Hedgerow Roast Lamb & Our Journey into Sheep Farming

As all these things seem to start it began with a throw away comment around the kitchen table, the seed of an idea and an ideal image of being self sufficient… “now we produce pigs and goats we should start a flock of sheep to produce our own lamb…”

Our first Lleyn lamb from Radmore!

These seeds of ideas seem to quickly sprout roots, particularly with all the changes that have happened in our business since covid. Before we knew it we were researching breeds of sheep on the internet in the snatched minutes when all the current animals and children and fed, looked after and safely tucked in bed for the night. Now I should comment here that sheep and goats are technically very similar. An example of this is that most medicines the vet will administer to a goat are not technically approved in goats, but they are in sheep “so that will have to do”! It’s not unusual for sheep farmers to branch out and welcome a few goats onto their farm and apply their knowledge of sheep to their care. I do, however, think we are in a VERY small minority of people that have farmed a considerable number of goats first, and then incorporated sheep!

We decided to go for Lleyn sheep (pronounced Clen). They are native to the British Isles, Anglesey to be more specific. Being a native breed is important to us because as well as supporting the heritage of the natives we wanted a breed that would be naturally acclimatised to our environment, and would thrive on a grass based system. Not having to supplement feed with cereal based milled food leads to a much lower impact finished product as less recourses have been used along the way. After deciding that lleyn were for us, we took to the Amazon prime of the farming world, sell my livestock .com!

The day the girls arrived at Radmore!

So late in 2021 we had 10 in lamb lleyn ewes arrive in the farmyard. Then slightly later in 2021 we had another 10 in lamb lleyn ewes arrive!

Since taking ownership of those 20 girls, we have learned A LOT! The main things are:

-Sheep are nothing like goats!

-Sheep need shearing, and shearing is hard, thank goodness we found an excellent shearer!

-goats have very unique personalities that you need to get to know to care for them, sheep behave much more as a single pack

-kids and lambs need very different care in the first 24 hours, and goats and sheep react very differently to assistance in birth

-sheep eat grass, goats eat everything (particularly hedge) and grass as a last resort

-You haven’t lived until you’ve spent your birthday queueing at the vets to buy maggot oil and then apply said oil

-And lastly sheep are nothing like goats!

We have gone on quite a journey to get our first finished lambs in the late 2022 summer, and we are so proud of what we have produced on a small scale. We have had some devastating losses and some heart warming wins. Having a ewe with 2 lambs that rejected one, and the moment the adopted mum (who lost her own lamb at birth) began to treat the adopted baby as her own was just beautiful!

The mum that adopted a little rejected boy lamb!

So as we are getting our first lambs back in late summer and the intense heat this year has brought the blackberries on early, I’m combining the 2 with a hedgerow roast rack of lamb recipe. I thought it was quite fitting as the hedgerow is where we spend most of our time mending gaps in the fence and shooing them back in.

Hedgerow Roast Lamb

Serves 3

Rack of Lamb, French trimmed

Salt and pepper

Rapeseed oil

Finely sliced onion

1 tbsp golden granulated sugar

Red wine, 2-3 tbsps

Drop of water

Couple of handfuls of wild blackberries

I’ve kept the lamb really simple in this because there’s no need to over complicate it if you have good quality lamb. Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade, a nice hot oven will crisp the fat. Put the lamb fat side up in an oven dish and season well. Cook for about 45 minutes for pink and an hour for well done, this is not an exact science because it all depends on the thickness of the rack. The best test it to poke it, if it’s very springy it’s still quite rare in the middle and if it’s very firm it’s well done- we always prefer somewhere in the middle of these 2! Take it out of the oven for about 10 minutes to rest before cutting and serving. In the resting time, prepare the blackberry sauce.

Lamb rack out of the oven and resting

In a frying pan heat the oil and then turn the heat down to medium to add and slowly caramelise the onion. Once it’s starting to soften put in a tbsp of red wine and a sprinkle of sugar and keep stirring and caramelising. If it starts to stick add another splash of wine or water. When the onion is sticky and very soft add another tbsp of wine, the rest of the sugar and a splash of water, turn the heat up and bring together. Add the blackberries and stir until the sauce is thick and the blackberries have started to breakdown. Put a scoop of sauce over each serving of lamb. I served with freshly podded peas and broad beans and some scraped new potatoes to make it extra seasonal!

Hedgerow Roast Lamb Rack

Hope you enjoy the lamb. Now our next challenge, locating a daddy sheep for the autumn!

Roast Chicken Breast with Cheesy Leek & Bacon

Thinking back to spring 2020, I’m fascinated by the way that no 2 peoples experiences of lockdown were the same. Much in the same way as no 2 people’s experience of giving birth is the same. Essentially, on paper, you’ve gone through the same thing. Yet every individual has a different experience. Different highs and lows, stresses and smiles, grief, trauma and joy. Different memories and feelings that stick in their mind and different triggers that take them back. Left with a different world to live through in the aftermath. Well somehow my lockdown story and my birth experience of my 3rd baby became intertwined when both smacked us in the face in that unforgettable spring of 2020! It’s taken until now to work through all the changes; with the business the challenges and the opportunities, the new starts and the re-thinks. With the family the new baby growing into a toddler, coupled with the home schooling and the back to school cycles. I finally feel like we are in a place that all the plates are now spinning (as opposed to the being dropped, smashed, finding the glue, throwing them at the wall and buying new plates cycle!) and I can have some head space to enjoy what we do again, and that means make some recipes! And not only that, actually write them down!

So on the theme or not having any time, this recipe is great for when you haven’t had time to plan and prepare a full roast but you want something that ticks all the roast dinner boxes of hearty, filling, comfort food.

Cheesy Leek & Bacon Roast Chicken Breast

Ingredients:

1 skinless chicken breast per person

1 rasher of smoked back bacon per person

A red onion, diced

Baby leeks, 5 or 6 sliced or one large leek

Worcester sauce- few splashed

Few slices of good strong cheddar

Salt and pepper

Rapeseed oil

1.Start by preheating the oven to 190oc. Butterfly the chicken breast by slicing horizontally until about 3 quarters of the way through. Open up the chicken breast and lay a rasher of smoked bacon inside and replace the top piece of chicken to make a parcel. Season the top well. Place in an oven dish and roast for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the topping.

2. Whilst the chicken cooks, preheat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan. Add the leeks and onion and fry until starting to char and soften. Tip over the top of the chicken with a few splashes

of Worcester sauce and put back in the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, on until the chicken is thoroughly cooked (juices run clear and piping hot throughout).

3. When the chicken is cooked, scoop up any fallen off leek and onion and pile back on top of the chicken and then add the slices of cheese over the top. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes so the cheese can melt.

We served with roast parsnips, carrots and peas, and the absolute best thing of all – all 3 children ate it! Winning!

Pork Chop with Creamy Pancetta, Shallot & Mushroom Sauce

This recipe comes with a story. One Sunday evening in lockdown back in mid May we started this meal off and then went for a lovely stroll around the fields.

Evening walk whilst our pork cooked

Upon coming home, finishing it and swiftly devouring it, I uttered “DELICIOUS! I must publish this recipe on the blog”. So I had the task set for the following morning. So why, I hear you ask, has it taken me until August to finally get on with it?

Well the following morning, instead of typing, I found myself in the pool. The birth pool that is. Welcome baby Emma Melvina.

Baby Emma, at home and just a few hours old!

So finally getting my head on straight and back to that pork…

Slow cook a seasoned pork chop or loin steak in the oven for a few hours on a low temperature, with a cup full of water, a couple of crushed garlic cloves and some garden herbs.

When the pork is cooked, use a good quality frying pan. Gently fry pancetta cubes and chopped shallots until the shallot is soft and golden and the pancetta is crispy. Add sliced chestnut mushrooms and stir until golden. Add the cooked pork into the pan to reverse sear the outsides, once golden on one side then turn over and pour in a cup full of double cream and simmer until the cream thickens. Season well. Serve with plenty of seasonal green veg.

So there it is, an alternative to a hot curry or raspberry leaf tea for those ladies to try that want to speed along the baby arriving! 🤣 Or maybe it was that long walk while it cooked 🤔?

Here we are back strolling in the same field exactly one week later…

Still enjoying her walks a couple of months on.

Springtime Super-quick Spaghetti

We have been so busy lately with all the extra demand that lockdown has brought, which we are certainly very grateful for. We’ve also been in the thick of getting the best and freshest seasonal food out to peoples tables. So you just have to sample it yourself! But, it has to be something quick to prepare.
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I love this meal because it doesn’t have a set recipe, and can use whatever veggies and proteins are at their best today. And also it can be whipped up in the same time it takes to boil the pasta. It’s full of flavour and has some great healthy and nutritious goodies in there.

I didn’t start to prepare anything until the water was on to boil for the spaghetti. Then, for today’s version I did the following.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy based pan, and fry a diced onion (shallot is great too) and a handful of diced pancetta until the bacon is starting to crisp and the onion is soft and caramelising. Next add 3 minced cloves of garlic and a finely shopped chilli. Continue to cook for a minute and add 4 or 5 chopped chestnut mushrooms. Add raw king prawns (we now stock some great ones from Ramus Seafood, yay) and continue to fry until they are cooked. Season and add white wine, about a glass. Bubble for a minute or 2 before adding a bunch of chopped asparagus, then a minute later add a couple of vines of halved cherry vine tomatoes. Cook for another minute or 2 until tomatoes are softening slightly. Just about now the spaghetti should be nearing being cooked, add a handful of torn basil leaves, a bit of grated Parmesan and the cooked and strained spaghetti, twist it altogether. Serve with a nice topping of grated Parmesan and a few fresh basil leaves.

A great way to make the most of English asparagus, whilst it’s here! Super quick and super tasty.

Autumnal Cottage Pie

Now that we are back in the swing of school, and in my favourite time of year for food; I’m bringing out all my old favourites of autumnal weeknight dinners! And cottage pie has to be near the top of the autumn hit list! This cottage pie has a rich tomatoey beefy base, and a sweet potato topping for the ultimate autumn flavours. I make this ahead of time, usually at the weekend when I have a bit more time, and pop it in the fridge. Then it’s like I’ve got a cheat night one of the busy school evenings when I can just shove it in the oven, plus it tastes all the better for leaving all the flavours to mingle.

I’m not going to put a list of ingredients, because this is one of those awesome meals that anything can be thrown into. I’ll just tell you what I did.

Firstly, peel and chop the sweet potatoes and simmer until soft throughout. These were organic sweet potatoes from the cambridge Food Hub, and I was delighted to see they were white inside! This lead to much excitement and googling sweet potato varieties. I LOVE real food, and despise being forced into having the same varieties and sizes of everything as dictated by the supermarket. I just love using small and organic suppliers that show you such amazing variety, and taste! I used about 4 medium ones to cover a family sized pie.

While the potato is cooking I fried diced onion in rapeseed oil until it was starting to soften, then I added crushed garlic and diced carrot. I left it to colour and start to soften for around 4-5 minutes.

Then I added the minced beef, seasoned well and browned. Once it was all brown I stirred in a concentrated beef stock, just about one ladle or one stock pot. Also I added 1 tbsp tomato purée and around 2 tbsp plain flour. I stirred well until incorporated and then added a jar of sieved tomato/ passata and a little water and a little more stock. I brought it to a simmer and left stirring occasionally until the potatoes were done.

Just as the mixture was about ready to be transferred to the oven dish I seasoned and added chopped parsley and a couple of handfuls of spinach.

Next I put the mixture into a large baking dish and I mashed the sweet potatoes with a little butter and seasoning.

Once mashed I spread roughly over the top of the meat, I love it looking real and not perfect! And I can’t forget that I added grated cheddar cheese to the top.

I baked it for about 30 minutes in an oven preheated to about 180o and then once cool I put it in the fridge.

I was so pleased to have it made when I was short on time one evening and shoved it back in a medium oven when the kids got home from school. I just prepared some green veg to go with it. The best this was that both children loved it, which is a breakthrough for me to get something they both like! Last autumn/ winter when we were having cottage pie a lot, one would scrape the potato off the top and just eat that and the other would just look disappointed and eat very little indeed! I sometimes curse how fast they grow up but the upside is that mealtimes are most certainly getting easier!

Reducing My Tyre Print

I know this has nothing to do with food or farming but it’s a message I really want to share, and fits in with our drive to be a bit more eco friendly at the shop too.

In January 2018, I met the love of my life. Well, the only thing I’ve ever purchased that I really love anyway; my Zoe.

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After changing our home energy supplier to Bulb, a company that supply 100% renewable energy, I decided that it would be a great idea to run a car on said renewable energy, I wanted to be powered by the wind, so to speak. So I started my quest for an electric car. People with whom I discussed my idea reacted like I’d sprouted an extra head. And had lots of suspicious questions, as detailed below. Car sellers themselves even tried to suggest a hybrid to dampen it down a bit. But after I asked them why I’d want a hybrid instead of a 100% electric car they would just say “customers usually feel more comfortable when transitioning to a hybrid”. But I didn’t want to ever visit a petrol station again. If I was going for it, I was going for it!

Initially I thought I’d get a new car, the new “leaf” by Nissan was being advertised- but I soon realised that if you want a new electric car you have to be very very patient indeed. There was at the time (end of 2017) a huuuuge waiting list for new electric cars, they simply couldn’t be made fast enough. The MOT was nearly up in my old diesel car so I decided to go second hand to get a car straight away. The great thing about a used electric car is that they are usually really low mileage. As the range is fairly low, people don’t tend to buy them that commute up and down the country. The annoying (beyond annoying actually) thing however, was that scrappage was being offered on old diesel cars at the time, when you upgrade to a more eco friendly engine. This offer was not extended to an electric car though. Work out that logic!

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Anyway I got my Renault Zoe in Jan 18 and it’s been a match made in heaven so far. As I have off road parking at home, I was eligible for a government grant that contributes towards getting a charge point installed at your house. I also have nothing to pay in road tax and I estimate my electric usage has gone up by about £5 a week (compared to the £70-80 I used to spend in fuel). But as I was saying before, there have been LOTS of question. I think the problem with electric cars is that we are not yet used to them as a society so we react with suspicion. Here are my most asked questions along with my answers:

1) What if you forget to charge it?

Answer: Same thing happens as when you forget to put fuel in your car. Oh, you don’t forget to put fuel in because you want to use it? Same as why I don’t forget to charge mine!

2) How long does it take to charge?

Answer: Don’t know, I’ve never ran it out! I just plug it in when I get home and it tops up.

3) Why does it make a whirring noise when you slow down?

Answer: the brakes regenerate electricity and send it back to the battery.

4) Why doesn’t it go as far in the winter?

Answer: you use more stuff which uses more electric (heaters, wipers etc)

5) Why can’t I hear it when you turn it on?

Answer: magic

6) How often do you have to put petrol in it?

Answer: Never! It’s 100% electric, really really. Like a go cart.

7) Does it have gears?

Answer: No, it has a stop and a go pedal. Like a go cart.

8) What’s the range?

Answer: and herein lies the only problem….

The range in my Zoe is supposed to get to 100 miles plus but I’ve only ever really got 60 miles. For me, this has not been an issue. It’s my “school run” car. It goes out several times a day but only ever on fairly short trips. If I’m going on a longer trip I put it in “eco-mode” which limits how hard you can accelerate and the power of the fans and brightness of the displays etc and you can get quite a bit further. But so far have only been able to have this as a second car. We have had to keep our truck as well, so that if we are visiting family that live further afield we have a way to get to them.

BUT technology and production is moving fast, and with it battery life and charging points are improving dramatically. We are now at the point we can trade in my beloved Zoe AND our diesel guzzling truck and replace it with a new electric car with a big enough range that it will do everything.

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I have put my faith in wind power and it has delivered. I hope that if someone reads this that’s on the fence, this gives them the confidence they need to take the plunge. I’ll finish with 4 final benefits that you may not have thought of:

1) most (extortionate) car parks now have charge points that are free to park in, you just pay for the electric you put in while parked (which you are gonna need anyway) saving you a packet overall

2) you get a free dose of smugness with every electric car purchased

3) I have always hated driving. Yet, I find it’s now tolerable, heck I’d even go as far as enjoyable

4) I’ve never washed my car and live on a farm up a long off road track, she is supposed to be white but is actually practically black…yet she is still the cleanest car in most car parks…boom!

 

Mexican Spiced Slow Cooked Beef Osso Bucco

This is wonderful cut of meat to buy. Osso Bucco is traditionally a cut of veal, but we use the name to refer to the same cut, but of beef instead of veal at Radmore. So it’s basically beef shin, cut as a thick steak and left on the bone. It’s an economical choice, and if given the time it needs to cook, has a delightful flavour, whilst not drying out. And cooking on the bone just adds even more to the overall flavour of the dish.

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My intention here was to slow cook the Osso Bucco whilst adding more of a summer feel, and Shemins Smoky Mexican Spice blend gave me just the inspiration I needed.

I turned on my slow cooker about 10 in the morning, but this would work equally as well cooking in a low oven all day. I sautéed onions and garlic in a little oil in a hot frying pan, then I added tomato purée, a good quality beef stock (or a stock cube/ pot and water) and when it was all bubbling together I added it to the slow cooker as my base. Then I wiped the bottom of the frying pan and added a little more oil. I generously rubbed the shemins spice all over the Osso Bucco steaks and seared then until they were brown all over. Then I added them to my base sauce in the slow cooker with some chopped tomatoes.

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After about 3 hours, I gave everything a turn and stir and added some whole baby carrots and some mixed beans to the slow cooker.

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When it was dinnertime, and the beef had been simmering away for about 7-8 hours I skimmed off the fat that had settled on top and removed the bones. The meat had remained in big chunks that were so tender and not at all dry. The smell was intense! And the flavour of Mexico shone through. To serve this, I sliced some tenderstem brocolli into small pieces and stir fried them, then added to the pan  some cooked basmati & quinoa and combined it all. The result was a crunchy and fresh rice that complemented the soft beef perfectly.

Summer stew ✔️

No Coats and Sunshine!

I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I really don’t know what to eat at this time of year! The suns out, we’re getting a bit of warmth and everyone has a bit bigger smile on their face…but it’s still February! We still have ages to wait till the first sight of asparagus meets our eyes and we are, with that, assured we can eat “spring” foods. Yet, even me (lover of all winter foods), has gone off of the slow roasts, casseroles and soups. They just seem too heavy for a bright sunny day!

 

 

 

So what are we eating? Well after my sourdough course there’s loads of bread, obviously! But also there’s tikka chicken with rice and veggies, flatbreads with chicken (or steak) grated carrot and salad and hummus, and flavoursome yet not too heavy curries. I also have on my current rotation bolognese, chilli and stir fries (made more hearty with addition of avocado). But I’d love some more inspiration!

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I’d love your suggestions for how you deal with the changing seasons. Or what you fancy and don’t fancy in this strange transitional period. Or are you a “carry on with the slow roasts until we start getting peas and beans” kinda person?

My First Voyage into the world of Sourdough!

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a sourdough workshop at White Cottage Bakery in Kingston, Cambs. I was bought the voucher for the course as a birthday gift from Ben. If I’m being honest, I thought to myself “I can bang out a loaf, how hard can it be?!”. Turns out, very hard! The fact that it even shares the name of “bread” with a run-of-the-mill yeasted loaf seems like something that should be called under question by the trades descriptions act! It’s a skill, a passion, a life’s work even, to refine the skills of sourdough. And one that I’m sure yields plenty of tasty rewards along the way! But one that shouldn’t be gone into lightly, the pages of a recipe book couldn’t do these skills and techniques justice. Our hostess and amazingly skilled and knowledgeable teacher, Helen, was telling us of some communities on the continent where sour dough starters have been passed down through the generations for hundreds (even into the thousands) of years. And perhaps more importantly than the starter, the skill!

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The day started with a delightful welcome breakfast of sourdough toast, with homemade white cottage jams. Then our journey into making sourdough started. It was hard to believe that the “shaggy mess” of just flour, water, salt and the sourdough starter (stickiest mess I’ve ever seen) would ever form an edible loaf of bread. I thought I’d pick it up easy, but the art of kneading this didn’t come naturally to me at all, and I really had to concentrate. I’m sure I’ll improve if I keep practicing. While we worked Helen explained to us the importance of flour selection, the differences with stiff and liquid starters and the importance of stretching and strengthening the dough while protecting the membrane! By the time we stopped for a delicious lunch, we had made a white sourdough, a roasted garlic and rosemary sourdough, a rye sourdough and a rye and caraway semi-sour. Not to mention the herby soda bread we made to eat alongside our lunch. Busy morning! We had time to break for yummy Chelsea buns and coffee during the morning too!

We learned how to shape our dough, the optimum time for each part of the process, and nurturing a starter. We learned scoring patterns and techniques and the importance of them, and the best ways to bake. We even had a maths lesson on converting recipes, so that now the world is our oyster! Finally Helen baked our loaves and we went home with bags stuffed full of steaming hot loaves.

What a day?! Lovely company, a fantastic teacher, delightful setting, amazing food and some wonderfully skilful techniques learned that I would have never got from a book! And then that bag of bread to take home. If you’re thinking of dabbling in sourdough and you get the opportunity to go and learn with Helen my advice would be to take it (even if just to try her delicious potted cheese)!

Now the real test- how much bread can I eat in a day?! And of course, can I replicate it at home?!

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“Got Drunk and Pulled” Pork

This is a great winter comfort feast! And it uses a cut we love, pork shoulder. It’s great value for money and the flavour is second to none. Get that slow cooker on!

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Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

1 x onion cut into big chunks

4x garlic cloves crushed

lemon thyme x few sprigs

800ml-1litre beer (any, we actually used lager)

Pork shoulder on the bone- 1.5kgs scored

salt and pepper

To make it delicious:

1. Put the pork into the slow cooker crock pot (on high for 4 hours, or on low for all day cooking). Put all of the other ingredients in and season well. Leave to do its thing.

2. An hour and a half before dinner, Preheat oven to 200oc. Take crock pot out of the slow cooker, make sure the pork skin is sticking out of the liquid (remove some liquid if necessary), and season the skin. Put into the oven for 1-1.5hours. This will give the very tender pork a lovely crackling.

3. Strain off the liquid, this can be made into a gravy by adding some cornflour and boiling. Or you can cheat and add some gravy granules to the liquid. Take the crackling off the pork joint and then pull that tasty pork apart!

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4. We served with mashed root veg (swede and carrot), and steamed green veg (beans and broccoli), some of the chunky onions it cooked with and gravy. Yum!