Friday, 28 October 2011

Apple & Gorgonzola Risotto

An unctuous, comforting supper for a rainy dark night. Use any blue cheese, but something melting and sharp is good. You may also want to add a little texture at the end like crushed hazelnuts or chopped walnuts.

For 2:

Peel and finely chop one onion and sweat in butter in a pan until soft. Add 150g risotto rice and stir until thoroughly coated in the butter. Pour in a good glassful of white wine and allow to absorb. Meanwhile, peel and finely chop a Bramley or any apple you like, but something with a good flavour, and add about three-quarters to the rice.

Stirring frequently, pour in your hot chicken or vegetable stock a bit at a time. I find I usually need about 500ml to make a risotto. After about 15 minutes, add the rest of the apple – this won’t melt down as much, giving a bit of texture to the whole. Once the rice is tender, turn off the heat, add as much blue cheese as you fancy and a good knob of butter and season and leave to mantecare as the Italians say.

Serve with the chopped nuts in great big bowlfuls.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Cheshire: Love Food, Love Life

Sitting here in the study gazing at the dazzling-hued chestnut trees that line my back garden, I remember back in London I had medium expectations of foraging little local food treats. However it turns out I have yet to drive for more than 20 minutes in any direction without tripping over yet another farm shop, independent producer, butcher’s, greengrocer’s… It is my idea of heaven.

Tarporley itself is blessed with an excellent butcher’s (perfect for weekday shopping and really excellent sausages), a lovely chocolate shop, a wine shop and a Co-op doing the basics. The only puzzling thing is not so much the lack of fishmonger’s (people never use fishmonger’s and then they complain of their absence. Use it or lose it. It’s very simple. Here the problem is circumvented by the butcher’s stocking frozen fish), but rather the lack of a decent greengrocer’s. There evidently was one but clearly it befell the same fate as the fish and now we are reliant on the very basic offerings of the Co-op. Not so much a problem, but without a car, I was climbing the walls a bit until the monthly farmer’s market came along with all the glorious sunset colours of autumn vegetables.

So now I have a car and it takes every ounce of willpower (does anyone ever say gram of willpower? Imperial  is imperative) I own not to simply sling MCD Jr in the back of the car every day and drive off to yet another rumoured treasure trove. It has to be said the only reason I’m resisting is the money it seems obligatory to spend, because I cannot walk away empty-handed.

Just 10 minutes up the road is The Hollies Farm Shop. This is one seriously glamorous outlet. Built on a scale to rival Harrods’ Food Hall, I have found that there is almost nothing they don’t stock. The prices rival Harrods too but for weekend treats and for guests, it’s a must. And it’s not just any old farm shop. You can ‘glamp’, visit The Christmas Barn or stop for lunch at their cafe, which is reasonable food but at inflated prices (says the Londoner).

In the other direction, down proper twisty-turny (and yesterday very muddy) lanes lies The Rose Farm Shop. Decidedly less Elizabeth Taylor, more Hilda Ogden, nevertheless the butcher’s counter remains a work of art, the vegetables are seasonal and fresh and the Food Hall is admirably stocked with everything you need and nothing you don’t. They even have a little Post Office and groceries section. They have a garden centre and a basic cafe which overlooks a field of friendly, demanding sheep. (MCD Jr’s first live experience and a bit of a shock).

Should you fancy ice cream, on the way into Tarporley is Snugbury’s, who announce their presence with a huge, 50 foot polar bear and cub moulded out of straw in the next door field. You can find their ice cream everywhere around here, along with Cheshire Farm. Tiresford make excellent yoghurt, particularly lactic and grown-up – again on sale everywhere local.

So far, a month in, I haven’t actually been to a supermarket. I’m led to believe there’s a big Sainsburys at Nantwich, which I shall have to get to at some point, but it’s not an appealing thought.

But if you didn’t want to cook, man, can you eat out. Tarporley itself has three or four pubs all serving good to really good food plus Piste, our local wine bar which is a bit more ‘London’. But five minutes away is The Alvanley Arms or The Fox & Barrel, both in The Good Food Guide. And that’s just what we’ve seen on drives past.

We still feel like we’re in a holiday cottage and at any moment we’ll have to go back to ‘real life’. It hasn’t quite hit yet – no doubt the winter will help) – that this is our life. It’s a pretty decent one.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

In which we fall in love; or The Move

Ack it’s been weeks. And not for any good reason other than ORANGE  really F*CKED UP. (Let me just type this so it gets picked up by someone in Orange PR, then we’ll move on. ORANGE IS SHIT. There, that ought to do it.) Instead of transferring our account, they cancelled it. Then tell us it’ll take THREE WEEKS to reconnect us. Then we’ll move to BT.

Anyway, all of that fades into insignificance just a tiny bit against the brilliant background that is Tarporley, Cheshire. It’s a beautiful village with real amenities, like a proper butcher’s, post office, coffee shops and pubs and so on. Trundling round with MCD Jr in the pushchair has been a delight.

But the real joy has been in what lies outside. We only just got the second car last week so I’ve been a bit crazy with cabin-fever. It’s a good thing Tarporley is so bustling because it’s all I’ve seen for three weeks. But, oh, the rest of the county.

We have yet to drive more than 30 minutes in any direction and fail to come up with somewhere to revisit. The A49 alone could keep me occupied for hours… The Hollies Farm Shop (practically my new supermarket), Blakemere craft centre, the North-West’s largest remainder bookstore (…), beautiful pubs, the golf club up the road with spa, the walks foraging for late blackberries. It’s everything we’ve wanted.

Part of the loveliness is the lack of high street chains anywhere. Or at least not in such eye-searing quantities. No matter where you go, be it the village or Nantwich or even Chester, you’re more likely to find an independent before a chain. But if you’re desperate – and to be fair, this weekend we were – Cheshire Oaks in Ellesmere Port is jaw-dropping when it comes to brands. On one side it’s a designer outlet centre that took us fully an hour to walk around – without shopping. On the other there’s a few big high-street names which is a benefit because sometimes you really need a Boots.

And then there’s the house. We’re not quite unpacked. I have gotten so far and then realised I need at least two more bookcases, one more for the nursery, a chest of drawers and some more storage cupboards. So boxes remain, but for the most part we’re up and running. I’m learning to cook on an electric hob again (oh I miss gas), but on the plus side, I have three fridges and two freezers, so y’know, I’m coping.

And the food. Good grief. Down the road from Tiresford who make fabulous yoghurt, or Snugbury’s ice cream, or local meat and game at the butcher’s or farm shop. It’s not only easy to cook local, it’s practically impossible not to. (And not having a supermarket on your doorstep helps enormously). Every corner you turn, someone is selling potatoes or game or vegetables.

So in short, so far, after a brief amount of time, it’s fabulous. And now the cold weather’s setting in and there seems to be snow around the corner, we’ll see how we get on. I might end up screaming for the 249 bus after all. But I rather doubt it.