January over in a flash, February trying to race past the post. Where HAS the time gone, dear Reader? Already at half term, at this rate it’ll be Christmas again before I know it. Busy isn’t even the word. What with new columns here and there, and work on something a bit bigger too, I think that I’ve spent at least half of the last month and a half mopping floors and spraying them with doggy disinfectant due to Piddling Piglet, also known as spaniel pup Dora. Perfect in every way except the fact that at 17 weeks old, if it’s cold or rainy outside, Dora will come back in from the garden and decide that the dining room floor is much nicer to widdle on than wet grass. It is a good job that she is so utterly adorable…..
Dora hasn’t been the only thing contributing to puddles indoors either. Thanks to Storm Imogen, the sitting room ceiling decided to spring rather a big leak (again) and we awoke to the sound of steady dripping one morning. We are lucky that that’s all it was. The wind in the night was battering the house with such force that we thought the windows would blow in and trees hanging precariously over us would crush the house. The mini greenhouse took to flying and was last seen going over the garden gate and onto the lane. Poor old hens thought that Chicken Little’s prophecy was more fact than fiction too. Still other than the roof and a fair bit of debris in the garden, all was well.
On the subject of the hens, dear Reader, we have some sad news to share. We lost our two favourite hens over Christmas. Not to Mr Fox but to a serious case of gapeworm that came on too suddenly to cope with usual treatment. Henny Penny and Layla were quarantined in a makeshift chicken hospital (the girls’ wendy house) but despite all our care, both passed away within 24hrs of each other. It was Henny’s death on Christmas Day that was perhaps the most devastating for all of us, with Poppy weeping buckets. She really was such a plucky hen – so funny to watch and bags of character. Silly to be so sad about losing a hen but she really was exceptionally special. The coop just isn’t the same without her and with only three remaining, it may be time to think about some new girls joining us.
With snowdrops on the ground and the bluebells beginning to wake from their winter’s nap, it’s time to start thinking about tidying things up a bit. Well in the garden at least, since the walls are too wet and the brickwork needs to dry out before it can be repaired. Too depressing to look at the forecast and spy yet more rain on the horizon. Still new roses need potting up for growing up the house, a lot of demolition work is already complete and plans for the kitchen garden are all sketched out and seeds purchased – the garden is almost unrecognisable. Thank goodness too as I had the lovely Becs Parker from BBC Radio Solent’s The Good Life here recording a series of three new recipes from Margot’s Kitchen – Slow Food for Gardeners. Tune in on Sunday 14th Feb from 1pm-2pm – no doubt you’ll hear Monty and Dora giving their woofs of approval in the background.
What better way to feed the soul on Valentine’s Day than with a bit of slow food love, dear Reader. Call it a big hug and kiss from me to you. Perfect whether you’re gardening, dragging the small ones and pups on a walk in the countryside (this passes for romance at Margot and Jerry HQ) or sinking into an armchair to while away the day with a good book.
Slow Cooked Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Chipotle Beans
Marinade for beef short ribs
beef short ribs or brisket
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp of mixed peppercorns (grind these in a pestle and mortar)
1 tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp runny honey
1 garlic clove, whole
500ml good quality beef stock
1/2 can of real ale
Add all the ingredients for the marinade and rub onto the short ribs. Leave to marinade overnight or for at least 4-6 hours. Overnight is best for maximum flavour. When you are ready to cook, seal the meat on a high heat until all the surfaces have colour. Use a large pan with a lid to do this as you will be cooking the beef for hours and hours in its marinade. Once all the meat is brown on the outside, pour over beef stock and ale, pop on the pan lid and place in a low oven (no more than 120 degrees) for slow cooking. The ribs will be ready when the meat can be pulled apart with two forks.
Take the ribs out of the pan once cooked and leave to one side to shred the meat from the bones. Pop the pan on the stove and reduce the liquid that is left by half. As it reduces, add 1 tbsp of tomato ketchup and a dash of Worcestershire sauce to thicken it. Pour this over the shredded beef to serve.
2 tsp chipotle paste
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 can of haricot beans (include all the juice in the can too)
salt and pepper
Cook this at the same time as the beef short ribs as the beans will be really tender if slow cooked and have bags of flavour too. Fry roughly chopped onion in a pan (needs to have a lid so a casserole dish with lid would work too), adding the chipotle paste and pomegranate molasses. Fry until the onion has softened a little and is coated in the paste and molasses. Then add the can of beans and mix until combined. Pop in low oven alongside the beef to cook for at least 3 hours. The beans should look thick and be squishy to the touch. Check the beans after an hour or so and see if you need to add a little water if they are looking a little dry rather than unctuous.
To serve the beef and beans, warm a few tortillas in the oven, add some chopped coriander or parsley, a squeeze of lime juice and a good dollop of crème fraiche/soured cream.
Heaven and you won’t be slaving over the stove all day either! Happy Valentine’s Day, dear Reader.