Compare and Contrast

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

It is a mantra from my highschool days studying English Literature, we were always asked to “compare and contrast.”

When travelling between places I’m always compelled to do just this, though it is mostly futile — the world is far too complex. Travelling to Sydney brings in yet another dimension, I’m comparing Sydney now to my bits of the UK now and also to Sydney then. I lived in Sydney for around 6 years, from early 1999 to late 2005. The subsequent 3 years have mostly been spent in the UK.

Sydney of 2005 is a little different to Sydney of late 2008. In no particular order:

  • It is now possible to travel from Kellyville to the City in a single bus ride which takes just an hour.
  • Some shop fronts have changed, but mostly everything looks the same.
  • Ferrari’s on William street are replaced by art.
  • Oporto’s chilli sauce has changed, for the worse, it just isn’t right any more.
  • It is finally possible to get near perfect espresso in the heart of the city, thanks to Mecca Espresso on King street.
  • Sydney University is looking good.

That last point is worth further words. When they first built the Eastern Avenue building I thought it was pretty awful. Then again, Carslaw and the Chem building are downright ugly (from a more utilitarian era of building.) Now that it has a friend in the new Law building, the road has been paved over, and the landscaping improved that whole stretch looks brilliant. Some of the improvement even seems to rub off on the old Chem building, amazing what some well thought out landscaping can do.

Stand on Eastern Avenue in the early evening, sun still just in the sky, and look through the large glass section of the new law building. It is a painting of Sydney, featuring the UTS building, done in shades of gold. Unexpected beauty.

The new school of IT (etc) building works well too. Standing in the foyer looking up. It is, certainly, less personal and friendly than Madsen was. Little sign of humanity, a small box with a screen to greet and guide you. Perhaps appropriate for a house of techno-worship.

The masterpiece, in my mind, is the refashioning of the lawns between Wentworth and Eng. Smooth lines drawing the eye to the old schoolroom, rather than away from it. A very Australian blend of modern design, curves, sandstone, and bush.

There’s still work in progress, I look forward to visiting again next year.

How about comparisons with England? I’ll wander into these waters, though they be muddy and maybe even dangerous.

Eating out in Sydney wins. The seafood cannot be beaten, the prices are insanely good. People living here are unbelievably lucky in the seafood stakes, and eating out in general.

Sydney isn’t safe on a gourmet pedestal however. While the UK lets us down, severely, in the seafood stakes it makes up good ground for just about everything else. Money buys your dearest desire, so they’d have us believe, and the brute financial power of London draws in everything. You name an ingredient, you can get it. Lamb from New Zealand, oranges from South Africa, apples from Australia, herbs from Israel. I find it hard to believe. This is not the good stuff though, it is merely a guilty convenience. I can leave the lot of it.

They can do meat over there, Australia may be known for its beef but the UK really knows about it and does it right. I’m let down by what I can find in supermarkets, and even butchers, in Sydney. The local produce movement in England is also brilliant. I can usually know exactly what town my fruit and vegetables came from, and how far they’ve travelled. I know where my pork grew up, and what mountainsides my lamb enjoyed. Quite often this is even so in the supermarkets.

I’m sorry to say that the UK wins on food, as far as the environmentally conscious home-gourmand is concerned. If eating out is more your style then stick to Sydney, unless you have money leaking out your orifices.

Beer? Here be dragons. The beer in England, the good stuff, Real Ale I mean, is astounding. Australian beers, even some of my old favourites, are flavourless fizz by comparison. Now, I don’t mean to say that Aussie beer is bad … is just isn’t beer to me any more. More like a beer-flavoured fizzy drink, it has its place.

Chutney, Stew, Beer, iPhone, and Game

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

As I write this there’s 5 litres of chutney simmering on the stove. I find the name used in one of my books rather apt: Glutney! I’m doing away with 2kg of courgettes, nearly a kg of green tomatoes from my poor blight-stricken plants, and a kg of apples lopped from the tree hanging over our fence (from which we’ve sadly binned many kg of apples that’ve fallen onto the concrete over the last few weeks – just think of all the starving piglets that could be enjoying them.) I only wish I had more jars! If the chutney works out well I’ll put some words together along with the photos I’ve taken and whack it up here when I have the time.

There’s also a full, large, Chasseur of beef, potato, and celeriac stew in the oven. This is part of my “decent lunch” scheme. Trying to make up enough food on the weekend to carry through the week. I have so much less free time these days – welcome to the normal world! Thank goodness for boiled eggs and dried fruit, is all I can say. Not that I’m complaining, being busy is both enjoyable and fulfilling as far as I’m concerned. Right now I’m regretting buying pre-chopped “stewing steak” rather than my usual beef shin. Shin always works out juicy and tender for me, but I usually encounter dryness with “stewing steak” – as I seem to have this time around. Oh well, it’ll taste good all the same, hard to go wrong with celeriac.

Last weekend we went to the Letchworth Beer Festival, a CAMRA event, and drank far, far too much Real Ale. Walking back in the chilly evening was a lesson to us: drink enough beer and you don’t notice it is absolutely freezing. This weekend we went to yet another beer festival, a smaller do at the Plume of Feathers pub over in Ickleford (a 30 minute walk away.) The smaller do was far more satisfying I felt, with 15 beers available rather than 50 there is much less pressure put on by bewildering forests of choice. We also met an interesting older (offspring post-university age) couple who seemed to have an interest in “greener” living, allotments, reduced carbon footprints, and all that malarky. There’s some “Green Drinks” meeting every first Tuesday in Hitchin, sounds interesting. Might go an heckle some Greenies sometime, will write about it if we do. Never know, they might be the sensible sort.

There’s plenty I could say about the iPhone at this stage too, after almost a month with the thing. But it’d include a lot of whinging of the “but my Symbian/IQ phone 5 years ago did this so much better” sort, it isn’t worth bothering. Apple aren’t winning any friends of the non-iBimbo sort by being total fascists about the platform either. Too many shitty apps of the same general type, yet they don’t permit apps that “compete” with their built in shitty-apps. Face it, their calender, email, and contacts apps are all painful to use. And talk about lack of any sort of neat integration between applications! (I’ve already complained about the actual phone functions of the iPhone over on that facebook thingymo.) Sadly the new gPhone looks like a pile of dingo crap… but there will be more to come, I expect (hope) to see a good gPhone surface in the future. Not that I’m at all comfortable with a platform that seems to be geared towards giving Google yet more of my information. Despite all the complaining I’m generally happy with the iPhone and do think that it is the best thing currently available on the market for me. The lack of real progress over the last few years is sad though, the iPhone has broken a popularity barrier but not pushed any technology barriers at all.

Getting back away from the technocrap front, we haven’t had much fungal luck lately. We’re hoping for better results from this season, nothing to beat our little Amethyst Deceiver stash from last year yet though. A nice, but rather small, puffball is about it. We’ve come across a couple of fairy rings, but both times in inconvenient circumstances. We’ll keep at it! The haws, sloes, and hips are starting to look good though. Some rosehip and haw jelly could be on the cards, and possibly (post duty-free) some sloe-gin (or vodka.)

On a similar topic, we’re well into the game season now, so some birdies must appear in the not too distant future. It is well past the “Glorious 12th” (of August) after all. Just today we were overhearing a man talking about the 6 grouse in his freezer – my thought on the topic being “you utter bastard.” I’d be happy to have just a couple. I must endeavour to know someone, who knows someone, … etc. High-street market rates for these things are entirely fixed at the “ho ho, we’ll rip off some stoopid yuppies” level. I’m entirely unhappy about paying £4.50 for a little bunny, even if it is a pretty darn good bunny. When we were in Ricky, and before Hambings closed, we’d get excellent bunnies for 3 quid. I need to know a bunny man I think. Or snare them myself, my earlier attempt to snare a pesky squirrel wasn’t successful enough (I snared it alright, but it snapped my insufficiently strong snare wire.) Squirrels are supposed to be rather good about now in fact, fattened up for the winter.

Freckle past a flea

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

As can probably be imagined, I’ve been somewhat busy lately. What, with moving from a work-at-home schedule back into commuters’ clothing. My commuters’ clothing happens to be florescent yellow with helmet and wheels – which, as it turns out, transforms a 1.5 hour commute into a 1.05 hour commute. Significant! Say what you like of “public” (bus) transport, it is as slow as a wet weekend and lacks a certain something. That something being the daily joy of trying not to be run over by a lorry. It’s worth 2×20-minutes of my day though.

I now work for Zeus, and, as my contract essentially states, must serve Zeus faithfully and efficiently. Really, I could be hacking up perl scripts to present cows as a factor of goats and “working for Zeus” would make up for it. That aside, however, this seems a pretty cool group. The sociological difference to Sensory is close to nil, the primary contrast being accents.

On to business. I’ll be back in Oz between October 31st and November 14th, the first week being in Sydney and the second in WA. I dearly miss many people on both sides of my island continent, so that means you should try to keep some appropriate time free … or I’ll be sad! At the Sydney end I’m thinking Sunday (2nd Nov) lunch at James Squire being a minimum requirement. I’m up for just about anything else that week though.

Bring. It. On!

New Job, New Windows, and Devon

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.


What a week! First and foremost, it marks the beginning of a new job. I’ve moved on from the company I’ve worked with since leaving University (before leaving actually) to a new employer up in Cambridge. It’s a significant one for me. My last job always felt like a simple extension of University, in a sense this is my first real move into the “real” world… maybe. Leaving was a very tough decision to make, especially after 5 years. But in the end it was working from home for a year on the opposite side of the planet from all my friends-cum-colleagues that did it. Working from home is truly overrated.

My new company seems a most excellent place. It’s up in Cambridge, so I don’t have to subject myself to London. I like London, but don’t want to go there every day – poor Kat 🙁 Now I’m a commuter of course, and the journey is at least an hour each way. I should be able to keep it down to that once I streamline the travel process and get a bike up in Cambridge (a faster way to get around the town than the buses.)

So, first week down and rather good.


Unfortunately this week is the week the landlord decided to replace all the windows and doors in our place. They did it all in 2 days, impressively speedy – now I’m just waiting to see if they all fall out. That’s 2 doors, 8 windows, and 2 huge front bay-windows. They left the place in a mess too, not happy about that. Not much we can do about it, except tidy up. It is nice having secure windows though, and being able to see out of them is a nice bonus. We’re told the previous double-glazed windows were the first in the street, they were installed 20 years ago. That probably explains why they were all misted up.


To add to the business of the week we’ve had a trip to Devon planned since far before I decided to move jobs. It’s part of a little ritual of ours. We’re keen attenders of the Watford LUG meetings. When we lived in Rickmansworth this was our closest LUG, it was pretty close to home in fact. Moving to Hitchin puts us a 40 minute drive away – and we don’t own a car. There are closer LUGs now, and maybe in time we’ll attend one or two others, but we want to try and stick with Watford as long as is practical. So, our little ritual is to hire a car on the first Thursday of every month so we can go to the LUG meeting on this night. Then we have the car for the weekend and drop it back on Monday.

So we get a weekend of mobility about once a month. To to cap off the week I drove the 3ish hours to south Somerset (just above Devon) after work on Friday.

This weekend we’re going to Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s River Cottage HQ in Dorset for a “festival.” That’ll take up most of today, then we stay in Weymouth for the night and explore the coastline on Sunday before driving back up to Hitchin.

A long and busy week, but a good one!

Apple and Elderberry Jelly with a Bite

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.


After a BBQ lunch last week I acted on my curiosity regarding the apples overhanging our little back yard (and frequently crashing to Earth to thump, thud, or clang on an item of backyard paraphenalia.) I pulled out my big-long-lopper and plucked off one of the larger specimens. Based on size and shape we’ve been suspecting that they’re Bramleys, a classic, though only 200 year old, cooking apple. I cut my specimen in half and had a nibble. The taste, sharp yet sweet (similar to the good old Grannies back home), and texture (crisp) indicated that our suspicions could be right in this regard – though this certainly isn’t enough to confirm the identification!

Apple Tree

Bramleys are excellent cooking apples, and they’re especially good for making jellies. This train of thought pulled my gaze over to the Elder tree, covered in sprays of glistening fruit. Elder fruit aren’t all that wonderful on their own, though I hear you can make great wine or cordial from them, but they’re an excellent addition to jellies and jams. It seemed that fate had decreed that the future must contain jelly.

Elderberry Tree

Be aware that elder trees contain a toxin and that eating the raw fruit is strongly discouraged! I’ve read that the level of toxin in the berries diminishes as they ripen though, and is already quite low in the variety of Elder most commonly found in the UK. So, after a little research, I did what you should not: tasted a raw Elderberry! Ooo-errr. The flavour, I can report in a still-healthful state, is surprisingly similar to grape! Maybe somewhat more like a dark wine grape like Cabernet Sauvignon, though with less flavour and greater acidity. I’ve done some further research on the subject of Elder toxicity but failed to find any definitive reference on the subject. One variety of Elder is considered poisonous, but it is mainly found in mainland Europe and the berries ripen to red as opposed to the near-black of the common Elders in the UK. Aside from that it seems that all Elders contain the toxin, a plant cyanide, in varying degrees. The roots, wood, and leaves have high amounts of the toxin – but the flowers are OK, and the toxin in the berries reduces as they ripen. Many foraging sites contain advice along the lines of “taste a few berries from each tree so you can choose the one with the tastiest fruit!” I used to eat Elderberries off our tree when I was a kid, I guess it’s a good thing they were never appealing enough to eat by the bucket-load.

Anyway, don’t worry. The toxin is destroyed in the cooking process.

Apples and Elderberries

With Kat catching falling fruit in bags and baskets I went mad with my big-long-loppers. Well, not too mad, as in the end we had just 1.3kg of apples and a pint of berries. But that’s enough for a decent lot of jelly, 5 assorted jars, just under 1.5 litres in total. The elder tree is in our yard, I really hate it as it is a major sun block, it is a small consolation to get something useful from it. The apple tree is actually in the neighbours yard, but is clearly uncared for and I suspect they see the apples as more of a nuisance than a resource!

Along the way further produce from our own gardens was brought into the mix. The “bite” comes from dried chillies that we grew 2 years ago (we have a near endless supply of chillies stashed away from two plants we grew on the balcony.) I added the chilli since we’re almost out of the excellent Apple and Calvados jelly made by the dudes at Fat man Chilli, unfortunately only available at the Rose and Crown farmers’ market back near Rickmansworth. A couple of jars also sport some chopped-leaf floaties harvested from the coriander plants in the garden.

Be prepared

On with the recipe! Ingredients:

  • 1.3kg — Bramley apples, windfall apples are fine (even shop-bought ones I suppose!)
  • 1 pint (sorry, forgot to weigh) — elderberries (plucked from 20 sprays)
  • 5 — hot little chillies
  • 450g per 570ml liquid, ~1.3kg — granulated sugar
  • “to taste” — Grand Marnier

This is pleasingly simple, don’t be fooled by my verbosity. Be aware that it takes quite some time to complete from end-to-end, as the straining of the jelly needs at least a few hours. First thing’s first, you should have these useful kitchen items available:

  • A “big enough” pot, for the amounts in this recipe a ~5lt 22cm stockpot was perfect.
  • Muslin , which is available from catering shops, I buy mine from Nisbets. – I’ve read that a plain (non-fluffy!) tea-towel is acceptable.
  • A flat, fine sieve is very useful for scum-skimming.
  • A large funnel, otherwise you’ll make a mess!
  • Jars, smaller sizes are better I believe but it really depends on what you have lying around. You need around 1.5lt worth of jars for the amounts in this recipe. (With lids!)
  • A thermometer helps, there are simple ones and insanely complicated ones. I use something in-between, but you can get by just fine without one at all – see below.

(Most of these should be visible in the various photos of this jelly-making.)

Feeling fruity

A pint of elderberries

Dump the sprays of elderberries into a bowl of water and swirl them around a bit. Pick over each spray, collecting all the plump and unwrinkled berries in your cooking pot. Avoid any that are still rather green. Also refrain from eating the berries, as mentioned earlier uncooked elderberries contain a toxin that is best avoided. We found that 20 sprays of berries yielded about a pint of berries. It shouldn’t matter much if you have less or more. Remember to grab the good berries that have fallen off in the bowl too (probably at least a large handful!)

Give your apples a wash. Cut them up into, very roughly, 1-inch cubes (core, skin, and all) and cut off and discard any iffy bits. Toss the lot into your pot!

Now add the chillies (roughly chopped) and water to the pot. Just enough water to cover over the apples. The apples will probably be rather floaty, so be careful not to add too much water. Some recipes I’ve read fill with water to only 3 quarters the height of the apples, this should yield a stronger flavoured jelly I suppose.

Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Simmer like this until the apples have essentially dissolved into mush. I simmered the pot for about an hour, but 30 minutes should be enough. After this time turn off the heat and let the pot sit for a while, 30 minutes say, until it has cooled a bit (for safety and comfort!)

Taking the strain


Take a square of muslin, a 50cm (20″) square is a good size. From many of the sources I’ve read it is suggested that this should be “sterilised,” though given that the jelly is going to be boiled for at least another 30 minutes after being strained I’m not sure this is useful! Anyway, the best sterilization method I came across is to iron the muslin with an iron on it’s hottest setting. Easy, so may as well do it.

The muslin can now be laid over a suitable bowl, a 4 or 5 litre mixing bowl is good. Pour the simmered fruit sludge into the muslin then lift the muslin by the edges, give it a twist to form a sealed “bag” and tie it off with some string. Now build some sort of contraption that lets you hang the bag over the bowl, preferably in a way that allows the whole lot to be covered over somehow to keep insects out. The photos to the right show how I’ve gone about this, the whole lot was covered over with an old doona cover.

Leave for a while. I leave it overnight as it is convenient, but 3 hours is probably enough (I can’t imagine getting much more than a few more teaspoons of liquid out beyond that.)

Getting sweet

Sugar time!

Once you’re ready for the next step there’s a few things worth doing in preparation. First give your jars and lids a good wash and sterilise them. I’ve read that a run through a dish-washing machine is sufficient for this (for both the jars and lids), possibly just the rinse cycle even since it is nice and hot. We don’t have such a contraption so I use the oven method for the jars. Place the washed jars upside-down on a wire rack in a cold oven, heat the oven up to 150°C (get on with preparing the jelly while it heats) and turn it off once it is there. Let the jars sit in the oven until you’re ready to use them (likewise, if you’ve used a dishwasher leave the jars in it.) We’ll deal with the lids later. The other thing worth doing at this point is getting a saucepan of water simmering on the stove, I keep the metal spoon and sieve used for stirring and scum-skimming in this. All in the name of sterilisation!

Via a measuring jug, pour the strained liquid back into the pot used to simmer the fruit, cleaned by now I hope! Toss out the pulp from the muslin, but it is worth cleaning and re-using the muslin itself (just rinse/soak thoroughly a few times and finally rinse in boiling water from the kettle.) At this point we add the sugar, the traditional formula is 1-pound-per-pint – thus 450g per 570ml. I had 1.67 litres of liquid at this point so used 1.33kg of sugar. You don’t need to be too precise about it really.

Put the pot over a medium flame and bring to a boil. If you desire, this is the point to add in the Grand Marnier, when the liquid is still cool enough to taste stir in a little Grand Marnier at a time until the flavour reaches a point you’re happy with (purely a matter of personal taste, but I recommend being conservative – just a hint.) I also put in a little muslin bag containing 3 chopped dried chillies at this point, because the two I put in originally hadn’t given the liquid enough bite – again this is a matter of taste, you could leave out the “bite” entirely if you wish.

Boiling jelly

As the liquid heats and boils creamy scum will form on the surface. This is where a flat fine-mesh strainer is useful, but you can do your scum-skimming with a spoon too – just try not to catch too much good liquid with it!

Once the liquid is boiling keep it boiling until it has reached “setting point.”

What is “setting point?” It’s the point at which your sugary liquid has actually become a jelly. There are two common methods for determining when you’ve reached this magical point. The first is to use a thermometer, you can get specialist jam/sugar thermometers for this but I use a general -15-to-200°C digital probe thermometer. Relying on just a thermometer your jam has reached “setting point” at about 105°C. The second method is more practical and makes a lot of sense. Before you start making your jelly put a small plate or two (I use saucers) into the fridge. Your jam has reached setting point when a spoonful of it put on the plate and put in the fridge for 2 minutes bunches up when you drag a fingertip through it, your finger should leave a trail behind it. I use both methods, I keep track of the temperature of the boiling liquid until it is at around 103°C, then I test with the plate method every 5 or so minutes until I’m happy with the result.

A jarring experience

My jelly was on the boil for about 35 minutes by the time I was satisfied that it’d set well. The temperature at this point was floating around 104.5°C.

Put a lid on the jelly pot and set it aside for 10 minutes to cool. Meanwhile put a ladle into your saucepan of simmering water and, if you haven’t used the dishwasher, throw in the jar lids too. You can turn this off after 5 minutes, put the ladle into the jelly and the lids bottom-down onto a clean cloth. Use the simmering water to sterilise the end of your funnel too, then pour the water through the funnel for the same reason. Now grab the jars from the oven.

With ladle and funnel fill each jar, leaving as small an airspace at the top as you’d usually expect. Securely screw on the lids and set aside to cool. Done!


In conclusion

I’ve read various expectations on what sort of shelf-life you can expect (stored in a cool, dark cupboard) – around 2 years seems common. I’ve never had a jelly survive being eaten for long enough to know from my own experience!

After I’d filled 3 jars I stirred a couple of tablespoons of chopped coriander leaf into the remaining jelly and did two more. Since the coriander is fresh and not in any way sterilised I expect this will reduce the expected lifetime of the jelly! One of these is for opening right away though, and the other probably next.

The whole sterilising thing is a bit haphazard. Most sources I’ve read recommend sterilising the muslin and the jars, but never talk about sterilising anything else! I think it is best to be as thorough as practical.

I can happily report that my jelly set perfectly, it holds form well but isn’t too firm.

Lamb Hearts with Fig and Goat Cheese Stuffing

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready to Serve
Braised Stuffed Lamb Hearts

Have a heart! Really, I mean it. They taste great.

Our local butcher, Allinghams, gets fresh stuff in from Smithfield on Tuesdays. So I pre-ordered 4 lamb hearts last week and picked them up yesterday. The first great thing about lamb hearts is that they’re damn cheap, in this case less than 3 quid for the lot – good value considering it turned out to be more than a dinner for the two of us. The second great thing is that they’re simply delicious, with a rich flavour somewhere between lamb meat and liver.

I was at a little bit of a loss as to how to deal with them though, unfortunately none of my books cover what I wanted to do. I decided to plough on with my plan of stuffing them anyway, and went with braising them since this is a somewhat safe approach (much more forgiving than roasting.)

A passing reference in Hugh’s meat book suggests using a wet stuffing, so I avoided anything like breadcrumbs and shot for plenty of fat in the form of butter, bacon, and cheese. Ah, the cheese! We picked this up at the Hitchin Tuesday farmers’ market from Wobbly Bottom Farm. They have goats and make a range of excellent cheeses from goat milk, the Mature Goat is particularly delicious (it’s like a slightly goaty parmesan), as is the Blue Goat, but in this recipe it’s the excellent Goat Camembert I’ve used (which is really much harder than a Camembert!) The only other difference here is that I decided to add something for sweetness, as this tends to work very well with offal. Originally I considered sultanas but I keep dried figs in the same box. For some reason the figs just felt right, the rest is history, or, more accurately, dinner.

So, the ingredient manifest, some things here are listed twice where they’ve been used in different ways.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ingredients

The hearts:

  • 4 — lamb hearts
  • 4 — rashers of streaky bacon
  • 8 — toothpicks (they’re pretty important)
  • 20g — unsalted butter
  • 4 — thin slices of Goat Camembert (alternative: firm feta)

The stuffing:

  • 25g — unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp — caraway seeds
  • 2 small (230g) — onions
  • 2 (~60g) — rashers of streaky bacon
  • 1 tsp — fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 — garlic clove
  • 4 (~50g) — dried figs
  • sprig (~8 leaves) — sage
  • sprig (2″) — rosemary
  • 40g — Goat Camembert (alternative: firm feta)

The juice:

  • 100g — carrot
  • 1 — garlic clove
  • 2 — generous sprigs of thyme
  • 250ml — dry white wine
  • 400ml — chicken stock

The base:

  • 1 — large courgette (zucchini – fresh from the garden!)
  • a little — oil for frying
Stuffed Lamb Heart - Stuffing
Stuff ’em

First clean your hearts, for this I recommend a short and very sharp knife, best to start by sharpening it actually. Trim any arteries out of the top of the heart and slit, just deep enough to graze the muscle, along any veins on the outside of the heart. A book I have suggests removing such veins, but this seemed to be far too finicky to me. Next give your hearts a good rinse, especially flushing any clots of blood out of the cavities and flushing blood out of the veins you’ve slit. Thoroughly dry the hearts with some paper towel, giving them a good squeeze to remove excess water from inside. Now put them aside while you prepare the stuffing.

Now is probably a good time to get the oven on, set it to 125°C.

Dice the onion into pieces about 5mm to a side and get them sizzling in a heavy casserole with 25g of butter and the caraway seeds. Slice the 2 rashers of streaky bacon into thin strips and add to the onion. Let this lot sizzle until it lightly browns. Very finely chop the garlic, sage, and rosemary and add to the pot with the pepper. Chop the figs into pieces about 5mm to a side and add as well. Now fry for about 5 more minutes until the fig pieces are softened. Turn off the heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes, until you can handle it.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Sealed

Divide the stuffing mix up into 4 even piles and proceed to stuff the cavities of each heart. A teaspoon is a useful tool for this. Once the hearts are stuffed there should be about a tablespoon of assorted stuffing left over in the casserole, this will help flavour the sauce. Slice your cheese into 4 “spears,” chunky enough to push into the hearts without crumbling (it’s best to have the cheese in the fridge up to here as this will keep it a bit harder.) Thoroughly embed a spear of cheese into each heart.

Now lie a piece of streaky bacon over the cavity opening, doubling it back on itself to cover as much of the opening as possible. Use two toothpicks to hold the bacon in place (see photo.)

Add another 20g of butter to the casserole and over a medium flame lightly brown the hearts on as many sides as they’ll sit on. With this done ensure all the hearts are sitting with the bacon (cavity holes) facing upward and pour the white wine and chicken stock in around the hearts. Peel and roughly chop the carrots, toss them in, skin the garlic and thump it to death under the side of a knife, toss this in too.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready for the Oven
Ready for the Oven

Finally submerge the thyme in the liquid, get it simmering over the stove, then pop the lid on the casserole and shove it in the oven!

If you’re us the next thing to do is pop down to the local pub for 2 hours and have a couple of beers. With 2 hours up take the casserole out of the oven and turn each heart cavity-side-down. They go back in the oven for another hour now.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Frying Courgette
Frying Courgette

About 20 minutes before the hearts are due to come out of the oven slice the courgette into thin (~3mm) rounds, a mandolin is invaluable for this sort of thing. Drizzle a little oil in a large fry-pan and brown the rounds of courgette on each side, this will need to be done in batches (unless you have a truly enormous frying pan!)

casserole onto a plate, carefully remove the toothpicks, and top each heart with a slice of cheese. These can now go back into the oven, but turn it off and leave the door slightly ajar (we’re just keeping them warm at this stage, not trying to cook them further.) It is also a good idea to pop a couple of serving plates in the oven at this point.

Pass the liquid and vegetables from the casserole through a food mill or push it through a course sieve. Place this back onto the stove and reduce over high heat until it reaches the consistency of runny cream. Be careful here, tasting the sauce regularly. The main issue to worry about is salt. There may be a lot of salt in the sauce from the bacon and stock – good stock won’t have added salt, but most bought stocks do have some and stock cubes are very salty! If the sauce verges toward the salty side before it is thick enough you could try thickening it up a little with some cornflour solution. If it isn’t very salty then you can, as they say, “season to taste.” Finish the sauce by passing it through a fine sieve.

Pop the hearts under a hot overhead grill to get the cheese just-sizzling. Create a bed of courgette slices on the two warmed plates and put two hearts on each plate. Drizzle with some sauce and serve with a glass of the wine used in the cooking and a jug containing any excess sauce. This turned out to be a rather rich meal so the dry white wine worked well as a balance.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready to Serve
Braised Stuffed Lamb Hearts

This is a large meal, two hearts filled me well and one was enough for Kat. An alternative would be to serve one heart per person, in which case I’d double the amount of courgette used and serve with something additional on the side, a small green salad maybe.

Another alternative presentation for the hearts is to slice them, since the cross-section is rather attractive. Our leftover heart will be prepared in this way and served cold as the centrepiece of a lunchtime salad.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Cross Section
Cross Section

As usual the recipe is also documented in photos:

Hm, again!

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Power gone again, preceded by about 10 minutes of highly flaky internet. If I was going to be spending all my time at home for much longer I think I’d be buying myself a UPS this week.

It is seriously annoying to have 10 workspaces of state go up in smoke. At least Firefox comes back up as-things-were these days, as does Opera. I’m back to using good old screen for most off-site sessions now too. Doesn’t help with the local things though. Maybe I should be using the laptop as my primary home-machine.

No power

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Woke up at 06:00, no power. Now 12:30… still no power.

Again! And they’re digging up the new Audi carpark. Again! Co-incidence? No!

Hargreaves Lansdown Funds by TER

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Recently I had reason to rank the funds available via a Hargreaves Lansdown Vantage SIPP by their TER. Of course, it isn’t in HL’s best interests to make this easy so I ended up having to work it out the hard way. I’ve compiled a list that is correct as of around Friday August 1st, a portion of this is below. What I was looking for was a list of funds with a “real” TER of 1.1% or less. To get “real” I’m calculating the max of HL’s advertised TER and Annual Charge with their special magic additional charge factored in where it is applicable. HL add another 0.5%+VAT (0.5875%) to the AC for some funds, as far as I can see this mainly because they don’t like people investing in index-linked funds.

What’s the point? Comparing the HL SIPP to stakeholder/personal pensions. Why this criteria? Because the cheaper stakeholders and personal pensions are generally available at a flat/average annual charge <1% if acquired via a discount broker. Mostly these pensions offer only a small range of funds you can include in your pension portfolio. So, this list aids a like-for-like comparison of what is supposedly the cheapest SIPP (supposedly offering >2000 funds) on the market with market-leading non-SIPP pensions (typically offering from 10 to 300 funds.)

I chose 1.1% as within this range, with appropriate investment weightings, you could put together a fund portfolio with an average TER of <1%, thus somewhat competitive with the stakeholder/personal pension options. I’ve also filtered the results to include only accumulation funds, and to leave out any funds where the net initial charge is greater than 0.

My verdict? Given my filtering parameters the HL SIPP has about 60 investment options with which you could possibly put together a pension portfolio similar in overhead to good stakeholder or personal pensions. This typically has much more choice than a stakeholder, but less than many personals. However, it can be observed that the selection of investment choices mainly focus on local equities and bonds with a bit of money market thrown in. Notably this selection contains no property investment funds, which are generally considered an important part of a balanced portfolio (though how happy you’d be with that idea right at this moment is debatable!) I seems that the lowest TER property fund is the L&G General UK Property Trust with a TER of 1.29%, so if a small part of your portfolio it could be possible to include this and still average <1%.

Anyway, the list:

“real” TER TER Sector Size Type HL AC Name
0.27% 0.27% UK All Companies £671m OEIC HSBC FTSE All Share Index Fund Institutional A Accumulation Shares
0.50% 0.50% Money Market N/A Unit Trust Legal & General Cash Accumulation
0.52% 0.52% UK All Companies £3851m OEIC Legal & General UK Index Retail Accumulation Units
0.55% 0.55% Offshore £6206m OEIC JPMorgan Sterling Liquidity (Offshore) A Cap
0.60% 0.60% Global Bonds £35m Scottish Widows Overseas Fixed Interest Tracker Accumulation
0.67% 0.67% Japan £55m OEIC HSBC Japan Index Accumulation Units
0.75% N/a Offshore £214m OEIC INVESCO Sterling Bond A Accumulation
0.78% 0.78% North America £970m Unit Trust Legal & General US Index Retail Accumulation Units
0.79% 0.79% Japan £358m Unit Trust Legal & General Japan Index Retail Accumulation Units
0.79% 0.79% UK Corporate Bond £1201m Unit Trust Legal & General Fixed Interest Class R Accumulation Units
0.80% 0.80% Europe Excluding UK £1521m Unit Trust Legal & General European Index Retail Accumulation Units
0.80% 0.80% Europe Including UK N/A Unit Trust Prudential European Index Tracker Accumulation Units
0.81% 0.22% UK Index Linked Gilt £561m Unit Trust 0.59% Legal & General All Stocks Index-Linked Gilt Index Accumulation
0.81% 0.22% UK Gilt £988m Unit Trust 0.59% Legal & General All Stocks Gilt Index Trust Accumulation Units
0.83% 0.83% Asia Pacific Ex Japan £444m Unit Trust Legal & General Pacific Index Retail Accumulation Units
0.84% 0.84% UK All Companies £84m Unit Trust Legal & General UK 100 Index Trust Retail Accumulation
0.86% 0.27% UK All Companies £1074m 0.59% Scottish Widows UK All Share Tracker Accumulation Units
0.87% 0.28% UK All Companies £520m OEIC 0.59% Fidelity Moneybuilder UK Index Accumulation Units
0.89% 0.89% UK All Companies £82m OEIC HSBC FTSE 250 Index Accumulation Units
0.89% 0.89% UK Gilt £210m OEIC HSBC Gilt & Fixed Interest Accumulation Units
0.90% 0.90% Global Bonds £40m OEIC JPMorgan Global (Ex-uk) Bond Fund Accumulation Shares
0.90% 0.90% Balanced Managed £409m Unit Trust Schroder Managed Balanced Class H Accumulation
0.92% 0.92% UK Index Linked Gilt £70m OEIC AXA Sterling Index Linked Bond Retail Accumulation
0.92% 0.92% Global Growth N/A Unit Trust Legal & General International Index Trust Class R Acc
0.93% 0.93% UK Corporate Bond £132m OEIC Investec Sterling Bond Fund Accumulation Shares
0.99% 0.40% UK All Companies £361m OEIC 0.59% F & C FTSE All Share Tracker Fund Class 1 Accumulation Units
0.99% 0.99% Asia Pacific Ex Japan £44m OEIC HSBC Pacific Index Accumulation Units
1.00% 1.00% Technology & Telecoms £14m Unit Trust Legal & General Global Technology Index Retail Accumulation Units
1.00% 1.00% Global Growth £25m Unit Trust Legal & General Global 100 Index Retail Accumulation Units
1.00% 1.00% Specialist £27m Unit Trust Legal & General Global Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Retail Accumulation Units
1.00% 1.00% UK All Companies £34m OEIC F & C FTSE 100 Tracker Fund Class 1 Accumulation Units
1.00% 1.00% UK All Companies £128m Unit Trust Legal & General Ethical Trust Class R Accumulation Units
1.00% 1.00% UK All Companies £395m OEIC Scottish Widows UK Tracker Retail A Accumulation Units
1.00% 1.00% UK Other Bond £583m OEIC Standard Life Higher Income Fund Retail Accumulation
1.00% 1.00% UK Other Bond £1576m Unit Trust Legal & General High Income Trust Retail Accumulation Units
1.01% 1.01% UK Corporate Bond £407m OEIC Standard Life Corporate Bond Fund Retail Accumulation Units
1.01% 1.01% Unclassified £496m OEIC SWIP Sterling Index-Linked Bond Accumulation
1.01% 1.01% Offshore $121m OEIC Investec GSF Managed Currency A Accumulation USD
1.02% 1.02% UK Corporate Bond £152m OEIC Standard Life Select Income Retail Accumulation
1.02% 1.02% Unclassified £567m OEIC SWIP Gilt Plus Accumulation
1.02% 1.02% Unclassified £617m OEIC SWIP Defensive Gilt Accumulation
1.02% 1.02% Unclassified £1706m OEIC SWIP Corporate Bond Plus Accumulation
1.03% 1.03% UK Gilt £43m OEIC Standard Life UK Gilt Fund Retail Accumulation Units
1.03% 1.03% UK Corporate Bond £364m OEIC Norwich Union Monthly Income Plus Class 1 Accumulation Units
1.04% 1.04% Unclassified £13m OEIC SWIP Global Bond Plus Accumulation
1.04% 1.04% UK All Companies £454m Unit Trust Legal & General Equity Trust Class R Accumulation Units
1.05% 0.46% UK All Companies £343m OEIC 0.59% M & G Index Tracker Fund Class A Accumulation Units
1.05% 1.05% UK Corporate Bond £56m Unit Trust Legal & General Managed Monthly Income Retail Accumulation Units
1.06% 1.06% Global Bonds £157m OEIC Standard Life Global Indexed Linked Bond Retail Accumulation
1.07% 1.07% UK Corporate Bond £145m OEIC AXA Sterling Corporate Bond Class R Accumulation
1.08% 1.08% UK Corporate Bond £200m OEIC Standard Life AAA Income Retail Accumulation
1.09% 0.50% UK All Companies N/A Unit Trust 0.59% Prudential UK Index Tracker Accumulation
1.09% 1.09% Global Bonds £28m OEIC UBS Absolute Return Bond A Shares Accumulation
1.09% 1.09% Global Bonds £76m Unit Trust BlackRock Global Bond Accumulation Units
1.09% 1.09% UK Corporate Bond £81m OEIC Aberdeen Corporate Bond Class A Accumulation
1.09% 1.09% UK Other Bond N/A OEIC Cazenove Strategic Bond Class B Accumulation
1.10% 1.10% UK Corporate Bond £2m OEIC Franklin Corporate Bond Accumulation
1.10% 1.10% Unclassified £51m OEIC SWIP Sterling Bond Plus Accumulation
1.10% 1.10% UK Gilt £87m OEIC Baillie Gifford Gilt Class A Accumulation
1.10% 1.10% Offshore N/A OEIC Nomura Enovara Global Emerging Mkts 80% £GBP

So, if you put a large weighting into the HSBC FTSE All-Share fund you could potentially bring down the average significantly (and several sources of advice do suggest having a sizable proportion of your portfolio in local equities, especially when 20+ years from retirement.)

I don’t know if all these funds are valid for investment in a SIPP, I do know that their minimum investment levels vary (some are 1000+.) This is, after all, a fairly rough assessment made by a total armature! It is also worth pointing out that several funds in HL’s index link to “fund not found” pages, I have no idea what’s up with that. Additionally, few of the funds are index based anyway, so for the majority the usual quality considerations for actively managed funds apply.

Finally, note I’m comparing an apple to oranges by taking into account just the parts of the apple that are orange-like. The important difference ignored here is that the HL SIPP allows equity investments with relatively cheap trading fees. If you want fully flexible trading within a SIPP then, from what I’ve heard, the HL SIPP is hard to beat. But my interest at the moment is comparing a SIPP to other options as purely a fund-container.

The above said, it should be noted that the HL SIPP’s trading capabilities can also have some relevance to holding funds! This is thanks to ETFs of course.

Complicated, no?

Based on this very, very rough consideration I think I’d prefer stakeholder or personal pensions over the HL SIPP if my investment focus was entirely on funds. I’d consider a strategy of beginning pension investments in one of these and holding that until it has a value high enough to consider the possibility of using a SIPP to provide access to ETFs. (Since HL’s dealing charges for larger transactions are reasonably good. That said, I haven’t got around to weighing up the pros and cons of ETFs in a SIPP wrapper. On the face of it you could invest in, for example, the iShares FTSE 250 ETF with its TER of 0.4% and only ever pay HL the initial trading fee. To have a better idea of this would require a survey of all the ETFs available.)

Disclaimer: this is not financial advice, I’m just thinking aloud (and am entirely unqualified to offer advice anyway!)

Piling misery?

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

British Gas has raised the price of gas by a massive 35%, piling misery on to millions of customers.

I know the media is no stranger to hyperbole, but really? In the time of “credit crunch” and “mortgage crisis” I’d expect to be immune (they may not be exaggerated terms themselves, but they sure spawn many words of doom and gloom.) It seems I’m not actually desensitized to financial melodramatics however, I had to shake my head at this one (I’m a BG customer, through laziness, as opposed to love of them.)

Piling misery onto millions of customers? That’s a lot of misery. I think BG supplies around 16 million households (~47% market-share), so “millions” does cover its customer base, but I suspect it is over the top on the “misery” front.

Our gas bill is £30 per month, the 35% rise adds another £10.5. This is below average for UK households, since there’s only two of us. The average annual gas bill is apparently a whopping £630, making the average monthly increase just over £18.

So, is £18 quid a month misery? Maybe for a few who’re already right on the line, but for millions? Are things in the UK that bad? It does make one wince when looked at over the whole year: £220. Another thing to remember is the regressive nature of energy costs, the utterly destitute get some financial breaks, but the majority on low incomes do not. If we earned half our salaries we’d pay the same gas bill, as we would if we earned twice.

To put the rise in some sort of context: £18 is equivalent to about 6 pints of beer, or a generous Indian take-away for two, or 3 20-packs of cigarettes (I had to look that one up of course!) Even if you double that to £36 it seems, while significant, unlikely to be a cause of misery for millions of BG customers.

All the same, maybe I should look into switching gas suppliers. Misery it may not be, but a £ is a £.

(All gas and electricity suppliers are upping their prices at the moment of course. Wholesale gas/oil/coal prices are way up, so no surprise. BG does tend to just rely on the entrenched customer-base though, thus they’re usually one of the worst on prices. The joys of business as a former government monopoly!)