The Beautiful North – Part One

As some of you know, I was born and brought up in the far north of England. I’m only living in the Midlands now because I married the Bear…… I try and get back there at every opportunity. That’s where my family and and also where some of the most stunning places in the UK are. The Bear, being a Cockney, from the south of the country, doesn’t  know much about the North and hasn’t really travelled around there. I kept saying I had to show him how beautiful and wild the countryside is and how stunning the coastline.

As you might also know, it was my birthday recently and we decided to make the most of it, so both of us had time off to celebrate and to head north… which kind of explains my absence from the kitchen and the blog. This then, isn’t about cooking… just eating and travelling. Travelling to somewhere that most people know nothing about and have never visited.

Maybe it will inspire you to visit Northumberland.

Before we started out on our trip north we had a meal at Iberico World Tapas – one of my favourite ways of eating…. what greedy person wouldn’t love tapas? Instead of having just one delicious thing to eat we chose lots of delicious things – cheeses and hams; salted squid and stuffed courgette flowers; patatas bravas and beef…… and belly pork…so many wonderful tastes, textures and flavours. The menu is on the website if you want to look…..

The next day we started driving north.

To those that don’t know, the industrial towns of the north can look dark and grim and people assume that is all there is, but once you get past Newcastle and take the coast roads heading further north you get to some of the wildest and most spectacular coastline anywhere. All I ask is that you look at the pictures and follow the links for more information. I am so proud of the north and its wild beauty and I hope that some of you will make your way there at some point.

On our way North we stopped, first of all at Alnwick (pronounced Annick, for those of you not brought up in the North) because there is the most wonderful secondhand bookshop there called Barter Books and one of the things I wanted to do was to see if they had any old cookbooks to add to my collection. What you can do is bring your old books (if they are good quality) and barter them for credit or other books…. It is the most fascinating place – in the old railway station at Alnwick – with a model railway running round the top of the bookshelves in one part of it. It is the perfect secondhand bookshop, with tables and comfy chairs amongst the stacks. Imagine the bliss….. look at their website and you will get a far better idea than I can give you.

And look what I found  in the cookery book section…

… an old cookbook, printed just after 1963, “The First Ladies Cookbook – Favourite Recipes of all the Presidents of the United States”

It starts with George Washington and goes right through to Lyndon B Johnson who was President of the USA at that time.

All those Presidents…. all those recipes!

I had to buy it. Well, when I say buy… I had arrived with two bags of books I didn’t want and handed them in – Barter Books assesses whether they want them and if they do, how much they want to pay for them and that amount is put into your account… so you can spend it on books in the bookshop. So, not exactly bought, but bartered.

At first, I thought I would play Cookery Lotto , thinking that would really broaden our cooking experience, but as I started leafing through it I realised that this may mean I was being forced into making something like this

Calvin Coolidge’s favourite… Pineapple Salad, which involved covering a fresh pineapple with cream cheese, glace cherries and strawberries…..

I have to say, that just isn’t going to work for me.

(But you see that tea pot? My mother has one like that… it has a little burner underneath to keep the water hot!  Isn’t it gorgeous?)

Anyway, the more I looked, the more danger I was in of having to cook something that really wouldn’t be to our taste at all, so Cookery Lotto was out.

There were recipes I was interested in… how about this…

Tomato Pudding.  Adored by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

If you can’t quite see the recipe, here it is

1  10-ounce can of tomato puree, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes, 1/4 cup boiling water, 1/4 cup of melted butter and 6 tablespoons of light brown sugar.

Add sugar and salt to the tomato puree and water and boil for 5 minutes. Place bread cubes in a casserole. Pour melted butter over them Add the tomato mixture. bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F (that’s about 190 decrees C for us in the UK) Serve with quail or roasted meats.

Not written to be the world’s most tempting recipe, but, you know, I can see that Dwight may have been onto something.

I bet that bread goes deliciously soft and develops a lovely crustiness to the top… the tomato would make it savoury…..and to serve it with meat?

Well, I am going to give it a whirl.

I may have to tweak it a bit, perhaps using chopped plum tomatoes to lighten the texture and decreasing the amount of sugar… but there’s something about it that appeals. What do you think?

And then I looked at Herbert Hoover…

Well that’s not Herbert Hoover, obviously. That is a picture of his Maryland Caramel Tomatoes.

8 ripe tomatoes of equal size, white pepper, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar 1/4 cup of butter


Skin the tomatoes. Carefully cut off the tops. Place them in a buttered baking dish, suitable to serve them in. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and brown sugar. Dab each of them with butter.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C in the UK) and bake for half an hour. Then, remove to the top of the stove and over a low flame, reduce the juice until it is a thick syrup. The, once again, balke them in a hot oven (400 degrees F/200 degrees C) for half an hour. Serve hot.

Again, it might need a tweak or two… AND a baking dish that can go in an oven and on top of it…. but perhaps to serve alongside pork?

So. Pretty much of a result. A fascinating book and potentially a few great ideas in there. I was feeling very happy with myself and really, we hadn’t even started our little holiday.

We left Alnwick and carried on heading north… driving out to the coast, first of all to  Craster, a tiny village famous for its kippers, with a tiny harbour

and walked from there, along the coastline to the ruined castle of Dunstanburgh

before driving further north to Bamburgh where we were staying for the next two nights. Bamburgh is a beautiful village, once the capital of Northumbria, with yet another huge castle, high above the village.

Click on the links and see just how lovely the Northumbrian coast is.

That night, sitting in a tiny restaurant, we toasted each other and congratulated ourselves on choosing the far north as my birthday trip.

And there were even more lovely things to do the next day!

Pappardelle with mushrooms, lemon and sage

“99, column 2”

As statements go, that has to be, when taken out of context, one of the most random and mysterious comments ever.

If you had been following our adventures in Cookery Lotto, you would have known instantly that this was the answer we had been waiting for.  We had (great team effort there, everybody) managed to get a number that led us to finding the cookery book that I was to cook from, but to make sure I couldn’t deliberately pick something that I knew I liked, or that was easy to do, someone had to suggest a page and column number.

I said at the time I was glad it was column 2 – column 1 involved making a ragu from a kid goat’s shoulder. I would have tried, of course, but I was almost certain that Mick, our butcher, didn’t have any on his meat counter.

Luckily Caron picked column 2, which led to me making pasta yesterday with two little girls.

It  just goes to show that if we three could make pasta successfully in less than an hour then anyone could do it.

The girls set off home with their tagliatelle and I was left with, as instructed by the rules of Cookery Lotto, a bowl of pappardelle.

I wanted to make something delicious with this, my beautifully soft and silky, hand-cut pasta ribbons. And I didn’t have any part of a goat at hand.

I did, however have mushrooms, a lemon , some garlic and sage.

Which, as Good Food pointed out, was exactly what I needed for a “light but filling Italian supper, ready in just 20 minutes”

And even better, delicious though this sounded, gave me just 386 calories per serving. That meant it could be included in my 400 and Under category – diet food that tastes divine but with minimal calories. Things were just getting better and better.

On with a large pan of well salted water to get it to a brisk boil, while I chopped 250g of mushrooms.

They needed to saute in 25g of butter and after a couple of minutes, stir in a crushed clove of garlic

Squeeze a lemon and chop a handful of sage

Stir in the sage and add the lemon juice.

Check the papparedelle – as it is fresh pasta it will only need a couple of minutes cooking – drain it but leave a tablespoon or so of water in there.

And then toss it in the delicious lemon and garlic sage-scented buttery mushrooms



Last week, bored with the usual choices and needing inspiration, we played Cookery Lotto, a game guaranteed to introduce an element of randomness into the proceedings. Anything could have been chosen but the rules are that once chosen, it had to be cooked.

We ended up with a pasta dish from the Australian Gourmet Traveller Cookbook of 2008.

But this wasn’t going to be pasta from a packet – this was start from the beginning and make it from scratch pasta.

And I was glad because I knew how easy it was to do and this was my chance to show you.

The Bear and I have a pasta machine  and we love making pasta. It wasn’t expensive at all (under £10 in a famous designer clothes, shoes and houseware clearance shop…it had been £29,99 . Look there in the kitchen section – I’ve seen them lots of times. Failing that you can get them for under £20 on Amazon)

The first time we did it we were carried away with the idea that we could produce perfect pasta. The pasta was fine…. it was the ravioli we attempted to make that were an utter disaster. Perhaps more skill was required for that. Perhaps we should have read a recipe properly. Anyway, the ravioli burst open and the fillings weren’t so great.

Straight forward pasta was fine though. Good, even. We have made tagliatelle and lasagne sheets and today we are making papardelle.  When I say we, it is not me and my partner in life and crime, the Bear. He’s off travelling again and is on the other side of the world so he won’t be here to help.

We, today, are me, my friend M and her daughters. OK so the nearly-two year old won’t be much good, but I have high hopes of  training the ten year old to be a willing kitchen slave.

I have looked at the recipe and it says 4 eggs and 560g of flour…. seems a lot I thought, and then I realised it was to make enough pasta for 8. Time to scale down. My amazing mathematical skills come to the fore as I rapidly divide everything by two… then thought I’d better divide again.

How much pasta do I need? I’m not intending to feed everyone I know. We shall use one egg and 140g of flour. That will be enough for us.

You do your own maths to work out how  much you will need.

And…. off we go.

Weigh 140g of “00” Italian flour and lightly whisk one egg.

Put that in a bowl and add 3 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt  and 15 ml of water.

Then start to mix it. I’m using my KitchenAid mixer because I can. (And every use of it makes the overall cost per use drop. Use that argument when you are plea bargaining for one of your own) If you haven’t got an electric mixer, then you will have to stir it all by hand.

This is no bad thing – after all people were making pasta by hand for centuries before electric mixers were developed.

It will all come together quite easily and form a coherent dough. Now because eggs come in different sizes, you may need to add more flour to the mix if it looks too wet. We had to because we used an extra large egg.

You will need to knead it now – just put it on a floured board and stretch and pull and roll and knead until you feel it becoming smooth and springy. L, who is ten, really took to stretching and pulling the dough.

The girls had a great time helping to knead it. That’s the two of them, sharing the job. The nearly-two year old loved getting her hands on to the dough because she saw her big sister doing it. That’s the best way to get children to enjoy cooking… letting them get their hands in to it. It’s not the best way to keep the kitchen clean and tidy but it is the best way to have fun.

Now you just cover it with a damp tea towel and leave it to rest for a while. Ten minutes or so if you are wanting to get a move on, and hour or thereabouts if you have the time to wait.

Time for a nice cup of tea and teach young kitchen slaves how easy it is to wipe down the benches.

Now for the fun bit – cut the dough into two or three pieces and, having made sure your pasta machine is firmly screwed onto the bench, start feeding the first bit through. Give each piece a light sprinkling of flour so it doesn’t stick.

(If you haven’t got a pasta machine, don’t worry, just get ready to start rolling it out with a rolling pin. Make sure you have divided it out, though, before you start rolling it. Just dust it lightly and get cracking.)

You start off on the widest setting, and fold the first piece over on itself so it gets a really good pressing. Think Grandma’s mangle… you just turn the handle and the pasta goes through.

Got to the next notch sprinkle lightly, very lightly with flour and put the pasta through again. The girls loved this and took turns winding the handle.

Keep going until you have gone through all the settings and are down the last one.

Now my machine has setting for cutting pasta so I can either use them, feeding the thin sheets of pasta through the cutting attachments to make tagliatelle or cut the sheets free hand.

If you are cutting free hand, dust the surface lightly and roll the flattened sheets of pasta up like a giant swiss roll. Then simply cut down through the roll to get your pasta strips. Easy, huh? 

Now, if I were going to be making pasta all the time, and I wanted to make it in advance of cooking it,  then I would buy one of those pasta drying racks, but I’m not, so I haven’t. You can dangle it from clothes racks to let it air off or you can simply dust lightly with flour again or maybe fine polenta and start getting the pan ready to cook it in.

See? Within ten minutes we had a huge mound of tagliatelle for the girls to take home to their brothers to have for their supper

.. and some hand cut, broader strips of pappardelle for me.

We all sat around, gazing with pride at our beautiful  pasta – a few minutes work and a huge amount of fun and laughter.

It was a wonderful afternoon’s work and at the end of it we had made food for everyone. It wasn’t difficult and it cost pennies to make. Some flour, an egg, a pinch of salt and some oil all came together to make delicious home made pasta. And two little girls now think they want to cook again… and again… and again!

My cunning plan will work – give them a few years and I can spend my time lolling on the sofa while my willing kitchen slaves toil for me.

Another success chalked up to the random selection of Cookery Lotto.

Cookery Lotto – we’re making pasta!

Caron was first to pick a number and a column…

Page 99 of Australian Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook, 2008 is in the pasta section and the second column  is papardelle.

We’re making pasta!  And the only ingredients are 4 eggs, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 560gm “00” durum wheat flour.

Pappardelle is broad flat strips of pasta. Broader than fettucine.

All I can say is thank goodness she didn’t choose column 1… because we’d have been searching for  a kid’s shoulder on the bone to make a ragu with.

That’s a goat’s kid’s shoulder, obviously.

So, this weekend is pasta time! Goodness knows what sauce I will make to serve with it – I shall cross that bridge when I get to it.

Cookery Lotto – and the book is….

In my attempt to widen the variety of dishes I cook and also to introduce an element of randomness, I thought of the weirdly wonderful Cookery Lotto. I have lots of cookery books that I might read but really need to start cooking from.

Thing is, I hadn’t really got round to doing anything – I just chose what I fancied. The one time I let the Bear choose something he picked a dish, Pork and Pepper Goulash   which was something I would never have chosen. Turned out to be absolutely fabulous!  Just goes to show that I need to be nudged along a bit.

So, I told you all how many books were on the bookshelf next to me. If you remember, everyone had a chance to pick a number and the plan was that we would get the average from those numbers. That would determine which of the books on the bookshelf would be picked.

I used my incredibly advanced mathematical skills to work out the average

See that? That was 6 am this morning as I added everything up.

And then I divided by the number of people who had put numbers in.

It came to 57.2222.

So I thought 57 would do.

I scurried along to the bookshelf and started counting.

And this is what came out.

The Australian Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook. I bought it last year in Melbourne as we sat around the airport waiting for a hugely delayed flight to Hobart, Tasmania.

The interesting thing is, though, see that first picture where I am dragging it out of the shelf? You can see index tabs.

That’s what I do when I see recipes I would like to cook.

Notice, I said “when I see”

I haven’t actually done them!

So, it looks like a very good book to pick. There are recipes in there that took my fancy…. now all I have to do is cook them!

The next part of Cookery Lotto is picking the recipe.

The recipes start on page 16 and go right through to 236.

There are three columns.

So… first one to pick a number between 16 – 236 picks the recipe page!

Then pick either 1,2 or 3 to get the column and the recipe.

First answer wins!

(Oh and be very grateful – the next book along was this

I have a feeling that any recipe from there might not be as exciting as one from the Gourmet Traveller!)

Time for Cookery Lotto…. again!

Right back in the beginning, when this blog started out, I knew that I would have to stretch myself. 

It’s easy, so very easy, to just stick to cooking what I normally cook when what I wanted was to see if I could do something different most days of the week. I thought that taking pictures and telling  you all what I was doing, would make me too embarrassed to repeat  myself. I have lots of cookery books so there had to be thousands of recipes close at hand… just waiting to be chosen.

I needed to work out how I picked the recipes I was going to make. The difficulty was that I might just go along with whatever I fancied, when what I needed to do was to cook things completely randomly.

Could I be trusted to pick randomly? Probably not. I’d probably choose what I quite liked the look of and reject the tricky or the not immediately likeable recipes.

And then I came up with Cookery Lotto. I had lots of cookery books  and I have lots of friends. Put the two together I thought……

The basic idea was that one of them chose a random number and, in a very scientific fashion, a cookery book was chosen.

The technical explanation of this method? I counted along the bookshelves until I got to the number that was chosen.

Then… and this was the cunning bit… I told them how many pages there were in the book and someone else picked a page number!

I had nothing to do other than cook what they came up with.

On the first go, Looby picked “The Prawn Cocktail Years” and Els picked page number 49… and the result was Creamed Spinach. A resounding success in my eyes, but there again, I do so love spinach.

The poor Bear isn’t such a fan but as I am training him to be truly omnivorous then he does what he is told and he eats what he is given. He sort of liked it.

He’s really hoping that this time he gets something he would really want to eat.

So… Cookery Lotto, Part Two!

New rules though….. what we do this time is that everyone who wants to join in just picks a number… then one day later I see how many answers there are and divide the sum of the numbers by the amount of people picking them… that gives answer number one, which is, the cookery book we are working from.

Once we know that, we will know how many pages are in the book and we do the same thing for the recipe.

I have just gone and counted along the bookshelves…in this apartment  there are 156 books close to hand. That should give us something to go at.

They range from cookery books bought in Bangalore for a few rupees to books bought in specialist book stores costing over £50. There are thick books, thin books, old books and new books… There’s books on there that I adore and there are, I have to say, books I have never ever cooked from.

So…. the game is on.

Pick a number from 1 to 156.  It’s not too much to ask is it? Just pick a number and tell me what it is….

Creamed Spinach

Despite almost universal condemnation, the winning recipe from Cookery Lotto, was Creamed Spinach from ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’ by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham. 

Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 009

All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Anyway, spinach is good for you.. it says so on the packet. In fact the word “Superfood” is used. And if you were to add cream and butter to it… would that make it a super Superfood? It just gets better and better.

So, let’s get started Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 003 – you’ll need

Spinach (at least a large bag full, the recipe in ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’ says 1.4 kg.. but that really would make a huge amount.

Double cream


Salt and Pepper





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You will only need 2 cloves and you will need to grate the nutmeg – most jars have a lovely little grater inside!

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 First of all, you need to get a large pan of water boiling away, so you can blanch the spinach

Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 012

That only takes a few seconds – you need to dunk the leaves under the boiling water and then get them out and drained and rinsed in cold water.

Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 014

Let that spinach cool then really squeeze it dry, ready to chop finely once it has cooled.

Meanwhile, prepare the bechamel sauceCreamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 005.

First though you have to flavour the milk you will be using in it by finely chopping the onion and putting that in a pan with 150ml of milk, along with the two cloves. Get that to simmering point for a few minutes and then take it off the heat and let it steep for about 30 minutes to really get the flavours infused through the milk.

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Melt 50 g  Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 016butter      

then add 50 g of plain flour and stir it to make a roux and cook it gently for a few minutes to get the floury taste out.

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Then strain

Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 022

the infused milk into the roux and stir quickly and throughly to get rid of any lumps.

Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 023

See? Stirring quickly turns it into a gorgeously smooth sauce. It is thick, and you will probably think it is too thick but it’s not. You’ll be adding the spinach to that and you don’t want it to be runny.. the spinach has to be kept in suspension. You’ll see…. keep it on a low heat and cook it for about 15 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 020

Remember I said squeeze that spinach till it’s dry? You need to chop it finely. No big lumps, eh?

Then…. add the spinach, 50 ml of double cream, a good grating of nutmeg and some pepper and stir it…..look at it……

Creamed Spinach, cauliflower puree 035

Still green… a lovely, bright green. Bound in a delicious cream sauce….. not, as you will be whining ( yes, you know I am looking at you!) not, as I said before, slimy in the least… just the smoothest, most gorgeous, silky, tasty spinach ever.

 Mmmmmmmmmhhhhmmmmmmm…… bliss in a bowl.

No more complaints… go buy spinach!

The Prawn Cocktail Years

In the very first Cookery Lotto, Looby selected “The Prawn Cocktail Years”  by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham using the completely random method of picking a number and then I counted along the bookshelf. That’s fair enough, isn’t it? We don’t need fancy machines to give us our answers. The National Lottery could learn a lot from us. Cheap and efficient!

Steak, bread and Cookery Lotto 017


 “Here they all are, fresh as paint, as if they’d never been away. Why did we let them go? Neglected, derided, dismissed as hopelessly naff, in what dismal Midlands eateries have they been waiting out the years of shame? No matter, they’re back. Prawn Cocktail, Steak and Chips and Black Forest Gateau are the signature dishes of The Prawn Cocktail Years, a bravura collection of favourite restaurant dishes from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies–years when Britain was learning to eat out.”  – Amazon


How could you not like a description of a book like that?

The next step was to find the recipe in there…. first off the mark was Els, texting in from work …. no 49

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and…. as you can see, the recipe is Creamed Spinach! Bit of a bonus that, for me, because I love creamed spinach. I would eat it once a week at least. Maybe daily.

In essence, it is blanched spinach, finely chopped and added to a creamy bechamel sauce with a grating of nutmeg. An unctuous, smooth, tasty helping of spinachy gorgeousness….

The Bear cries when I make him eat creamed spinach. He’s very odd like that. He has a spoonful and then screws up his face and says he can’t eat it. But he can, you know, and even admits that is isn’t that bad.

That, I think, is the secret to spinach. Make it nicely and it becomes the most delicious, savoury, creamy vegetable with just a bit of a tang to it and it is oh-so-good for you. Serve it with some roast meat and you have heaven on a plate. I’m thinking some roast pork would be good. Sunday lunch it is then!

So tomorrow’s shopping list will include spinach, double cream, milk and an onion. From the store cupboard you’ll need cloves, nutmeg, flour, pepper and some butter from the fridge.

Oh, I’m looking forward to this!

Cookery Lotto!

Well, I know how easy it is to have good intentions…. to make plans that somehow just get a little bit sidelined. Life’s like that. I read cookery books, for example, and think that I’ll try this recipe or that menu.. and then I carry on doing the same things I normally do because I’m tired, or in a rush, or I’m just back from work, or when I did the shopping I just grabbed the old familiars so I could get out of there and get home.

But that is going to change. And you, my dear friends, are going to make me change. The added advantage for you, of course, is that I do the work, you get to look at it and see if you will do it yourselves.

So, I have lots of cookery books….. you’ve seen one bookshelf. Here’s another. There are 132 cookery books within easy reach.

Cookery Lotto 002


Now that photograph isn’t brilliant (I’m not going to win awards for my camera work) so you won’t be able to read the titles and that rules out, to some extent, you lot picking the book other than randomly.


And I’m not going to tell you whether I start the count from the bottom or the top.  But I will be fair – there’ll be no cheating on  my part….. all you have to do is pick a number and that will be the cookery book I work from. Then pick the page number. I will cook the recipe (Frantically crossing fingers that I don’t have in there a recipe for sheep’s eyeballs or one involving 2 kilos of very expensive caviar)

Now that, I should think, will introduce some new ideas into our cooking. And yes, I say “Our” because I want you to try them too!

So… Pick a number!

Back in the North

Things are very different in the North and I don’t mean that as a comment on the economic situation. My kitchen here is completely unlike the apartment kitchen where I spend most of my time. The view is certainly different – I’m not high above the city, looking down on the houses and streets below me.  Here, when I look out of the window, I can look straight out onto the only road through the village and even see the village water pumpKitchen in the Village 001.


I haven’t done any cooking today because I have been busy with visiting the family. I did do a lot of shopping, though, and have been to our local butcher to stock up on meat for the freezer. I have come home weighed down with rabbits, woodpigeon, oxtail, belly pork, lamb shanks, brisket, suet, beef plate and little lamb joints. A hint, there, of the type of cooking I shall be doing when I get back to the city…. slow, long cooked meaty dishes to keep the chill of the autumn and winter away.


kitchens 008


I’m going to bring more of my cookery books down with me to add the collection I have in the city and that gave me an idea…… I shall count all of my cookery books (they are randomly shelved) and ask any of you to pick a number. That will give me the cookery book I will work from. Then, I see how many pages are in the book and someone else will pick a number and that will give me the recipe to work from. Cookery Lotto!

It’s so easy to stick to the same recipes all the time, the tried and trusted ones that you always make – from now on there’s every chance the chosen recipe will be something I have never cooked before. See what I do for you?