Saturday, 28 May 2011

What a fantastic weekend!

Last weekend we headed down to Devon for a fun 48 hours at the Calvert Trust's Exmoor centre. It's a wonderful venue with fully accessible accommodation set around a central courtyard garden. We were able to choose to go for a 'fully catered' break as they offer Gluten Free meals... this is the first time in over 5 years I haven't had to cook for the family at all for such a long time!

When we returned home, sous chef J wrote this, typically succinct, summary:-

"We went to the Calvert Trust on Exmoor. I did 6 activities and these were; crate stacking, a giant swing, bikes, abseiling, a fast zip wire and canoeing.

My instructor was called Jack. I had a brilliant time."

This blog post is, hopefully, going to elaborate a little more on our weekend.

On Saturday morning, after getting to know the members of our group of 12, we headed for the first activity, which was crate stacking. Jack, our instructor, explained how to get our harnesses and hats on and also what would be happening. It was all done with ease and we got ourselves ready.

In an amazing change of character, sous chef J was adamant he would go first... with one of the other group members. There was no doubt the two of them knew exactly what they were doing and both seemed to enjoy the hanging around at the end of their impressive climb. Next, J moved onto handing the crates over to the next two intrepid stackers. He loved it all.

Those of us that wanted to also had a turn on the giant swing before the end of the session. Sous chef J took great pleasure in making sure I was hoisted to the max position before releasing the swing!

After a quick lunch, we were off for an afternoon of biking fun. Again, Jack explained what was expected, supplied the bikes and helmets and checked we were all in control of the brakes. We went around the Wistlandpound Reservoir - some of us on KMX karts, others using hand crank machines and there was also a wheelchair carrying trike which was very impressive indeed. As you can see, sous chef J headed out at the front of the pack!

We worked as a team, stopping regularly and helping those that needed it with the more challenging, gravelly slopes. Towards the end of the afternoon, a time trial was set up and there was some competitive action seeing who could negotiate the course safely and in the quickest time.

Before heading off for our meal, we were given a brief lesson in bike maintenance, cleaned our kit and returned it to the store shed. That evening a group of us went for a swim in the wonderful pool (there's also a steam room and hot tub). It's a constant depth, has a hoist for those that need it, and is the perfect temperature for relaxing. By 8pm J was flagging so we returned to our lovely triple bedded room (with en suite wet room) and by 9pm J was asleep! They were having a disco in the bar but we can't comment on that as we didn't make it that far!

On Sunday morning, I had to wake sous chef J at 8am (an UNHEARD OF event) as breakfast (delicious full English fare) was from 8.30-9am... only reminding him that it was abseiling succeeded in getting him to start the day.

As the forecast was for sharp rain showers, Jack handed out waterproofs to those who wanted them and we headed over to the climbing wall. Again, before the morning's activity, we were told what safety kit we needed and Jack checked we'd put it on correctly. Without much delay, J was ready for action.

After a demo on the practice slope and an on-wall show of skill, it was time to take the leap of faith. J waited to watch a tandem descent and then opted for a solo abseil - he looked happy and managed without any hesitation at all.

Having watched the rest of the group have their turns, it was my turn. We decided that, as I had never done abseiling before, it would be nice to have a companion. This is me and sous chef J abseiling... he's almost as good an instructor as his new pal, Jack!

Next we moved over to the zipwire and the daring amongst us took our turns. It was exhilarating and I was pleased to be attached via my harness.

After an impressive lunch of baked potatoes with a choice of all/some of cheese, coleslaw and beans we finished up our activities with canoeing on the reservoir. It was the activity sous chef J had been really keen to try... as he's "done it on the wii". Everyone had a great time and it was the epitome of a team event.

At the end of the weekend we were asked to fill out evaluation forms. I expressed surprise when sous chef J marked the question relating to taking part in activities you didn't think you could as a neutral... I'd marked mine as agree strongly. He said "I put that because I KNEW at Calvert I could do anything" - can't think of a better way to sum up the weekend's activities.

We met lovely people in our group, took part in great activities, the staff were wonderful, the accommodation was spotless and the food (gluten free for us) was prepared by someone else. What more could I ask for?!

If you or someone you know has a disability or special needs then you really should check out the Calvert Trust - they certainly seem well able to cope with anything.

You can follow the Calvert Trust on twitter @CalvertTrust and the Exmoor Centre are @CalvertExmoor

Friday, 20 May 2011

Salmon Salad

This is a recipe for a store cupboard salad that we often make to take out for meals on the move over the summer months. As always, there's not much involved and it can be prepared the day before its needed so is perfect for days out that require an early start.

Just a few ingredients are needed and these are:- about half a cup of peanuts (salted or unsalted), one small tin of salmon (remove skin and bones then flake), two apples (cored and chopped into 1cm pieces), 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise and the juice of half a lemon.
The mayonnaise and lemon juice were mixed in a large bowl. Next the chopped apples were added and coated in the mayonnaise mix before adding the peanuts. All the ingredients were mixed again before the salmon flakes were stirred through. This was the result... .. it's stored in a pyrex dish in the fridge until we're ready to eat.

It is great to take on a picnic in individual portions or can be served with a green salad as a tasty light meal.

Serves 4 (with green salad) or more as a side dish...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Marvellous Meringue Mess

This very simple pudding is a favourite of sous chef J. It's made using bought (or, occasionally, home made) meringues (check they are Gluten Free... some aren't but many are - we find Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and M&S all offer good options in nests, mini meringues and pavlovas). The fruit is either fresh or tinned/jarred stored in fruit juice. Today's pud used pineapple pieces. The final ingredient is our own home made creme fraiche... the more the merrier as far as J is concerned!So, once all the ingredients had been arranged, this is what sous chef J's dish looked like... Let eating commence! (this is where the mess part comes into the recipe) YUM!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

BBQ Sauce-y Bits

Those of you that have been following this blog for a while may be familiar with the 'rustic' nature of the recipes we use. This one is no different! It's simple, uses just four ingredients for the sauce, and comes from a scrawled note (the recipe) that's been in my recipe folder for years. So, here is the recipe.You will note that the recipe refers to ribs... and the sauce does work well on pork ribs but the accepted family use of the sauce is now as part of Sauce-y Bits... where the 'bits' are actually pork shoulder. 450g of pork shoulder will usually need half of the quantity of sauce stated in the recipe... but we like it to be a sticky coating to the meat rather than a runny gravy type sauce. Just adjust amounts to suit your own likes/needs.

Having found all four sauce ingredients, sous chef J moved onto the next stage...
.. and mixed the ingredients together in a bowl.

Then the shoulder of pork was chopped into approx one inch cubes which were fried off in a frying pan.
Once the meat was starting to brown, the BBQ sauce was poured into the pan and the whole lot was mixed well. It was then left to caramelise on a medium heat for about ten minutes (or longer) - remember to stir occasionally. This is the result! Serve with salad, broccoli or peas... green vegs look good with it as the colour contrast is appealing (or so sous chef J says).

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Lumpy Lane

This recipe is our version of Rocky Road... we call it Lumpy Lane as it's a bit thinner and has more potholes! Basically, we make it when we have broken/nearly out of date Gluten Free biscuits to make use of. Today's effort uses TRUfree Digestive Biscuits (which come in 150g packets made up of 3 wrapped packs of 5 biscuits). We used a whole packet today but, probably, should have only used 100g as the resultant mix was a little drier than we usually make. We have used shortbread biscuits in the past and these work equally well.

Today's ingredients were:- 150g Gluten Free Digestive biscuits, 150g dark chocolate, 100g marshmallows, a handful of walnut pieces and a handful of sultanas.

After breaking the bar of chocolate into more manageable pieces, they were put in a bowl and placed over warm water to melt... this is an 'arty' shot of the result! (we're trying out the macro)

Whilst the chocolate was melting, sous chef J had a busy time making sure the Digestive biscuits were broken up and I cut the marshmallows into smaller pieces (obviously, if we'd had the small GF marshmallows, this step would not be needed). I also chopped up the walnut pieces a little but the sultanas were left whole.

Next, all the dry ingredients were put in a bowl and mixed.

Then came the fun bit... adding the molten chocolate to the mix...
... sous chef J was now kept busy making sure that the chocolate coated as much of the mix as possible. He then poured the mix into a non-stick loaf tin and pressed it down.

The loaf tin was wrapped in cling film and placed in the fridge to chill. After some cooling time, the loaf tin was removed and the Lumpy Lane was sliced into portions.
We then stored it in airtight containers in the fridge... but not for long! It's great with a coffee, however, it doesn't last more than about 24 hours in this household.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Spicy Potato Wedges

When we are baking, we like to use the whole oven capacity, so we make a few dishes at the same time. This recipe is a great one to do as it's so easy. All that's needed are a few ingredients plus a non-stick baking tray and an already hot oven!

As is customary with our recipes... ingredients are kept to a minimum. Quantities are made up depending on how many we are feeding and the amount of potatoes that we have to use. This batch was made for three, to accompany the pastryless quiche we have blogged about before. So, sous chef J gathered the potatoes, oil, ground cumin, paprika and salt and pepper together. (Chilli flakes can also be added).
The potatoes were cut into wedges, placed in a large bowl and had oil drizzled over them (liberally). They were then mixed well. Next, plenty of ground cumin, paprika and seasoning were added. Again, the potatoes were mixed to ensure an even coating of spices. This is the point where we sometimes add chilli flakes - great if you like a little extra zing!

After placing on a preheated non-stick baking tray, they were cooked in the oven at about 180ÂșC for 10-15 minutes when they were turned over quickly before being returned to the oven for another 10-15 minutes (or until cooked to your liking). This is what we ended up with....
...delicious, crisp, spicy potato wedges.

We serve with tomato ketchup, salsa or avocado dip... they don't last long here.

This recipe is entered into our first online competition - please vote for us here Recipe Competition  MANY THANKS x

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Strawberry and Clotted Cream Cookie Tasting

To say sous chef J was delighted to receive a parcel containing 'goodies' for him to try is an understatement. He was thrilled and desperate to begin testing the contents... so much so that he rushed through his photograph taking in an attempt to get eating as soon as possible.

This is the parcel from
Beyond the Bean that caused so much excitement...
Inside it, we found 2 large Strawberry and Clotted Cream Cookies from Byron Bay's Gluten Free range. We'd spotted a tweet on twitter from @ByronBayCookies about their newly launched flavour and had been lucky enough to get a sample sent out to try for ourselves.Having opened the cookies (which were a little less than perfect after their journey through the post) sous chef J declared the flavour to be "amazing" - he particularly liked the little pieces of strawberry within the cookie.

Being a kind chap, this is what he left at the end of his taste test...
... but, even from that small sample, it was agreed the Strawberry and Clotted Cream Cookies would make a great accompaniment to a cup of tea!

We'll certainly be keeping a look out for these when we're out and about over the summer.