Thursday, 30 December 2010

Gluten free polenta, lemon and pistachio cake for Olivia

I promised my niece I’d share this recipe with her. 

This is a moist cake that can be made in advance (up to three days) – apparently the flavour only improves and it can be frozen.  It’s also great served with sliced oranges drizzled with some honey, apparently, but I just settled for oodles of cream.


  • 150g unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts – I only had 100g so substituted 50g with pecans
  • 200g unsalted butter softened – recipe doesn’t specify unsalted but I only buy unsalted and also the softening the butter thing is important.  When I made it it hadn’t quite softened enough and I had to give it a good bash in the mixer.
  • 200g caster sugar although I invariably substitute granulated
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100g polenta – I couldn’t find this in Sainsbury.  What you’re looking for is something that looks a bit like couscous, not ready made polenta which looks more like a lump of mashed potato.  I found it in the local farm shop eventually.
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp gluten free baking powder (isn’t all baking powder gluten free?)
  • zest and juice of one lemon, unless like me your lemons were looking very sorry for themselves, in which case use your own judgement.

For the syrup

  • zest and juice of 3 lemons – see above
  • 100g caster sugar – see above


  • You’ll need a greased and lined 22cm springform cake tin and an oven pre-heated to 160 °C (fan oven).
  • Start by blitzing pistachios in a food processor until they are finely ground.
  • In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the eggs, mixing well after each addition. 
  • In another bowl mix polenta, almonds, pistachios and baking powder and then add this to the butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix well.  Stir in lemon zest and juice and mix well until combined.
  • Pour mixture into the cake tin, level the top and bake for 20 minutes and then cover with foil (to stop it browning too much) for another 30 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.
  • While the cake is cooking put the lemon zest, juice and caster sugar in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then simmer for 3 minutes.
  • When the cake emerges from the oven, pour the syrup over the top and leave in the tin to cool.
  • Yum.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

An update

I’ve just had a call from the CEO’s office at Tesco.

Apparently Philip Clarke doesn’t take over until March and Terry Leahy’s still in charge.  Oops.  Nonetheless the lovely lady I spoke to had done some investigating.

The text I received that said my delivery had been cancelled due to bad weather was erroneous.  As I suspected, the roads were considered to be passable.

The reason for the cancellation was a systems failure.  Apparently the Gallows corner store was unable to download order information and therefore unable to fulfil orders.  Customers should have been contacted with this information.

Tesco is sorry that I was given the wrong information.  They are also sorry that both and the Tesco store did not return my calls as promised.

I am, once again, a happy customer.  It didn’t take much, just the truth.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Direct Line loves lazy customers

I changed our home and contents insurance provider last year to Direct Line.

The renewal quote came through last week; a 33.5% increase.  I phoned up to see what the issue was.  We hadn’t claimed, our circumstances hadn’t changed significantly and in fact we were minus a cat compared with this time last year.

Nothing had changed.  Our introductory discount had expired.  “OK” I said, “where’s my loyalty discount?”  Some mumbling followed and then a loyalty discount was produced, a whopping 8.3%.


I went onto the website and generated a quote, in my husband’s name.  It was £50 cheaper than the policy I signed up for a year ago.

I phoned again.

Apparently even if you request a quote with the details on your current policy the website sees your quote as new business.  The call centre staff are not authorised to match the quote.  In order to access the cheaper insurance quote I need to cancel the renewal and start a new policy with the new quote.

This may seem ridiculous, but I see it as a blessing.  All those lazy customers that just renew without checking they are getting a good deal are subsidising the policies for the likes of me, and maybe you.

OK, it is ridiculous.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

An open letter to Philip Clarke, CEO, Tesco

Dear Mr Clarke

I was expecting a delivery today to my home in Brentwood from Tesco Online.  At 10:00am I received a text advising "We are very sorry we have had to cancel your order due to bad weather.  Please re-place your order at when conditions in your area improve.

There was bad weather here yesterday, but not today.  Roads were impassable yesterday but today are completely clear from the entrance to Tesco at Gallows corner to the spot outside my front door.  I'm fortunate that I live in an area that is covered by the County Council's gritting policy.

The order I had placed had a value of £320 and had the majority of the items I wanted for Christmas.

The crass wording of the text I received fails to recognise that there are no delivery spots available prior to Christmas.  As it happens there are no Collect from store spots available either.

I checked the status of my order online and it showed the order had been picked so I called Customer Service department.  I advised that the roads were clear and asked if Tesco wasn't willing to deliver, whether I could collect.  The call centre operative I spoke to advised she would call the store to see if that would be possible and she gave me the direct line for the store too.  She told me she'd call me back.

After a couple of hours I had heard nothing and I called the store.  I explained the situation to the person at the store who thought it perfectly likely I'd be able to collect my order.  She advised she'd find the person responsible and I'd get a call back.

At 4:00pm I hadn't heard from or the Gallows corner store.

I called and was told that even if the system states a shop has been picked it may not have been and, in my case, it hadn't been.  I was told there was nothing that Tesco could do for me except suggest I re-order which, as I mentioned above, is a ridiculous suggestion.

At this point I was less than pleased with the way I'd been handled and I was left trying to figure out how I was going to get food into the house.  The call centre operative I spoke to offered a £10 e-coupon which, on an order of £320 and for a very regular customer, is an insult.

There is one final thing that makes this even more frustrating.  A friend received a delivery from today and, as she was chatting with the driver, she mentioned my plight.  He couldn't understand it given that he'd done deliveries in Brentwood and Warley today.

I am angry, frustrated and I feel ignored and let down by a brand I had come to trust.

Can I suggest the following little things which may help:

  • Fitting winter tyres to your delivery vehicles in the winter (optimal performance below 7 degrees Celsius).
  • Your managers consider the route required to make a delivery before cancelling all deliveries.
  • If you have to cancel a delivery at least try and assist the customer.
  • If you are unable to assist the customer and rectify the situation, then offer some meaningful compensation. 

Yours sincerely

Ann Cardus (Mrs)

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Selfish selfish selfish

We had a parcel to collect from our local CityLink depot in Chelmsford.  I think it’s probably something I’ve ordered from John Lewis for the hubby; one of the very few items not ordered on Amazon this Christmas.

At lunchtime it started to snow and I thought I ought to nip in the car and pick the item up before everyone got snowed in.  I checked the delivery card and it said they were open from 8:00-16:00 so I knew I was OK.  Well I say I knew but I have had a bad experience at this depot before.  I’ve turned up at at 8:05 on a Saturday to find the doors locked when finally at 8:15 a surly individual has opened the doors with the cheery greeting “Is that the time?”

I figured I was safe.  Arriving at one o’clock, what could possibly go wrong?

As I arrived I saw someone I knew heading to their car empty handed.  We had a chat and Stuart told me that they’d decided to close early because they had enough of a queue to last an hour and a half and weren’t willing to accept any more people.

Meeting Stuart helped with my anger management.  Stuart is a persuasive guy and he had a valid reason to be annoyed.  Their package hadn’t been delivered on the nominated day and he’d driven further than me to collect it and then was refused entry.  My situation was different.  Delivery had been attempted and failed twice.  If Stuart had failed to negotiate entry then the only thing I had going for me was cleavage, which was covered by multiple layers.  I stood no chance.

This meant that when I approached the poor chap who was given the job of imparting the bad news to customers I was in a milder mood than one might normally expect.

He gave me the news he’d been asked to impart: the office was closed as the people inside (I counted six) had been waiting for an hour and a half and the manager had decided to deny anyone else entry.

I gave him my details and requested re-delivery with the request that the item be left in the porch if nobody was in to accept the delivery.  He told me this would only be possible with the consent of the sender, the company supplying the goods.  This was contrary to advice I’d had from a CityLink driver just days before who said if I consent to items being left in the porch then that was enough authority to make it happen.

I gave bearer of bad news my home and mobile telephone numbers.  Probably a mistake on my part.

I also said that it was ridiculous that the information they supplied about opening hours was blatantly incorrect and asked how I could have any confidence in the depot being open if I made a return journey in the future.  After all they hadn’t cited weather as an issue at all, and actually the snow was extremely light in Chelmsford.  My prize was the number for the Chelmsford depot which, if anyone wants it, is 01245 495904.  

Clearly I’m not asking or recommending that you make any nuisance or hoax calls.  This number is provided to you as a public service.  Use it wisely.  I will…

Friday, 17 December 2010

Microwave Christmas Pud

Last recipe I promised Lianna.  Had a bit to drink last night and did contemplate blogging at 1:30 ish when I got in but we both know that would have been a “disaster darling.”

Serves 8-10


For overnight soaking

  • 50g glace cherries
  • 85g currants
  • 85g sultanas
  • 100g raisins
  • 50g mixed peel
  • 50g chopped blanched almonds
  • 50g chopped apple (cooking or eating apple)
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 tbsp brandy

Pudding mix

  • 85g plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 85g shredded suet
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 40g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp black treacle


  • Mix all of the items to be soaked and leave overnight.
  • Mix flour, salt, suet. spices. breadcrumbs and sugars.  Add soaked mixture, eggs, milk and treacle and mix well.
  • Tip mixture into buttered microwave-proof bowl and smooth the top. 
  • Cover bowl with clingfilm and pierce.
  • Cook on high for 5 minutes, leave to stand for 5 minutes then cook for 5 minutes.
  • Leave for 5 minutes, turn out and serve.

Can be served with Brandy Butter:

  • Beat 100g softened butter until soft and light and then beat in 85g of caster sugar and 50g light muscovado sugar.  Gradually beat in 4 tbsp brandy.  Serve in a dish.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hoisin Chicken in Crisp Lettuce (Gluten, dairy and egg free )

This looks like a delicious starter or canape, and quite easy too.

Serves 8-12


  • 1 tbsp dry sherry
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 5 tbsp chicken stock (Gluten free if required)
  • 1tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 3 spring onions, chopped, green separated from white plus 1 shredded to garnish
  • 200g minced chicken/turkey
  • 220g can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
  • 2-4tbsp chopped, fresh coriander
  • 3 little gem lettuces, each broken into into 8 individual leaves


  • In a bowl, mix sherry (and why not a glass yourself) and cornflour to a smooth liquid.  Add soy and hoisin sauces, sugar and stock and set aside.
  • Heat oil in wok or large frying pan, toss in garlic and whites of spring onions and stir fry for 2-3 mins.  Tip in chicken and stir fry over a high heat until it colours, using the back of a spoon to break up any lumps.
  • Tip in water chestnuts and fry for a further 1-2 mins.
  • Push chicken mixture to side of pan and pour sherry mixture (and why not have another glass) into the empty part and stir for 1-2 mins until it thickens.
  • Combine thoroughly then leave to simmer for 5-10mins.  Stir in the green part of the spring onions and coriander.
  • Lay lettuce leaves on serving plates and spoon in the warm mixture without overfilling and scatter with the shredded spring onion. 
  • It should be possible for guests to roll lettuce around the filling to make this the perfect finger food.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Roly Poly Mince Pies

This is the first of three recipes I’m posting for Lianna.  I could photocopy them but I like having an online recipe because I can always get access to it even if I’m away from home.

I haven’t tried these but I will be trying them next week.  They look so easy that I’m sure nobody could fail.


  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 375g ready rolled puff pastry
  • 411g jar of mincemeat
  • 1tbsp milk
  • 25g flaked almonds, optional


  • Pre-heat oven to 220C or 180C for fan oven.
  • Scatter sugar over worktop and unroll pastry and place it on top of the sugar.  Roll it out a bit until it’s about 25% bigger but still a rectangle.
  • Spoon and spread mincemeat evenly over the pastry leaving a 2cm border along the longest edges.
  • Fold one of the longest edges over so it just reaches the mincemeat and then roll the pastry tightly into a sausage shape while gently pressing the pastry into the mincemeat.
  • When you get to the other edge, brush the “sausage” with milk and press down to seal in the mincemeat.
  • Press both ends in gently to plump up the roll and chill for at least 30 minutes to firm. (Can be frozen whole or sliced for up to 3 months.)
  • Cut the roll into 12 rounds about 3cm thick.
  • Lay them evenly spaced on a baking sheet and flatten them with your hand so that they look like squashed Chelsea buns.
  • Scatter almonds on top, if using, and bake for 20-30 mins until golden brown and the mincemeat sizzles.
  • Store without stacking or they will stick together.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Christmas shopping

This whole Wikileaks thing is confusing. 

As I understand it Wikileaks published semi-secret documents.  By semi-secret I mean thousand upon thousands of people had access to the information but it was supposed to be secret.

The U.S. Government wasn’t very happy about this.  And we know that not only because of the headlines but because behind the scenes American politicians were ‘avin’ a word in the shell-like of corporations that had supported Wikileaks and asking them to desist.  These companies included Visa, Mastercard and Amazon and one by one they withdrew their support.

Wikileaks didn’t take the snub lightly and recruited people around the globe to engage in retaliatory activity.  The plan was simple; join together to bombard the servers employed to support these companies.  The excessive traffic loads result in a denial of service.

It’s quite childish really, a double tit for tat.

Anyway the upshot is that my Christmas shopping is scuppered as Amazon went down just as I was adding a million things to my shopping basket.  I blame the U.S. Government.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

A recommendation


I went to see Aladdin tonight at the Civic in Chelmsford.  Let me tell you what made it a success.

It was good old-fashioned panto with all of the old jokes and a traditional storyline.  There was lots of audience participation and then there was the water fight.

What it didn’t have was a D-list celebrity which didn’t detract from performance and may even have enhanced it.

If you haven’t booked to go and see a panto, then you ought to get it sorted.

Details here.  You won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Christmas parties

I love Christmas parties, especially work ones.  They invariably involve alcohol which is the bit I like.

I was at one last night and the best bit is the loss of inhibitions and the verbal honesty that follows.

This can be dangerous.  I have seen others affected to the point of it almost being embarrassing.  One of my favourites was a girl who, during a meal (Chinese restaurant – very festive), stood on a chair and confessed her undying love and admiration for the boss.  I mean he wasn’t a bad boss but I’ve had better. (For reference that was “I’ve had better” not “I’ve had better.”)

There was the adorable woman who chose the Christmas party as the opportune time to tell the boss exactly how he could do his job better.  I watched and listened and, to be honest, her view was only barely discernable through the slurring.

We all know there is a tendency to slip into the “I really love you” speech when talking to anyone, of either gender, after a few drinks.  Sometimes that’s a face to face conversation but it can also be text, or Facebook message, or Twitter direct message, or instant messaging or… you get the point.  But the great things about Christmas parties is that everyone who’s drinking has an equally dodgy memory and nobody can remember everything, and what they can remember is excused.

So enjoy your Christmas parties, let your hair down and let go.  It’s the end of the year and you deserve some relaxation.  Just make sure you take ibuprofen before you go to bed, and don’t forget the pasty at the station on the way home.

I really love you.  All of you.  Really.  I do.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Taking it further

Some of you will remember my lifetime guarantee

Well the saucepan brand Meyer came through.  I got in touch, sent the saucepans back and today some lovely new saucepans arrived in the post.

All of this is lovely but the shiny new saucepans aren’t the same as the ones we returned.  Saucepan design has moved on.

So my shiny new saucepans don’t match the saucepans I still have, and haven’t returned.  Would it be cheeky to write to Meyer once more and suggest they replace the entire set and not just the faulty two?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Did you know…?

Our house leaks energy like a sieve.  Everyone knows what you need to do to insulate their house, or do they?

Everyone knows that loft insulation is key and we have that, maybe six inches depth of insulation with chipboard boarding on the top.

Everyone knows about cavity wall insulation and we don’t have that because our walls don’t have cavities.

Everyone knows about fitting double, or even triple, glazing but we haven’t done that because we like our wibbly wobbly glass or what’s left of it that hasn’t been broken by Dave.

Everyone knows that pipes need lagging and we think ours are.

Everyone knows about underfloor insulation.  Well actually I didn’t. 

I learned this evening that 15-20% of heat is lost through the floor and it only costs a few hundred pounds to have underfloor insulation.  Much cheaper than I thought it would be and more effective than I imagined it would be.  Now can anyone recommend a contractor?

Sunday, 5 December 2010


My relationship with Breakthrough Breast Cancer goes back a few years but in 2003 it got personal.  In 2003 I was part of a pilot for the Breakthrough Generations study.  I’ve continued my involvement and I currently owe some very talented scientists some blood samples and a completed questionnaire.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the Breakthrough research facility which is attached to the Royal Marsden hospital.  Using a microscope to look at cancer cells that are physically moving towards lung tissue cells that have been placed in the same Petri dish is a very compelling experience. 

Losing someone close is bound to affect the way one feels about a disease and about supporting a charity devoted to finding a cure.  Having seen the professionalism of this particular charity and the quality of the research scientists employed merely reinforces the strength of that support.

I would encourage you to participate in the study, but having checked the website I don’t think they need more recruits.  Instead I’d just say to you that Breakthrough is a worthy cause.  I’ve seen the work they do and I’ve worked closely with them.  And they need money to process my questionnaire and to analyse and store my blood samples…

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Let me insult you

This cold weather has brought with it lots of well intended advice, but some of it is difficult to follow.

We have a retired couple living next door to us.  I have no idea how old they are but they were a retired couple when we moved in eleven years ago.

They seem fit and healthy but the Government have told me that they need my help.  So what do I do?  Do I wander round, knock on the door and say “You seem to be a kindly, elderly couple, can I help you survive this terrible weather and nip to the shops for you?”

How would you feel if you were perfectly fit and able and you were visited by your neighbour who offered help with the implication that you were no longer capable?

I am happy to help, and my contribution was to clear the snow from my neighbour’s piece of pavement without being asked.  I just feel really awkward about offering help in such a way that it could be insulting. 

I remember my Dad refusing to ask neighbours for the tiniest bit of help when he needed it, and he would have been most put out if anyone offered help when it wasn’t required. 

I guess we just don’t know our neighbours well enough.

Friday, 3 December 2010

So sue me

I plan to walk across the road tomorrow to Travis Perkins and buy some rocksalt.  I’ll put it on the ice on the pavement outside our house.

But this may be a foolhardy activity.  I found this from a BBC article in 2004:

Clearing snow 'can get you sued'


If snow is left, the council is liable

Clearing snow from pavements outside your home could make you liable to legal action if somebody slips on ice, the government has said.

But if householders leave the snow, the council is liable, Lord Davies of Oldham, for ministers, told Tory Lord Burnham at question time.

Claims against householders were "few and far between," he added.

But Tory Baroness Carnegy of Lour called for a law change, to encourage people to "do their bit".

Labour ex-minister Lord Dubs added: "Something I have done for years every time there has been snow is leaving me liable to legal action."

Lord Davies said: "No householder is at all responsible, providing they do not touch the pavement, which is owned by the local authority."

If people completely and utterly and totally clear away all snow and return the pavement to the situation it was in before the snow landed, they have done an excellent job

Lord Davies of Oldham

But he added: "The moment they address the issue of the pavement with a view to improving things, which may lead to a deterioration, it may be their action that makes them culpable."

"If people completely and utterly and totally clear away all snow and return the pavement to the situation it was in before the snow landed, they have done an excellent job.

"If it is done in a less than complete manner and leaves ice, which is more dangerous than the original covering of snow, it may not necessarily be the local authority that is responsible but the householder for having dealt with the pavement."

If the exchanges led to fewer people clearing snow, Lord Davies added, "that would be a great pity and I would have acted to the detriment of the nation".

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Another Dragon’s Den idea

I’ve decided I should share my ideas when I think of them.  I clearly had the idea first so if any of you develop it and make your fortune then I’m due a cut.  Let’s say 50%.  I think that’s fair.

My latest genius idea is a snowball maker and chucker and should be called “Snowchuck.”

Basically any invention starts with a problem that needs solving and my problem is in two parts; the inability to make a decent snowball and then to chuck it with power and accuracy at a target.

My solution, the Snowchuck, is a scoop on a stick.  The inspiration came from the tennis ball chucker that people use when exercising dogs.  I envisage a scoop with a shape that works rather like an ice cream scoop forming the perfect ball of snow.  The reason that the scoop is on a stick is to facilitate chuckability, tennis ball style.

RRP probably £2.99 with production costs per unit of £0.20 based on estimated volume in first year eight million.

Are you in?