Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The pub can't even handle me right now

I love doing Christmas quizzes with my classes in school.

Although the entire cohort of my children are fully ensconced with the notion that Santa does not come down their chimney with his magic key, they are happy to play along with the remaining 59, 000, 970 of the population of the UK and throw themselves right into the party spirit.

The sheer magnitude of the yuletide season for me starts to throng around the 12th of December.

The usual garb of songs are bleating their way through the smooth, signal and heart FMs and through the sound system of many a boots, argos and clinton cards.

My best friend and I had an almost 2 hour conversation en route from London to the North West about which was our favourite of the Christmas songs and why.

We came to many conclusions.

People who write Christmas songs are married to women who get very excited by September and the royalties.

Christmas songs cannot be written anymore.

The only good Christmas song to come out of this decade has been Christmas Time (Don't let the bells end) by The Darkness.

People are forgiving when listening to Christmas songs.

If you listen to Shakin Stevens, Merry Christmas Everyone and you are standing opposite someone. You will eventually start dancing by moving forwards and backwards simultaneously. FACT.

What startled me was that for all the eons ago that some of these songs were created, my children in my class were not even born and neither were some of their parents. Yet when it came to my annual festive fun quiz. All of them knew who Noddy Holder was.
I even had a couple of little impressions thrown in the mix "miss it's him who screams ITZZZZZ CRISSSSSSMEEEEESSSSSSSSS"

Yep. The very one.

It would appear that for young people today, Christmas has a formula.

The weather.

Must be cold.

The trees.

Must be put up by December 1st.

The calendar.

Must have chocolate.

The presents.

Must have an i in front of them.

For teenagers and children today. The Christmas songs are now just part of their magic Christmas formula.

It just made me think how such modern day classics such as the Wesley brothers, Hark the Herald has now been ruined by Mariah, Destiny's Childs 12 days of Xmas and Christina Aguilera warbling her way through some carols.

I must admit. I dislike very few Christmas songs.

The one that does make me feel a bit green around the chops is a spaceman came travelling by Chris de Burgh. Not content with monopolising the commercial season of love with his smoochy slicked back, dry ice oozing classic lady in red. He created a rather unusual narrative documenting the travels of a UFO.

The video impales you with fluorescent green strobes and lots of mountain scenery. The flash photography warning has been omitted. Visions of heathcliff tearing wildly through the Yorkshire moors. And then you are smacked right in the ruud gullit with the la's.

And it went la la la la la la laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

If I were a gambling man. I suspect old CDB was veering towards the metaphor inside the music.

"twas light years since time his mission did start, and over a village he halted his craft"

Sorry Chris. Stick to the mothers day album fanfare.


Whilst I continue to pump out the yuletide merriment and fun in school time, I take time to also reflect on some of our unsung heroes of the sleigh time sing brigade.

Step forward, Harvey, Mortimer, Hendy and Coldwell. That's the lads from E-17 to you.

Yes siree. Stay another day is my guilty pleasure.

Although when I hear the crackled tones of the lads, I am also reminded of Mr Brian Harvey and his bizarre car accident in which he managed to run himself over...in ironically the East 17 district.

Reports from cockney reuters that day say "I’d been stuffing my face with jacket potatoes,’ said Brian Harvey. ‘They were big. I put cheese on, then tuna mayonnaise and I ate the lot.’

Not alrite.

Well folks.

It's been too damn long and I will be back with a Val Doonican spesh this week bringing you some more tales from the Christmas Crypt.

See you tomorrow door 15.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Go Nags

Goodbye BB.

Goodbye 2000 and all its little foibles and idiosyncrasies.

I have been a bit of a BB slut of late in that I have a tendency to dip back in and out of certain series.
BB4 will always be referred to by ardent BB-ers as the “lost years” when it all went a bit countryfile on us. We had some highs with BB8 with the likes of Rex and Mikey, BB5 legends Victor and Nadia and sheer brilliance in the Myra Hindley/ Camp Norwegian Spy and Deep Sea Diver relations between Anthony Hutton and Craig Coates in BB6.

What I do know, for the po-faced people who insult BB watchers as illiterate, uneducated, labour voting, vesta curry eating pondlife of society, there are lots of people who are extremely high brow who still watch it, like my good self.
Yes, it is full of idiots who are destined for the front cover of OK magazine or the Closer diet challenge but in times of people stuck down mines, cricket bungs, urban fox attacks, Peter Crouch being allowed back into Abbey’s arms we are all entitled to some fluff in our life.

Maybe it is just me who still finds it funny to envisage Craig from Big Brother One, body popping in front of the mirror singing to Madonna’s just like a prayer in his heavy scouse joiner’s lisp, or to see signs in the Big Brother crowd supporting Nadia Almada which read “Go Nads”.

Now tell me that is raw sewage.
And so to the daddy of all BBs: Ultimate Big Brother 2010.
Since the early days of the very clinical and unilever factory appearance of the first house with its whimsical mud painting tasks, we have been entertained over the years with some tasks which belie utter genius.

Housemates have been asked to drink pureed roast lamb dinners, punch their way out of human sized brown paper bags, ignore the obvious, lick thousands of crisps, eat shed loads of sprouts and the now legendary chilli task.
Enter 10 chillies hung on hooks in ascending order of strength. One glass of milk.
So for all you curry lovers out there who turn to a pint of water after a warm Jalfrezi, retreat now. The Capsaicinoids found in chilli peppers determine the heat of the food. Capsaicinoids are also not water soluble, so a little bit like a poo with the mass of a cork that won’t flush; they will remain tingling on your tongue for a good ten minutes or so.
And so bring out the milk which has milk fat and proteins which helps to neutralise the acidity of those pesky Capsaicinoids.

Number 1 is usually your archetypal Friday night in Wrexham Chilli, perhaps a Serrano. Smooth, bullet shaped. Five times the heat of a Jalapeno, guaranteed to get the bowels having a brisk workout.
Number 5 might see your housemate indulging in a Habanero “hab-an-yeah-row”. A close pal to the Na-Na- Notorious Scotch Bonnet, they are both equally fiery and likely to get the tear ducts flowing.
At this point you have to bear the housemates producing some serious stringy saliva and carrying out some serious blunders which would have Geoff Stelling hopping in his seat.
Eyes rubbing, tongue rubbing, in fact any body rubbing is out of the question here.
Some manage to have the minerals to reach number 10.

The Naga.
The Naga or “bhut jolokia” is hotter than Megan Fox and David Beckhams lovechild on an all expenses paid trip to the Sandy Lane Beach Resort with Simon Cowell.
The Naga is grown in parts of the UK which see some standard of decent weather, usually Devon and Suffolk.
Adrian Nuttall who grows the Naga’s at his Chilli Company in the deep sowf recommends domestic cooks to use latex gloves when chopping.
Capsaicinoids are kept in the oils which are split open upon chopping. One meeting with the skin and its Cap-ow suckers.

Chilli has been used in desserts for years in Mexico and we are now seeing this in our own chocolate in the UK. The Chilli Company have even started to produce a Hazelnut and Naga ice cream. Having a tongue like 10 emery boards and a stomach with the strength of hulk Hogan, I could take on a few Naga Cornettos no danger.
I feel a sense of melancholy sweeping across on me as I type this almost posthumously BB – Chilli inspired blog. I shall enjoy raising a glass of bubbly on the BB final night and say farewell to my formative twenties.

In the words of Mr Nick Bateman, you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Herbal Remedy

A sucker for a gadget myself.

OK, so it looks like it has come from the Anne Summers "autumnal" range of sex aids, however this is a natty idea from Firebox.com at only £12.99 a pop.

I'm in.

Who hasn't bought a Coriander plant for a token curry only to find it shrivel in the faux heat of your kitchen.

Build me up buttercup indeed.

This device is ergonomicall designed to hold any sprigs upright in water- which can be topped up as necessary. It promises you the discerning customer to prolong the life of any cut herbs in your fridge.

As we feel that coolness of the British air and say goodbye to those halycon days spent in minorca with scott and joanne from southend and say hello to our extra vanity pounds, we are also able to embrace all the good things that come with September.

Get those forever growing rosemary sprigs cut up and in your rampant herb compartment and await to adorn them on a fine shank of lamb.

Welcome September.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

One Happy & Excited Little Baker


The time has come.

The launch of my very own bakery project.

I welcome you all to the Happy Little Baker.

An edible annual of delectable pretty cakes.

Orders can be made via email @

Thursday, 19 August 2010

It's not easy being Green


I know a couple.

I also know a few plastic ones. "Yeah, I'm a vegetarian. But I eat fish sometimes. And......sometimes I eat Chicken, but only like once a year."

Yes. I know what it's like. Sometimes, David Beckham rings me up and takes me to Pizza Express once a week for Orange Wednesdays, every so often Beyonce rings me and asks me to go swimming with her at Darwen Leisure Centre and Brad Pitt also calls in to deal babysitting duties off me the first Saturday of every month whilst him and Ange hit the nearest Hogshead and Lava and Ignite.

It could not of course be further from the truth.

Being a Vegetarian requires a person to abstain from any meat, flesh of an animal, poultry, crustacea or shellfish of any kind.

The afore mentioned plastics, are what we know to be Semi-Vegetarians.

So let me get this straight.

I am for the sake of any arguments. A teacher. My requirements are to plan lessons, turn up to work on time, teach kids how to cook and learn about nutrition.

But, when the urge does not take me and I feel like perhaps forgoing my job, I could be a Semi-Teacher?

I have always been the kind of girl who is all or nothing. It is not one hob nob. It is the whole tube.

Being a Vegetarian would be hard sure. But spare a butternut squash and aduki bean spritzer for the poor blighters who choose to live by the real hardcore diets.

I am talking your fruitarians, nutarians, su-vegetarians (they believe it or not won't eat anything that smells of an onion or garlic). Eating a strawberry spag bol followed by a plate of pineapple mash and blueberry sausages would be enough to send Mr Del Monte himself down to the Dole canning factory for a few chunks.

I actually love Vegetarian food anyway. Meat and fish are too expensive for a single lady.

My friend and I toddled our carnivorous bodies off to Simon Rimmer's divine Vegetarian restaurant in Didsbury, Manchester last night.

Green's was first established back in 1990 when only 7% of our UK population would admit to be a Vegetarian.

Looking at the Veg busting stats for 2010, it would appear that the figure won't budge and there are still 7% of our population munching edaname beans and soya sausages.

Perhaps they are the same people, cryogenically preserved by anti-oxidants and flavenoids.

Green's are not only appealing to the V-fest around Manchestaaaa, but to a whole crowd of people who are either fans of Mr Rimmer and his cheeky and extremely amiable TV appearances and talents or his £15.95 for 3 courses and a glass of wine meal deal.

We, of the Semi-decent teaching salary brigade went for the latter.

A cosy dining room vibe. Deep, warm wooden flooring, chesterfield seating, Nina Campbell-esque wallpaper, ornate glass mirrors and trendy french looking waiters all sporting obligatory mancunian urban facial growth.

It was 6.30pm (15 minutes short of the meal deal cut off point) and we were in good company.

It's funny looking around a Vegetarian restaurant. For all they could know, I could have been a fully fledged Veggie since the late 80s, flying the flag for the SOS mix.

You don't go in KFC and look around wondering who the meat eaters are?

Our Waiter politely brought us both menu's over. Luckily the meal deal menu did not have old kent road style meals on it. I would have happily bought any of them. In fact, to monopolise them, they would be up there with waterworks or the electric company.

No one really knows how to operate them or would live in them, but you invest in them and slowly reap the benefits.

For starters we had the choice of red pepper hummus and pita bread, Greek salad or soup.

Hummus, no contest. Delicious. No meat cravings here. Looking like a well turned out wet sandcastle, it was juicy, salty enough and full of charred pepper goodness. The cheeky drizzle of basil oil was a pleasant added river to dip my pita in.

The mains were like offering a group of Saturday morning footballers Juninho Pernambucano, David Villa, Daniel Alves and Kaka as a back up sub.

I suppose being used to being offered savoury crumbles and lasagne's in your standard pub, it is a slight shock to the system when you find veggie options difficult to choose from.

Three bean chilli, aubergine Thai curry and sticky rice, goats cheese, celeriac and beetroot tarlets and cheshire cheese sausages with mustard mash and beer gravy.

Kappow, sock, boom hunters chicken and minted lamb cutlets!!

The aubergine curry was the sweet and sticky melee that I would have wanted. Heady, light and packed full of flavour, not to mention filling.

I suppose being good northern souls, we only felt it fair to the animals that we ate our puddings too.

Creme Brulee or Chocolate Pudding.

The health goddess in me said Creme Brulee.

A pot of amber glass staring back at me. Breaking in is always the party piece. Like stepping on a glass christmas bauble, it broke so beautifully and was perfectly burnt, cindered toffee heaven.

Underneath its frozen lake of cinder bobbed the gluggy mass of custard. I usually enjoy a much lighter and runnier Brulee. Don't get me wrong, it was as gorgeously delicious as a dessert could be and I ate almost everything apart from the 200 degree stained caramel dregs from the edges. But........and I hate like any Semi-Veggie likes to admit that they guzzle tuna butties.

Girl was stuffed.

Thinking from a scientific point of view, fibre tends to expand in your stomach and cause a feeling of fullness. I should have known such techniques from my weight watcher scoffing years. Those vegetarians aren't as hungry and deprived as we think.

It was around 8.30pm and we were finished. We were not court marshalled out by a prize growing leek or stoned by maris pipers to leave.

We were left to order another glass of Pinot G, listen to some Groove Armada and to enjoy the Vegetable buzz in the air.

I give Green the light.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Birthday Kake!

Whipped up a delicious batch for my sister's birthday yesterday!

Happy Birthday Kake!

Berry swirls.

Standard Cupcake recipe:

40g butter

120g Plain Flour

140g golden caster sugar

1 egg

120ml milk

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp strawberry flavouring

Bung it all in a kenwood and blend until smooth.

Pour into a measuring jug.

Fill cases just above halfway

Bake in preheated oven at 190 for 15-20 minutes

mmmmmm yummy smell fills house

Make the buttercream by whisking all together and shove into a piping bag.

I used a thick star nozzle for these babies.

175g icing sugar

1 tsp strawberry flavouring

75g butter

silly sweets for good measure!

Get baking xxx

Friday, 13 August 2010

Mutant Pizza

Being sent a menu to pre-order your meal for the following week I always find highly intrusive.
They are basically pre-empting your exit before you have had chance to sit down and slightly absorb the ambiance.

Like people who choose to find out the sex of their baby and talk about it for the next 8 months, I don’t like to think about my food all week.

An Italian menu. Good start. The standard layout and choices. Girls tend to steer away from the meat and fish section. Firstly, it is too healthy and second, too damn expensive.

Pizza and Pasta may as well be the only choices to show us.

Most girls will choose pasta. It is safe. Pizza can say a few things when it comes to ordering in a restaurant.

You are an unpolished philistine with no social etiquette when it comes to eating out.
You are greedier than an urban fox sniffing around a KFC waste control bin.
You can’t read properly.
You could be pregnant.

I like to hold my pudgy fingers in the air and throw caution to the wind on this one as I flippin' 'love Pizzas and that is what I went for.
Essentially a very posh toastie, it is no nonsense. You don’t have to have a back catalogue of knowledge on the location of the ingredients, nor will it whiplash you in the face and smear sauce up your nostrils.
Some classic pub quiz trivia for you. Pizza owes its origin to Neapolitan cuisine and has been adopted in various bread guises across the world.
Now, if they were to ever bring back the game show You Bet! (without Matthew Kelly as he scares me somewhat) I would be able to compete on the topic of Pizza.
I would vouch for eating going on 2000 pizzas in my lifetime. I love everything that the Pizza stands for.
For those of you who are interested in its Etymology, the first recorded use of the word "pizza" dates from 997 AD and comes from a Latin text from the town of Gaeta in southern Italy. There are many varying stories from die hards from various Pizza Posse’s. Some believe it comes from the Latin word “pinsa”, the past participle of the verb “pinsere” which means to pound or to crush and may refer to the flattening out of the dough.

Some believe it comes from the Greek word Pita just for bread and there are even some cheeky Germans (they never retreat) who believe it is a derivative from their word "bizzo" which means bit or bite. H to tha bizzo indeed.

My piousness for Pizza can be traced back by Pizza anthropologists to my love of mini cheese and tomato Pizzas in my grandmother’s house in the six week holidays.
A chewy CD size of pale white dough, the bread looked like an aero when you cut into it with your knife. The cheese was the type although it had been under the glare of a 180 degree oven, it did not melt fully and still maintained a bulbous maggot appearance, similar to strands of all bran.
The tomato sauce was sharp to say the list; I would go as far to say that we were eating cheese and tomato ketchup on toast.
The advantages to these little babies were that you could essentially build your own Pizza on a daily basis.
Having a mum who worked in a supermarket also played a big part in my love of Pizzas. We were able to try all the latest imports hot off the conveyor belts of Chicago Town and Findus back in the day.

Mum worked at ASDA who had already cottoned onto the sheer magnitude of Pizza’s in the UK.
Soon our freezer was stocked full of French baguette style Pizza’s, Pizza pockets for the toaster no less. Both should have been banned under ISO 1001 for their different inflicting injuries on the gums and upper mouth.
The black orchid in our Pizza trail was back in 87’ when the world was a place full of Deeply Dippy, Respectable by Mel & Kim, Flipper on a Sunday morning followed by Batman and Robin and more notably to our household WWF and Teenage Mutant Ninja (now Hero) Turtles.
Part and parcel of being a younger sister to an older brother means that you have to learn to fit in with their chaotic lifestyle.
Being utilised in WWF knockouts in the front room was just one of the deal breakers. Yes, I have been involved in the Hart Foundation, The Colossal Connection, given an elevated walls of Jericho move whilst trying to be The Honky Tonk Man and also been impaled into the carpet after many a Tombstone Piledriver as he attempted to be the Undertaker.
After a good pasting from my dad (heavy duty brass wedding ring and all) WWF was given a timeout and the ring was usurped from under his evil clutches.

TMNT soon became our new fascination. I became particular enamoured by Michelangelo, developing quite the crush on our anthropomorphic buddies. I don’t know whether it was the fact that we were kindred spirits in our shared love of the party scene or that he made me laugh but I developed quite the crush on Mikey.
My brother was not so strange and just stuck to April O’Neill.

Again, another thing we had in common which could not be ignored was our love of Pizza.
The clever cads at ASDA decided to start knocking out some TMNT pizzas. Nobody to this day believes us, but you could get a sweet flavoured TMNT pizza which used chocolate spread on the base and marshmallows as the topping.
We were only ever allowed this on very special occasions. Essentially just nutella on toast with extra sugar smeared across it, this is Pizza Piety in its glory.
Now of course, like anything, I have had my poor Pizza’s. Over use of the dough, stingy on the sauce and oily flabby cheeses are guaranteed ingredients for a teenage dirtbag mutant pizza.
Over in Italy, Pizza’s are all a serious business and are recognised through their regions.
Sicilian Pizza has a thicker base, Rome like to make their bases as thin as crackers, Naples like a soft and pliable dough, Neapolitans stay true to their roots and will only produce two flavours, the Marinara and the Margharita. So staunch about their doughy discs, a Pizza can only be classed as a true “Italian Pizza” if it passes a parliamentary bill by the Pizza mafia.
Once snorted at as a peasant food, it was sold in the street and not even recognised as a dish to be made in a kitchen.

Early pizzas were covered in a white sauce as opposed to tomatoes. It wasn’t until 1889 to honour the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy when a Neapolitan chef created the “Pizza Margherita” covered in tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil to represent the colours of the Italian flag.
My personal Pizza poison has to have a thin base, preferably with a Naples style chewy dough so that you can taste the pepper in the extra virgin oil. A good lashing of tomato sauce which is still perfectly pulpy bearing flavours of sweet San Marzano’s.
Toppings would bring out my wild Michelangelo side. Vivid orange sweet pointed peppers, soft and sweet artichokes, Milano sausage, capers, fresh red chilli, chilli flakes, a thin layer f patchwork mozzarella cheese and a shower of Pecorino Romano.

Now that’s what I call music 2010.

The pre planned pizza in question had all the pre requisites of my perfect pizza. The venue was Piccolino’s in Clitheroe. A pleasant and cheery restaurant chain from Manchester, it brings a slice of cosmopolitan neopolitano to the East Lancashire eating scene.
Packed with beautiful people quaffing the Italians champagne Prosecco, I was in good company with equally beautiful people.

My week old pre-conceived Pizza was plated up and it did not disappoint. The only problem was the age old routine of “I don’t need to eat a starter”...who was I kidding.
I decided to opt for a little dolce instead......being an official funder of the I hate Tiramisu/all coffee based desserts, I went for a little gelato instead. Ferrero Rocher to be precise.
The waiter was a cheerful soul, who embraced his charachtature of the Italian waiter with great gusto. He obviously fancied his chances as he questioned my choice of a dessert.
Pointing to his belly “you not afraid of diet no?”..........................
No mate, I’m bloody starving after that Pizza was his abridged version.
It is a good job I was steering off the Prosecco or he could have found himself entangled in some Sweet Chin Music, Shawn Michaels styleee.

All in all, a tidy little meal.

Shall I compare thee to an ASDA build your own Pizza??? Hmmmmm, purely for nostalgia, the pick and mix greed factor and the dessert comment, I am going to opt for our supermarket giant.

A Saturday lunchtime favourite from my region of the country is to whack some onion jam on a naan bread or pita, crumble over with feta or Lancashire cheese, decorate with spinach leaves and if I am feeling exuberant, some anchovies.

Mangiamo people!!!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

I love the cake!

Pat a cake, Pat a cake, baker's man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Pat it and prick it and mark it with a 'B', And put it in the oven for Baby and me.

Coming to a china plate and pot of tea soon..................

With thanks to the ridiculous talents of Miss Sally Leach at Doodlevend.
Cheers Cocker!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Pump up the Ham

1994. U14. A sweat box/greenhouse that called itself a classroom. The blackout cellophane even curling itself up in misery.

There were no trendy film posters, no whiteboards of the millenium classroom, no one saw fit to crouch into their teeny tiny handbags that masqueraded as a schoolbag to schnidily check their texts from their mate in the next classroom.

No siree bob.

These were the days of old school teaching. When teachers planned their lessons around the use of chalk and the possible use of a TV on skates that was usually harboured up in the Geography department.

I will never forget her.

Mrs Toop.

A true lady in every sense.

She wore a box pleated skirt which was usually in tune with the season. Think dark truffle for winter, rust in the autumn, mink in the spring and an aquamarine in the summer.

A highly intuitive and eloquent lady, her knowledge of poetry and literature was flawless. She exuded class and oozed intellectual prowess from every inch of her court heeled shoe. I never got close enough to find out, but if I was a gambling man, I would have her down as an Estee Lauder Youth Dew fan.

A teacher with the ability to command utter silence from a group (OK, so we were top set in the school and extraordinarily well behaved young people) however, even the boys in the group had a fear of her.

It was sheer pleasure when she asked you to read as it meant you had the chance to perhaps impress her.

Thanks to Mrs Toop, I got the opportunity to read one of my all time favourite plays, Romeo and Juliet.

Due to the loquacious nature of my personality, I was often thrown the role of the nurse. A meaty role for me to get my chops around. The nurse was a cool lady. A rebel who was up for mischief who managed to flit between the Capulet's and the Montague's, but no one really gave her any stick for it.

I will never, nor any of my girlfriends forget the time that Toop had got the wheelie TV on loan for a double lesson on a wet Wednesday afternoon. We were going to be watching Franco Zeffereli's "Romeo & Juliet". The double after lunch was always a tumultuous time for a teacher. I know and understand this all too well now, however, when you are 15, obsessed with making sure your body smells like vanilla and decorating your pencil tin with Neighbours stickers, double English did not seem to important.

That was until Andrew Smith decided to bring in his Casio digital watch which niftily changed TV channels.

Being one of the more garrulous of the supreme set (I am not really sure what I was ever doing there) and the most likely to go for a dare, I decided that I would take the lead role in clock faux-channel changes during the film.

Mrs T took pole position in her director's chair which was turned to a tight acute angle of about 40 degrees. She had full view of her auditorium. Or so we thought.

So engrossed it appeared by the surprisingly "hot for a film from the 60s" Leonard Whiting who played Romeo, Mrs Toop was blissfully unaware of the digitally remastered version that was about to unfold in her top set theatre of A grade's.

Peppering the Capulet's ball scene with Henry Kelly's "Going for Gold" and "Greenclaws" was pure thespian gold.

Panting and puffing and a few searches of the Wheelie proved to be as fruitless as Romeo's mission to Mantua itself.

Not so square as we had thought, she turned to her baying audience and flexed her Shakespearean muscles with an experienced and commanding monologue.

Despite the choking and pent up giggles even from some of her most ardent followers nobody relented.

The VHS was turned off.

The TV was wheeled away back to the clutches of the Geographers, ready for a view no doubt of the Mt St Helens eruption.


For all her foibles and idiosyncrasies, Mrs T was a fantastic teacher.

One piece of knowledge that she imparted upon us which I have found infallible and meaningful for most daily events is that we should all read as though we are on a diet.

"Reading should be like a diet. We should not eat junk food too much as it is bad for you. As are terrible books. You must read books that will benefit your brain."

I do not wish to divulge into my preferred book habits in my adolescent life, however, I do have to admit that I agree with Mrs T and her wise proverb of 9T4.

Having actually gone onto university to study food and the diet, I should know and obey the basics of nutrition and good wholesome food.

As much as I adore excellent food and food that makes my body and mind feel good. I cannot help myself but want to go a little "casio" on my food habits and rebel now and then.

I have a long list of Foods that are my Montague to my metabolism's Capulet. I love them, but my body certainly does not.

Hollands Steak Puddings, Krispy Kreme's, KFC Zingers, Findus Crispy Pancakes, Dr Oetker Pizza, Gregg's Sausage rolls, Fish Fingers, Mr Kipling Vieniesse Whirls, Birds Eye Waffles, Party Pork Pies, McCoys, Sensations, Campbell's meatballs, Ravioli, Spaghetti hoops, Heinz Beans n Balls, Angel Cake, Primula cheese to name but a few storecupbaord nasties.

Quite heavy in fact on the savoury.

Come and sneak on my book shelf and you will find my collection of embarrassing dietary literature.

Notably autobiographies from most of the Spice Girls, at least two of Jordan's "books" and even some thicker fashion magazines that I have collected that I like to falsify as books.

A food item that is constantly in my fridge as an embarrassing collection is that of Ham.

Not any ordinary Ham.

I am talking plastic Ham. One that you could draw on with a marker and then wipe off with a J-Cloth.

A lot of people have a problem with Ham.

These breed of Hamists are pig ignorant (snort snort) to the multi faceted use of this ingredient.

I have a different Ham style to suit my moods for Ham.

There's the roll up, which is basically a cigar style of Ham used for quick on the go eating between making your actual evening meal. Think Larry Hagman meets plated salad. Advantages include the double quilted thickness of the ham and a slim easy to carry model of the ham.

Alternatively, you could go for the sheet. This works better with the tissue paper ham that has a translucent appearance. Opportunities for the sheet include being late for work, not having enough to eat at a friend or relatives house, being drunk and cleaning up. Clean, no nonsense, no need for a plate or cooking utensil, this has all the elements of a highly intelligent snack.

Bumping into an old friend in the gym recently, he enlightened me upon his new found diet of eating small amounts of Protein every five hours.

Now personally, eating every five hours is something which definitely holds court with me, however when he told me it is cubes of chicken, tubs of tuna and slices of beef, my enthusiasm began to wane. I told him that supermarkets are missing out on a niche in the the protein pumpers. What about a meaty sweet? Ham flavoured fudge? Hammy glaciers? Just a thought now.

My personal favourite combines another of my passions.......cold toast.

Two extra pieces of thick white bread left to go cold and chewy and then coated corner to corner in salty Lurpak. I then like to use my plastic honey roast ham as a linoleum to the bread. The butter acting as an adhesive for our centrepiece.
Essentially a ham toastie, this has a more gutsy use of the ham and provides a platform for its potent glory. Dependant upon my mood, I may provide the ham with a flavour. Perfect partners include thai sweet chilli sauce, barbecue crisps, Branston Pickle and sandwich gherkins.

My affinity towards plastic ham spans many years. I feel sorry for ham. It gets a bad press. It tells foolish lies claiming to be part of a burger. I can understand people's repugnance.

Just reading the passage du terror of the food labelling and you will see the descriptive tales of terror. I mean really, who is going to be attracted to "ham with water added". Hammy water. Yikes......

Given shoddy sandwich accompaniments over the years like soggy bread inducing tomatoes, milky coleslaw and oesophagus stripping mustard, ham just has not had a chance to shine.

Bring on the insults. It only makes me love it more and it means I am always left with a fresh sandwich in a motorway service station.

It is an affordable meat. It steers well clear of main meals only allowing itself into the realms of pizza and the odd pasta dish.

I personally like to use ham in between layers of lasagne to add extra depth and texture.

I have no ham snobbery. I will buy over the counter or from the shelf.

If I am feeling flush, I will head to the butchers in my local high street, Tom Duckworth's of Rishton and buy some delicious ham off the bone.

Deeply pink, verging on a cerise, this ham has a deliciously melt in the mouth and fresh flavour.

My own little slice of Jamón Ibérico in a paper bag with it's price written on it.

Yes, I am a habitual user of ham and I am not afraid to admit to it.

It is only on a cold November day or often a day battling with a hangover that I salivate and fawn over Billy Bear. I air on the side of caution when something that is being sold alongside meats, requires a surname of meat at the end as an affirmation.

Fear not Mrs Toop, I eat Billy Bear as much as I enjoy reading Point Horror stories.
Come on then, join me in the ham crusade. Save this butty box favourite from being banished from all good lunchboxes forever.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A must View.


A shameless expose for a rapidly rising star in the culinary world.

Mr Gary O'Hanlon.

I first met Gary back in 2004 when my sister and I visited my brother Andrew who was living in Boston at the time. Andrew was living the high life as a bachelor with Mr O'Hanlon. We heard lots of tales about his Irish chef de roomate and how he was slowly wooing my brothers parochial palate with herbs and spices and dare I say it...vegetables???

We were also given my brother's very bad Father Ted meets Roy Walker impersonation of Gary so we knew what we were letting ourselves in for.

A favourite Garyism notably being:

"Heeeeearr. Seeee. Let me breek it doon far ya. Raillll railll kwikkkk"

Now anyone who can move my Brother on a level from Chicken Tonight Tikka Masala mix and his infamous abuse of Dolmio stir in sauces has to have made some sort of impression.

It was not long before Andrew and wee Gazza as we like to call him, spent many an evening sat on the bed together waxing lyrically over new menu ideas. Very Brokeback. Knowing my brother and his flair and imagination it would have been adding some kind of cheese or perhaps a barbecue sauce of some sort to the pan.

Meeting Gary was a true highlight to my trip to the East Coast as my sister and I were taken on an all expenses (free!!) meal at the restaurant he was working at the time, Devlin's.

A showman and perfectionist in every sense, Gary executed 7 delicious courses, notably in my memory a Curried Coconut and Parsnip soup with Mussels that looked like the stones we used to skim with as children. Sheer heaven.

We still talk about that meal to this day and I do believe this dish made my brother and sister fall in love with Mussels.

Since his days tearing up Boston, Gary has returned to his beloved Ireland where he is now in his rightful place in charge of the kitchen in the VM Restaurant at Viewmount Country House in Longford.

Since taking over, Gary has revolutionised the menu with his own unique and Willy Wonka style approach. Each dish represents passion and identity and read like a children's story, full of colour, energy and character. Thanks to Mr O'Hanlon, Viewmount Country House is now in the Bridgestone 100 Best Places to Stay and on of the 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland.

Not too shabby for a Red.

His menu inspiration is always an eclectic blend of the finest produce that Ireland has to offer, yet his American influences still bubble under the surface.

I am yet to sample the delights of Viewmount House, however I am planning a visit very soon.

I have promised Gary a very fair review....of course and he has even upped it onto my sound list.

Visit www.viewmounthouse.com


Cheers wee Gazza!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

That's the sound we like!

Just a quick wee message to celebrate my gorgeous sister's engagement.

We shopped till we dropped and ate out al fresco at the almost new Piccolino's in Clitheroe.

The bubbles were flowing.

Congratulations to the lovely couple!


Tek me t'Three Fishes Luv

Being taken out for the night by a non drinker is always a huge coup. Like that rogue pound coin found in your winter coat pocket in September, the sly after eight mint that got away in the box full of empty wrappers or weighing yourself at someone else's house only for the scales to have dropped five pounds.

Upon this very evening, my partner in crime and I headed not to far from our hometown of Blackburn to the pleasant village of Mitton.

Having just returned back home to the Lancashire region after a stint of living in the West Midlands I am like a calf finding it’s feet and falling in love again with the natural beauty and magical lure of our humble county.

The drive for us this evening through the charming little chasm of Whalley and on into Mitton itself, was not for hedonistic view finding purposes but to fill our bellies with fine Lancashire fayre. The wipers were working overtime, squeaking innocuously in tune with merriment. A blanket of sapphire blue mingled with slate grey in the sky above us.

The swirling B roads en route to our destination favoured by ramblers, cyclists and bikers always exude to me an air of mystery. The bobbing trees protecting the roads like a guard of honour, enveloped in the swooshing glory of both the Hodder and the Ribble, yes, as my grandparent's would say, and with a gulp and lump in my throat, this truly is God's country.

The despondent and melancholy tones of your typical July evening in Lancashire certainly did not befit our chipper and auspicious mood.

After all. We were hungry people.

The place in question, The Three Fishes at Mitton.

As ubiquitous to our gradely county as creamy Lancashire itself, The Three Fishes has been attracting good Lancashire folk (and those from further afield) since 2004.

Thanks to the genius mastermind of Mr Nigel Haworth, the good townspeople are now able to experience Michelin starred cooking in a homely, toasty environment in the rolling splendour of the Ribble Valley.

A staunch user of local produce, the Three Fishes and it's fellow Ribble Valley Inns are abundant with some of the most shining jewels from the fields and coastlines of Lancashire. Nigel is a champion of sourcing his ingredients within the region and the suppliers sit proudly upon the walls and are mentioned on the menu's. A true ambassador for the county and the amazing array of produce it has on offer, Nigel works very closely with the farmers, suppliers and growers in the quest for creating a menu that will make Lancashire proud.

The produce is used with spirited wit, charm, patience and sensitivity to create a true gastronomic experience.

Only on our journey to Mitton, my friend and I were lamenting on the “good old days of Blackburn” when you could find at least one good place to eat. People loved nothing more than to get bedecked in their finest apparel and enjoy the notion of eating out and sheer enjoyment through food.

Mr Haworth has played a superb role in bringing the best of Lancashire to the forefront our own palates and to the screens in our living room.

An accomplished chef in his own right, Mr Haworth has been “grafting” as we would say in the north for well over 20 years.

Born in Accrington (or Accy) to those on the right side of the Pennines, Mr Haworth has been something of a silent assassin in the culinary world, earning the respect he so rightly deserves from many great chefs all over the world.

Being a Lancashire lass myself, I have studied Mr Haworth’s work since my days as cooking student in Blackburn.

He was the first person we could identify as trying to put Blackburn and indeed Lancashire itself on the map.

The Three Fishes is one of those places that I want to go when I am feeling in the mood for full on comfort eating. The type of meal where you might need to wear a loose fitting dress for that extra boost of support. I am not part of a gang of female dieters who steal other people’s bread, chips, puddings and nibbles of cheese.

If I am ordering. I am having it. All.

My friend in the driving seat had not visited before and having been told in advance that we had to be early, we hot footed it down before 8pm as well advised by the assistant on the telephone.

Our damp 7.55pm arrival was greeted with a bubbly smile and our names were etched onto the already bustling chalkboard. We were told a wait of 45 minutes which soon squashed down to 25 minutes.

Time to sample the fine beverages upon offer.

The décor in The Three Fishes is quintessential countryside chic. I think of a slick saloon vibe when I look around. The bar area has a feel of the “Deadwood Stage” in Calamity Jane with it’s warm chocolate hues and stone floors. An Inn in every true sense of the word. No chrome seats, glass tables or feathered chandeliers here. Real and honest to the core.

A gust of cheese on toast and the faint aroma of homemade chips were a welcoming aroma.

Being cold Annie, The Three Fishes and it’s room brimming full of people made it a perfect environment- not a cardigan in sight!

My abstaining companions eyes lit up as he saw the array of cold non alcoholic beverages on display, in particular, the Sarsaparilla.

Being one of our many driving topics of conversation, it was only customary that when in Lancashire….

I of the non driving variety ordered a Tanqueray and tonic on ice. When on school holidays……….????

My driver would fit in well with the Sarsaparilla society in their heyday.

Sarsaparilla owes it’s creation to the temperance movement in the late 1800’s in Lancashire primarily. It seems that we are true party people who have always enjoyed a jar or seven.

A certain Mrs. Lewis at this time, was not happy with level of carousing and boozing amongst the town.

Now, it is worth a mention here to hold our good Lancashire folk in high esteem here.

This was a time of heavy industry. Most of the towns that stretched the borders of the Pennines were cotton mills.

You see, before we were just known in a Beatles song and for our terrific football team winning the premier league in 1995, we were the Kings of Cotton.

Honest, hardworking men and women would be working long hours and many would leave work in the dark. Customarily, the workers would head to the pub after a long and tiring day.

Mrs. Lewis was very proactive in her campaigns against the drinking and was involved with different council boards to try and stop the amount of alcohol being consumed in Blackburn.

There were many people (notably angry wives) who agreed with her plight and so came the Temperance Bars popping up on high streets of Lancashire.

The idea of the Temperance Bar was a place for people to enjoy a social chinwag but with non alcoholic drinks.

The menu du-jour being a heady mix of herbal drinks such as Dandelion & Burdock, Herb Bitters, Cream Soda, Black Beer Raisin and Sarsaparilla.

(It is also just worth mentioning through pure fascination that another Lancashire favourite VIMTO was created through the temperance movement)

Cheers Mrs. Lewis!

The Sarsaparilla in question here at The Three Fishes was supplied by a local producer Mawson’s.

Dark, sticky and just the right level of fizz, with subtle smoky undertones of liquorice and the sassiness of the Sarsaparilla root.

My friend was on a temperance binge and decided to order another Mawson’s favourite of Dandelion and Burdock.

Now, like any good northern girl worth their salt, I love a good cold D & B. Usually with a bag of extremely vinegary chips, but the notion of being all dressed up and in the warm bosom of the Ribble Valley salivating over the scrumptious TF menu made it even more delicious.

So, the drinks were a hit.

Now, on't tucker.

Silence, concentration and serious thinking time. A few fervent ooh’s and aah’s later and crucial decisions had been made.

Determined to have my three courses, I chose the new addition to the menu, the Goosnargh Duckling Pastry with Homemade Piccalilli.

What is not to enjoy here?

I recognized this instantly as a homage to fellow Lancashire lass and Northcote Chef extraordinaire Lisa Allen.

Only recently, following the great tradition of her mentor Mr. Haworth, Lisa went on to win the starter course of The Great British Menu 2010 of which she executed a stunning dish with bags of Lancashire tongue in cheek humour; Wild Rabbit and Leek Turnover with the said Homemade Piccalilli.

The two greedy pigs at the Three Fishes decided to opt for plan which would lead us onto a win win situation.

He wanted fish, I wanted pastry. He wanted to try the duck, I love anything containing fish.

So, the fish soup arrived with dinky pots of “wicked” mayonnaise, the heavenly butlers Lancashire cheese and large circles of garlic croutons.

What I love so much about food at The Three Fishes and it’s sibling Ribble Valley Inns is the deep rooted northern humour exuding from the menu and in the presentation.

Nigel is a true Lancashire lad who if I had to hazard a guess, used to make bread “fishes” from white sliced Warburton’s and throw them into his soup.

The fish soup was velvet thick and bursting with la Coeur de la mer. A cheeky take on the French Provençal classic Bouillabaisse and Rouille. Except we get a naughty pot of cheese to crumble in too.

The sweet Goosnargh duck oozed with every reason of why chefs from Macclesfield to Mayfair want to use them on their menu.

A cross between Aylsebury and a Peking, gives the bird its unique balance in meat and without sounding too Benny Hill, a good breast.

Like chewing through melted toffee, the meat was wrapped delicately with a crisp and honey coloured layer of pastry which provided the perfect balance of a buttery crumb which silently smashed into crumbs allowing a mop up with fingers at the end.

Like a hidden foil egg in my grandma’s allotment at Easter, I dug out the shard of scratching that accompanied my mound of salad leaves and chewed it with great gusto. The utopian balance of charred crunchiness played against the gooey and spongy texture was a triumphant end to my starter.

The soup was being given the full kiddy treatment. After said adult and I had taken a sensible dash of the soup sans accoutrements, it was time to chuck in.

The wicked mayonnaise was smeared onto the discs of mini garlicky breads and submerged into the sea of reds and rust. I was a little bit Mrs. Lewis about adding the delectable Butlers into the fish soup, however, I am a keen advocate of cheese on other soups and obviously beans so I threw down the gauntlet.

A sneaky little addition which added a new dimension to our French fancy.

A thumbs up and empty dishes all round.

Listening to the buzzing whirr of fast paced conversation between the tables made me happy again to be back in Blackburn.

Our main courses were made upon decisions not too dissimilar to planning a family holiday.

What was the weight allowance? How long would it last? Would I enjoy it? Have I ever had it before? Who do you know who has had it? Is it warm? Is it cold? All vital investigations to be made.

Again, a tie break decision at the crucible and it was all about being able to have a bite of whatever they are having time.

Gingerly, I went for the classic Three Fishes Fish Pie and Sarsaparilla went for the much celebrated Three Fishes Burger which masquerades as 100% chargrilled ribble valley steak on an English Muffin.

The service time was good enough to have a good nosey and gossip amongst the other diners, but also to realise that I was ready for my next course.

A stolen glass of crisp Prosecco later and the main courses were on their way.

Great hunks of salmon, cod and king prawns bathing in a blanket of creamy parsley sauce and housed in a roof of golden crispy mash potatoes. All the credentials of a fantastic fish pie.

I slipped up on missing that it does not come with any buddies in tow. Petis Pois or perhaps some buttered spinach would have also not gone a miss, but nobody likes a greedy piglet now.

Having eaten the steak burger countless times, I am an ardent “pusher” to any new visitors. Sat like a Buddha on it’s fat chopping board platform, the minced steak burger hangs out of the muffin almost goading you to take it on. More like a steak mountain, I am always amazed that people do not feel the need to squash or de-bread their first bite.

A potent blend of summer barbecues and a slap up steak dinner, this dish deserves it’s place on the menu of all the Ribble Valley Inns.

A truly chivalrous and lion-hearted dish, you could be fooled that this was strictly one for the boys, but I have seen many a fine filly punching their way through the mass of meat and dripping fried chips.

A forgotten hero of the platter I always feel is the deliciously creamy mustard. I like to put the homemade ketchup onto the burger for added lubrication purposes and the mustard is solely for chips only.

My burger eating friend is not a follower of the cucumber. Even in it’s delicate swirls of ribbon, he was not being fooled. Being Polish and raised on the stuff and with the insider info that it is actually pickled makes the cucumber a nice little bonus for my fish pie.

A wave of euphoric silence and half groaned yoga positions gave only one suggestion.

We were both beaten.

What? No puddings!

By Eck indeed.

Had we have stayed, it was all about the bramley apple pie, needless to say for the greed factor and for the fact that unlike your average gastro pub, this is served with condensed milk AND a piece of cheese in the pie.

Now that is why it certainly is not grim up north.

In a time of cutting back on dining out and treating yourself once a month, The Three Fishes is a highly recommended choice for your pennies.

Just make sure you are not the one driving.