About

a passionate food-lover who really enjoys cooking, eating and sharing the culinary delights of the world around me. Seasonal, fairly produced and regional ingredients are what interest and inspire me, so grab your spoon and join me!

Rhubarb, rhubarb

So wittering on Twitter in my usual fashion and I got into conversation with Grown With Love. In case you’ve not heard of them, @GrownWithLove is the twitter tag for Barfoots – a sustainable farm business based in the South of England http://www.barfoots.com/products-services/grown-with-love/
Anyway, upshot of the conversation was that they very kindly offered to send me some rhubarb. Now I don’t know about you but I LOVE rhubarb – something about those sharp, pinky green stems really works for me. And of course now is the time to eat the homegrown stuff.

picture of rhubarb

Rhubarb from Grown With Love

Rhubarb is in fact a vegetable, but like the tomato (strictly speaking a fruit that is eaten as a savoury) it is treated in the opposite way ie as a sweet item. It matches beautifully with ginger, cardamom and vanilla spices; and likes orange, almonds and strawberries. Of course, you can keep things simple and just gently poach the rhubarb with a little water and sugar to taste, which will make a lovely rhubarb compote perfect for swirling into plain yogurt.

I like to make rhubarb jam – this year I’ve mixed it with cardamom to create a gorgeous pale pink, orange spiced jam that goes rather well with a scone. Wash 1 kilo of rhubarb and slice into 1/2 inch chunks. Put in pan with a splash of water – literally just enough to stop the fruit from sticking to the pan base as it heats. Crack open 6 cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle and give them a good bashing to smash up the seeds and husk. Add to the rhubarb and let it simmer on a gentle heat until the rhubarb releases all its juices and becomes soft strands. Add 650g granulated sugar and the juice of 1 lemon. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and cook until the jam is thickened and drips off the spoon in big flakes – or use the wrinkle test – dollop a spoonful on a chilled saucer (taking jam off the heat while you check for the set or you’ll wind up with toffee) and let it cool, then push with your finger to “wrinkle” the surface – if that happens, the jam is ready, if it’s still runny, cook a little longer. This jam doesn’t set particularly hard but you want to spoon it not drink it…

I wanted to try something else though, I toyed with the idea of a rhubarb cake but hey, I always make cake. Then I thought about almonds. More specifically, a rhubarb frangipane tart, maybe with a little splash of Amaretto? See where I’m going with this? Patisserie is not my forte – I can make it taste good, but glamorous fiddling about with precision decoration isn’t me. So excuse the pictures of the tart – others will make it look far better but I can assure you it tasted very very nice indeed.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Pastry Case:

(Shop bought pastry gives me indigestion – so I make my own but feel free to use a good ready made sweet crust pastry – no judging here!)

175g plain flour

25g icing sugar

125g unsalted butter, chilled and diced

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons cold water

Frangipane Filling

3 tablespoons rhubarb jam (or use raspberry or strawberry)

400g roasted rhubarb – wash and chop into 1 inch pieces and roast in 180C oven for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.

3 eggs

1 egg yolk

110g caster sugar

110g unsalted butter, melted

110g ground almonds

2 tablespoons of Amaretto (optional but NICE)

Handful of flaked almonds.

Make pastry by sifting together flour and icing sugar. Rub in cold butter with fingertips or using a food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix egg yolk with cold water and add to the flour/ butter mix to bring it together into a soft dough. Handle gently! Shape into a flat disc and chill for half an hour. Roll out the pastry and use to line a 23 cm loose bottomed tart tin. Prick the base with a fork and put back in fridge to chill and firm up for another half hour. Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F or GM6.  Line pastry with baking parchment and fill with dried beans or scrunched up foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment and cook for a further 3 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Turn oven down to 180C/ 350F/ GM4

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Make filling by mixing  eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add Amaretto if using and the melted butter. Mix well then fold in the ground almonds.  Spread jam over the cooled pastry base, and top with the rhubarb pieces. Spoon over the frangipane topping and smooth.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle over the almonds and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes until the filling is golden brown and just set – it should wobble a little.

Serve with ice cream

Served with ice cream

 

 

Serve with lashings of cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thanks again Grown With Love!

Getting an Edge

Today I went on a butchery course* at Edge and Son Butchers in New Ferry, getting amazing tuition from Callum Edge on how to joint a chicken, cut a lamb shank and remove the bone from the leg, prepare bacon for curing and boning a shin of beef. Callum was patient with my ‘ahem’ butchery skills (I ‘may’ have left a bit much meat on the chicken carcass – but it’s going to make fabulous stock) and I’ve learnt a great deal.

Do you know about Edge and Son Butchers? They won Best Retailer of the Year at the 2014 BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards and have been established since 1844. Not only that, Edge and Sons specialise – they only buy local rare breed free range grass fed stock (sourced within a 25 mile radius); have their own small slaughterhouse behind the shop where the animals are treated with respect in a calm environment to minimise stress; and advocate a head to tail use-every-bit-of-the-animal ethos that gladdened my heart.

Callum showing how to joint lamb

Callum showing how to joint lamb

I’m a firm believer that if you eat meat, you must try your hardest to use every part of the carcass, it’s an insult to the animal and the people who raised it not to. Ask questions about where your meat comes from and how it is handled. Welfare is crucial. I’d rather spend a bit more and eat a bit less meat than accept intensive farming processes designed to create maximum profit for the retailer rather than considering the impact that has on the animals, the workers who must manage the process and of course, the planet that must sustain it.

First part of the workshop involved a visit to the slaughterhouse. Small but spankingly clean, with cleverly designed two way gates to enable the animals to move at their own pace and in the direction they choose. Animals brought here are given time to calm down and reduce their stress levels rather than being shunted straight in to see the slaughterman.

We are then taken to see the cold storage –

Cold storage

Cold storage

where the meat is hung to tenderise in cold dry conditions, allowing it to age beautifully. For those of a squeamish disposition, I must just point out that there is no scent of raw meat, such as you get when unwrapping meat from supermarket cellophane packs – it all smells fresh and clean with a hint of smoke from the charcuterie that shares the fridge space. Callum tells us that the fridges in supermarkets are not the best for meat – they are too “wet” and so make the meat sweat, creating that unpleasant metallic tang of blood.

And so to the actual butchery. We began with the basics – how to sharpen knives correctly and advice on knives in general.

Knives to use

Knives to use

Handed aprons we are then inducted into the mysteries of deboning a chicken. The key is properly sharp knife, gentle and slow work around the bones and decisive cuts through the joints once you’ve found them. Wasn’t my best round – I left far too much meat on the breastbone BUT and this is important, Callum simply explained where I went wrong and offered encouragement, which means I am now determined to have another go and do it better next time. We moved onto lamb, then pork and beef. Each time shown the basic technique of slow steady knife work and using your hands to “feel” round the joints as you go.

We stopped for tea and rather delicious snacks of black pudding, haggis and the renowned 1844 sausages before attempting to learn a butcher’s knotting technique for tying up joints. Having slightly incapacitated myself and sporting plasters on fingers, I found this a bit challenging, so shall be practising those knots later this evening. Boy scouts will find it a doddle.

We finished after 4 hours of truly interesting discussion, learning and activity that haven’t turned me into a master butcher – I need another 30 years of practice to do that – but have given me the confidence to tackle whole joints and a new understanding of the different cuts of meat that can be obtained. We were packed off home with a glorious goody bag – our aprons, a certificate of participation and, most importantly, our very own deboned chicken and lamb joints.

As Edge and Son make clear – “We’ve done our bit, now you do yours. Treat meat with the respect it deserves. Eat more of the animal and respect its entirety. Don’t just buy the expensive ‘choice’. Experiment with cheaper cuts that, with the right love and attention, can be sensational.”

*I wear several food “hats” – one of which is the lead for Slow Food Liverpool and it was as such that Callum and Debbie Edge very kindly invited me to attend this workshop. Edge and Son are a fine example of the Slow Food ethos in action- promoting true enjoyment of good food, and a food production system that provides good, clean and fair food for everyone.

More info:
Edge and Son have two shops: 61 New Chester Road
New Ferry, Wirral CH62 1AB & Church Farm, Church Lane
Thurstaston, Wirral CH61 0HW
Their website is: www.traditionalmeat.com

Find out about Slow Food via: www.slowfood.org.uk

Wild about Spring

IMG_1428March is leaving us like a lion – wind, driving rain and the occasional frost. But the light has changed, dawn comes earlier with a blackbird’s song, and in the gardens and woods the greenery is spreading. Sometimes this time is known as the hungry gap, the stored winter vegetables are coming to their end and the seedlings of the new season are yet to sprout. Now is the time to go foraging, in search of fresh wild spring greens to add zing and flavour to meals. My favourite is wild garlic – the richly scented green leaves made into a pesto with hazelnuts and extra virgin rapeseed oil.

An “English” PestoIMG_1414

50g wild garlic – just cut the leaves, leave the bulbs for the next year.
50g watercress or young spinach
100g hazelnuts
Extra virgin rapeseed oil – I use Borderfields which has a lovely nutty taste to complement the hazelnuts.
salt to taste

Use a food processor – pack in the nuts & greens, set it going and begin to drizzle the oil in until you have a thick spoonable paste. Season to taste and pack into clean sterilised jars. Top with more oil to keep it fresh and seal. Keep in the fridge.

Uses:

Toss a couple of teaspoons of pesto through hot gnocchi, and add a handful of fresh spinach or watercress and a grating of Parmesan.

Mix a teaspoon of the pesto with creme fraiche and use to dress a piece of grilled salmon as a quick sauce.

Try with roasted lamb – use it as a rub before putting in the oven.

Mix with mashed potatoes and serve alongside a piece of gammon.

Use on bruschetta with a little feta or goats cheese crumbled over.

Butter Squashed

So. It’s the second weekend of January and I’m still using up the veg from Christmas week. Not because I over ordered (perish the thought) but because I got invited out to more dinners then expected – the joy of hospitable friends and family and to be frank, the lure of lovely shiny places like Salthouse Bacaro (www.salthousebacaro.co.uk) and Berry & Rye ….

Anyway. Back to the vegetable glut. I have two butternut squashes, a single parsnip, half a bag of Brussels sprouts, a cauliflower, some carrots, a bit of celery, a few potatoes and the usual pantry staples of onion, garlic and ginger. First thought of course was soup. But then I always make soup and one of my food resolutions for 2015 was to be bold and not just to stick to my comfort zones.

In search of inspiration, I perused Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus – which takes the interested cook on a journey through categories such as Spicy, Woodland, Roasted, Earthy, Marine etc, suggesting pairings of ingredients based on their flavour characteristics and how they balance each other. As butternut squash is dominating my larder, I looked up what she had to say about it. Niki places butternut squash in tFlavour Thesaurushe Woodland category, alongside carrots, chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. She points out that the sweetness of butternut squash means it works well with salty or sour flavours but its dense creamy texture means that it can also cope well with spices and herbs. Some of Niki’s suggestions include pairing it with bacon, blue cheese chilli, lime, seafood, rosemary, sage, or nutmeg.

Bacon has a tendency to grab my attention, especially as I know I have a pack of Savin Hill’s dry smoked bacon lurking in the fridge. I also like the idea of using the woody herbs such as rosemary and sage but the ingredient that’s really intriguing me is lime. It just so happens I have a few limes left over from the Christmas gin & tonics. Now I’m thinking about Asian inspired dishes, using lime and chili to sharpen up the sweet butternut squash. Decisions, decisions…

Being January, my herb patch is looking a little sad, but the sage is marching on so I decide upon using one of squashes to make butternut & bacon filled ravioli, served with sage butter. The other is destined for more exotic treatment, a Malay inspired Laksa with lime, chilli and coconut (yes I know it’s a sort of soup, but it’s a fancy one!).

Butternut & Bacon Ravioli Serves 4

Filling

500g butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 4 cm pieces

3 tsp olive oil

salt & pepper

2 rashers of bacon*, cut into small dice (or use pancetta)

50g gorgonzola (or other blue cheese) grated or diced into small pieces.

Nutmeg

Pasta

300g 00 grade flour

3 large free range eggs

salt

Garnish

50g butter

2tbsp olive oil

handful of fresh sage leaves

 

Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F/ GM6

Toss the butternut squash pieces with two teaspoons of olive oil and season.Butternut squash Place in one layer on a baking sheet and put in the oven to roast for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 5 minutes before blending into a thick puree with the gorgonzola. (I needed to add a little cream to aid this) Set aside to cool.

Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in pan and cook the bacon pieces until crisp. Set aside to cool. Mix into the cooled butternut puree, with nutmeg and more salt and pepper as needed to taste.

pastaMake the pasta. Make a well of sifted flour and add a pinch of salt and the 3 eggs, lightly beaten together. Use a fork (or fingers) to lightly mix them together to create a dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead well for between 5 and 10 minutes – pulling and stretching the dough until it changes texture from rough and floury to smooth and silky – it will have a slight sheen. Divide into 4 pieces, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for a good hour.

Pasta photo 2 photo 3

 

Once the pasta dough has chilled, take the first portion and roll it out onto a lightly floured work surface to about 1mm thick or roll through your pasta machine. (Note to readers: It is at this point I took the sensible decision to invest in a pasta machine. Rolling out pasta by hand is perfectly possible but you will develop Popeye’s forearms…)

photo 2 handrollingphoto 3

Using a pastry cutter 8.5cm or 3.5 inch in diameter, cut out 12 discs. Set aside and repeat the process until you have 24 discs. Divide the cooled filling into half and spoon into the centre of 12 of the discs – about a heaped tsp. Brush round the edge of the filled disc with water and then take another disc and lay it over the top, pressing down on the water brushed edges to seal. (Note to readers: I was paranoid about the filling bursting out, so I gently stretched the discs and then rolled the edges rather like a Cornish pasty. Not very authentic, but my raviolis stayed intact!)

Ravioli photo 2 photo 3

Once you have filled 12 pasta parcels, repeat the process with the remaining mixture and two balls of dough. Place on a floured board, and dust with a little flour. Cover with a cloth and set aside.

Make the garnish before cooking the ravioli. Roughly chop the sage leaves. Melt the butter and oil in a shallow pan and add the sage leaves, cook til they start to crisp, then remove from the heat.

To cook the ravioli, fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil. Add salt and turn down to a gentle simmer. Slide the ravioli into the water. They will sink to the bottom of the pan, and as they cook will bob to the surface. It will take about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and toss in the sage scented butter. Sprinkle with black pepper and a scattering of grated Parmesan. Enjoy!

ready, cook! photo 4

*Note for Vegetarians – leave out the bacon and add a handful of toasted pinenuts instead.

 

 

 

Hungary Home

I took a trip this week. It was short, involved a LOT of travel but was very worth it. On Tuesday I left my house in Liverpool and travelled to Pécs in Southern Hungary to visit my aunt Klari, the last of my Dad’s siblings. I lost him in 2010, so it’s always bittersweet to go to Hungary and hear the familiar language and eat the food he used to make me here in Britain. I don’t speak Hungarian – just a few basic phrases, (though funnily enough I know ALL the food words) and my vocabulary is that of a four year old who spent a lot of time with her Nagymama (Hungarian granny) before things like school got in the way. Klari doesn’t speak much English, but as she says, we are “sympatiko” and it’s amazing how much of a sense of the Hungarian language I seem to have retained, we have long involved conversations in pidgin Maygar & English with a pair of dictionaries between us to check on the odd word or phrase that our gesticulations cannot convey.

It’s quite a hike to Pécs. I had to drive to Manchester, get a plane to Budapest, then get a three hour train to Southern Hungary. Pécs is practically at the Croatian border, following the loss of almost 2/3 of Hungary after one world war or another…

Museum Street Pécs

Museum Street Pécs

It’s an ancient university town, which has been under German and Turkish rule as well as Hungarian during its long life. It’s situated in prime wine country, and has a similar climate to Tuscany, basking in golden autumn sunshine during my visit.

 

I didn’t arrive until the evening, as I was met from the plane by my cousin Peter, who works in Budapest, arranging elaborate lunches on board river boats on the Danube. Food runs in the family. Last time I visited, he and I made a point of seeking out obscure little restaurants to try specific Hungarian specialities such as Halászleves – a spicy river fish soup that is the bouillabaisse of Hungary. This trip didn’t give me enough time to stay with him, so we made do with lunch at the Huszar restaurant near Keleti station. I had a bowl of Jókai bean soup – rich with pieces of kolbász sausage (the Hungarian equivalent of chorizo) and given extra kick by a slice of ‘erős’ (hot) pepper to dunk in the bowl yourself to add spice to suit your taste buds. We then shared a plate of

Nokedli

Nokedli

nokedli – like spatzele but smaller – made this time with added dill and ewe’s milk cheese , with fried fish in a paprika cream sauce. The gorgeously garlic heavy cucumber salad accompanying it ensured I would be safe from vampires on my train travel south…

Three hours later, on a train that was clean and cheap – £10 journey for 2nd class, which was as spacious and comfortable as that which passes for 1st class in the UK, I was met at the station and taken to my aunt’s house by another cousin. Hungarians are insanely hospitable. It’s a source of pain to them to think that you might ever be hungry. My aunt greeted me with bowls of pork and vegetable soup, followed by chocolate nut stuffed pancakes. She wasn’t taking no for an answer. I remember once arriving at her home at 2am after a late evening flight, and still being greeted with bowls of soup and cakes when all I really really wanted was my bed.

Wednesday was visit the neighbours day. But for a specific purpose. I love Hungarian food, it says home to me. I learnt to cook Hungarian food with my Dad and so it always makes me think of (and miss) him. I was packed off to Hungary for the summer when I was 12, to stay with another aunt, also now passed, who showed me how to bake Hungarian cakes and strawberry ice cream. This time, I wanted to find out how to make a real Hungarian speciality – Rétes – the paper thin pastry that rolls round a variety of fillings and is baked in the oven until crisp. Much thinner than strudel, it’s more like filo pastry and is part of the culinary legacy of the Turkish rule of Hungary during the 16th C (other things include insanely strong, thick black coffee; paprika; pale green peppers; and kefir yogurt).

One of Klari’s neighbours was making a batch of rétes and offered to show me. Anouska and Janos welcomed us into their home. Whilst Anouska toiled in the kitchen, kneading flour, water and an egg into an incredibly elastic dough that she then rested and stretched across a tablecloth until it was as thin as tissue paper;IMG_4465

making rétes

making rétes

IMG_4466

 

 

Janos regaled us with home-made plum pálinka (Hungarian brandy made from fruits, not dissimilar to grappa). He insisted it was good for my health to drink at least one glass. At 10am. I took notes and photos of Anouska’s work, getting steadily more out of focus as the pálinka found its way into my blood stream. I’m going to have a go at making rétes, and that will be the subject of another post.

Anouska made three types of filling

IMG_4487 IMG_4494– morello cherries with ground walnuts and cinnamon; cottage cheese with lemon and sugar; and cabbage with paprika and bacon. All completely delicious and had for lunch.

Klari and I spent the afternoon walking around the centre  of Pécs, once a walled Roman spa town, it’s built of honey glowing stone, with much of the 17th C buildings restored and used as museums.

Pécs

Pécs

IMG_4521 Pécs is where Zsolnay porcelain comes from – one of the great ceramic houses of the 19th C – creating amazing art nouveau pieces that graced the houses of the well to do around the world, and there are two museums devoted to showing off the techniques and unusual pieces the Zsolnay family created. We met up afterwards with my cousin Bondika and his family for an early supper, eaten out on a terrace on one of Pécs pedestrianised streets. I gave in half way and had half of my ridiculously huge schnitzel wrapped for the dog… I ate all my cucumber salad though.

Thursday was an early start for the 13 hour door to door trip home. Did I mention Hungarians are hospitable? Aunt Klari packed me off home with wrapped parcels of rétes; home-made chocolate salami; and three frankly anti-social sandwiches reeking joyously of garlic and paprika. A short but very sweet trip “home”.

Super Sourdough

Been a little quiet on the blog front of late. New job has taken up most of my mental capacity, plus the Grab Your Spoon preserves have gone into overdrive with the arrival of summer’s gorgeous fruits. But today I’m back! Back to tell you about my recent forays into the world of baking bread.

Bread is a wonderful thing, and I’m here to confess that I probably eat more of it then I should (carb queen), but that also means I’m picky about the bread that I eat. Most mass-produced bread is doughy and somewhat indigestible, not to mention something that doesn’t keep well nor is ideal for the use-it-all approach I like to take in the kitchen. Learning to bake bread has been on my New Year’s to do list for several years now. I’ve had a go. Turned out bread that could in fact be interchanged with a house brick… Lashed squidgy amounts of dough round the kitchen like a demented cartoon character, and spent weeks scraping it off the ceiling. Best I’ve managed to date was soda bread – which is pretty fool proof but, major drawback, doesn’t keep that well and is a bit, well, crumbly for sandwiches and toast. Great to have with a bowl of soup though.

East Avenue Bakehouse

East Avenue Bakehouse

When my favourite local baker Sandra Dee announced she was hanging up her apron and would no longer be attending the farmers’ markets where I normally picked up a loaf or two of her delicious rye bread, I was desolate. But, maybe this was the kick I needed. Add together my invite to attend the East Avenue Bakehouse’s Slow Food Baking night and I was beginning to think seriously about learning to bake bread properly. But the kneading thing. It’s not me. I’m not the most patient of cooks.  Someone I follow, via twitter and also her blogs and her journalism via the Radio 4 Food Programme is Vanessa Kimbell. Vanessa is a food writer but more importantly, she is a bread baker. And not just any bread – Vanessa specialises in Sourdough and she advocates a no knead approach, choosing instead to use a light fingered folding technique that aerates the dough and stops the gluten becoming tough. Even better, Vanessa teaches this via her cookery school in Northampton – www.vanessakimbell.co.uk for details, or www.sourdough.co.uk – her website for everything sourdough related

I mentioned at the start of this article that I have recently started a new job, so I decided to treat myself. Yep. Diamonds and handbags don’t do it for me on the celebration front, cookery school does. Vanessa teaches at her home, a bit of a schlep from Liverpool but luckily she also offers bed and breakfast accommodation so I booked myself in for the night before the course and headed off down the joy that is the M6… Arriving at 9pm, I was greeted by friendly dogs, her equally friendly husband Alastair and then escorted into the house to meet Vanessa and a fellow course attendee, Patsy. I was handed a large glass of the family owned, locally produced Fleurfields white wine – www.fleurfields.co.uk and immediately inducted into the world of sourdough as Vanessa was prepping for the next day. Whilst still light, we took a turn about the garden – I developed a severe case of vegetable garden & herb patch envy. Bit more chit-chat about bread – Vanessa has an extensive collection of interesting and rare bread books  – not to mention life and the universe and I felt welcome and at home.

A good night’s sleep in crisp cotton set me up for an early morning walk round the village then I joined Patsy for breakfast in the garden – home made strawberry jam and sourdough toast with copious quantities of tea.

Tea in the garden

Tea in the garden

Our fellow course attendees began to arrive – we were all sourdough novices but some were experienced bread bakers, whilst others (me) were stepping into the great bread unknown.  Introductions over, Vanessa explained that we were going to understand the 24 hr cycle of sourdough production – from the creation of the sourdough starter, how to keep and refresh it, the making of the dough, how to not knead it (!), and what else to do with left over starter and how to adapt the basic recipe to make all sorts of lovely other items.

We spent an entertaining morning, with a mix of practical and demonstration activity, working our way backwards through the stages so that we could experience the whole cycle in the length of the lesson.

Vanessa explaining the sourdough process

Vanessa is great fun, chatty and encouraging, explaining the science of the process and regaling us with tales of her time working in a bakery in France. Elevenses of home-made Victoria sponge and sourdough scones kept us going, and we enjoyed a light lunch out in the garden, of fresh salad, enlivened by garlicky sourdough croutons.

One made earlier!

One made earlier!

Back to the kitchen we learnt how to make a sourdough starter, how to refresh it and to make our own bread dough to take away with us at the end of the day to bake the following morning in our own ovens. Vanessa also demonstrated other things to do with the sourdough mix – English muffins, Moroccan flatbreads, and peach and vanilla sweet muffins.  I left laden with goodies – my own sourdough to bake the next day, a sourdough starter, samples of “ready” dough to bake that night, a sourdough & poppy roll and a peach muffin.

I treated myself (yes, more treats!) to one of Vanessa’s many sourdough crock pots

My sourdough starter crockpot

– we were invited to rummage in a cupboard full of lovely and tactile baking items for sale – and a bamboo banneton basket for proving my dough in.

The journey home was somewhat epic, at four and half hours, but on arriving home I rolled out the extra dough and made a quick Pissaladière (Provencal onion, anchovy & olive topped bread) for my belated supper. Delicious.

Pissaladière

Pissaladière

Next day, I followed instructions and baked my very first loaf. Practice will improve it, I was a tad enthusiastic with the flour dusting on the outside but it tasted great. Hugely satisfying and, I hope, the beginning of my sourdough adventures.  In fact, whilst I type this, it’s time for me to go and do a little sourdough folding…

Ta-dah!!

Ta-dah!!

 

Rocky Road or Tiffin Bar?

Rocky Road or Tiffin? Strictly speaking it’s a matter of interpretation, though some sources suggest the difference it is the addition of marshmallows that turns a Tiffin bar into a Rocky Road one. Whichever is your preference, these sinfully rich fridge cakes of chocolate, biscuit and other assorted goodies are super easy to both make AND eat.

I’m placing the blame for this post squarely at the door of Daisies & Pie (@DaisiesandPieUk), a great blogger about food and family life who I follow on twitter. She recently posted a link to her recipe for Salted Pistachio Rocky Road Bars, complete with mouth watering pictures – go to www.daisiesandpie.co.uk for her recipe.

This got me thinking about fridge cakes and my favourite combinations. I’m not a fan of marshmallows but I do love salt and sweet together, so I was resolved to make a tiffin bar version.  I also wanted to have a go to see whether I could make this treat without breaking the bank. Toddling off to Sainsbury’s (it is literally opposite my house), I picked up their value range dark chocolate (still 52% cocoa), value range salted peanuts, value range unsalted butter, value range rich tea biscuits and found two bars of Walkers creamy toffee (not so much creamy, more toothbreaker but more of that anon). Total spend on ingredients £3.20. I already had golden syrup in my cupboard, but in the interests of costings, let’s add another 20p for that. £3.40 so far then. Once made, this quantity yielded 18 pieces, but could have easily been cut slightly smaller to get round 25. That works out at about 15 to 18p per piece. Cheaper than a chocolate bar and a lot tastier!

So the recipe below is for the salted peanut/ toffee combo I trialled, but I think I might change the toffee for chopped apricots next time. Despite being billed as “creamy”, this toffee needed serious bashing with a rolling pin to get the shards I wanted and even then, I’m a little wary of biting into the bar and losing a filling! I think I’d like to explore making my own caramel or using some of my vanilla fudge in this recipe too. I’ve also started thinking about cherries, almonds and coconut ice….

Totally Terrific Tiffin

Ingredients:

125g unsalted butter

300g dark chocolate

4 tbsp golden syrup

100g salted peanuts

180g rich tea bisuits

100g toffee shards

1/2 tsp of sea salt flakes

Method:

Line a baking tin with foil – 9 inch square ideal but if not a rectangular one of similar dimensions will do.

Put peanuts into a metal bowl or pan and bash with the end of a rolling pin or use a pestle and mortar to smash them up. Set half aside for topping the bars.

Add the rich tea biscuits to the bowl and batter them into rough chunks and crumbs with the rolling pin (or put in a plastic bag and batter). Great anger therapy this process!

Same with the toffee pieces – I found this was best done with the pestle and mortar. Toss peanuts, biscuits & toffee shards together. Set aside.

Break chocolate into squares into a glass or microwavable bowl. Add the butter, cut into slices, and the golden syrup. Pop in microwave on high in 30 second bursts until the chocolate and butter has melted together. Remove from microwave when there are still a few lumps of chocolate visible and stir well, they will melt. Alternatively, use the bowl over hot water method.

Pour half this molten chocolate sauce over the broken “bits” and mix well. Spoon into the prepared tin and smooth out using the back of a spoon. Press down well and don’t hang about – it’s already setting as you work. Pour over the rest of the chocolate and tilt the tray to get all the surface covered. Scatter with the reserved peanuts from earlier, and sprinkle with the salt flakes.

In theory, at this point, this goes in the fridge for 2 hours to harden before cooking. In reality, I stuck it in my freezer for 20 minutes before turning out and chopping… Greed is a marvellous impetus for improvisation!

Can honestly say that they are fantastic. Thank you Daisies & Pie for the inspiration and sudden expansion of my dress size…

picture of single tiffin bar

Terrific Tiffin

 

Marvellous Marmalade

 

picture of mansion house

Dalemain Mansion

Took a little road trip this weekend to the Dalemain Marmalade Awards in Cumbria (www.dalemainmarmaladeawards.co.uk). Established in 2006, these awards were set up by Jane Hasell-McCosh to promote the making and enjoyment of that now very British tradition of turning all kinds of citrus fruit into marmalade. Nine years on and what started as a small but quirky event has grown into an international festival, attracting entries from all over the world. This year over 2000 jars of marmalade made their way to Dalemain Mansion, where they were sorted into categories  e.g “Marmalade with interesting additions…” and separated into home-made, artisan and bed & breakfast/hotel makers.
jars of marmalade

Marmalade display

Judged by a plethora of respected foodies including Dan Lepard, Pam Corbin & Ivan Day, the entries  are tasted “blind” with no indication beyond the ingredients and name of the product on the jar to ensure absolute impartiality.

I have to confess, I had a specific reason for attending these awards as I had entered three jars in the artisan categories – whiskey marmalade, Seville marmalade with gin & plain Seville marmalade. It was my first time of entering, and it was more  in expectation of getting advice on my products (all entries get given tasting notes by the judges) then actually getting anywhere in the competition.  I was incredibly chuffed to be given a GOLD award for my Seville Marmalade, medium cut.

certificate

Gold Award Certificate

Grab Your Spoon's Seville Marmalade

Recipe:

Simple Seville Orange Marmalade:

1.5 kilos Seville oranges, washed.

2.2 litres (4 pints) water

2.5 kilos sugar

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Whole Sevilles in the pan

Put the oranges in a large saucepan and add the water. Simmer gently for 2 – 3 hours until the peel is very soft.

Remove the fruit, but DON’T throw the water away.

Let fruit cool til you can handle comfortably.

Cut the fruit in half and scoop the pips into a small saucepan, add 300ml of water and bring this to a simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain through a sieve into the reserved water from earlier. Squeeze as much liquid from the sieve as you can.

Meantime chop the peel to suit – thick or thin!

Put this fruit back into the large pan with the water and sugar. Stir well over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved.

Turn the heat up and bring to a fast boil for 10 minutes, then pull off the heat and test for a set – either: dip a clean wooden spoon into the pan, remove it and holding above the pan, twirl the spoon to cool it then let the marmalade ‘fall’ off the spoon. If the drops run together and form flakes that hang onto the edge of the spoon, a set has been reached; or:

The "wrinkle"

The “wrinkle”

chill a saucer in the fridge, put a teaspoon of marmalade on the cold saucer and let it cool for 1 minute. Push the surface and if it ‘wrinkle’, it has reached setting point.

If the marmalade hasn’t yet set, put back on the heat and cook for another 5 minutes and try the set again. Repeat as necessary but do make sure you take the pan off the heat each time you test the set or you’ll end up with toffee!

Let it sit a little, remove any “scum” (or froth really), by adding a small pat of butter and stirring to disperse the air bubbles. Letting it sit for 5 minutes or so before potting it also helps the peel to suspend in the jelly rather than sinking to the bottom.

Ladle into sterilized jars (fill jars with just boiled water, rinse out and leave upside to dry in a warm oven), and seal. Leave to cool before labeling.

This recipes makes about 9  x 340g jars or 18 190g jars.

Jars of marmalade cooling

Jars of marmalade cooling

Celebrate Welsh food!

St David’s Day is the 1st March, and a great day to celebrate the glories of Welsh food & drink. Whilst perhaps not having the most well known cuisine in the world, Wales can be justifiably proud of the quality of its produce. Welsh lamb is legendary, and their beef is pretty spectacular too.  A great chunk of Wales is coast, so not surprisingly, the seafood is excellent, often served with Laverbread – a type of seaweed, which is also added to a traditional Welsh breakfast. Sea salt, harvested in Anglesey, was recently given protected status by the EU, lining it up beside Champagne, Prosciutto di Parma and Stilton as a product  only allowed to be identified as genuinely originating in that region. Check out www.halenmon.com for details of their lovely sea salts, including  smoked, vanilla, celery & plain.

Cheese is another fabulous Welsh product – Gorwydd Caerphilly – a citrussy, mild cheese; Organic Perl Las – softly blue and creamy; Cenarth Brie – a buttery brie ; Snowdonia Extra Mature Cheddar – rich creamy & salty; & Harlech  – flavoured with horseradish and parsley; are just some of the delicious cheeses produced here. Have a look at www.liverpoolcheesecompany.co.uk for details of their Welsh selection. Of course, cheese leads me onto the wonderful Welsh dish – Welsh Rarebit aka posh cheese on toast.  I make it old school style, melted in a pan and then poured over the toasted bread and browned – see below for the recipe.

What would St David’s Day be without a leek? A traditional symbol of Wales, this lovely onion relative has a milder flavour and is the main component of the velvety textured Vichyssoise soup, made with leeks & potatoes and served chilled in summer. As summer is yet some way off, I’ve given a recipe for a hearty leek & potato soup instead!

Bara Brith is a traditional Welsh tea bread, made with dried fruit and tea, and sometimes yeast but I confess to a weakness for Welsh cakes, a sort of griddle scone with spices and fruit, best served warm with lashings of butter…

Recipes:

Welsh Rarebit

Ingredients:

25 g butter

25g plain flour

100ml strong dark beer (Welsh)

150 g mature Cheddar, grated (try the Snowdonia)

1 tsp English mustard (yes, English.. sorry!)

1 egg

Melt butter in a small pan, add the flour and cook over a gentle heat until it’s starting to go golden. Slowly add the beer, stirring well to prevent lumps, and then add the grated cheese. Take off the heat and stir until all the cheese has melted into the beery sauce. If it’s not melting, put back on heat but don’t let it boil. Add the mustard and mix well. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then add the egg, well beaten.

Toast 4 slices of bread on both sides, then spread the cheese mixture over the bread and put back under the grill until golden and bubbling.

Hearty Leek & Potato Soup

Ingredients:

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

3 large leeks, cleaned well (!) and chopped into quarters, then slices

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

900ml of chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/2 tsp if using dried)

salt & pepper

100ml double cream

Melt the butter in a large pan, and add the onion and leeks. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring to keep from browning, until the leeks and onions are softening. Add the thyme and chopped potatoes, stir well and add the stock and bring to a simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. Take off the heat and use a potato masher to break up and thicken the soup (you can use a hand blender if you prefer a smoother texture). Add the cream and adjust seasoning to taste.

Welsh cakes  (recipe from: www.visitwales.com/explore/traditions-history/recipes/welsh-cakes)

Ingredients:

225g plain flour

100g butter

75g caster sugar

50g currants (or mixed dried fruit)

½tsp baking powder

¼tsp mixed spice

1 egg

A pinch salt

A little milk to bind

Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter and rub into the flour. Stir in the sugar and fruit, pour in the egg and mix to form a dough, use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a biscuit. Use a pastry cutter to cut out rounds. Cook the cakes on a greased bake stone or griddle until golden. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle. Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter.

Sticky Ginger Cake

For those of you unfamiliar with the word, parkin refers to a soft textured cake flavoured with ginger, treacle or golden syrup and brown sugar. Particularly Northern in origin, parkin is made in Yorkshire – where it tends to be slightly drier in texture and is made with black treacle; and also in Lancashire, where it tends to be stickier and made using golden syrup. Here in Merseyside I’m really a Lancastrian plus I’ve only got golden syrup in my cupboard so that’s the version I’m going to make.

golden syrup tin, jug with milk, oats

ingredients

I’ve adapted this recipe from The Camper Van Cookbook by Martin Dorey & Sarah Randall.

Ingredients:

200ml milk
3 tbsp golden syrup
100g butter
75g plain flour
200g dark brown sugar
125g porridge oats
4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method:

Preheat oven to 150C/ GM2. Lightly butter a shallow square cake tin, approx 20cm diameter.

Put milk, syrup & butter in a small pan and gently bring to the boil, stirring until all the syrup and butter has melted.

Sieve flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and mix in the oats, sugar, and spices. Pour over the melted butter & milk mixture and mix well into the dry ingredients.

cake batter

Pour into tin

Pour/ scrape into the prepared cake tin and level the top. Place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool in the tin until completely cold. Cut into 16 pieces and put into an air tight tin or box. They will keep very well for at least a week, and actually improve in flavour and stickiness after a day or two!

parkin in tin cooling

Sticky ginger parkin cooling

 

 

Meantime your home, like mine, will be deliciously scented with sweet ginger baking. An instant mood improver!

pieces of parkin

Put the kettle on!