Chicken and Mushroom pie.

Since it’s a glorious bank holiday weekend, I felt very much in the mood for some home baking. The result: A sumptuous, rich and creamy, aromatic lunch (or dinner if you’re cutting into big quarter slices!) I’m quite literally a disaster magnet in the kitchen, so if I can successfully bake this pie – anyone can.

Here’s how I made this chicken pie, following a basic recipe with some added improvisation and personal tweaks. By keeping the flame down whilst cooking the recipe, this will allow you more time to prepare and combine your ingredients, therefore preventing you from overcooking things and messing it up!

You will need:

  • 4 medium-sized chicken thighs, sliced into bitesize pieces.
  • A heaping handful of mini closed cup mushrooms, thinly sliced (normal size mushrooms are fine – adjust the amount accordingly)
  • 1 small tub of low-fat Creme Fraiche (Greek yoghurt is an excellent alternative)
  • Half a large onion, finely diced (or 1 whole onion if medium-sized)
  • 4 small spring onions with the outer green stems removed, thinly sliced
  • 300ml of vegetable stock (chicken stock is fine by the way)
  • A few of sprigs of Sage, Thyme and Rosemary.
  • A sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry.
  • Colman’s English Mustard
  • Plain flour from the cupboard, and a pinch of Nutmeg (entirely optional)

To make the pie filling…

In a large pan, gently sweat the diced onion and spring onions on a low-medium flame until softened, don’t brown them! After a minute or so, add the sliced chicken thighs and fry on a medium heat for five minutes until they lose their initial raw appearance. I then added the sliced mushrooms and continued to fry the ingredients for a further 5 minutes. Leaving the ingredients on a low flame, I ripped off a few leaves of rosemary,¬† thyme and sage – just enough to be a generous pinch – you don’t want this flavour to overwhelm the dish. Toss this into the pan, along with a light seasoning of nutmeg, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In the meantime, prepare the vegetable stock. I purchased my vegetable stock in the new jelly-like form, as opposed to the dry/ powdered cubes you can typically get. Place this in a Pyrex measuring jug and dilute in 300ml of boiling water. Since the Korr vegetable jellies are supposed to make 500ml of liquid stock, I cut a small tip of the jelly to adjust the ratio for the purpose of the recipe. In order to make the gravy, pour the vegetable stock into the pan with the chicken and mushrooms and on a high flame heat the mixture until it’s reaches boiling point. Reduce the pan to a simmer, add a generous tablespoon of Creme Fraiche (or Greek yoghurt – which I’ve found is pretty much the same thing), a small teaspoon of strong mustard, and a slightly heaped dessertspoon of plain flour to thicken the sauce. Mix in and simmer for a few minutes to reduce the liquid down to a slightly thick sauce.

Once finished, allow the mixture to cool slightly and then transfer into an 8″ enamel pie dish, spreading it out evenly. If you don’t have this, a Pyrex or china ovenproof dish will work just as well. Unroll your sheet of puff pastry and lay it gently over the top of the pie dish to form a lid. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and if you’re feeling confident, crimp the circumference of the pastry with your two thumbs placed in opposite directions, and applying a little pressure to the dough. Next, poke two small steam holes into the centre of the pastry with the tip of the knife. For some decoration, I made two small roses by slicing off two, thin strips of dough, rolling them up into a swiss roll, and then pushing the centre upwards to form the centre of the bud. Then using the tip of my knife, I made small flicks in the layers to give the appearance of petals. Finally, I cut two small leaves and gently scored some veins into the pastry to finish them off. I arranged all this in the centre of the pie lid to give the appearance of a small bouquet.

Before placing in the oven, I made gentle indents in the lid of the pastry and brushed the lid with a double layer of whisked egg & milk wash. The general rule of thumb is to cook the pie until the pastry has puffed up and baked golden-brown. This took about 15 minutes at gas mark 6 in the centre of the oven. Keep checking at regular intervals, as it can burn very quickly! Once done, serve immediately with buttery mash and boiled mixed vegetables. Bon appetit ūüôā

Let me know if you try this recipe, and please like and follow my blog if you’d like to see more posts like this.

‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry.

I truly felt lost within the mists of time.

Last month, I wrote a less than positive book review on Sarah’s Perry debut novel ‘After Me Comes The Flood’. Though, it was the upcoming author’s second novel ‘The Essex Serpent’, which I was actually introduced to first. Based on some stellar reviews, being shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and winning the Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, I was very much looking forward to getting stuck into the 417-page novel. Besides all that, Essex is where I’m from!

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Inside the front cover, with a William Morris design.

Tell Me About It ———–‘The Essex Serpent’ is set against the backdrop of¬†1890s¬†Britain during a time of¬†technical development and scientific endeavour. Cora Seaborne, recently widowed, has been liberated from an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant civil servant. Relieved of her duties and “stripped of code and convention” she seeks refuge in her late childhood memories and escapes the rigidity of the claustrophobic city for the wild and open landscape of the Essex county, in the Spring. In traditional feminist style, Cora doesn’t identify with the conventional expectations of a Victorian lady. Instead, the young ‘Mary Anning’ dresses for practicality and enjoys getting close to the mud and the raw beauty of the natural landscape. When Cora hears the folktale of the Essex Serpent which has apparently come to life and is abducting the locals of the Blackwater Estuary, she cannot¬†resist investigating.

“There is strange news out of Essex…”

Writing Style———–I feel that there is a high level of intelligence to Sarah Perry’s writing as she has a wonderful gift for composing poetic and flowing descriptive passages of the Essex of her childhood (Sarah Perry did study Creative Writing at Royal Holloway); such as those of the marshes across the Essex coast and the sensoria of the wet woodlands. I truly felt lost within the mists of time and winds off the coast. There is also the beautiful prologue that explores the way in which time manifests itself in different ideas and abstract forms. It’s the kind of writing I aspire to achieve, though regrettably with only moderate success!

An original woodcut of the Essex Serpent. Credit: The Guardian.

Themes & Characters —————There are various themes which ‘snake’ their way throughout the narrative of the story. The most prominent character, the local parish priest, who is a person of faith but reluctant to surrender to superstition. Whereas Cora, a woman of science, is irresistibly drawn to folklore and fear-inducing rumour. Their burgeoning¬†friendship as well as juxtaposing characteristics make for a delicate and intriguing relationship. The nature of faith and faith in nature intertwine throughout Perry‚Äôs novel, which has a strong respect for friendship and a humanity. I also appreciated Perry’s contemporary approach to a traditional social setting with her recognition of Cora’s son, Francis’s Autism, which would have undoubtedly gone undiagnosed in Victorian times

Thoughts?————– The Essex Serpent is compelling, though equally complex and again I felt the plot began to lose its way, which is a great shame. The story repeatedly jumped between characters and philosophical¬†concepts, as opposed to focusing on the narrative and the mystery itself. About halfway through, long and winding passages filled with red herrings and abstract ideas overwhelmed the story, and I just couldn’t finish it! And so to me, the Essex Serpent remains a mystery. You could argue that this only fulfils the wistful beauty of the parish myth. However, ‘The Essex Serpent’ is an initially promising book with simply lost potential. Perhaps I’ll come back to ‘The Essex Serpent’ one day and even write a revised review!

Despite my personal difficulties with getting through the novel, I would still very much recommend it for its beautiful passages alone, with a 3.5-star rating. This paperback publication also includes a selection of thought-provoking questions for budding reading groups to prompt discussion, and there’s an interesting interview with Sarah Perry in the back. Have you read ‘The Essex Serpent’? Tell me your thoughts!

First published in 2017 by Serpent’s Tail.

Written by Sarah Perry, front cover design by Crow Books.

ISBN: 978-1781255452

 

 

‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ by Peter Abrahams.

 A cosy Young Adult novel.

Dear followers, I hope you enjoy this cosy book review. Snuggle down with a hot choccy!

On what was a suitably wet and windy afternoon in 2012, I gave up the ongoing struggle to make friends and sought¬†refuge in a quiet corner of the school library, which was always warm and inviting in September. After a couple of minutes scanning through the limited selection of ‘New Releases’, wrapped and sealed in their protective jackets, I came across a distinct purple paperback – it seemed better quality than most YA fiction.

It had a cover illustration (now out of print) of a towering solitary house¬†secluded by a pair of tall, crooked trees, and the title itself – ‘DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE’. I couldn’t resist a novel that honoured the classic children’s story. And at the time, I was stuck in a deep pit of confusion and rejection, longing for a sense of connection and familiarity – when this empathetic little gem fell into my hands. No one had read it yet, it’s pages smelt new, undiscovered! I borrowed it there and then.

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Front Cover of the newest edition.

‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ is a 352-page Young Adult crime/ mystery novel written by Peter Abrahams. Whilst this may not be the newest book to write a review on (it was first published in 2006!) I still think that it’s an enthralling, lesser-known fiction which all inquisitive, cosy book lovers should have the opportunity to discover!

Thirteen-year-old Ingrid Levin-Hill lives at 99 Marple Lane in Echo Falls, with her mum and dad, her brother Ty and the family dog, Nigel. Ingrid plays football, has landed the lead role of Alice ‘in Wonderland’ in the school play, gets decent grades at school, and idolises Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional hero, Sherlock Holmes. One day, when Ingrid gets lost between her orthodontist appointment and football practice, she crosses paths with Katherine Kovac, or “Crazy Katie”. A retired actress turned social misfit, she lives alone in the poorer part of town and invites Ingrid into her home to call for a cab.

Harking back to childhood, I could remember the shameful experience of getting lost in town and the feeling of panicked disorientation and desperation to get back home again. And so, I could strongly connect with Ingrid’s sense of unease in these early scenes.

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Ingrid meets “Crazy Katie”.

The next morning, however, Ingrid reads that Katie has been found dead in her home, and Ingrid is a key witness in the moments before her death. Perhaps more disturbingly, Ingrid has left her football boots behind – at the scene of the crime! In a mission to retrieve her Pumas and a compelling desire to solve the mystery, Ingrid slips into a dark subculture of murder and mystery and metaphorically falls ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’.

What I truly loved about this novel, was it’s rich sense of atmosphere. Echo Falls is a gentrified suburban town, with discreetly obscured secrets. Abrahams goes a long way to emphasise this through the use of light imagery contrasted with shadows and a detailed history of a family known as the Prescotts.¬†As a child, Ingrid finds herself caught up in this dangerous adult world and despite coming off as a bit ‘Famous Five-ish’, it does give leeway for some¬†gripping, scenes towards the main chunk of the novel.

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The beautiful Back Cover.

However, there were some topical issues in this novel which I didn’t agree with, simply for the way they were handled by the author. The apparent normalisation of younger brother Ty’s use of steroids in his physical training regime and then, we have a casually brushed off incident where Ty flies into a fit of rage and gives Ingrid a black eye. Another was with Ingrid’s continuous dishonesty towards those around her – particularly her relationship with Detective Inspector Strade. My final issue was that this was written by an America author; I couldn’t understand the American sporting aspect of the novel which featured quite heavily, and a lot of the regional social characteristics went straight over my head. There was also the use of cell phones and MSN-style chatrooms which seemed slightly dated, haha! Nevertheless, I enjoyed ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ and I would describe it as an atmospheric, gripping, rainy day, good quality sort of book.

Though the novel seems to be aimed at teenagers, I would recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Published in Great Britain in 2006 by Walker Books Ltd, Reprinted in 2012

Written by Peter Abrahams, front cover design by Richard Merritt

ISBN: 978-1-4063-3070-0

Wishing you all a lovely bank holiday weekend!

Hello, there!

Hello to my intimate group of followers.

It seems I have been running this blog for little over a month and things are settling in quite well. There are currently nine of you who are actively following my blog; I’m so pleased you could join me! And I didn’t expect to achieve quite so much positivity this early on – it’s all relative ūüėČ

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I thought it might be helpful to share a modest amount of personal info so you – or anyone can get a better concept of me as I blog. I’m nineteen, rolling on twenty in June (tragic). People I meet tend to say that I’m way older than my years, which probably comes as a result of numerous family stresses. We all have baggage, don’t we?

I’ve been experiencing some serious medical issues lately, which means I’m not at Uni. And this leads me on to the blog – my new hobby – since I’m predominantly housebound. For now, let’s just say I’m extremely introverted; I read a lot of books and I enjoy writing about them, I like gardening, baking (mostly sweet things), a country lass at heart, I tend to get fired up when it comes to Politics and the NHS, I enjoy popular television shows, and I spend pretty much 100% of my time with my family.

Thank goodness for the internet¬†because since I don’t have any close friends, I would have otherwise become very lonely – which can still be the case sometimes, but hey-ho!

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‘Just One Damned Thing After Another’ by Jodi Taylor.

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If a combination of light science-fiction with history sounds appealing, and you haven’t read Jodi Taylor’s ‘Just One Damned Thing After Another’ – then WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?! This was certainly the question I asked myself when I finally got round to reading this 280-page novel, and right now I’ve no more than a couple of short minutes to do the generous thing and convince you of the same — and do this excellent book justice!

Arnold Toynbee’s quote that “History is just one damned thing after another” perfectly encapsulates the informal and amusing events of the narrative within; and despite having an average rating of 4.5 stars from 1,500 reviews on Amazon UK, this novel has somehow slipped under the bestseller radar. It is extremely rare (never) that I’ve found a niche book¬†that I’ve loved so dearly – and so, I think the wider inquisitive book-buying community should know about this best-kept secret. Bestsellers are frequently overrated anyway. Yes – I went there!

To begin; the narrative largely centres itself around ‘St Mary’s Institution of Historical Research’, which is connected to the fictional University of Thirsk. Thirsk is actually a small civil parish in Northern Yorkshire, England. Anyway, ‘Just One Damned Thing…’ is an absolutely bonkers [British informal: mad; crazy] book, and because there are time machines involved, you will be forgiven for the preconception that this book will go down the “it’s a bit naff” path. In contrast, I assure you that this novel is such a barrel¬†of upbeat, enthusiastic youthful fun, you can’t help but get carried along with it! (Just to confirm – it is an adult book.) Not only do the instantly¬†loveable characters live history, I too embarked on a rollercoaster ride of laughs, tears and anxiety – living it, and thoroughly enjoying it with them.

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No spoilers here: A flavour for the dialogue, taken from the second novel.

The story follows our main protagonist Madeline ‘Max’ Maxwell – who is rescued from an unhappy childhood to become the latest innocent recruit at St Mary’s. After signing a contract of confidentiality, she soon finds that things are less book-dusty and a lot more exciting, behind the building’s innocuous facade. The delightfully eccentric staff at St Mary’s ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’ with the aid of half a dozen pods docked in the ‘Hawking Hanger’ and a number of departments including the Technical team, Research & Development, IT – let’s not forget the all-day catering staff and more, which are all overseen by the composed and equally commanding Dr Bairstow – Director of St Mary’s. St Mary’s is a hive of activity with frequent bangs and crashes, and its staff are a credit to the happy, family-like environment it radiates.

Following her training and graduation to become a fully fledged historian, Max’s job along with other St Mary’s historians is to observe and document historical events, and not die in the process. Sounds simple, right? Especially when there is a rogue time-jumping maniac, Ronan – who is hell-bent on seeking vengeance and destroying the institution in the process. The narrative isn’t as plain as initially laid out, as there are twists and turns which run in parallel to the main arc. There are dinosaurs in the Cretaceous (think of Primeval, cutting edge for its time) – blood and vicious battles, explosions and mud, disturbing instances of sexual abuse, mind, and spine-chilling betrayal. To top it all off, Taylor’s portrayal of ‘time’ is like that of a living organism, which quite literally ‘retaliates’ to stop anyone who tries to meddle with the order of events.

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2007 hit British Sci-Fi series, ‘Primeval’. There are a lot of similarities between the novel and this show. Credit: Impossible Pictures.

 

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The 2014 Audible book offers a fantastically immersive experience!

Of course, there will always be a certain reader who will be snobby of this straightforward style of writing – but in my humble opinion, a book’s sole purpose should be to engage and delight – it should never be hard work. If you take the book for what it is – a light-hearted bundle of very British fun, which is predisposed with an introductory ‘Dramatis Thingummy’, I guarantee you’ll fall in love with it and want to join St Mary’s. And if I can convince just one or two people to give this a read, I’ll die a happy bookworm. I welcome you to the Chronicles of St Mary’s series. Thank you, Jodi Taylor!

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A helpful ‘Dramatis Thingummy’
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The book blurb…

 

Published in 2013 by Accent Press, Reprinted 2015.

Written by Jodi Taylor.

ISBN: 978-1910939529