Blog Archives

Birdwatch Update Spring 2015

We have had some fantastic birds visit our garden throughout Winter and Spring this year. They are certainly busy in their own little world as we are starting to head into the nesting season. The Blue Tits have already inspected our bird nesting boxes as we hope this is the year they take up residence. I thought it was only fair to share some of the amazing photos that we’ve captured to show the variety of feathered friends we have sharing our garden.


Our Blue Tits are busy sharing the suet coconuts together.


The original Robin regularly feeds off the ground around our feeding station.


The Dunnocks love a wander hopping amongst the plants.


The Bullfinch proudly puffs his chest showing off his prominent colour.


One of the Starling family are always around eating the suet and worms.


We love our Pied Wagtail always bopping along the ground being scatty as ever.

There will be further photos as we head into the Latter Spring months.


BBQ Beer Chicken

One of my bucket list items were checked off last week when we had the sunny weather that seems to have deserted us in recent days. I have always wanted to BBQ a whole chicken and since the purchase of the Jamie Oliver kettle BBQ I couldn’t wait to try it.

There is a handy device that I purchased from B&Q for cooking chicken on a BBQ. It allows you to place a can of beer on a metal plate which is under some metal arms. The chicken slides over the arms which allows the can of beer to sit inside the chicken. As the chicken is cooking on the BBQ the can of beer allows the chicken to maintain it’s moisture preventing a dry chicken.

The beauty is it allows the chicken to crisp up nicely on the outside whilst giving the chicken an amazing flavour. I used a can of Hobgoblin which is a favourite Ruby Ale of mine. The medium sized chicken took just over 2 hours to BBQ cook and the smells coming from the Kettle BBQ were delightful.

I used a couple of bags of self lighting charcoal to create a white hot base which heated up to a suitable temperature after 30 mins. The photos below show the stages explained above. The beauty cooking with the can of Ruby Ale is the chicken melted away from the bone when carving it. This is the best way to cook chicken and it is certainly something I’ll be doing again.

1. The chicken in place on device with Hobgoblin can sat under it.
2. The chicken after an hour on the Kettle BBQ, it’s starting to brown.

3. Just over two hours later and it’s ready to come off the BBQ.

4. Carved up and ready to eat.


This is an amazing way to cook chicken and one that could be replicated when entertaining a group of friends. It’s certainly more cost effective than that of burgers and sausages.


Towcester Food & Drink Festival

The weekend of the 7th/8th June saw the inaugural Towcester Food and Drink festival which was held at Towcester Racecourse. This was the first time I’ve been to the venue and the sunshine was out in force after the mid morning thunder storms. This event was extra special because one of our family members had his homemade cider on sale after receiving the seal of approval from the organiser of the event.

Situated amongst the iconic Racecourse there were plenty of Food Tents showing off a fine selection of locally produced produce including cheeses, cakes, pickles and spices. There were cooking demonstrations and live music creating a varied number of things to see and experience.
At the Champagne Bar Andy had his Cider on sale. His dry cider was called “Two Faced” which came in at a tasty 6.5% ABV. This was a truly awesome achievement, one that we are all extremely proud of. On the Saturday Andy sold just over half of his bottles and the remainder were cleared out by the large crowds on Sunday. Up against some well known and established local Ciders, Andy held his own and looked very much at home next to them. Selling at £3.50 a bottle I asked a couple of people who purchased Two Faced what they thought of his cider.

“This is really nice, it tastes fresh and I’ll certainly be buying another bottle today”

“I do like dry cider and this one ticks the right boxes”

One guy joked when I asked him how he found the cider, he replied by saying in the bar through that door. He must have thought I was trying to sell him life insurance! A very funny line if ever I heard one.

The evening saw us take part in the Towcester Food Festivals “Real Ale Trail” the event allowed customers to purchase a glass tankard and visit five local pubs/restaurants to try out new ales. These were provided by Crispin who had organised the festival over the weekend. For £7.50 we were set to have 5 x free quarter pints followed by another half at the Towcester Mill Brewery, our new tap house.

We had some great tasters of Golden Ales and some Darker Ales. Sadly one venue didn’t buy into the spirit of this event. The Plough is a pub we have not visited before and it’s safe to say the way they made us feel as we entered the venue was not pleasant. They told us that they had sold out of the Ale and were not prepared to give us an alternative. Apparently according to the rather bullish lady who greeted us “they weren’t big enough to give us another option” the near packed front bar was a very poor alibi to her claim.

Needless to say I’d like to thank the barman at The Brave Old Oak who had ran out of Pitstop (Silverstone Brewery) who gave us a couple of other options, thank you. The numbers taking part suggested that there was a good take up on the offer to sample local Real Ales, so that was a positive. I would also like to thank The Dolphin Cafe who made us feel extremely welcome in comfortable surroundings. The evening concluded at our new local tap house, the Towcester Mill.

As we arrived at a packed Towcester Mill we were able to sit under the moonlight amongst the peaceful fields the Mill is set within. The odd bat flickered across the moons beams in a lovely tranquil atmosphere. This was certainly the best place to conclude this night and we enjoyed the last hour in the bar as the temperature started to drop.

This is our new favourite pub and one place we will certainly be enjoying our weekend evenings in. I would like to thank Crispin for an amazing food festival which has put Towcester on the map. I would also like to congratulate Andy on his successful debut launching Two Faced. It has been a pretty decent experience, The Plough aside!


Towcester Beer Festival 2014

This weekend saw the much anticipated Towcester Beer Festival return to Towcester Rugby Club. The annual event is into it’s 5th year and the weather didn’t disappoint for those joining in. The event has grown in popularity because it gives those keen to try new real ales the opportunity to do so and with over 60 types on offer it is unmissable.

Crispin “The Festival Man” Slee brought 60 real ales to the table with the addition of 30 real ciders. There was also an opportunity to try some local bottled ciders on the Saturday and Sunday. There was a fine selection of Food on offer as well and the Gurkha Curry once again went down a treat. The Sausage Sarnies and Burgers were also a success as those requiring some ballast to keep them going were looked after in style.

Friday evening generated a real buzz of excitement amongst the crowd there who were keen to start early. Despite the nip in the air as the sun went in there were those brave enough to sit out on the open area neatly laid out with tables and benches. By Saturday this area was awash of people all enjoying the combination of drinks and sun.

Saturday and Sunday also saw live music from local musicians including the Rock School as well as bouncy castles and face painting. There was a lovely atmosphere with those enjoying the sunshine that graced the Rugby Club.

Back to the Ales and our friends at a Towcester Mill Brewery were showcasing their Blonde number Mill Race. This 3.9% ABV Ale is brewed using Pilsner malt which gave it a pale blonde appearance whilst delivering a grapefruit and herbal finish. We started with this and it didn’t disappoint and ensured the tasting session started in a positive fashion. Towcester Mill Brewery opens in May so it’s not long until we can grace their new bar to try some of their other Ales.

There were many different breweries to try from, some local and some not so local. We enjoyed in particular Crazy Daze, a Golden 5.5% ABV ale from Potbelly brewery in Kettering, Northants. The Local Whittlebury brewery also had a presence and my favourite Amber Ale was called Green Dragon 4.4% ABV which offered a strong bitter finish created using a combination of Sovereign and Challenger Hops. Silverstone brewery offered a lovely Golden Ale called Skidmark which delivered a fruity, floral aroma with a citrus taste. This came in at 4.2% ABV using a mixture of three hops, which was very nice.

In conclusion the Towcester Beer Festival has once again been a resounding success. I am truly grateful that as locals we have the opportunity to attend something this exciting on our door steps. The venue was well set out and the variety available was so diverse. It was clear from the 2,000 + people who attended over the three days that it was enjoyable and the sunshine capped it off well.

Please add me on Untappd my username is markyjb to check out my reviews of Ales tried so far.


Aldi value shames Tesco

Today we made a decision to give Aldi a try for our weekly shopping following a number of recent television adverts claiming they sell British Assured fresh meat. We are usually keen to shop by convenience and having a Tesco only ten minutes away by foot has always meant Tesco have been our preferred choice. Today we broke the mould and tried an alternative option.

Aldi is a smart conveniently laid out store and the fact it was busy confirmed that many others had already made the change. For this weekly shop comparison we have compared like for like and where necessary the price has been adjusted accordingly (15 fish fingers v 14 fish fingers as an example) to ensure a fair price comparison is used.

We were quite interested to see if there really is a difference and the results were quite simply staggering. Before going into the results, our Shopping List comprised of the following items:-

The Shopping List

15 Large Floor Wipes
40 Surface Anti-Bacterial Wipes
Kitchen Rolls (120 Sheets per Roll)
Own Brand Toilet Cleaner (Adjusted)
Broccoli Stalk
Peppers (3 Pack)
White Seedless Grapes (500g)
Carrots (1kg Bag)
Apples (Bag)
Rocket (Bag)
Classic Salad (Bag)
Frozen Garden Peas (1kg Bag)
Smoked Back Bacon (14 Rashers)
Fish Cakes (Twin Pack)
Seasoned Medium Chicken (1.5kg)
Minced Meat (750g)
Chicken Thighs (Pack – Adjusted)
Brains Faggots (Pack of 4)
Breaded Cod (Pack of 4)
Fish Fingers (Own Brand – Adjusted)
Chickpeas (Tin)
Kidney Beans (Tin)
Milk Semi-Skimmed (4 Pints)
Large Eggs (10 Box)
Garlic Bread Baguette (1)
Hobgoblin Ale (2)
Hopping Hare Ale (2)
Small box of Freezer Bags (Adjusted)

The list above has been calculated to be completely comparable to ensure fairness is achieved. I was keen to understand how different the savings could be and set a bench mark of around 10% however the result was staggering.

Aldi were cheaper on all but 1 item out of the total of 28 items purchased on our shopping list, this was the Twin Pack of fish cakes. There was 1 item where both Aldi and Tesco were identical on price, this was the Kitchen Roll. All of the remaining 26 items were cheaper at Aldi.

The Big Differences

A Pack of 40 Anti-Bacterial surface wipes cost 75p at Aldi compared to £1.25 at Tesco, a difference of 75%

A 500g pack of White Seedless Grapes cost £1.39 at Aldi compared to £2.00 at Tesco, a difference of around 40%

10 Large Eggs cost £1.15 at Aldi compared to £2.00 at Tesco, a difference of 85%

A 1kg Pack of Carrots cost 59p at Aldi compared to 99p at Tesco, a difference of nearly 70%

The packet of Classic Salad once adjusted to be compatible costs 79p at Aldi compared to £2.14 at Tesco (200g) which is a staggering 150% more!

A tin of Kidney Beans (400g) at Aldi cost 25p compared to 55p at Tesco, over twice the price.

A seasoned Medium 1.5kg Fresh Chicken cost £3.99 at Aldi compared to £6.00 at Tesco, which is 33% more.

Frozen Garden Peas (1kg) cost 99p at Aldi compared to £1.60 at Tesco, a difference of 60%

Frozen own brand Fish Fingers once adjusted cost nearly three times the price at Tesco which is shocking.

The bottled Ales were 25p cheaper per bottle despite Tesco having a 4 for £6 deal on.

The Overall Savings

Based on the total shopping list, Aldi came in at £38.40 v Tesco at £52.37. Aldi offered a saving of £13.97 which is the equivalent of 50p per item bought. This is an overall price difference of around a third, this is a huge saving.

In this exercise it shows that swapping to Aldi has made a big difference on this shop. It is worth saying that Tesco are cheaper for Cheese which we didn’t include.

Oh just in case you though I’d missed it, the difference on a 4 pint carton of Semi Skimmed Milk was 5p in Aldi’s favour.

Next week we will compare the weekly shop to Waitrose.


Spaghetti Bolognese

It has been a while since I’ve written about cooking, so what better opportunity than now. Tonight I tried out my home made version of the traditional dish Spaghetti Bolognese. Surprisingly this is the first time I’ve cooked this dish of mine in a very long time. I would be interested to hear back from anyone with their ways of making this.

To make my version I use the following ingredients:-

400g Lean Mince Meat
400g Chopped Tomatoes
1 Large Onion
1/2 Small tin of Kidney Beans
3 Squeezes of Tomato Purée
175ml Red Australian Wine
3-4 Large Bay Leafs
2 Pinches of Thyme
Generous Serving of Olive Oil
Large handful of Spaghetti

To start I heat up the Olive Oil in a large Sauce Pan and add the Mince Meat. Breaking up the Mince Meat in the pan so it cooks evenly, I will leave this to cook until it turns brown and the juices fully evaporate. This takes around ten minutes with the hob on setting 3.

I then add the Red Wine to the Mince Meat and again leave this to simmer until the Red Wine is fully absorbed. At this point I add the chopped onions and allow the juices from the onions to soak into the Mince Meat, leaving the hob at Level 3.

I will then add three squeezes of Tomato Purée to the Mince Meat and Onions and stir in. This is followed by the Tin of Chopped Tomatoes and I’ll bring the dish to the boil for five minutes. The saucepan is covered with the lid during this part.

After 5 minutes I turn the hob back down to simmer on Level 3 and add 3-4 large dried Bay Leafs and 2 pinches of Dried Thyme. This is left to simmer for 15-20 minutes. The Bay Leafs are removed before serving because all of the flavour has left them.

I will get the Spaghetti on and give it 10 minutes as the sauce is simmering. Pop the bowls in the oven to warm them up, drain the spaghetti and serve.

I always grate some cheese and sprinkle it over the top and serve with The remaining Red Wine. Perfection!

I hope you enjoy this and let me know how it works for you.