the photography on his blog is really quite daunting; I suppose I just thought I would fail and so why try – the fear of failure always tries to hold us back.

Anyway this Sunday, I plucked up courage and printed out his recipe for Chocolate Macarons and then tweaked it to a more English style of ingredient list and had to go.  They came out quite well really, although not as beautiful looking as his, but the taste was heavenly.

Chocolate Macarons

Chocolate Macarons

Here’s my slightly changed recipe (the process itself is the same as David Lebovitz’s so that’s been cribbed):

For the batter:
100g / 3½ oz icing sugar, sieved
50g  / 2 oz ground almonds
25g /3tbsp  cocoa powder, sieved
2 large egg whites (keep the yolks and make pancakes the next morning with these)
65g / 5tbsp caster sugar

Chocolate filling:
125ml / ½ cup double cream
2tsp golden syrup
120g / 4oz chocolate (either dark or not too milky chocolate – I used El Rey chocolate couverture discs)
1tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven 180oC / 350oF.  Line two baking trays or sheets with baking parchment paper and have a pastry bag with 2cm plain tip.

In a food processor, grind together the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder until quite fine. 

In a bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they start to rise, then add the caster sugar in two parts and continue to whisk until the egg whites become very stiff and firm and slightly glossy on the surface.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients in two parts into the beaten egg whites with a metal spoon or rubber spatula.  When the mixture is just smooth and just as the last streaks of white disappear, stop mixing and scrape the mixture into the pastry bag.

Pipe the batter into the lined baking try as in 3cm circles evenly spaced every 3cm apart.  I struggled with getting this stage to look pretty, but I guess practise would make me much better.  Rap the baking tray three times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake for 15 – 18 minutes.  When baked, let them cool completely.

Heat the cream and golden syrup in a small saucepan and when the cream is just starting to boil at the edges, remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  Let this heat through for about one minute, then stir until smooth and add the pieces of butter.  Let cool completely before use – I bunged it in the fridge.

To make the macarons, spread the chocolate mix on the inside of the macarons and sandwich together.

David Lebovitz then says let them stand for at least one day before serving to let the flavour settle.  This just is not practical in our house where 8 chocolate macarons could not be kept away from hungry gannets and were wolfed down in short order, which is the way good cooking should go. 

What other macarons recipes should I dare to try?