Posts Tagged ‘Yorkshire’

Recipe For A Warming Winter’s Rabbit Casserole

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Rabbit used to be the chicken of England with everyone eating rabbits that live in copious amounts around the countryside.  I am not sure why chicken took over from rabbit in our nation’s hearts, but it might be as simple as the fact that it is easier to get the meat off an enlarged chicken breast than cutting the fiddly meat off the rabbit skeleton.  And there are still so many rabbits around that I do not know why we have never taken up this as the poor man’s food – free food from the countryside that also keeps their numbers down instead of factory farmed fowl.

Anyway, I like the light, gamey meat taste of rabbit, so on Saturday I prepared this wintry rabbit casserole for eating on Sunday; Sophie and I were out in our village for a party, so we did not want any particular hassle with the cooking on Sunday.  Thanks to Sally and Paul for the fantastic party and delicious curries.  This is the classic stewing sauce that I make for all game, meat and chicken, varying the amounts of each ingredient depending what is lurking in the vegetables area or in the fridge.  The key is the basic ingredients of onions, carrots, bay, salt and pepper, together with the stock plus a long slow cook to let all the flavours infuse together; everything else can be tweaked and changed.

Ingredients

2tbsp sunflower oil
1 desertspoon butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, halved and chopped finely (approx 1mm)
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped finely
8 mushrooms, cleaned and halved
200ml / 7 fl oz red wine (roughly a wine glass)
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
300ml / ½ pint chicken stock
1tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
600g  / 1¼ lb rabbit, cut into 3cm / 1 inch dices
5 rashers streaky bacon, cut into 3cm long strips
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.

Add 1 tbsp sunflower oil and the butter to a heavy bottomed casserole pot and heat to really hot.  Add the onions and cook until translucent and just starting to brown at the edges, which will take about 5 minutes over a medium heat.  Add the sliced celery, carrot and mushrooms, stir and lightly fry for about 3 minutes until translucent.

Mushrooms, Carrots And Celery

Mushrooms, Carrots And Celery

Lightly Fry The Vegetables

Lightly Fry The Vegetables

Add the red wine, then the chopped tomatoes and chicken stock, and bring to the boil.  Cook the stock for about 10 minutes on a full boil and with the lid off to allow it to reduce.

Meanwhile, fry the streaky bacon in 1tbsp of sunflower oil.  When browned add the bacon to the tomato stock.  Add the chopped and prepared rabbit to the streaky bacon oil and cook until sealed and lightly browned.  Add to the tomato and simmer for about 5 minutes with the lid off.

Fry The Rabbit Pieces

Fry The Rabbit Pieces

Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 15 minutes at 180C / 350F, then reduce the heat to 160C / 320F and cook for another 45 minutes.

Axel's Rabbit Casserole

Axel's Rabbit Casserole

If possible cook this on the day before eating and leave overnight for the flavours to fully infuse, meld and develop.

Serve with mashed potato.

Recipe For Traditional Steamed Ginger Treacle Sponge Pudding

Monday, December 6th, 2010
Ginger is a wonderful spice, warming and earthy in flavour with a comforting aroma. For me, it is redolent with memories of warmth indoors with an open coal or wood fire while the outside is heavy with snow. It is also so versatile with the spice being warming and earthy and perfect for everything from curry through to ginger biscuits, while sweet crystallised ginger is lovely and sweet and ideal for ice creams through to puddings. I have bought in traditional crystrallised ginger sweets for this Christmas along with some chocolate gingers boxed up in retro wooden boxes. So with the weather brisk over the last week and heavy snows for this time of the year, my mind has wondered to traditional sponge puddings full of suet, treacle and, you got it, ginger.
I made this on Saturday evening, enjoying listening to the pop pop pop sound of the lid on pot as the pud steamed away for 2 hours while I listened to Radio 5 Live. There was a really frank and open phone in hosted by Alec McGivern on the failed English bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2018, but I must admit that I sympathise with Niall Quinn and his view that those who disclosed corruption at FIFA prior to the announcement of the winners of the FIFA World Cups should explain to those football fans in Newcastle and Sunderland why they did it and whether they really believe that they were right to push for disclosure in a way that could harm the “now failed” bid. They need, also, to explain to those in the North East who could have benefitted from any investment in local infrastructure and sport in the build up to a World Cup where that hope for jobs and change will now come from. There are times to talk and there are times to keep stum, and this surely was one of those times to wait for a better moment. I accept that there might have been no change in the result, but it still sticks in the craw.
Anyway back to the Steamed Ginger Sponge Pudding, this is a dark and rich sweet steamed pudding. It is moist and succulent with a satisfying heaviness, rather than a dry lightness that many modern puddings have. I think that hearty body comes from the suet, whereas many recipes now seem to exclude the suet and use self raising flour, breadcrumbs and butter to make more of a cake than a traditional buxom sweet.
Recipe For Steamed Ginger Treacle Sponge
3 tbsp golden syrup
1tbsp black treacle
1tbsp ground almonds
225g / 8 oz plain flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g / 3 oz suet
50g / 2 oz light muscovado sugar or soft brown sugar
2 tsp organic Fairtrade ginger powder
½ tsp organic Fairtrade cinnamon powder
¼ tsp sea salt
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
25g / 1 oz golden syrup
25g / 1 oz black treacle
75 ml / 2 ½ fl oz / ⅓ cup full fat milk
Prepare a 1 litre (2 pint) pudding basin by placing greasing lightly the whole basin with butter or sunflower oil.
Add the golden syrup and treacle to the bottom of pudding bowl. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the top of this.
Add Golden Syrup And Treacle To Pudding Basin

Add Golden Syrup And Treacle To Pudding Basin

Sieve the plain flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the muscovado sugar, ginger, cinnamon and sea salt, and mix thoroughly. Make a well and add the egg, golden syrup, treacle and milk and stir the mixture together to thick consistency.
Mix The Ingredients Together

Mix The Ingredients Together

Pour the mixture into the prepared, greased pudding basin over the ground almonds.
There should be about 4cm / 1 inch space at the top of the basin for the sponge to rise into. Now cover the sponge mixture: cut a square of baking parchment and grease one side; place this over the top of the pudding basin; cut a larger piece of aluminium foil and place this over the top; tie the covering down with a piece of string wound around the basin twice and then knotted.
Prepare The Pudding For Steaming

Prepare The Pudding For Steaming

Steam in a pan with boiling water for 2 hours, topping up the pan as necessary to keep the level roughly consistent. If cooking earlier then reheating, reheat by steaming for 1 hour or nuking in the microwave for a few minutes.
Turn out onto a warmed plate and serve with custard.
Steamed Ginger Sponge Pudding

Steamed Ginger Sponge Pudding

Serve With Custard

Serve With Custard

Blending Christmas Tea

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

It is that time of year when customers are after our Christmas tea which is made to my own special recipe. 

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Christmas Tea

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Christmas Tea

We use a high grown organic Fairtrade from the POABS biodynamic tea estates in Kerala in Southern India as the base.  This is a lovely clean drinking black tea, while at the same time being mild in flavour without any maltiness or meadowy flavours coming through; therefore it is a wonderful base tea.

Whole Fairtrade Spices Ready For Grinding

Whole Fairtrade Spices Ready For Grinding

I take organic Fairtrade cardamom, organic Fairtrade cinnamon quills and organic Fairtrade cloves from the Small Organic Farmers’ Association in the Kandy region of Sri Lanka.  I then get some organic Fairtrade vanilla pods from the warehouse and chop these to about 1 cm in size.  All of these are mixed together and then ground down to a 1 – 2mm chop.  By grinding the whole spices in small batches, I can ensure that the quality of flavours is fresh and strong and that I am happy with their quality.

These are added to the tea together with some organic orange peel granules.

Cracked Spices And Black Tea

Cracked Spices And Black Tea

I mix it all together by hand, transfer it into sacks and leave to infuse with these gorgeous spicy flavours for a couple of weeks before testing and releasing for packing.

Christmas Tea All Mixed Up

Christmas Tea All Mixed Up

No additional flavours are added, no chemicals; it’s just tea and spices, blended by hand in North Yorkshire by me.  The final tea is a gently spiced, homely and warming for these darker evenings.

Recipe For Fruit Teabread Revisited

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

For whatever reasons, I have not been quite happy with the original teabread recipe that I created and posted a few weeks back, so I have been playing around with the recipe now and baking away.  Now several teabreads and a family of very happy tasters later, I think I have cracked it.

The key is still in the tea – the better the tea, the more interesting the tea, the better and more interesting the end result.  I have now made it with breakfast tea, Assam tea, Christmas chai tea and Redbush Chai tea and they all come out with slightly different flavours, but they are all great.  The tea should always be made with loose leaf tea as you lose that fustiness from the tea bag, plus why use good ingredients then spoil their subtleties with the imperfection of the flavour from a bag.  The other addition that I have made is I have substituted buttermilk for the butter, which adds a different richness to the cake that was not completely right beforehand, however you can either substitute this for a full fat milk or omit this ingredient but then add extra tea to compensate, otherwise the teabread loses some of its moistness, which is part of the joy and vital to the texture.

The other part that I have played with is to work on variations of the steeping of the fruits.  Firstly, I think it is better to boil the fruit for 10 – 15 minutes, then to leave the fruit to cool and steep in the brewed tea ideally overnight, but certainly until the fruit has cooled to a warm to the touch temperature.  The alternative of steeping in freshly brewed tea did not seem as successful, although fine; perhaps the initial boiling softens up and gets the fruit more receptive to taking up the flavours of the tea.

Finally, I have upped the quantities, the better to fit my loaf tin.  The end result is moist, rich and moreish, tasting great with butter.

Revised Ingredients And Recipe For Axel’s Teabread

175g / 6 oz / 1 cup sultanas
125g / 4½ oz / ¾ cup raisins
50g / 2oz / ¼ cup currants
175g / 6 oz / ¾ cup light brown muscovado sugar
250ml / 8 fl oz / 1 cup strong, freshly brewed tea
1 egg free-range, at room temperature and lightly beaten
50 ml / 3½ tbsp buttermilk
230g / 8 oz / 1 cups plain white flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Fairtrade cinnamon powder
½ tsp Fairtrade nutmeg powder

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F.  Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Place the dried fruit and muscovado sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan, then add the strong tea, heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the fruit has plumped up.  Leave to cool in the pan, ideally overnight.

Sieve together the plain flour, baking powder, Fairtrade cinnamon and nutmeg powders.  Make a well in the centre of the flour, then add in the egg and stir thoroughly with a spatula.  Add the buttermilk and stir until you have a soft dough.  Add the fruits and throughly beat together with the silicone spatula.

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Pour the fruit teabread mixture into the prepared loaf tin.  Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes, remove from the oven then leave to stand in the tin for about 10 minutes, before turning out and leaving to cool on wire rack.  Start checking the consistency of the teabread towards the end – when it is springy to a light touch on the surface of the teabread, it is done.

Yorkshire Teabread

Yorkshire Teabread

You do not need to leave this to cool down completely as it is lovely eaten warm.

Apples, Bloody Apples And An Apple Cake Recipe

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

We only have three apple trees in our garden, but they have been massively fruitful this year.  In fact, they have produced so many apples I cannot even hope to use them all, even with friends and family taking them.  Nature has been so very fecund that even the quince bush outside of our front door has fruited; in the last 10 years, I reckon we have had had one quince on the bush in total, whereas this year there are seven.  It must be nature’s response to two harsh winters – up the reproduction and spread more seeds to survive.

Fruitful Apple Trees In Garden

Fruitful Apple Trees In Garden

Apples Picked From the Garden

Apples Picked From the Garden

Windfall Chutney 2010

Windfall Chutney 2010

So over the last two weekends, we have peeled for hours, then: picked and stored the eaters for later this year rather than chomp on out-of-season, flown in fruits from some high street chain; made apple puree, which has been frozen to lighten the fruitless days in the depths of winter; eaten baked apples using up leftover mincemeat for last Christmas that is now gorgeously matured and very boozy; made two types of chutney – General Gordon’s chutney and Windfall Chutney; and still made no dent in the apple harvest.

I love the plenty of harvest time, but I hate to see the waste when there is such an excess, while I know that in February/March I will be longing for fresh fruit in the knowledge that I was so wasteful in September.  And we have so little fresh fruit in this part of Northern England.

I have, also, cobbled together several different versions of apple cake, which both have a charmingly spiced, old world flavour to them.

Apple Puree Cake

Apple Puree Cake

Apple Puree Cake

Ingredients:

175g / 6 oz / 1 cup apple puree – cooking apples, stewed, pureed then sieved
110g / 4 oz / 2/3 cup sultanas
1tbsp currants
1 mug strong black tea (optional)
200g / 7 oz / 1 cup Fairtrade organic caster sugar
225g / 8 oz / 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly whisked
340g / 12 oz  / 3 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of sea salt
½ tsp nutmeg powder
½ tsp cinnamon powder

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.  Prepare a 22cm / 9 inch cake tin by lightly buttering it and lining the base.

If you have not got any pre-made apple puree, peel some cooking apples then core and quarter them (weight will be more than the 175g / 6 oz but you can eat the balance with some sugar, while cooking the rest of the cake).  Place in a pan and put lid on; heat under a medium heat until hot, then reduce heat to a low heat and let the apples stew until soft.  Squash them through a sieve to give you your apple puree.

This next bit is optional and involves preparing the dried fruit.  I put the dried fruit into a pan, then brewed a strong mug of black tea.  The black tea was then poured over the fruit and I boiled the fruit for about 10 minutes until nice and plump.  Sieve off the excess tea and leave to cool.  You can ignore this stage and simply use the dried fruit, but I like doing this as it reduces that jaw-aching, chewiness of dried fruit, while adding another flavour dimension to your baking.

Sieve together the organic plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sea salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Cream together the butter and caster sugar.  Add the eggs – half at first, followed by a tablespoon of the flour mix, then add the remainder.  Now add in the cooled apple puree and mix thoroughly.  Add the rest of the flour mix and mix together.  Finally add the sultanas and currants and make sure it is mixed well.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 50 minutes.  Towards the end start checking the consistency of the cake, by gently touching the top and feeling whether it is springy rather than liquidy.  If it is cooking too slowly reduce the temperature to 160C / 320F and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes.

Leave to cool in tin for about 5 minutes, then remove from the cake tin and let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the second apple cake recipe, this will be in my next blog…

Simpler Venison Casserole Recipe

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Having gone through the fuss and carry on of marinading venison in stock per the previous post, I wondered why you do not just make a stew in the normal way as you would for beef or lamb.  Also, I still had some of the Hornby Castle venison in the fridge that had been newly defrosted.

One of the issues I reckoned was the fact that venison is quite lean and so might dry out during a long slow cook.  I overcame that by frying up some chopped streaky bacon and using that as extra fat that would keep the venison moist throughout the cooking process.  Finally, to ensure a melt-in-your-mouth experience when eating, I still cooked the venison casserole for a decent and long time.

Another little trick that I used was to cook in beer.  It is cheaper than wine, feels much more genuinely British and local than wine and its flavour profile is much more subtle than the wham, bham, smack in the face of claret.  Beer often has a pleasant sweetness and spicy overtones that go really well with meat; in this case, I used a bottle of Innis & Gunn Original from Edinburgh, which suggests that it is a “smooth Scottish beer with hints of toffee, vanilla and oak”, plus it was not as thick and treacly as many full on real beers, with a paler hue that I felt would work well.

The end result was a delicious, succulent and meaty stew, full of meat that felt soft and velvety in the mouth.  Delicious and better than the marinaded version from earlier, plus a lot easier.

How to Make Axel’s Venison In Beer

675g / 1½lb diced venison, 3cm / 1 inch cubes
1tsp lard or butter
100g  / 3½oz streaky bacon, cut into 3cm / 1 inch long squares
1 dessertspoon sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely sliced
1 carrot, finely sliced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme (from garden or 1 tsp dried thyme)
3 – 5 juniper berries, lightly crushed
3 black peppercorns
200ml / 8 fl oz / 1 cup beef stock (once again I used a prepared beef stock from Truefoods)
75ml / 2¾ fl oz / ¼ cup light beer

Frying The Onions, Celery And carrots For Venison Casserole

Frying The Onions, Celery And carrots For Venison Casserole

Firstly, I cooked the streaky bacon in a small amount of lard in a frying pan until it was crispy, then transferred these to a heavy bottomed pan or casserole dish.  Then, I browned the venison in the same frying pan; when this was completed, all the venison, juices and fats were transferred to the casserole dish.

I wiped the frying pan clean, then added the sunflower oil and fried the onion pieces until translucent, which takes about 5 minutes under a low heat.  When translucent, I added the celery and carrot slices and fried it all for another 2 minutes.  After this, everything was transferred to the casserole pot.

All the rest of the ingredients were added into the casserole pot and stirred.  The stew was heated to boiling then the heat reduced to allow the sauce to bubble gently away with the lid off.  The casserole should be cooked like this for about 3 hours.  It should not dry out, but if needed top up with some more of the beer.

Casserole Before Being Cooked For 3 Hours

Casserole Before Being Cooked For 3 Hours

Venison Casserole Three Hours Later

Venison Casserole Three Hours Later

Serve the venison casserole with mashed potato and shredded cabbage.  I actually used a sweet potato-normal potato mash in the ratio of 1:3.

Venison Stewed In Beer

Venison Stewed In Beer

Recipes Using Venison From Hornby Castle

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

I bought some delicious venison steaks and diced venison the other day from Hornby Castle in North Yorkshire.  Since then, we have been experimenting with a couple of different casseroles, and have come up with two different ones – a traditional richly marinaded and cooked venison and a lighter and meatier venison stew in ale.

Roger and Julia Clutterbuck farm at Hornby Castle, which is one of those quintessentially English old country houses.  Hornby Castle dates back to the fourteenth century and has been rebuilt several times of the centuries including a major overhaul in the 1760s by John Carr.  The mediaeval St. Quintins Tower was knocked down in 1927 and the John Carr East Range was demolished in the 1930s.  The Clutterbucks bought the estate in the 1930s from the estate of the Duke of Leeds as that old English family slowly dissipated.

Hornby Castle is an 850 acre estate, comprising about 350 acres arable and the remainder grass.  On some of the grass, Roger introduced red deer and bison during 2004-5; these are processed as cuts of meat or into sausages, burgers and casseroles.  The venison is butchered by Yorkshire Game and Masham Sausages make their venison sausages, while Langthornes processes the bison and makes the burgers.  Julia is in charge of developing recipes and marketing the meat, which is a real hidden gem that more people simply just need to know about.

Truly enterprising executive chefs really should get this on to their radar screens, but while I suspect they will continue to miss out.  Anyone who can get to Hornby Castle should contact Julia Clutterbuck (01748 811 579 or email julia@parklandrange.co.uk) and get some of their bison and venison.  It is best to ring beforehand as there is no shop and it is a case of when it’s there, it’s there, so you cannot be guaranteed that what you are after is actually in their freezer.

I bought some venison recently to fry up as simple steaks and also some diced venison for a casserole.  The Haunch Steaks come vacuum packed in pairs; I purchased two packs to feed the four hungry Steenberg mouths at £5.32 and £4.94 at £21.46 per kilo.

I lightly seasoned the Haunch Steaks with salt and pepper, then fried them in sunflower oil for about 2 minutes on each side.  I put the cooked steaks in a warm oven, then fried off the juices in a couple of tablespoons of rosé wine thickened with a knob of unsalted butter.  This light rosé jus was drizzled over the venison steaks and served with new potatoes and steamed broccoli and fine beans.

Hornby Castle Venison Steaks

Hornby Castle Venison Steaks

Lightly Fried Venison Steaks

Lightly Fried Venison Steaks

Hornby Castle venison has a deliciously meaty flavour and a really succulent texture that has a good lean bite, without becoming to chewy.  Because the red deer is butchered at 18 to 24 months old, there is none of that overly strong gaminess and excess richness that often comes with venison and that can make it almost overpowering.  Jay loved it so much he has already asked me to make it again – we will see, but a meal the kids want more of is always a blessing.

This weekend, I made a Classic Venison Casserole.  This is quite a time consuming process involving overnight marinading of the venison in a lot of red wine (I used Hermitage 1995 – Cuvee Marquise de la Tourette which was a treat), followed by slowly cooking the venison in your oven for 3 hours.  The result is worth the effort – a classically, rich venison taste in a deep, dark and rich red wine sauce with meat that is so soft and delicate.  We ate it with a celeriac- potato mash and purple sprouting broccoli, which allows you to mop the delicious red wine sauce up in the mash, which gives you a lovely comforting feeling.

I have to admit, however, that the need to marinade the venison means it might put you off wanting to make this recipe regularly, while I find the concept of throwing away most of the marinade ingredients horribly wasteful, so I have also created a quicker and thrifty way to cook the venison.  But unlike what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says, the venison does not come out dry and pickled from the long marinade, or it did not for us; perhaps, this says more about the venison and wine that he used when he has tried marinading venison overnight.  I will explain my simpler venison casserole in my next blog post.

How to make Axel Steenbergs Classic Venison Casserole

Ingredients

900g/ 2lb diced venison

For the marinade

The rest

What to do

Cut the venison into 3cm (1 inch) cubes and place these into a dish.  Pour over the red wine, then add the rest of the ingredients for the marinade as you prepare them.  Give it all a good stir, cover, then leave overnight in the fridge or a cool place.

Marinading Venison In Red Wine, Vegetables And Spices

Marinading Venison In Red Wine, Vegetables And Spices

The next day, heat the oven to 170C/ 340F.   Next lift out the cubes of venison and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Strain the marinade and keep flavoured liquid to the side for later.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and brown the venison, a few at a time.  Put these into a casserole dish.  When you have finished browing the venison, pour half the marinade into the pan and scrape the pan to get all the fried pieces up and add this all to the casserole dish.

Browning The Venison In Frying Pan

Browning The Venison In Frying Pan

In a seperate pan, melt the butter and fry the onions and garlic until translucent and place into the casserole, then cook the mushrooms for two minutes before placing these into the casserole. Stir in the flour and cook for 30 seconds, slowly adding the marinade stirring to prevent any lumps forming.

Remove from the heat, then add the rest of the marinade and the stock and heat until boiling.  Add boiling stock to the casserole, then put in the redcurrant jelly and season with salt and black pepper.

Cover the casserole and cook for two hours, checking it does not dry out and in the last half an hour taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed.

Venison Casserole Hubbling Away

Venison Casserole Hubbling Away

When cooked, add chopped parsley and serve hot with mashed potatoes.

Traditional Venison Casserole

Traditional Venison Casserole

Recipe For Yorkshire Fruit Tea Bread

Friday, September 17th, 2010

We have always loved teabreads here at home like those made by Elizabeth Bothams of Whitby, but I reckoned that some of those homely, comforting cakes could not be too difficult to make.  So this weekend I set out to make a traditional Fruit Teabread, plus I wanted to have an experiment with cooking with tea.  Quite a lot of the English traditional cakes call for fruit to be laced with alcohol and soaked for a time, but couldn’t this be replaced with soaking in tea?

What I ended out with is a cross between a teabread and a Yorkshire brack, a lighter brack than maybe traditional but richer than a teabread.

Yorkshire Brack

Yorkshire Teabread

Firstly, the practical error, I used a loaf tin that was too small for the mixture, and will need to add an extra 30% to the quantities for the loaf tin, or use a smaller loaf tin; I think I have two little loaf tins hidden somewhere in the cellar.  Secondly, you could perhaps increase the amount of pepper used, but not by much as little of that flavour seemed to come through.  Thirdly, the tea used in this case was a Christmas Chai that we hand blend at our Ripon factory and was hanging over in our cupboard from last year, as I felt that its extra spiciness would add a mysterious hint of the exotic to the background flavour, but I am not sure that it was tastable (if that’s a genuine word).  Finally, I boiled the fruit in the tea, whereas most recipes suggest that you soak the fruit overnight, which is fine, however I never real know what I want to bake until the day has arrived, so I needed to speed up the process.

Otherwise the taste and texture were great, and it lasted for about 30 minutes without a complaint from anyone who tried it.  In fact, most came back for more, so it cannot have been half bad.

How to make Fruit Tea Bread

115g / 4oz / 2/3 cup sultanas
75g / 3oz / ½ cup raisins
40g / 1½ oz / 3tbsp currants
200ml / 7 fl oz / 7/8 cup strong black tea (2tbsp in 6 cup pot; try a chai for subtle differences)
1 pinch of ground black pepper, or lemon pepper
115g / 4oz / ½ cup soft brown sugar
180g / 7oz / 1½ cups plain flour (I used Gilchesters strong white flour)
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Fairtrade cinnamon powder
½ tsp Fairtrade nutmeg powder
1 large egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten
30g / 1oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled to touch warm

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F.  Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Place the dried fruit into a small saucepan, then add the strong tea, heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the fruit has plumped up.  Leave to cool in the pan.  When cool strain away any excess liquid, add the pinch of ground pepper, stir the fruit around and try and coat most of the fruit.  Stir in the sugar and leave to the side.

Fruit Boiled In Chai Tea

Fruit Boiled In Chai Tea

Sieve together the plain flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg powders.  Make a well in the centre of the flour, then add in the egg and stir thoroughly with a spatula.  Add the melted butter and stir until you have a soft dough.  Add the sugar coated fruits and throughly beat together with the silicone spatula.

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Tea Bread Mixture In Loaf Tin

Tea Bread Mixture In Loaf Tin

Tip the fruit cake mixture into the prepared loaf tin.  Bake for 1 hour, remove from the oven then leave to stand in the tin for about 10 minutes, before turning out and leaving to cool on wire rack.  You do not need to leave this to cool down completely as it is lovely eaten warm.

Axel's Tea Bread Just Out Of The Oven

Axel's Tea Bread Just Out Of The Oven

Serve on its own or spread with butter.

A Sense Of Community

Monday, August 30th, 2010

On Saturday morning, I went to Havenhands the Bakers in St James’s Square in Boroughbridge*, then on to the Post Office before going to Ripon to watch the start of the Annual Raft Race in the Ripon Canal Basin.  On that short journey, I met several people who I knew really well in both personal and business life, and a few others who I knew well enough to pass the time with.

It made me realise why I enjoy living in the country, in a rural space, rather than in a town or city.  I love that sense of community that gently underpins life in our rural community-scape.  We know the current Mayors of Pateley Bridge and Ripon quite well, which sounds grand but it’s not especially so in our small community – this ain’t London or New York.  We know the family that runs Boroughbridge post office, many of the local postmen, the local courier drivers, a good proportion of the local policemen, the local vicars and Dean of Ripon and many of the local schoolteachers and so on and so on.  You soon realise how many people you know who create the fabric of our local community.   And we know many of the local business people well enough to have an idle natter with, and we do have those chats.

I like that, having been brought up in a rural Northumberland.  City life never fitted comfortably, and the money never got close to compensating for a loss of that fabric that can bind people together.  While some business gurus talk about the business environment giving that community spirit, it does not really work, as there is always a hint, an undercurrent, of tension and aggression; business does not forgive mistakes and transgressions, whereas real communities live with, forgive and forget, and perhaps are defined by their own sense of forgiveness and tolerance for day-to-day transgressions amongst their own.

I feel that the Internet can go some way to recreating that sense of community and rebuild a fabric for society and go some way to letting people have a sense of belonging to something, a community, and hopefully that is a civil and decent digital and online community.  Maybe the Internet and its web can bring people together in a way that Governments really have failed to do, in spite of the billions in cash spent and huge amount of brain cells and legislation proposed on areas such as social inclusion and redevelopment.  In the end, it is people and communities that matter not politicos with an agenda to grab power.

Recently, Ripon as a community celebrated its founder, St Wilfrid, with the exuberant St Wilfrid’s Parade, full of joy and singing and not a small amount of indulgence.   This weekend our real life community had fun with its Annual Raft Race held at Ripon Canal Basin, where teams competed on a course in a mobile swan and on home-made, but rather professional, rafts; then on Sunday, it was the turn of the duck race held by The Water Rat at Alma Weir in Ripon.  What is great is the huge amount of fun and joy that people have when taking part in these community events – just look at the smiles on peoples faces and in their eyes.

That’s community, that’s North Yorkshire.

Photos from St Wilfrid’s Parade 2010 (more at Facebook):

A Vampire Screams

A Vampire Screams

The Jolliest Zebra I've Ever Seen

The Jolliest Zebra I've Ever Seen

A Jolly Bee With A Lovely Smile

A Jolly Bee With A Lovely Smile

The Great And Good Of Ripon - The Wakeman, The Dean, The Mayor

The Great And Good Of Ripon - The Wakeman, The Dean, The Mayor

Photos from Great Raft Race 2010 (more photos on Facebook):

Mayor Of Ripon In A Swan

Mayor Of Ripon In A Swan

Happy Face

Happy Face

Pirate Boat

Pirate Boat

Pirates Rowing Hard

Pirates Rowing Hard

Getting Dunked...

Getting Dunked...

...And Splash

...And Splash

Photos from Great Duck Race 2010 (more photos on Facebook):

Helping The Ducks Over Alma Weir

Helping The Ducks Over Alma Weir

In The River Skell

In The River Skell

* I bought croissants, jam doughnuts, cinnamon Danish and a loaf of bread which Havenhands bake every day on site and the bakers still live above their bakery.  How about that – I bet you thought small village bakeries like that had died away and the only ones were the new wave of hip, ultra healthy microbakeries.

Life Really Does Begin At Forty

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

I am 42 now and I have finally worked out what the phrase “life begins at forty” means.  It came as a Pauline moment as I was driving home the other day.  It really means that you only ever plan your life until you get to about 40 years old*, so now that you have reached that point you can reflect on what you have done so far – for better or worse – and then decide what you are going to do for the future.  It’s an acceptance of where you are and what you haven’t achieved, and that perhaps that’s okay and even a good place to be.

I am not Prime Minister, or even Deputy Prime Minister, I have not won Wimbledon, nor am a hedge fund manager earning bazzillions, nor a multi-squillionnaire Internet entrepreneur and I have still not written that book or painted a beautiful picture, and I will never play for England (at any sport) and so on.  But who really would want to be those in any case; let’s leave all that to those with the tunnel vision to succeed in shaping our world.  I just enjoy life, living and become randomly interested in things that will never make money, nor help you rule the world, but nevertheless keep me pottering on. 

Anyway, at the same time, I started trying to piece together my LinkedIn Profile, which was in a sorry state as I have never touched it nor accepted anyone onto my page, hence I look a lonely, unloved individual.  So while struggling to cobble together my disjointed career path (still a work in progress so anyone who remembers what I have done over the years please fill in the blanks), I became reflective on what I had actually achieved since university and where it is going.

In the end, this is what I came up with:

Massive Positives: love of a good woman (Sophie), 2 fantastic children, wonderful parents, siblings, lovely mother-in-law (yes really) and a lovely little cottage in a beautiful part of the world (North Yorkshire).

Achievements: setting up Steenbergs with Sophie and starting that on its tortuous path.  It’s like being on a small bicycle rickshaw in Mumbai that’s slowly, gathering its pace while manoeuvering around the gas guzzling juggernauts that speed past us trying to knock us out of the way.  But it’s a good ride and we’ll get their in our own time, on our own path and without damaging anyone on the way.

Regrets: only one surprisingly, being I wish that I had continued with Microbiology/Molecular Biology for longer than the degree at Edinburgh University.  I was quite good at it and actually enjoyed the nerdy science.  At the time, all I wanted to do was get out of education and conquer the world, but I did not let that path run for long enough.  In fact, I realised this about a year ago and is most of the reason that I have started doing a degree at The Open University in Environmental Studies/Science, so perhaps I will be able to overcome this one.

Mistakes: loads and loads of them, and still going on collecting more.  They say you learn from your mistakes – well, I have got a PhD’s worth already.  In fact, there is only one that I would count as truly bad and that was leaving investment banking to join Teamtalk.  The mistake was not Teamtalk itself, even though the experience still runs shivers down my spine and wiped the smile from my face and laughter from my body for many years afterwards.  It was more that I was too young and “wet behind the ears” for the tough corporate situation that it became, so while leaving investment banking was right I should perhaps have waited until I was older, stronger and more experienced or moved into a bigger corporate where I could have matured in a more protected environment.

What have I learnt? to be good and tolerant, to persevere with those things you believe in whatever the obstacles and to carry on smiling, laughing and dreaming.

Where’s that leave me: content in the most important family part of life and where I live, plus a lifetime still left to enjoy all of them, while nudging Steenbergs ever onwards and time to complete an Environmental Studies degree, and research my family history.  Sounds good enough to me.

* As an aside, I reckon we can only think in chunks of about 7 years maximum in normal living and about 41 years for life planning (or 29, 31, 37).  These are purposefully prime numbers as this is how humans have become hardwired through evolution.  So for relationships, investors and politicians, 7 years is long term and 41 years forever.  That random idea is perhaps for another day.