Black Forest chocolate brownies

Gooey, fudgy awesome.

Gooey, fudgy, awesome.

So yesterday was my first day back doing BBC Radio Leicester’s Food Friday show with Ben Jackson since my knee operation last month. I’m still wobbly and having to use a crutch or two but by far the most agonising thing has been not being able to stand up to cook. It still hurts but my body feels completely out of kilter and my mind suffers if I can’t spend at least a small amount of time each day creating stuff in my kitchen.

One of the positives of being on crutches is that I’ve had to get a cleaner to come and help me around the house, she’s all kinds of ace and as it turns out an awesome cake maker who was telling me about a Black Forest cheesecake she made recently, a lightbulb flashed on in my mind and these rather kickass fudgy brownies were created.

You can hear me making this, it’s only 11 minutes long, by clicking on this link where you will also find the recipe. We always have a blast in my kitchen and yesterday was no different, although he did edit out my “only special people get to drink out of Lady Diana’s cup” line….

What I also forgot about was the “surprise” that I mentioned in the clip, this is simply to swap the cherries for Cadburys mini eggs, perfect for Easter :)

Black Forest Chocolate Brownies (makes 12)

  • 300g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 250g dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 1 handful dried cherries
  • 2 handfuls walnut pieces
  • 1 capful vanilla extract
  • Pinch sea salt flakes
  • 80g plain flour
  • 360g caster sugar
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 x 400g can dark cherries in syrup, drained

For the glaze: (optional not essential)

  • 2 heaped spoonfuls morello cherry jam
  • 50ml kirsch or other alcohol such as dark rum

For the topping:

  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 3 heaped tablespoons mascarpone
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
Method:

  1. Heat oven to 180C. Put the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water and melt until silky and thoroughly combined then add the dried cherries and nuts.
  2. Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder in a separate bowl and stir to mix.
  3.  Add the flour mx to the melted chocolate and gently stir to combine then add the eggs and continue to mix gently with a spatula until it is all thoroughly combined.
  4.  Line a 25cm x 25cm baking tray with greased baking paper that overhangs by a few cm to make it easy to remove the brownie later, and pour in the brownie mix, scatter over half of the cherries and push them into the mix.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes (it will be quite wobbly, it will harden on cooling) then remove from oven and leave to cool completely in the baking tray.
  6. Put the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 4 minutes. Brush over the cold brownie.
  7. Remove the brownie from the tin.
  8. Beat the whipping cream until firm then ad the mascarpone and mix well, put it in a piping bag and pipe over the top of the brownie to cover. Decorate with the remaining cherries and a dusting of coca.

 

Hazy Breakfast Martini

Get your brunch off to the best of starts with one of these.

Get your brunch off to the best of starts with one of these.

Well it’s been quite some time since my last post as I had to take some time out, I’ve had knee surgery and since coming out of hospital 14 days ago I’ve been so foggy with painkillers and pain that the thought of writing a post was as daunting as writing a novel. I’m  still laid up in bed wearing a knee brace but on Sunday my friend Andy came round, so excited was I to see someone who didn’t work for the NHS that I created this beauty of a cocktail to celebrate.

This gem of a tipple will kick the ass of your hangover out the back door and pep you up a treat, where the traditional Breakfast Martini uses marmalade and gin I’m using a whisky marmalade and vanilla vodka, basically because I’m stuck indoors and can’t get out to buy anything but it turns out it’s WAY nicer to boot.

Ultimate Hazy Breakfast Martini (serves 2)

  • 1 large heaped tablespoon whisky marmalade
  • 70ml vanilla vodka
  • 50ml Cointreau
  • 25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Put a few cubes if ice into 2 martini glasses and top with water to chill down.
  2. Put the marmalade and vodka into a cocktail shaker and stir until dissolved.
  3. Add the Cointreau and lemon juice and fill shaker with ice cubes. Seal and shake until the outside of the metal shaker is frosted then discard the iced water from the martini glasses and strain the cocktail between them. In about 5 minutes you will feel pretty awesome.

Epic scampi sandwich with easy homemade tartare sauce

like a posh fish finger sandwich but better

like a posh fish finger sandwich but better

So last night I tweeted this pic of my dinner, a scampi sandwich with homemade tartare sauce and then was flooded with responses on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Some shocked that I would put scampi in a sandwich, which seems odd as they are perfectly happy with a fish finger sandwich, most now with hardcore cravings for scampi or fish finger sandwiches, but also many wanting to know how I do my tartare sauce, well I cheat.

If you want to make your own mayonnaise from scratch for this then Nigel Slater has a good recipe but if I’m having a scampi sandwich for tea it means I’m tired and time short and need some quick comfort food and not to be faffing about making my own mayo, which to be fair I never bother with anyway at the best of times.

Ingredients:

  • handful of good frozen whole tail scampi
  • few leaves of iceberg or gem lettuce
  • sliced cucumber
  • 2 slices of bread (don’t go posh here, go for a squishy one rather than crusty one)
  • tartare sauce (see below)

Tartare sauce:

cheats easy tartare sauce

  • 2 heaped tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 10 cornichons, chopped
  • 1 heaped tablespoon mini capers (the larger ones are too vinegary)
  • juice and finely grated zest of half a lemon
  • handful chopped parsley
  • half a finely diced shallot (I love onion in sandwiches)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic infused creamed horseradish (from The Garlic Farm)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch smoked sea salt to taste

Method:

  1. I prefer to oven roast my scampi to avoid an oily sandwich but cook as you prefer until golden and crispy.
  2. Make the tartare sauce by simply stirring everything together.
  3. Spread a layer of tartare on each bit of bread then a layer of lettuce, cucumber and then scampi, top with the other slice of bread, slice in half and behold the wonder of an epic scampi sandwich.

Winter salad of charred chicory with Wensleydale, hazelnuts, clementine, dandelion and fennel

Winter salads are pretty kickass

Winter salads are pretty kickass

Well it’s been ages since I’ve had time to post anything, I’ve been off gallivanting down in the South West rather a lot and dashing about working on lots of little projects. Christmas was a time of hedonistic indulgence, I’m still in Christmas mode to be honest, my tree is still up which means by Festive Rules it’s still fine to just eat cheese for breakfast.

I’m always finding chicory in the Reduced Section at the shops, people seem to be a bit nervous about using this bitter leaf, this works in my favour as it means they are always in cheap supply.

I like to use a crumbly cheese, creamy with a bit of tang, a good Wensleydale works really well, don’t go for the cheap stuff though as they have very little flavour. Feta works well as does a fresh ewe’s curd.

Ingredients:

  • leaves from half head of chicory, separated.
  • 1 tsp butter
  • juice from 1 clementine plus zest
  • handful hazelnuts
  • crumbled Wenseydale cheese (feta is also lovely)
  • few young dandelion and rocket leaves
  • fennel fronds
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • tiny sprinkle of smoked salt

Method:

  1. Preheat a non stick frying pan over a high heat, place individual chicory leaves over bottom of pan making sure they don’t overlap. Char then turn over and cook the other side.
  2. Add the butter and orange juice and swirl pan to coat, it will go sticky very quickly. Put leaves on a plate then add the hazelnuts to the hot pan and cook whilst swirling the pan so they heat and release flavours but don’t catch as they will taste bitter.
  3. Remove from heat, crumble cheese over leaves, add toasted hazelnuts, young leaves and finely grated clementine zest then season.

Orzo with muttchetta, cavelo nero and sprout tops

quick phone snap of muttony comfort food before it was wolfed down

quick phone snap of muttony comfort food before it was wolfed down

I’ve been all over the country recently, I was at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC in Birmingham last Wednesday then straight off to Cornwall to The Scarlet Hotel and Spa and the beautiful Tregothnan Tea Estate, posts about all of that coming soon but it has meant I’ve been snowed under catching up with work since I returned.

Yesterday I found myself sat at my computer at 4pm, freezing cold as I’d not lit the fires, in the dark as I’d been concentrating so much I hadn’t realised the night had arrived and most importantly, ravenously hungry as I’d still not had breakfast. This called for something quick, comforting and nutritious.

This dish is wonderfully comforting, the deep, sweet muttony flavour from the mutchetta coats every grain of orzo and the greens are delicately steamed to retain all their flavour, colour and texture. It’s a bit of a joy this dish and I’ll be making it over and over again.

Orzo with muttchetta, cavelo nero and sprout tops:

  • 1 handful diced muttchetta
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 handfuls orzo
  • hot chicken stock, enough to cover the orzo with about 5mm extra
  • 2 handfuls chopped cavelo nero, tough ends of stalks removed
  • 1 sprout top roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  1. Gently fry the muttchetta in a dry pan, it will release its lovely flavourful fat and when it starts to crisp add the onions and garlic. Stir to get everything coated in the muttchetta fat and cook until softened.
  2. Add the orzo, give it a good stir then pour in the hot stock. Cover with a tight lid, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for 4 minutes, no stirring!
  3. Scatter the cavelo nero and sprout tops over the orzo and recover with the lid, allow to steam for a further 4 minutes, still no stirring!
  4. Remove lid and stir, the orzo may have formed a bit of a crust at the bottom of the pan, this is a good thing in my book, like the crust on the bottom of a well made paella.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and dive in.

My sous vide cooking experiment: Week 1

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen me getting all excited about a new bit of kit that has arrived in my kitchen courtesy of Sous Vide Tools. Now if you know me in real life you will also know that it’s pretty much the only gadget apart from an electric whisk that’s now in my old cottage.

The chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association had a dodgy meat experience in Bangkok 15 years ago which was enough to turn him vegetarian, similarly 5 years ago I had a dodgy sous vide experience at a swanky hotel in Belfast that saw me declare sous vide as the death of cooking and never looked back.

So when I was asked if I fancied trialling some sous vide kit I knew they had quite a battle on their hands to change my mind. That hotel kitchen had ruined a perfectly good, carefully sourced bit of beef and turned it to textureless mush five years ago and it had put me right off. Sous vide was the Devil, right?

Well, it turns out that it’s pretty damn hard to screw up a steak using sous vide, you really have to go out of your way to do it to the point that I now believe it was some kind of deliberate, calculated meat hating vegan that prepared that steak. What that chef had done to that poor bit of cow I don’t know but I hope to their god he or she isn’t still doing it.

So last Saturday I headed off to Cambridge to meet up with Alex from Sous Vide Tools at the Steamer Trading Cookshop where he was running demos of the Thermo Circulator that I was going to be receiving. I told Alex about my “Steak from Hell” experience and he perked up: “Wait until you try this bit of bavette that’s been cooking for 29 hours” he said. Oh god, I thought, here we go again. Then, I tasted it. Oh, actually that’s beautifully tender with great texture and still pink, not tasteless mush AT ALL, and bavette, also known as flank steak is a really tough cut. Hmmm OK hit me with your next bit of wizardry Alex.

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Next up was a chicken breast, perfectly moist and intensely chicken-y and cooked in under 1 hour. So not everything takes DAYS? Ok, so it looked like everything I thought I knew about sous vide was actually totally and utterly wrong.

I was then off to eat lunch at Alimentum which holds 1 Michelin star under the care of Chef Patron Mark Poynton. What happened next was by far the most incredible dining experience I’d had since Comerc24 in Barcelona five years ago. His food made total sense, it was exciting, surprising and perfect in every way possible. One week later and I still think about a dish of pork, langoustine and caviar at least three times a day.

some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

Some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

I had arrived in Cambridge highly dubious about sous vide cooking and what benefit it could have for me in my own kitchen, I left in complete awe of Mark’s cooking and excitedly impatient for my kit to arrive on Monday.

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that's full of dinner rather than goldfish

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that’s full of dinner rather than goldfish

Monday arrived as did the kit, a Thermo Circulator, vac pac machine, bags and a big plastic container. You don’t actually need the container, you can attach the Thermo Circulator to a big stock pot or even a bucket. I unpacked everything and got straight to work, I filled it with warm water and got rid of my temperamental toaster to make room for it on the counter. But what to cook first? Something simple I figured, I had some bargain no frills Tesco carrots in the fridge, perfect. I peeled them, vac packed them and whacked them in at 85C for 30 minutes.

A simple test of the sous vide's abilities

A simple test of the sous vide’s abilities

I took the carrots out and popped them in the fridge for later. Reduced the sous vide temp down to 64C and decided to try my own chicken breast experiment:

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Sherry and porcini chicken breast:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 4 dried porcini mushrooms
  • a few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1 fennel frond
  • salt and pepper
  • about 60ml Amontillado sherry

Vac packed and in the sous vide at 64C for 60 minutes. During the last 20 minutes I returned the vac packed bag of carrots to warm up then just put everything into a bowl. Easy, ace, nutritious, packed full of flavour and boozy, whats not to love? I’d really like this on a bed of noodles or rice if I fancy a bit more carbs.

Some more recipes from those few days…

48 hour beef ribs in quince gravy:

About 6 mins of actual "work" to make this incredible ribs

About 6 mins of actual “work” to make this incredible ribs

  • 1 beef rib sawn into 4 pieces by my butcher
  • about 60ml port
  • few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 bayleaves
  • 1 teaspoon Dorsetshire Sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons homemade quince jam (you could use membrillo)

Put everything except the quince jam into a bag and vac pac. Sous vide at 64C (so I could also cook chicken at same time) for 48 hours. Open bag, remove ribs from liquid, pan fry in very hot pan to sear then remove and set aside under foil. Pour liquid from bag into pan, add quince jam, stir and and reduce until thick and sticky (about 5 minutes). Strain liquid over the ribs.

Whipped bone marrow butter with smoked salt:

This is something I’m REALLY proud of. It’s pretty awesome even if I do say so myself and I’m having it on everything, it’s magic butter, everything tastes better when smothered in it.

bone marrow butter

  • 4 Pieces of marrow bone about 4cm diameter x 7 cm tall (mine were straight out of my freezer)
  • 2 x 250g packs unsalted butter
  • few pinches halen Môn smoked salt (I like it salty).
  • (apple smoking chips and a smoking gun if you want to smoke them after)

Put the bone pieces into a bag and vacuum seal. Sous vide at 64C for about 2 hours. Pour into a bowl and chill in fridge to set. Meanwhile whip the butter until smooth and light. Remove any stringy bits from the marrow, break up with a fork and whisk into the whipped butter until thoroughly combined and fluffy, season with some smoked Halen Môn salt.

If you want to keep some and freeze some then portion off and roll into cylinders using cling film. Chill in fridge to set. Sous Vide Tools also sent me a smoking gun to play with, IT’S AWESOME, so I unwrapped a couple of the set butter cylinders and placed them in a big bowl along with some whisky (yeah smoked whisky rocks), covered with cling and smoked with some apple wood chips before re-clinging and returning to the fridge.

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

That bone marrow pasta dish is such a thing of wonder that I’m going to do a separate recipe post for it, it’s a heavenly, silky, meaty, carby delight.

So theres a few recipes from the last few days, I have a pork belly that was brined for 12 hours and bathed for 36 that is currently being pressed in the fridge and 6 hefty ox cheeks currently languishing at 60C for 48 hours ready for my birthday dinner party tomorrow. Oh and yeah there is also some gin being infused with apple and cardamom floating about in there. It’s brilliant. I love it.

Sous Vide Tools are offering a really incredible deal for readers of this blog, I NEVER do things like this but I’ve been so impressed with the kit that I am really happy to do this offer. Basically they are very generously knocking a whopping £100 off their usual price of £449.99 (incl VAT)for their Polyscience Creative Promotion. This is a saving of £100 on the normal package price and a saving of £121.77 on the items if bought individually so a brilliant deal! I’m totally thrilled about this! All you need to do is either call Sous Vide Tools on 0800 678 5001or email them at enquiries@sousvidetools.com and quote the name “HAZEL” for your discount. This offer ends December 31st 2013 so it’s the perfect Christmas present to yourself or someone you really like!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

I’ll keep posting my sous vide recipes that I’m working on, I’m still to do fish and desserts yet.They do wonderful things to eggs just look at this duck egg…

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

Halloween cocktail: Lychee martini

Halloween martini-1So it’s Halloween this week so what better excuse to make some frightfully potent cocktails? This is what I made the gin jelly worms for the other day, because you can never haver too much gin in a martini.

My love for gin knows no bounds

My love for gin knows no bounds

I am not a fan of vodka, I find it boring, give me a gin martini any day. I’ve also only gone and written a piece about how to make your own gin for Metro. DO IT, it’s SO easy and in just 3 days you will have the most deliciously aromatic gin you could imagine!

I use frozen blackberries as they help keep the martini chilled. You can put the blackberries in the lychees in advance then freeze them so they keep your drink super chilled without watering it down.

  • 60ml gin (my homemade one is heavy on the cardamom and works really beautifully)
  • 40ml lychee juice (from a tin of canned lychees)
  • 1 canned lychee
  • 1 blackberry
  • a few gin jelly worms
  1. Put the blackberry inside the lychee and freeze.
  2. Fill a martini glass with ice and water to chill it down
  3. Place the gin and lychee juice in a tumbler filled with ice and stir until thoroughly chilled, do not shake, you will water it down, just gently stir.
  4. Pour away the iced water and put some gin jelly worms in the bottom of the glass, pour over the gin and juice and garnish with the frozen fruit.

 

Gin Jelly worms

OK so i forgot to take a picture before I'd eaten pretty much all of them!g

OK so i forgot to take a picture before I’d eaten pretty much all of them!g

The other day I saw a picture posted of some jelly woks made using some straws. Hmmm I thought, what’s better than jelly worms? Jelly worms made of gin obviously.

These are really easy to make so long as you buy quite big straws, unlike my tiny thin ones, an evening trying to blow gin jelly out of a tiny straw made me very nearly pass out. Luckily this made me discover that you can actually just squeeze the worms out.

I opted for multi colour ones with some edible glitter in, just because I fancied something a bit jazzy as they were going to be going into a cocktail.

  • half of 135g pack red jelly cubes
  • half of 135g pack green jelly cubes
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 360ml gin
  • edible glitter optional
  • straws
  • elastic band
  • tall glass
I forgot to take a pic of the original but you get the idea from this as to how to do it.

I forgot to take a pic of the original but you get the idea from this as to how to do it.

  1. Put your red jelly cubes in a microwavable bowl with 100ml boiling water and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Add the gin and stir well.
  2. Gather up your straws in a bundle, pull the scrunch bit to extend them all, secure with the band and stand them up tightly in the glass.
  3. Carefully pour in your gin jelly mixture half way up then put in the fridge for an hour to chill.
  4. Do the same with the green jelly but add a bit of edible glitter too then pour it into the straws to top up. return to the fridge until set.
  5. To release the straws you can squeeze the jelly out from top to bottom.

How to make mutton bacon (macon) and mutton panchetta (muttchetta)

mutton panchetta

Out of the cure and up to hang

I love bacon, when dry cured and smoked by someone that cares it can be classed as medicinal. Many a hangover has been soothed and staunch vegetarian has been broken by some well loved bacon. I also love mutton, that deep extra “lambiness” of an animal that has spent a good couple of years gently grazing on good British grass can’t be beaten. Great mutton needs to be hung for a good three weeks though in my opinion so that it becomes tender, then you can cook it pink as you would lamb or hogget.

The highlight of my day was discovering how kickass the cured mutton breast was. Deep, intense mutton flavour with a sweet saltiness and full of the aromas, just wonderful and completely addictive.

I’ve recently returned from spending time at the amazing new countryside skills and cookery school that is Vale House Kitchen near Bath. I really can’t recommend this place enough, they teach everything from fly fishing and how to prepare, cook and smoke your catch to game shooting and its cookery, foraging, bread making, the works. I wrote about them for Metro  and I fell in love with it so much (do give it a read and you’ll see why I love them so!) I’m heading back soon to learn how to shoot, yep me with a gun, bring it on!

Me with the font of food knowledge that is Tim Maddams

Me with the font of food knowledge that is Tim Maddams

Anyway, whilst at Vale House I spent some time with their head tutor Tim Maddams who you will probably know from the River Cottage programmes. After our day spent trout fishing and smoking he then prepped a loin of pork to be turned into bacon and IT WAS SO EASY. I’ve been asking my lovely butchers at Derek Jones in Melton for a while now about getting in another mutton so I can make some mutton bacon, they wait until enough people ask then get one in and divide it up between anyone that has bagsied a bit. I popped in the other day to say “Hi” as I’d been away for weeks only to be told that they had 2 mutton breasts set aside for me for my mutton bacon experiment. Ace, it was serendipity and I was off!

muttchetta

Two breasts of mutton, deboned came to around £4 as it’s just £1.50/kg, another reason why this is bloody brilliant. For the cure I opted for roughly equal sugar to salt, I went with a mix of dark brown and light brown sugar as that’s what I had on the shelves. Herbs and spices wise I had left the fennel in the garden to go to seed and that needed cutting back so that mixed with various bits and pieces from the pantry was all I needed.

Ingredients:

  • 2 deboned breasts of mutton, total weight 2.4kg
  • 1.4kg salt
  • 750g dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 600g light brown soft sugar
  • 1 handful juniper berries, very lightly squeezed to open
  • 1 heaped tablespoon green cardamom pods (lightly crushed just to open)
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • stalks, trimmings and fronds of some fresh fennel from the garden
  • 2 tablespoons peppercorns
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1 sprig rosemary lightly bruised with a pestle to release oils
  • 1 small bunch fresh sage leaves lightly bruised with a pestle
Muttchetta

From left: the base layer of cure, after day 1, morning of Day 3

Method:

  1. Combine all the cure ingredients together in a big bowl.
  2. Thoroughly wash and dry the salad tray from the bottom of your fridge, yeah move those salad leaves and vegetables aside and clear the way for MEAT. Put a layer of cure mix in the bottom.
  3. Place one of the breasts on top and squish down. Cover with a layer of cure then put the other one on top and press down. Cover with another layer of cure so it’s completely covered. Don’t use all the cure mix though.
  4. Place in the fridge overnight. The following day pour off any liquid, flip the breasts around and rub more cure into any nooks and crannies, sprinkle more cure over.
  5. Repeat this the following day.
  6. On day 3 I felt the breasts were ready. They are only thin and they had firmed up nicely, if you have thick ones then you may need an extra day before this step. Rinse off the cure and pat dry. You now have mutton bacon, or macon. Fry a bit off and BEHOLD ITS AWESOMENESS.
  7. Weigh each piece and make a note of the weight. You can simply keep it as is and store in the fridge to cook as you please, as they are big I’d recommend cutting into portions and vac packing/freezing it to use as needed. I have however decided to make muttchetta so am air drying until they lose 30% of their weight. I’ve hung them in a cool place and will be keeping an eye on the weight loss until they reach 30%. I’ll let you know how I get on.
muttchetta

From left: rinsing off the cure, hanging the cured breasts, side view, cooking up some to try

The highlight of my day has been discovering how kickass the cured mutton breast was. Deep, intense mutton flavour with a sweet saltiness and full of the aromats, just wonderful and completely addictive. I’m hooked now, well and truly, I wouldn’t be surprised if over the coming weeks I attempt to cure EVERYTHING I can find. Watch this space.

 

100% spelt flour loaf (with 2 minutes of kneading)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetMy cottage is old, with thick walls and high ceilings, in the summer its wonderfully cool to the extent that during this August’s heatwave I found myself leaving the cottage dressed for a crisp spring day and would have to instantly turn on my heels once hit with the wall of baking heat and remove a few layers before attempting to start the day again. Where this is glorious during the longer days of the year it’s also pretty damn Baltic come the winter.

I have an open fire in the living room and a wood burner in the dining room, on cold days like today when I’m working from home I’ll get the fire lit as soon as I’m up and about and work from my laptop next to the hearth. Today was one of those days and not one to waste a “day fire” I decided to bake some bread and use the heat to help the dough rise.

I’ve never made a spelt loaf before but had a bag of flour kicking about in the pantry. I had to pop to Tescos to pick up cat food so went and spoke nicely to the bakers who kindly gave me a big block of fresh yeast “we only measure by handfuls, one or two?”.

I’m now a convert to spelt, the loaf is rich and nutty which works so well with the sweet aromatic honey plus, its almost got the texture of soda bread which I adore. Yep from now on this is the loaf for me. It’s not a sandwich loaf though this one, it’s definitely one for spreading with butter and jam or marmite with a nice cup of tea, preferably whilst still warm from the oven.

Spelt loaf recipe:

  • 500g wholemeal spelt flour (I just guessed half of the bag of flour)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 400ml warm water
  • a chunk of fresh yeast the size of two match boxes (I don’t have scales)
  • 2 tablespoons runny honey
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  1. Put flour into a big bowl, put salt on one side, make a well in the centre.
  2. Crumble the yeast into the water and stir until dissolved. Pour in the well, add the honey and oil and mix with a spoon.
  3. I keep the dough in the big ceramic bowl and just knead with one hand for 2 minutes then lift the dough out, oil the bowl, put the dough back in, cover with cling and sit it in front of the fire for half an hour.
  4. After 30 mins I knock it back, dust it with more flour then put it into a lightly oiled loaf tin. Cover with a layer of cling then back in front of the fire for another 30 mins.
  5. Preheat oven to 200C. Sprinkle more flour over the top of the dough then put in the oven for about 50 minutes or until cooked through out.

I scoffed about half the loaf instantly with salted butter and some homemade quince and vanilla jam. Laziest loaf ever.

Homemade quince and vanilla jam

Homemade quince and vanilla jam

Skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage – total comfort food

skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage-6

I’m on a bit of a veg kick at the moment, when I’ve got loads of work on I tend to cut out meat, pasta and potatoes as I find it gives me much more energy and focus. Every Sunday, if I’m home, I head to my local car boot sale to buy the week’s veg from Maureen and Bridget. I’ve spoken of these two wonderful ladies quite often on here, they live just over the border in Lincolnshire and Bridget grows the most impressive veg and Maureen is the queen of pies, fruit vinegars and lemon curd.

The weather is dreary and wet today which leaves me craving comfort food. Off I went as usual in the driving rain to get my veg and came back with a mountain for less than £10: purple cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, cavelo nero, green and purple kale, red cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, bunched carrots and tops (the tops make excellent pesto), green tomatoes and a net containing about 12 onions. You can also buy 15kg bags of local spuds for £3, these are vegetables of the highest quality picked just the day before and at a fraction of the cost from any supermarket/greengrocer/market trader.

Piles of incredible veg grown just a few miles away for less than £10

Piles of incredible veg grown just a few miles away for less than £10

My wonderful friend Ben Jackson told me about skirlie early this year when he was round recording Food Friday one morning. His grandmother would make it when roasting a chicken. It took me ages to track down the pinhead oatmeal, I finally stumbled across it in the butchers in Sturminster Newton in Dorset, huzzah! Never one not to make up my own recipe I turned it into a kind of rich oatmeal risotto using chicken fat and stock from the previous day’s roast chicken and instantly fell in love.

Skirlie purists look away now as this is my version and it’s the ultimate comfort food.

chicken fat skirlie

My chicken fat skirlie that made me fall in love with it

Ingredients:

For the skirlie:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 white onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 250g pinhead oatmeal (it HAS to be pinhead)
  • 50ml cream sherry
  • hot chicken stock (or veg if you want a veggie version)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp dried porcini powder (blitz dried porcini in a coffee grinder)

8 large savoy cabbage leaves

For the béchamel: (approx measures)

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 40g plain flour
  • 400ml milk
  • 1 tsp dried onion granules
  • 1 tsp dried garlic granules
  • 2 tsp dried porcini powder
  • few gratings fresh nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 handfuls finely grated strong cheddar cheese

skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to its hottest setting. Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water, a few at a time to soften them, if the stalk is very thick at the base cut this out. Leave them to cool.
  2. In a saucepan combine the butter, onion and garlic and cook gently just to soften, don’t colour. Add the pinhead oatmeal and stir well to make sure the butter coats everything.
  3. It’s basically like making a risotto now, add the sherry and some hot stock and stir,once that is absorbed add some more stock and repeat until you can drag a spoon through the mixture and it leaves a trail on the bottom. Add the thyme and seasoning and porcini powder, stir well. You want the oatmeal to still have a bit of bite to it rather than be completely soft. Once it reaches that point simply turn off the heat and leave it to cool a bit whilst you make the sauce.
  4. Make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter, add the flour and stir, cook for a couple of minutes then whisk in the milk, keep stirring and cooking until thickened then add the rest of the ingredients and cook for a further minute whilst stirring.
  5. To assemble take a cabbage leaf and a big dollop of skirlie and make a little parcel by folding over the top, then tuck in the sides and roll the whole thing up. Put in a roasting tray, repeat with the rest. Spoon over the sauce, grate over some extra cheese then roast until the sauce and cheese starts to turn golden.

Spiced roasted cauliflower leaves (and cauli dukkah pops)

Don't chuck the leaves, they are delicious!

Don’t chuck the leaves, they are delicious!

I’m pretty addicted to making cauli dukkah poppers at the moment, but quite often I’ve taken the outer cauliflower leaves off and either given them to the chickens or chucked them in the compost, never again.

Today I kept the leaves and added them to the spice mix and then removed them part way through roasting, they were amazing. The stalk softens, the leaves caramelise and the spices are warming and salty, they lasted all of about 5 seconds, just long enough to snap a quick pic on my phone and they were gone. From now on I’ll be choosing my cauliflowers based on those with the most leaves but if you have a market near you, you will find that most of the veg traders will have a box full of the cauliflower leaves that they have trimmed off and they give them away for free for people’s chickens, free food, aces.

  • 1 whole cauliflower with leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • pinch black pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tblsp super dukkah
  1. Preheat the oven to its highest setting, mine is about 230C.
  2. Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and divide the rest into florets. Put them in a large bowl, pour over the oil then add the spices and mix really well.
  3. Spread everything out on a roasting tin and put in the top of the oven.
  4. Roast until the leaves are burnt around the edges then remove and eat. Continue to roast the cauliflower until the florets caramelise around the edges and crisp up, you want them still to be a bit soft.

Ink cap mushroom pasta with pesto and kale and pistachio pangrattato

ink cap pasta with kale and pistachio pangrattato-1

 

It’s my favourite time of the year, mushrooms, fruits and berries are plentiful around our countryside and for the happy forager it’s most definitely a bountiful harvest this year.

When it comes to mushroom foraging you really do need to know what you are doing as it can be a dangerous game of fungi roulette if you don’t. This is why I really love the ink cap mushroom as it’s so distinct in its appearance. The only thing you need to be careful with when eating ink caps is not to consume alcohol with them as sometimes they can have quite an extreme and vomity effect. I’ve gotten away with adding sherry to mine on a few occasions but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it just to be on the safe side.

I’ve also got hugely into roasting kale recently and sprinkling it with homemade dukkah and basically just munching away on it or its also really kickass when combined with green tomatoes and  a duck egg.

I’ve been away for a few days working on some pieces for Metro down in Cornwall and Somerset so didn’t have much in the cupboards upon my return. I found some ink caps growing near my sister’s house so picked them before heading home and this is the resulting dish:

Ink cap rigatoni with pesto and kale and pistachio pangrattato

For the pesto:

  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 50g fresh basil plus stalks
  • 50g shelled pistachios
  • 50 grana padano cheese, finely grated
  • few good glugs extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the pasta:

  • 1 aubergine, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 8 ink caps, brushed to remove dirt and checked for slugs (they like to crawl inside them)
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • drizzle of oil
  • rigatoni pasta

For the Pangrattato

  • few handfuls chopped kale
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • two handfuls of chunks of stale sourdough bread
  • 50g shelled pistachios
  • seasoning if it needs it
  • glug of oil for frying

Method:

  1. Whizz up all your pesto ingredients in a food processor, loosen with oil until you are happy with the consistency and seasoning. Set aside (This will keep happily in the fridge beneath a layer of oil for at least a week).
  2. Put your aubergines and mushrooms on a roasting tray, scatter with the cilli and roast in a hot oven until cooked them remove and set aside.
  3. Make sure the kale is bone dry then roast in the oven for a few minutes until the edges are crispy but there is still a bit of softness in the centre.
  4. Blitz the pangrattato ingredients together until it is like breadcrumbs then heat some oil in a frying pan and fry until crunchy.
  5. To assemble simply stir the aubergine, mushroom and pest into the drained rigatoni and to with some of the pangrattato.
  6. Cook your rigatoni in salted boiling water until al dente.

 

Quick Chocolate Orange Brioche

chocolate orange brioche-1-2

Chocolate orange brioche has been my baking Everest. A few weeks ago I was asked to make a selection of pastries for Lord Hall, the Director General of the BBC, err.. hell yeah I’m going to do that! But what on earth was I going to make him?

I was working away for the week running up to the big day and only returned two days before it was all happening and I STILL wasn’t sure what I was going to make him. Then it all just popped into my head on the drive back to my cottage, he was going to be presented with Chocolate Chip Pecan Cinnamon Swirls (kickass), Banana and Bacon Mini Muffins (AWESOME) and…mini Chocolate Orange Brioche: basically food clouds of total JOY.

chocolate orange mini brioche

My lovely friend Amanda very kindly lent me her Kitchen Aid and I found a plain brioche recipe and away I went. I’m not used to using a food mixer, I always create my recipes using sight, taste and touch and a mixer removes the touch element of the dough so I put blind faith in the recipe I’d found. It didn’t work. I tried another recipe, that didn’t work either so I decided to go back to instinct and just make up my own quantities and hey presto, perfect brioche! I then tried my version a second time so I could write down quantities and made the loaf at the top of this post, perfect result so I feel I can now happily pass on my recipe. This is a fast brioche recipe, only let it prove for a maximum of 2 hours each time but it does mean you can have lovely brioche is super quick time.

Chocolate orange mini brioche (makes 24 muffin sized brioche)

  • 10g fast action dried yeast
  • 80 ml warm whole milk
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 5 duck eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 2 capfuls orange blossom water
  • finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 300g butter, softened and cubed
  • 150g dark chocolate chips
  • 1 beaten egg to glaze
  • finely grated zest of one more orange to sprinkle once baked
  1. Stir the yeast into the warm milk and set aside for 1 minute.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the flour and salt then add the eggs and yeasted milk.
  3. Fit the dough hook to the mixer and start mixing very slowly for about 5 minutes then scrape all the dough down the sides and mix again at a medium speed for 10 minutes. It may look a bit like cake mixture rather than dough at this stage.
  4. Add the vanilla, orange blossom water and zest and sugar and mix for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Whilst the mixer is still kneading add the softened butter cube by cube, very slowly, waiting for the butter to be thoroughly mixed in, once all the butter is in the mix increase the speed of the mixer to fast for about 7 minutes, the dough will make spider web patterns on the bowl as the gluten is all stretchy.
  6. Add most of the chocolate chips as the mixer runs and stop once they are all mixed in.
  7. Scrape the dough into a large bowl that has been lightly oiled (it will seem very wet compared to a bread dough). Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  8. Prepare your muffin tin. I prefer not to use muffin cases for this but to cut squares of baking parchment and press them into the muffin holes to make cases.
  9. Once the dough has risen cut half of it out of the bowl and put onto a lightly floured work surface. It will be very light and fluffy, carefully push most of the air out, lightly flour the dough to make it easier to work with, roll it into a sausage (about 30cm x 8cm) and then use a sharp knife to cut rounds of dough. Put each round into a muffin case then cover very loosely with cling film and leave to rise again for about an hour.
  10. Preheat your oven to 200C. Brush each mini brioche with the beaten egg and sprinkle over more chocolate chips. Bake for 10 minutes  then reduce the temperature to 180C and bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and zest the orange using a microplane over the brioche whilst still warm so the orange oils spray over the brioche as the zest falls. Allow to cool in the cases for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

If you want to make a large to make one batch of mini muffins and one large loaf then once you have divided the mixture into half lightly knock back the remaining half on a floured surface, sprinkle with extra flour to make it easier to work with then place into a lightly oiled loaf tin. Allow to rise covered in cling then bake at 200C for 10 minutes then 180C for about 45 minutes, if the top starts to brown too much simply cover with tin foil. If after 45 mins you remove it from the oven, let it sit for a few minutes for it to come away from the sides and gently lift the loaf out to check the base, if it needs more time simply pop it back in for a bit longer.

Wild hare and blackberry pie

Autumn's harvest in a pie

Autumn’s harvest in a pie

Well its’ been quite some time since I last posted anything, I’ve been really busy with my photography and doing bits with Radio Leicester (click to hear most recent recipe of chorizo sausage rolls and green tomato ketchup) and writing for Metro and then I acquired a stalker so this blog kind of took a back seat for a couple of months. But I’m back, and its Autumn so I’ve been busy foraging the hedgerows to make amazing blackberry and vanilla vodka and now this blackberry and hare pie.

We are very lucky here in Melton Mowbray to have a proper Farmer’s market, you can buy anything from a herd of sheep, a prize winning bull, a few ferrets, some shot game, foraged mushrooms, homemade butter and antiques and collectables. Its all there every Tuesday morning and costs very little indeed, except the prize winning bull that is.

I headed over on Tuesday morning with the intention of seeing what the game auction was like that day, its very hit and miss depending on what’s in season and what the weather was like for the shoots over the weekend. You can normally expect to see a couple of deer, plenty of pigeons, pheasants, partridge, rabbits, hares and wild boar plus mallards, geese, woodcocks and squirrels. This week though it was very quite, there were a lot of pigeon but they weren’t in top condition so I left those (they went at 20p/brace) and hung about for the mallard and hares. I was bidding against an old boy for the mallard but had set my max at £3.50/brace and it went on his bid at that so I came home with a couple of beautiful hares at just £5.

Skinning hares is very easy, if you fancy watching a brilliant video clip then I totally fell in love with this guy being all masterful with an axe in the woods:

You just need to be really careful whilst gutting them not to pierce anything as the smell is really pretty nasty. Go for hares with head shots so your meat is nice and clean and none of the internals have been punctured.

skinning hare

 

Two large hares left me with a great deal of meat that I butchered into legs and fillets and froze most of. I instantly fried off a bit of fillet nice and pink for a bit of a cook’s perk then got to work on this simple pie for tea.

Wild hare and blackberry mini pie  (makes 2 mini pies that each serve one person)

Ingredients:

  • about 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 hare fillets, sliced into bite sized pieces
  • a few tablespoons of seasoned flour
  • about 150g smoked pancetta cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • about 200ml of full bodied red wine
  • 2 handfuls fresh blackberries
  • a bit of sugar if the blackberries are not sweet
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • About 60ml hare blood (optional)
  • 175g puff pastry
  • 1 egg beaten
  • a few ladles of stock made from simmering the hare bones for a couple of hours

Method:

  1. Dredge the hare in the seasoned flour. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the hare, cook over a medium heat to brown and add the pancetta, cook for another 3 minutes then add the diced veg, garlic and herbs. Cook gently for about 5 minutes whist stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the red wine, bring to just boiling then reduce heat to a simmer,add the blackberries and some of the stock until everything is well covered, add the blood also if using and put a well fitting lid on, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hrs or until the hare has softened to meltingly tender.
  3. If the stew seems a little thick simply loosen with some more stock, season with salt and pepper and add a touch of sugar if it needs it, cook uncovered until you are happy with the thickness of the gravy then divide between two small pie trays.
  4. Preheat your oven to 200C. Roll out your puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut into two pieces big enough to cover your pies. Seal the sides and brush with the beaten egg. Make a little hole for steam to come out of then put in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is risen and golden.

 

 

Lychee and Rose cakes & Poppy Bumface gets stuck up a tree

lychee rose cake

Well my posts have been pretty much non-existent as I’ve been away travelling around the UK doing lots of photo shoots recently but I’m back at Wyldelight Cottage and back in my lovely tiny kitchen. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram (hazelpatersonphoto) will be familiar with my cats, Boris and Poppy Bumface. Poppy Bumface is a very strange little creature, mostly antisocial and with a voice like a drunken docker she’s more Oscar the Grouch than lovable kitty. She’s also never been allowed out of the cottage, up until last Monday that is.

The hot weather has meant that the cottage windows have been open and the ever resourceful PBF had managed to climb up and out of the living room window to the wilds of Melton Mowbray. For a couple of days she came back obediently when called, checking in every 20 minutes or so to make sure the cottage hadn’t upped and left it’s little spot tucked away in the town, all was good. Then on Thursday lunchtime she didn’t come back when I called her. I called and called but no little bell could be heard, no squawking meow. I went round the front of the cottage and could hear her crying. It took me a while to figure out where it was coming from but there she was, up in the big lime tree that grows in the park next to my cottage, she was about 17ft up and she was stuck.

lime tree

I called, I rustled her biscuits, I put tuna at the bottom of the tree and she just wouldn’t budge, she just cried. Now PBF is afraid of being alone, she cries if someone leaves the cottage to pop to the shop and she doesn’t like loud noises. I kept popping out to call her and see if she had moved but nothing. I rang the RSPCA and was told she needed to be up there for at least 24 hours before they will investigate. It was getting dark, the wind was picking up, the tree began to rustle loudly and sway and Poppy Bumface went from crying to howling with fear, it really was awful. I went round to the park (at this point I’m now in my Pyjamas), I’m rattling her biscuits and talking to a tree, it wasn’t my most attractive moment, tears welling up in my eyes and obviously having just split up with my boyfriend that was the exact moment he called: “sorry I can’t talk now I’m being a crazy cat woman in the park” is basically how the conversation went…

I didn’t sleep, her terrified howls carried straight through my bedroom window, in the morning I went out to see her. She’d now moved higher up onto a branch, not just any branch though Poppy had found a nice comfy nest to bed down in and there was a rather angry wood pigeon that wanted it back. There really was no chance of her coming down of her own accord, she just kept going higher and higher.

I rang the RSPCA again, she’s only a kitten and hadn’t had any food or water for 24 hrs now and her little voice had gotten so quiet. I was told to carry on waiting. I decided to bake some cakes for whomever managed to rescue her.

Lychee, Almond and Rose cakes (makes 10)

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 120g ground almonds
  • 120g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt (I use Halen Môn Vanilla sea salt)
  • 1 25g tin lychees, roughly chopped
  • 2 tblsp lychee juice

Lychee Rose Buttercream: (really approximate quantities as I just kept tinkering unit it was right)

  • 200g homemade butter (from Maria at Melton Cattle Market)
  • about 2 mugfuls of vanilla icing sugar
  • 2 capfuls rose water
  • 2 tablespoons double cream
  • 1 capful natural red food colour
  • 1 tablespoon lychee juice

To decorate: edible glitter, gold shimmer spray, edible flowers.

Method:

  1. Put the butter in a mug and microwave it for 30 seconds then leave to cool. In a big bowl combine the eggs and caster sugar and using an electric whisk beat until very light and getting quite firm (about 4 minutes on high power) then stir in the cream of tartar and vanilla sees and beat for another 30 seconds.
  2. In another bowl combine the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.
  3. Gently stir the cooled butter into the egg mixture being careful not to knock the air out then the butter, then carefully fold in the flour mixture then finally the chopped lychees.
  4. Divide the mixture between muffin cases in a tin and bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes or until skewer comes out clean when pushed through the centre. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
  5. Make the buttercream by beating the butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy then gradually beat in the icing sugar, add the rose and lychee waters and food colouring and continue to beat and add icing sugar. Add a bit of double cream and keep beating until the mixture is smooth. If it splits just add more icing sugar and bit of cream and keep beating. When the cakes are completely cool splodge a decent amount of icing on top then decorate.

So the cakes were made and Poppy was still up in the tree, except now she was so high I could no longer see her, I could tell she had climbed higher than the cottage roof as her cry was no so quiet. The old lager boys in the park came over to investigate clutching their cans of super strength beer, they wanted to climb up to get her, oh dear this was all going to end quite badly. I stood with them for about 20 minutes saying it was going to be way too dangerous, they were pretty adamant though. They all know mybothr cat Boris as he goes over and hangs out with them on their bench, Boris knows everyone, he has a better social life than I do.

Now at about 23 hours and after another call to the RSPCA Inspector Keith Ellis arrived, I could have hugged him, the CAVALRY! We stood in the garden and tried to spot her, after about 10 minutes she appeared, she was SO HIGH up now, perhaps 40 – 50ft, well above the height of my chimney on the roof, she was now out on a branch. Inspector Ellis called the duty fire chief from Melton Mowbray fire and rescue to come and have a look.

Fire brigadeThe chief arrives, he can hear her but not see her, he calls the truck to come to the park and the boys get out. They can hear her but she is so high up they can’t see her, they go and get the thermal imaging camera…

fire brigade thermal imaging

Then, they spot her. The chief thinks she is too high up to reach but they get the ladder anyway.

melton firemen

It’s pretty rare they do this kind of thing so they were saying that its actually a really good training exercise for them, this made me feel much better.

fire crew rescue Poppy Bumface

As thunder started to rumble a fireman named Dex suits up into a climbing harness and the rescue mission is underway. One of the guys (bottom left picture) mentions to me that when they are called out to talk down someone sat on the edge of a roof they send a fireman that smokes up, apparently most jumpers are smokers and the act of sharing a cigarette bonds the pair together which helps talk them down. He jokes that they should adopt a cat that climbs up and talks down other cats from trees, a smoking cat preferably. Boris volunteers himself by heading over to their equipment and watching on…

boris and firemen

Boris in the centre of the picture supervises the rescue…

Dex comes down the ladder for the grabber then heads back up feeling pretty confident he can get her. It was actually incredibly sweet as I could hear him meowing at Poppy Bumface :) Then I heard her bell and then very slowly Dex started to climb all the way back down clutching a very frightened kitten to his chest, I very nearly burst into tears.

Dex climbs down carrying Poppy Bumface

Dex climbs down carrying Poppy Bumface

And then after 24 hours stuck up a tree, little Poppy Bumface is down!

cat in tree, cat rescued by firemen, poppy bumface

Dex my absolute hero holding Poppy Bumface, RSPCA Inspector Keith Ellis on right

Hurray for Dex! Hurray for Keith, hurray for all the guys from Melton day shift Fire and Rescue, total stars!

2013-06-18_0009

So Poppy Bumface was rescued and the wonderful day shift from Melton Mowbray Fire and Rescue went off heroically with a tin full of the lychee rose cakes covered in edible glitter and flowers (and with 25% off a photo shoot if they wanted one for them and their families, although I’m totally up for taking pictures of semi naked firemen *if* thats what they really want!). Poor Inspector Ellis missed out on a cake though so I owe him one, everyone really was wonderful and yes Poppy Bumface is well and truly grounded for the foreseeable future….

Graze The Vale food festival in the Vale of Belvoir

graze the vale of belvoir

The perfect antidote to Sunday’s Melton’s Cheese fair at the cattle market was the very first Graze The Vale food festival that took place on the Bank Holiday Monday on the Belvoir (pronounced beaver *chortle*) Castle estate. Glorious sunshine and the beautiful location of Vale House were home to artisan producers of cakes, pies, chocolate, teas, organically reared meat and other culinary delights.

graze the vale

I took Glen along to help put up the Great Food Magazine gazebo as Matt the editor was away sunning himself on holiday, even Glen had a brilliant day out which is no mean feat for a sun shy grumpy old man ;-)

hartland pies graze the vale

I was over the moon to see Ian and Nic from Heartland Pies  which meant breakfast pies were in order. Heartland Pies are the only Melton Mowbray pork pie maker to use outdoor bred pork, their farmer is just up the road who rears all their pigs then Ian butchers them himself and then joined by wife Nic and sons Luke and Adam they turn them into wonderful pies. You’d be surprised how rare this is when it comes to Melton Mowbray pork pies who tend to use intensive farming systems for their pork, I long for a free range Melton Mowbray pork pie to come onto the market. Glen, who doesn’t even like sausage rolls, will happily snaffle up a couple of Heartland jumbo rolls which meant it was a porky breakfast for both of us. WIN.

graze the vale

Next to Heartland Pies was the Bluebird Tea Company who I rather fell in love with. They hand blend black, green, fruit, herbal and flower teas in all manner of incarnations. I bought their caffeine free rhubarb and custard and that was it for me, hooked. They are a young couple who are passionate about flavour and quality and even run a tea tasting club where you can get different teas posted out to you every month.

silvio graze the vale

The wonderfully exuberant Silvio was there with his Italian hog roast, Roast Events, this my friends was also really rather bloody brilliant, he marinaded the pig in herbs including fennel, garlic and onion and gently slow roasted it overnight, the stuffing was cooked in the perfumed rendered roasting juices and the crackling was crisp and addictive, yep, more aceness, more piggy delights.

coffee chocolate graze the vale

Not content with pies, teas and Italian hog roast I headed over to see Jerome who along with his wife run With Chocolate just up the road in Eaton. They source, temper, blend, design, package and produce the most heavenly chocolate, their banoffee truffle bar is a thing of absolute bloody beauty.

graze the vale food festivl

Picks Organic were there selling gorgeous meat reared on their farm or for something from a bit further afield there was kangaroo, elk and crocodile from their neighbour to get stuck into.  Thaymar ice creams were also there with their cute little van as were Sophie’s Flower Company and The Waltham Deli selling Hambleton Bakery pecan buns (AMAZING) and other hardcore indulgent delights.

graze the vale food festival

The beautiful Lara and her equally gorgeous Vale House which was home to the festival

It was a really chilled out, friendly festival, accompanied by great music (Edith Piaf and other sunshine happy music tinkled away in the background) and ace visitors and stall holders, the only thing missing was a beer tent but Lara is on the case for next year. Once the day was over and just us stall holders remained packing things away, Lara told us the news that not only had Silvio put a couple of legs of lamb in the hog roaster for everyone but she also broke out the ice cold beer and champagne from her own fridge, I bloody love this woman! As we all drank ice cold beer in the hot sun and chatted about what a fab day it had been I realised that it had been something really quite special, bring on next year :)

Melton Mowbray Cheese Fair 2013

melton mowbray, cheese fair

 

Last weekend saw the return of the Melton Mowbray Cheese Fair (I’d link to the website but it still only has a list of last year’s exhibitors), it’s actually billed as the “artisan” cheese fair but many of the exhibitors could hardly be called artisan, Long Clawson for example makes over 6,700 tonnes of cheese a year and I’ve worked in one of the other cheese factories that were there and they are about as far from “artisan” as you can get.

Artisan: (from the Oxford English Dictionary)

noun

  • a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.
  • [as modifier] (of food or drink) made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients: Britain’s artisan cheeses

There were much fewer cheese exhibitors this year, many of the artisan producers that were there last year were absent this time round bar a handful, but with the term “artisan” being used so loosely to include huge cheese manufacturers I don’t really blame them for wanting to distance themselves from something that devalues the true meaning of the word so carelessly.

I went along on the Sunday and was pretty shocked, not by the lack of small producers which I’d kinda expected but by the sheer rudeness of so many of the show’s visitors. It seemed entirely appropriate that it was held in a cattle market as people paid their £1 entrance fee many pushed and shoved and grabbed greedily at samples before just walking off. Everyone I spoke to in the days following the event said the same thing: “we saw people literally grabbing the knives off the tables and hacking lumps of cheese off from the producer’s tables and then just walking away.” It was depressing. Full credit to the traders though who I think must have all taken some super smiley pills because they were all incredible gracious and friendly in the face of such rudeness. I would have had people leaving my stall with toothpicks protruding from their eyes and hands after several hours of this so huge respect to all of them.

I gave up on moving around the stalls after my desire to whip out a cattle prod grew too intense and opted for a pint of Natterjack cider to calm me down, then an ale and watched the Melton Ukelele Orchestra who were absolutely ace, they played Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones and it totally made my day.

Things had quietened down a bit by then (perhaps the morris dancing had something to do with it) so I headed round the stalls to talk cheese. It was great to see David from Sparkenhoe there again (middle left on the picture above), THIS my friends is what Red Leicester is meant to taste like, its nutty, creamy, unpasturised and made on their farm using their own herd. Unsurprisingly the hands down flavour winners of the day were the unpasturised (raw milk) cheeses, of which I bought about 8 different ones (Keens cheddar, Chorlton smoked and unsmoked CheshireLaverstock buffalo mozzarella, Teifi’s Celtic promise, and 2 from the same producer whom I can’t remember the name of) which were all wonderful but my favourite of the day was Kent’s Winterdale Shaw which is Britain’s first carbon neutral cheese. Next time I’m down in Kent I’m going to head over to see them, they are a lovely family making great cheese using their own cows, just the kind of people and cheese that make this country’s food heritage something to be proud of.

There aren’t many photos to accompany this post as I pretty much just wanted to get out of there. It’s a real shame as it has the potential to be a good food fair, just drop the word Artisan or ONLY have true artisan products, get out of the cattle market and into a field with some marquees, have lots of other micro breweries, cider makers, artisan bakers, pie makers and celebrate food that is made with love and care and not forgetting MUCH more of the ukelele orchestra :)

Wild Garlic and Pistachio Pesto Stuffed Roast Pork Belly with Cider

wild garlic stuffed pork belly

Yes more ace wild garlic praise in the form of this wonderfully easy roast pork belly recipe. Pork belly is probably my favourite cut of meat when it comes to cooking for a crowd as it’s layers of tasty fat keep it moist during cooking and the skin crisps up to crackled piggy perfection.

Last year I made this for my friend Jess whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years, I basically rocked up with a crate of cooking gear at her gorgeous farmhouse in Dorset and we got hammered on wine, reminisced about our time at school in Colwyn Bay and cooked together, it was heaven. Jess has a big Aga which is perfect for cooking this in, just whack it in the hot oven for 30 minutes or until the skin crisps up then add the cider, cover and move to the gentler oven and leave for about 5 or 6 hours whilst you drink lots of wine. You can pretty much forget about it as it pootles along doing its own thing. I think I cooked for about 12 that night, none apart from Jess I had met before and we had the most fabulous boozy feast that lasted until dawn when Jess accidentally picked up a tube of Veet hair remover cream instead of toothpaste and brushed her teeth, OUCH (you can read more about Jess’s escapades in Dorset in her column for Dorset Life or on her the uncensored versions on her hilarious blog The Dorset Chronicles- Diary of a Farmer’s Wife).  The pork however was triumphant, it was an Oxford Sandy & Black pig reared by Jess and her husband Jasper, my god it was without a doubt the best pork I’ve ever eaten, I’ll never forget it.

Tilly, fox, bandit and frog hanging out by the Aga

Everyone gets to hang out by the Aga at Jess’s house, dogs, ponies and foxes…

You could use my recipe for wild garlic, hazelnut and smoky chipotle pesto for this, it would be all kinds of wonderful….

Ingredients: (serves 8)

  • 2kg pork belly (if you buy on the bone then remove the bone and use it as a trivet during cooking)
  • Sea salt flakes
  • bottle of good cider

For the Wild Garlic Pistachio Pesto:

  • 100g fresh wild garlic leaves, washed
  • 70g shelled pistachio nuts
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons good olive or rapeseed oil
  • zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, grated finely on a microplane
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 100g freshly grated grana padano
  • few grinds of black pepper
  • pinch of sea salt flakes

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to its highest temperature (around 230C). Using a sharp blade score the skin making sure you don’t go right through to the meat as it will cause the meat will dry out during the cooking process.  Pour a kettle of boiling water over the skin of your pork belly then dab dry with kitchen roll, rub in a good pinch of sea salt flakes and leave whilst you make your pesto.
  2. For the pesto simply pop everything into your food processor and blend until the pesto has a coarse but well mixed consistency.
  3. Lay your pork belly skin side down then spread your pesto over the meat. Roll and tie tightly using butchers string every 2 inches.
  4. Lay your joint in a roasting tin (on the bone trivet if you have it) and roast for 20-30 minutes to get the crackling nice and crispy then turn your oven down to 150C, pour the cider around the joint, cover with foil and continue to gently cook for a further 3 hours. If your crackling needs crisping up a bit just whack the oven back up to full for the last 20 minutes.
  5. Remove the joint from the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Bubble the pan juices on the hob to reduce and concentrate, season if need be then pour into a jug be served with dinner.

Wild garlic, hazelnut and smoky chipotle “pesto”

wild garlic hazelnut chipotle chilli pesto

 

I don’t think that there is any season that I look forward to more than wild garlic season, and this year’s bitterly cold weather and delayed arrival has made it all the more eagerly awaited and welcomed with pretty much fanatic gusto.

This wild garlic recipe is not only a brilliant way to celebrate it’s arrival but it also freezes really well so I make plenty and divide it between freezer bags and lie them on top of one another in the freezer so I can defrost a portion at a time.

You could add some hard cheese to this if you fancy, a good hard British goat’s cheese finely grated in would be delicious but I like to keep it very simple and then I can always grate some over the finished dish. I had a big bunch of parsley so threw some of that in too, it’s said that eating parsley after garlic kills and bad breath but I happily honked of garlic for the rest of the evening.

Use this stirred into pasta, smear all over the inside of a  joint of pork belly and roll and roast, stir it through some creme fraiche or mayo for a dip or just eat it with a spoon, this is in your face ace.

wild garlic chipotle homemade pappardelle

Stirred through homemade duck egg pappardelle and garnished with the petals from violas I was dead-heading in the garden

Ingredients:

  • 200g wild garlic leaves, washed
  • 100g parsley (mellows the garlic slightly)
  • 100g hazelnuts
  • 3 chipotle chillies (Edible Ornamentals are British grown and kick ass)
  • big pinch sea salt flakes
  • big pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • enough good oil to get a good consistency (around 100ml ish, I use Cotswold Gold E.V rapeseed oil as it’s wonderfully nutty

Method:

  1. Just put everything in a food processor except the oil and blitz, as the machine goes drizzle in the oil until you are happy with the consistency, taste and adjust seasoning if need be. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before using so that the flavours develop.

 

Vietnamese Pho (almost)

vietnamese beef tendon pho

After the massive success of my braised beef tendons I was left with the wonderful braising liquor that was flavoured with spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel and garlic and thickened with the deeply flavoured tendons. The Vietnamese noodle dish Pho instantly sprang to mind so I threw together this very quick supper the following night. It’s not a totally authentic version but it was absolutely delicious.

Ingredients: (made 2 big bowls)

  • 300ml Beef tendon stock (approx)
  • 100ml chicken stock (to top up the beef stock but if you have lots of tendon stock left you won’t need it)
  • glug of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 3cm piece thinly sliced fresh ginger cut into matchsticks
  • leftover beef tendon cut into small pieces
  • flat rice noodles
  • thinly sliced raw sirloin

To garnish:

  • thinly sliced red chilli
  • bean sprouts
  • mint
  • coriander
  • thinly sliced red onion
  • wedge of lime

Method:

  1. Combine the stocks in a saucepan and simmer, add the ginger, fish sauce, palm sugar and continue to simmer for a few minutes.
  2. Place noodles in a big bowl and top with sliced sirloin and beef tendon, add a handful of bean sprouts then pour over the stock then sprinkle over your garnishes and dive in.

 

Braised Beef Tendons with sticky Jasmine Rice & Pork Floss

Chinese braised beef tendons, pork floss

Cooking on a tight budget means you have to be a bit creative with your dishes such as using cuts of meat that most people overlook like awesome cow arse steaks, pigs head terrines, chicken wings/feet etc and now ladies and gentlemen it’s the turn of the humble and glorious beef tendon.

My wonderful butchers at Derek Jones in Melton Mowbray are used to me wanting bits of animals that usually go into the trim bins for mince/brawn etc and so last week when I asked them to  keep aside the beef tendons they couldn’t help but laugh as they normally go into the bin for the dogs. A visit to my butchers just wouldn’t be the same without them taking the piss in the way good butchers do :) . Seriously, use your local butcher, they will look after you, share their knowledge (and jokes) and your kitchen will be all the better for it.

Asian countries are much less squeamish about which parts of animals are deemed “acceptable” to eat, and as a result enjoy so many more delicious morsels than the average UK shopper. Tendons are forthcoming in their generosity, when slowly braised in stock they not only soften to meltingly sticky, deeply flavoured delights but they release the most wonderful flavour and gelatine into the stock that makes it silky and with a depth of flavour that just can’t be beat.

Some of the ingredients you might not recognise, I pick everything up from my local Asian supermarket in Leicester which I love. Whenever I’m there I also buy 1 new ingredient that I have no idea what it is or how to use it and just experiment when I get home. The remaining braising liquid will set overnight, you can cut it into pieces and freeze separately to add to your Chinese cooking to give a wonderful flavour boost or we made a pho the following day.

Beef tendons

Raw tendons on left and in the stock on right

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 4 beef tendons
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 tsp Chinese 5 spice
  • 1 tablespoon dried garlic slivers
  • 1 heaped tablespoon hot fermented broadbean paste
  • 4 tablespoons Datu Puti (hot spiced chilli garlic vinegar from the Philippines)
  • 5 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • water to cover

To serve:

  • white rice
  • 1 jasmine tea bag
  • french beans
  • drizzle toasted sesame oil
  • crispy fried shallots
  • black sesame seeds
  • pork floss
  • wedge of lime

Method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the tendons for 2 minutes. Remove tendons, discard the water, clean the pot then return tendons to pot with the rest of the ingredients and top up with enough water to cover everything by about 1 cm.
  2. Cover and simmer for about 3-4 hours or until the tendons have reached a consistency you are happy with (some Chinese restaurants will cook them for 7 hours). Taste and add a bit more sugar/soy if needed.
  3. Make your rice using the absorption method adding the intact teabag to the rice pot to infuse the rice with its jasmine scent.
  4. Cook the beans for just a minute or so in boiling water ( I like mine just barely cooked)
  5. To serve simply slice the tendons into bite sized pieces and place on top of your rice, spoon over some of the braising liquid. Drizzle a bit of sesame oil over the beans, sprinkle with the sesame and crispy shallots and then top with some pork floss. Squeeze a bit of lime juice over the tendon.

Pea and Bean Salad with Orange Blossom Dressing

pea and bean salad with orange blossom dressing

I always have a bag of frozen peas in the freezer for perking up pasta dishes, fried rice or alongside a bit of buttered fish but I also really love them raw in salads. I got into using french beans in salads last summer when I had a bit of a glut and made a gorgeous yellow courgette and french bean salad, sadly we are still a long way from any beans being ready to harvest in my patch yet but a bag of frozen ones has stepped up and has me feeling that Summer may not be too far away, hell even my mint has poked it’s way through the soil.

Ingredients:

  • 1 romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
  • handful of rocket leaves
  • half a red onion, very thinly sliced
  • few mint leaves
  • handful finely grated celeriac
  • 1 mug full of peas (frozen ones defrosted in water and drained)
  • 1 mug of french beans (as above)
  • few petals of edible flowers, I used frilly pansies
  • 1 tablespoon salad sprinkle mix (I used Spiceway’s Salad Sprinkles)
  • 1 handful shelled pistachios
  • 1 teaspoon blue poppy seeds

For the dressing:

Method:

Simply combine the salad ingredients, whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the salad just before serving.

Fiery Celeriac Salad

fiery celeriac salad

The first sunny weekend in weeks has been glorious, clear skies and warmth on my face as I clear away the dried leaves from the garden has nudged my tastebuds into craving salads. Celeriac is still going strong in the garden and this quick salad makes a potent accompaniment to some hearty burgers, steak or cold cuts.

Ingredients:

  • half a celeriac, peeled and turned into matchstick size pieces (I use my V-slicer mandolin)
  • 1 tablespoon hot English mustard
  • 2 tablespoons nutty rapeseed oil (I use Cotswold Gold)
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon blue poppy seeds
  • 1 capful orange blossom extract
  • salt and pepper

Method:

Put the celeriac into a bowl. Mix together the remaining ingredients and add to the celeriac, combine well, leave to infuse of about 10 minutes.

 

Salted Caramel & Vanilla Panna Cotta “boiled eggs” for Easter

Easter panna cotta salted caramel egg-5

Happy Easter! I decided to try something a bit different this year that incorporated one of my all time favourite things: salted caramel. Panna cotta is one of the easiest desserts to make, the only tricky bit of this recipe is actually peeling the duck eggs.

I did a few different experiments ranging from the REALLY easy (simple moulded vanilla with salted caramel topping) to the slightly trickier panna cotta with hidden salted caramel  centre. We are very lucky here in Melton Mowbray to be able to get hold of fresh duck eggs very cheaply so I used those as the white shell looks fab. You can use any egg shell though, sadly my chicken doesn’t lay those very pretty pastel blue eggs otherwise I would have used those.

This recipe makes a nice big jar of salted caramel sauce that will keep nicely in your fridge for a couple of weeks, not that it will last that long as it’s highly addictive.

The easiest of the lot is to make a simple vanilla panna cotta:

vanilla and salted caramel panna cotta

Ingredients:

  • 350ml double cream
  • 250ml full fat milk
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 vanilla pods, split and seeds removed
  • 3 1/2 sheets gelatine (if making the “boiled eggs” use 4 1/2)

Salted Caramel Sauce:

Method:

  1. Pop the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water to soak. Put the cream, milk, sugar, vanilla seeds and pods into a saucepan and heat gently until it simmers then remove from heat.
  2. Squeeze any excess water from the gelatine sheets then stir them into the cream mixture until completely dissolved, remove the vanilla pods, pour into ramekins and put them in the fridge to set for about 2 hours whilst you make the caramel sauce.
  3. Put the butter, sugar and water into a saucepan over a low heat. It’s important that you don’t stir it, simply swirl the pan to mix everything and agitate it every now and again, it will start to bubble and get darker. After about 3 -4  minutes of bubbling very quickly whisk in the double cream and add the salt. Taste and add more salt if needed (If you want a darker caramel let it bubble longer before adding the cream).
  4. Once the panna cottas have set simply turn out onto a plate, top with a dollop of caramel sauce and a few more flakes of vanilla sea salt. If you are having trouble getting the panna cotta out of the ramekin just pop it in a bowl of boiling water for about 10 seconds to loosen the sides and turn out.

Easter panna cotta salted caramel egg-6

Now, if you wanted to make the ‘boiled eggs”:

  1. First you need to remove the tops from your duck eggs, this recipe makes about 12 eggs.
  2. egg cutters

    I picked this little gadget up for 99p and have FINALLY found a use for the bloody thing. It neatly nips the top of a raw egg.

  3. Pour out the raw egg into a bowl and put in the fridge to use for something else (I made kickass duck egg pasta).
  4. Make the caramel sauce and panna cotta mix as above using the extra gelatine sheet.
  5. Pour the panna cotta mixture into each egg (stand them in the egg tray to keep them nice and upright). *If you want a hidden yolk see note below.
  6. Place in the fridge to set then scoop out a small bowl in the centre of the panna cotta and fill with caramel sauce, sprinkle with more vanilla sea salt so it looks like salt and pepper

*OR  if you want a hidden yolk like the egg on the right in the above pic, carefully peel the shell away from the egg turn upside down so you get the vanilla seeds on the top, carefully slice the top off then scoop out a little bowl in the centre, fill with sauce and replace lid.

This also gives me an excuse to pop a clip of a panna cotta wobble I filmed when I made my coconut panna cotta for Domestic Sluttery last year:

Easy Easter Baking: Chocolate Mini Egg Swirls

 

Easter mini egg swirls

I love chocolate mini eggs and I REALLY love the fact that Easter means that they’re usually on special offer, I even love them enough to want to get the pastry out and get baking.

If you haven’t bought the book Bread Revolution by Thoughtful Bread yet or borrowed it from the library then I highly recommend it, thanks to that ace book I made the best cinnamon swirls ever which were my inspiration for these little beauties.

Instead of making a dough I just bought a pack of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry, it cost just £1 and was brilliant, life’s too short for making your own puff pastry I reckon.

Ingredients: Makes about 10 swirls.

  • 150g soft brown sugar (I used dark)
  • 100g plain flour
  • 120g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 1 x 375g pack ready rolled puff pastry
  • 300g chocolate mini eggs
  • milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Combine the sugar, flour, butter and ground almonds in a food processor and blitz until completely mixed and powdery.
  2. Lay out the puff pastry, brush with some milk then cover with the flour mix then dot with the mini eggs.
  3. Roll up the pastry very tightly and brush the ends with more milk to help the seams stick, then using a very sharp knife cut a thick slice (about 3cm thick) then use a second knife to help transfer the slice onto a baking paper covered roasting tray. Repeat leaving about 3cms around each round.

Easter chocolate mini egg swirls5. Bake for 15minutes on the middle shelf then reduce temp to 180C and continue to            cook for about 8-10 minutes or until pastry is lightly golden. My oven is really  temperamental so just keep an eye on the first batch. Once cooked transfer onto a cooling rack, dust with vanilla icing sugar whilst hot then once again when cold if you have any swirls that made it that long without being snaffled.

Easter chocolate mini egg swirls

Great to make with kids over Easter

Lick The Spoon – Easter eggs that are really rather special…

lick the spoon easter eggsOh my, these really are rather wonderful indeed. I’ve been meaning to go and visit Lick The Spoon chocolatiers for about a year now as they are based about 2 minutes walk from my sister’s house down in Corsham, Wiltshire. I live about 3 hours away (sadly) and finally managed a visit last time I was down, Lick The Spoon chocolate is now yet another reason to move back home to Bath.

Like many artisan producers Diana started the business from her kitchen table. Having spent many years cheffing her way around Europe and working her way up to Head Chef, she met her husband Matthew, started her family and Lick The Spoon was born.

Diana’s passion for high quality ingredients is evident the moment she starts chatting, she sources the best cocoa from producers such as the truly wonderful Grenada Chocolate Company who are completely organic and even run their machines using solar energy (I love them and their chocolate) and Willies Cacao in Venezuela (my other absolute favourite). Diana then blends her couvertures to compliment the ingredients she is adding to each particular product:

“I adjust the blend depending on which items I’m making…for example, the wonderful fruitiness of the Madagascar blend is a dream with orange or raspberry but doesn’t work with mint and the subtle dried fruit richness of the Grenadan is perfect in rum & raisin…I always develop my recipes to make the best of the couvertures. It’s an ongoing process of course, because cocoa is a natural crop and there are fluctuations in flavour, so I taste test from time to time (hard job!) to make sure the blends are as I expect.”

lick the spoon salted caramel eggs

 

It’s a dream job basically! Diana gave me a pack of her salted caramel mini eggs to try which were rather special. The thin layer of milk chocolate snapped perfectly as I bit in to reveal a soft, luxuriant caramel filling. I think they could be a bit braver with the salt though but otherwise it really was absolutely divine.

lick the spoon milk honeycomb egg

 

Next up was a rather magnificent looking honeycomb Easter egg.  Extra thick chocolate embeddded with big pieces of honeycomb make this an egg for serious chocolate eaters. The chocolate had a perfect snap and melted silkily in my mouth to leave big chunks of homemade honeycomb that still had that lovely sizzle as it hits the tongue. Bloody splendid stuff.

lick the spoon

Just look at that thick chocolate and honeycomb…*drool*

Lick The Spoon have a shop in Cirencester but you can find their chocolates in luxury London shops such as Harrods, Liberty, Selfridges, John Lewis, Harvey Nicks and various farm shops and delis across the country. I highly recommend popping into Dick Willows Cider farm, just outside Bath where I first discovered them, and stocking up on some scrumpy and chocolate :) or you can buy direct from Lick The Spoon’s online shop.

Each of their chocolates is decorated by hand by one of the chocolate makers, who really are chocolate artists. Check out these incredible edibles:

lick the spoon

 

Great handmade chocolate made using the best quality ingredients doesn’t come cheap, and it shouldn’t come cheaply either, but if you want to spoil someone (or yourself) then I absolutely recommend shelling out (geddit? I’m HILARIOUS *ahem*) for a top quality Easter egg from Diana and Matthew.

 

 

 

Wine to drink with dark chocolate

cafe cabernetEaster is on the horizon which for many people means time to gorge on as many chocolate Easter eggs as possible. It’s always at Easter time that I really miss Woolworths, well Easter and the beginning of September, three things Woolies were ace at: back to school stationary, pick n’ mix and Easter eggs, their Easter egg aisles seemed to go on forever…

Wine and chocolate matching divides many people, there is so much snobbery about wine but like any 2 ingredients that vary so much in flavour there are good pairings and bad. When I received an email asking me if I’d like to try out a wine created with the intention of being matched with chocolate my interest was definitely peaked. Linton Park Wines are the team behind the South African Café Cabernet, they set about creating a wine specifically to match well with very dark, bitter high cocoa (70% and above) chocolate and you know what, it’s a good pairing. The wine arrived in a gorgeous box with a bar of 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate that had been blended in Belgium. The matt black bottle was pretty striking and even elicited a “nice bottle” from my wine hating boyfriend Glen, which definitely took me by surprise.

cafe cabernet

I love my reds to be so dark and concentrated that you can’t see light through the glass – the big hitters that reek of tobacco and stain your lips like you’ve been blackberry picking after just one sip.  I also like a really gentle hint of sweetness in there but the general rule of thumb is not to drink a wine thats sweeter than your chocolate, so this dark, brooding cabernet needed to be dry as a bone to compliment the bitter dark chocolate that I was nibbling on, and dry it was.

This is definitely a food pairing wine for me. When food and drink pairs well their sum is so much greater than its parts. Alone the wine, although having plenty of blackcurrant fruit and mocha spice that I love was just too dry for me to drink alone but paired with the bitter dark chocolate it became a much happier, smoother, well rounded creature all together, think really well made Italian espresso. In the name of science I decided to test the wine with a different chocolate and the dark chocolate with a different red…

cafe cabernet

Science in action….

Paired with a sweeter, creamier chocolate it’s a terrible clash, this baby needs the high cocoa bitterness to really shine, the touch of sweetness the bitter chocolate brings completes the pairing. Likewise the bitter chocolate when eaten with a sweeter, jammy Malbec was just plain wrong, the chocolate needs the dry cabernet, it really was quite striking how different the 2 wines were with the same chocolate. The sweeter chocolate and Malbec were equally brilliant together also which goes to show all those people who exclaim that you can’t pair wine and chocolate just haven’t paired the right ones.

Dark, bitter, high cocoa solids chocolate is said to be good for you as is a glass of good red wine (unless of course you read the Daily Mail which basically insists EVERYTHING gives you cancer, seriously stop reading that paper, you will feel all the better for it). When you find a happy couple that compliment each other then surely your entitled to call it medicinal to enjoy a few nibbles and sups….. *doctor face*

Cafe Cabernet also turned out to be a bloody brilliant match with our dinner that night, I’d made a spicy, tomato based creole chicken curry, not an easy wine match but Café Cabernet stepped up and nailed it, more plus points.

When it comes wine I very rarely buy one that needs to be drank alongside anything more than a cigarette but you know what, I’d definitely make an exception for this one as it gives me the perfect excuse to indulge in some really good chocolate too :)

You can pick up a bottle for £8.98 from The Drink Shop.

Triple Chocolate Fudge War Cake

Yes, it's actually cake

Yes, it’s actually cake

Yesterday was Glen’s 40th birthday and as he has been dreading this for the last 10 years I decided to make him a rather special cake. Now I hate baking cakes and I REALLY hate baking sponge cakes, they are fickle things that don’t like to be fiddled with and the science behind getting them to rise and stay there often goes against all my natural “bit of this, dollop of that” instincts.

Cakes for people who hate baking have got to be pretty kickass in some way as an incentive to actually bake the bloody things. For me this is usually achieved by packing them full of booze and making them ridiculously easy to make, unfortunately I had no booze and all I had decoration wise in the pantry was some crystallised flowers and edible glitter, not exactly the butchest of decorations, so I popped out and bought a bag of toy soldiers instead, aces.

This cake wasn’t without its disasters though, the first one I accidentally made using plain flour instead of self raising so I ended up with an extra flat cake layer (see below pic) to stick on the top (bonus).See, nothing bad really happens when you screw up a recipe as long as the ingredients are nice, and cooked then it will be fine :) . Halfway through baking I also realised I had no icing sugar for the fudge topping so whizzed up my own by sticking some vanilla pod caster sugar in my trusty coffee grinder- forget regular icing sugar, this is the way forward. Now vanilla pod icing sugar does have a brown “heroin-y” tint to it thanks to the dark sticky vanilla seeds and it’s probably just as addictive (not really, and I don’t advise substititing smack for icing sugar either).

I posted the recipe for my Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake over on DomesticSluttery.com, it’s dead simple so you can have lots of fun with the decorating :)

triple chocolate fudge cake

Follow the recipe on Domestic Sluttery to get the cake to this stage then get all creative…

I picked up a bag of toy soldiers from Co-op for 50p, they have little plastic bases that just needed a camouflage smear of fudge icing before being positioned, a few more Minstrels served as rocks…

 

triple chocolate fudge cake soldiers 3

Then I gradually built the terrain with freshly grated Willies solid cacao bar as soil/leaves…And then a dusting of the vanilla icing for snow…

triple chocolate fudge cake 5

 

My mind created entire scenarios and personalities for them  by the time the cake was finished…

chocolate fudge cake2

 

I may have gotten as little carried away with my iPhone…

Defend the CAKE!!!

Defend the CAKE!!!

So there you go, ways to make cake making more fun…cover them in still life scenes.

Chilli Cheese Profiteroles with Chicken Fat Porcini Béchamel Filling

The secret is all in the rendered chicken fat...

The secret is all in the rendered chicken fat…

Savoury profiteroles are my new friend. Yesterday I picked up a kilo of spring onions from the reduced section of the supermarket for just 65p which suddenly meant I needed to make lots of spring onion recipes. Cheese and onion is one of my favourite pairings and as I was looking along the spines of my cookbooks for inspiration I clocked my Secrets of Eclairs book, eureka! Savoury Choux bites! I spent the entire day making lots of different variations, the base of this recipe I created for my Chilli Cheese Bites recipe for Domestic Sluttery and then tweaked it to make these profiteroles.

Now this filling is rather special. Yesterday I also picked up half a dozen skin-on chicken thighs for a creole curry, on a nod *ahem* to healthy living I put a bit of butter in the base of a deep frying pan added a few caraway seeds then put the seasoned thighs, skin side down into the pan and gently fried them (without moving them at all) so the chicken fat rendered out into the pan. The thighs were then lifted out, the crispy skin promptly scoffed as a cook’s perk (all healthy eating notions go right out of my kitchen window the moment crispy chicken skin is about) and the fat poured into a bowl and set to one side whilst I carried on making the curry. This deeply flavoured, seasoned fat also had the added bonus of a gentle caraway flavour and was to form the basis of a seriously naughty porcini béchamel filling.

These awesome bites are best eaten straight away and cooked in batches as you need them but you can also reheat them gently if you need to by popping them in the oven at 190C for a few minutes and they will go nice and crispy again and the filling will warm and ooze….

Ingredients:

For the smoky chilli choux:

  • 10 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 dried chipotle chilli, mashed into flakes (I get mine in bulk from Edible Ornamentals)
  • 1 tablespoon rendered chicken fat*
  • 70g butter, diced
  • 175ml water
  • big pinch Halen Môn sea salt flakes
  • 120g plain flour
  • 4 large free range eggs, beaten
  • 100g extra mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • 25g grana padano cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons garlic granules
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the filling

  • About 100ml rendered chicken fat* (with caraway)
  • plain flour (enough to make a roux, approx 1 mug-ish)
  • milk (as much as it needs to get the right consistency)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of porcini powder (blitz dried porcini in a coffee grinder)
  • 1 teaspoon powdered veg stock (I use Essential Cuisine)
  • 50g grated extra mature cheese
  • sea salt and white pepper

*how to make the rendered chicken fat is described in the introduction

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 220C. Gently fry the spring onions and chipotle in a tablespoon of the chicken fat for about 2 minutes to soften the onions then put to one side to cool.
  2. Put the butter, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to the boil, remove from heat and dump all the flour in at once, stir vigorously to mix and return to a medium heat mixing constantly for about 2 minutes, the choux will have come away from the sides of the pan and be all glossy. Put the choux into a big cold mixing bowl and leave to cool for a few minutes.
  3. Use an electric whisk to beat the choux mix whist adding the eggs about a tablespoon at a time whist continually beating until all the mixture is combined and smooth.
  4. Add the cheeses, spring onion, grated nutmeg, garlic, thyme and seasoning.
  5. Line a roasting tin with some baking parchment that you have greased with a bit of chicken fat then using a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle pipe balls of choux about the size of a cherry tomato all over the tray leaving about 3cm around each one as they will expand during cooking.
  6. Make the filling by heating the fat then adding the flour and stirring for a few minutes to cook out the flour, add the milk gradually until you get a nice thick sauce mixture then add the remaining ingredients, if it gets too thick just stir in more milk.
  7. Bake the choux balls for 10mins at 220C (top shelf in my oven) so they puff up then reduce temp to 190C and continue to bake for about 7 minutes or until they are golden and crispy (don’t open the oven door for the first 10 minutes to avoid them collapsing).
  8. Once cooked use another piping bag to pipe in your filling to the hollow centre or alternatively just slice and fill.