Blackberry and sloe gin posset with rosemary shortbread

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It’s a dark, damp, wintery Sunday here at the cottage. The fire is lit, the cats are all snoozing contently and I’m feeling the need for something zingy, boozy and comforting to brighten the day, step up the winter posset.

Possets are ridiculously easy to create – back when I was a chef I always used to put lemon posset on the dessert menu, it’s delicious, very cheap to make and ready in no time at all which is an all round win for the kitchen.

I love, love LOVE sloe gin. It’s a hip flask staple on a winter walk through frosty fields and so easy to throw together in the last days of autumn. I have bottles of sloe gin in my cupboard dating back to 2010, they have outlasted several relationships and I ration them out as if they were made using the tears of unicorns. I anticipate feeling a great aching loss when the last of the 2010 batch is gone. If you are lucky enough to try some one day then know that you are indeed very special to me! If you don’t have any homemade to hand then you can easily buy a bottle, Sipsmith do a good one.

Now I love shortbread, according to my boyfriend I don’t make enough of it. He’s not a fan of adding any flavours to it mind, he’s a shortbread purist you see – plain, straight down the line, no fucking about shortbread or not at all. I, on there other hand, love lemon shortbread, vanilla shortbread and this wonderfully aromatic rosemary shortbread which goes so well with the rich posset.

If you fancy listening to me make this then click here (you will need iPlayer access as it’s on the BBC).

I’m using blackberries foraged last year that have been in the freezer, but there are plenty to be found on supermarket shelves even at this time of year.

Blackberry and sloe gin posset with rosemary shortbread

Ingredients:

For the posset:

  • 600ml double cream
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 150g blackberries
  • Pinch freshly ground pepper
  • Sloe gin (for quantity see recipe instructions)

Method:

  1.  Heat the cream and sugar together over a medium heat, stir frequently.
  2.  Bash the berries to release the juice then strain into a measuring jug, get all the juice out of the berries.
  3. Measure the juice and add enough sloe gin to bring the liquid up to 250ml.
  4. Once the cream mix is just simmering, remove from heat and stir in the blackberry mix.
  5. Pour into dessert glasses, leave to cool for 20mins then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  6.  To serve, simply dust with icing sugar and garnish with a few blackberries.

Rosemary shortbread:

  • 225g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 110g cornflour
  • 1 tsp fresh finely chopped rosemary

Method:

  1.  Heat oven to 160C.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar.
  3. Sift in flours and add rosemary.
  4. Stir, then use hands to bring it together to resemble crumble mixture.
  5. Turn onto baking parchment. Knead a few times to form rough dough. Cover with another sheet of parchment and use a rolling pin to roll out a slab around 15mm thick.
  6. Cut into rounds with a cutter or whatever shape you prefer then refrigerate for 30mins.
  7. Bake for around 12-15 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as you don’t want them to burn.
  8. Remove from oven, sprinkle with caster sugar. Leave for 2 mins then transfer to a cooling rack.
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Pan fried sea bass with smoked bacon, cockles and veg

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I long for the sea. I long for salt spray in the air and on my lips, seagulls crying out overhead and long days bobbing up and down gently on the water with a feathered rod in my hand. I miss it terribly and I crave its bounty to compensate for this coastal yearning.

I grew up on the coast you see, long before I moved to the most landlocked county in the UK, willingly I might add. You see I’d never been without it, I had no idea of the powerful hold it would have over me once gone. This recipe brings me that little bit closer to an old home.

Pan fried sea bass with smoked bacon, cockles and veg

Ingredients:

  • sea bass fillet
  • 2 tsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • small handful of smoked streaky bacon, diced
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • splash of white wine (or cider works too)
  • broad beans, skinned (I use frozen in the winter, you could also use soy beans or peas)
  • 1 head of gem lettuce, split down the middle
  • 150ml whipping cream
  • a handful of cooked cockles (not pickled)
  • a few chives, finely chopped

Method:

  1. Season the fish with a little salt and pepper. Heat the frying pan until very hot, then add the oil. Lay the fish fillet in the pan, skin-side down.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium, then leave the fish to cook for 3-4 mins, undisturbed.
  3. Flip the fillet over and fry for about 2 mins until just done, basting the skin with the oil in the pan as it cooks. Leave to rest on a warm plate, skin-side up. Cover with a plate or some foil to keep warm.
  4. Return the pan to a medium to high heat, add the butter, bacon and shallot, fry for about a minute or two until the bacon is cooked then add the booze. Once the booze has bubbled up add the cream, broad beans and lettuce. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for a few minutes or until the lettuce heart has softened  Add the cockles and heat through. Check for seasoning and add a bit of pepper if needed, you shouldn’t need any salt due to the bacon.
  5. Arrange the contents of the pan onto a plate, top with the fish and garnish with the chives.

 

Beef Pho

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Spending time in the cottage kitchen in winter is one of the best ways to stay warm, likewise, having a big bowl of seductively soothing and aromatic pho is also another layer of added comfort.

I’ve tried a number of different variations when making this Vietnamese dish, from a super easy cheats method using stock cubes to the the more time consuming 48 hr bone broth method. I’ve settled on this one though as it’s the right balance of time and ease that mean I feel like it’s been a labour of love without it being a pain in the arse.

I’m lucky enough to have my beloved Derek Jones Butchers close by who, for a donation in the charity pot, will generously furnish me with some big beef bones. Make friends with your butchers, they are your allies and offer a wealth of knowledge along with their gentle pisstaking and camaraderie. Basically if they don’t take the piss out of me for something when I go in, I begin to worry.

I add a splash of vinegar to my bone broth once it is simmering, not only does it help bring all the impurities up to the surface for skimming (when it bubbles up upon addition), but the vinegar helps extract the minerals from the bones for extra nourishing broth.

This is not a traditional pho but rather one that I keep coming back to making again and again whenever the call of the bones takes me. It’s particularly good if you are feeling under the weather or recovering from anything that’s had you on your back. If you can’t be bothered to make your own stock then a couple of good cubes dissolved in hot water will do, just don’t forget to add all the broth aromatics.

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Beef Pho

Ingredients:

For the bone broth:

  • Beef bones
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 200g ginger, unpeeled but sliced
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tblsp fish sauce
  • salt and pepper

flat ribbon rice noodles

To serve:

  • sirloin or fillet steak, very finely sliced
  • tenderstem broccoli
  • thinly sliced butternut squash or carrot
  • spring onion, chopped
  • fresh chilli, finely sliced,
  • beansprouts
  • coriander
  • fresh lime

 

Method:

  1. Put your bones into a big pot, cover with water and bring to a simmer, foam will rise to the surface. Boil for 10 minutes then drain, rinse under cold water then return the bones to the pot, cover with water and then bring to a simmer.
  2. Once simmering add the vinegar, if foam bubbles up simply remove it.
  3. Char the ginger in a dry pan then add to the pot along with the onion, garlic, star anise, cinnamon and coriander. Simmer for a good 8-12 hours with the lid on, topping up the water as you need it. Leave to cool overnight.
  4. The next day you will see a thick layer of fat has formed, scoop this off and return it to a simmer, simmer away for another 4-6 hours or longer if you prefer. I often cook mine for a total of 24 hours. Add the fish sauce and season to taste.
  5. Once ready to eat, cook the noodles according to the packet instructions then divide between your bowls. Add your sliced beef then ladle over the hot broth and garnish. Serve with a big squeeze of lime and a pat on the back for being so awesome.

 

Lemon drizzle gin cakes

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Excuse my appalling icing attempts in this post, I’ve always been utterly shit at icing, one day I’ll actually learn how to do it but until then you’ll just have to try look beyond the disastrous attempts at prettying cakes and bear with me

Gin and lemon, two happy bedfellows that sing about sunnier times and come as welcome relief in these cold winter days. These cakes are light and fluffy yet boozy and indulgent, what’s not to love?

You can hear me making these cakes by clicking here (you’ll need Iplayer as it’s a BBC clip). There’s no bad language so it’s perfectly safe to listen to in the kitchen whilst whipping up a batch of these tasty treats with the kids around.

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Lemon drizzle gin cakes:

Ingredients:

For the cake mixture:

  • 200g Stork
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • 90ml Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle Gin (or you could use a citrusy gin)

For the drizzle:

For the icing:

  • 1 x 500g tub ready made lemon frosting (yeah I totally cheated and got one from Morrisons)
  • Edible decorations such as fondant flowers and white chocolate stars.

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 170C (fan). Place 12 cupcake cases into a muffin tray
  2. Use an electric whisk to cream together the Stork and the sugar until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Add flour, eggs and zest and beat together.
  4. Gradually beat in the gin.
  5. Fill the cases around two thirds full, use all the mixture
  6. Bake for 12 minutes or until the cakes pass the skewer test.
  7. Make the drizzle by combining the ingredients in a pan, heat over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil and boil for 30 seconds them carefully remove the juniper berries.
  8. Prick the cakes all over the top with a pointed chopstick or skewer then carefully pour all of the syrup over them, leave to cool completely.
  9. Put the frosting in a piping bag, pipe all over the tops of the cakes (try and do a much better job that I did!) then decorate as you please.

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Super lazy smoky chicken traybake

 

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The wind is howling, the rain is lashing against the windows and here at the cottage we are still deeply ensconced in hibernation season – log fires, soft, warm blankets, twinkling fairy lights, full bodied wine and comfort food are all keeping spirits lifted.

These short, brooding days are brightened immensely with minimal effort in the kitchen thanks to the humble yet versatile traybake. I throw a traybake into the oven about once a week and it never fails to impress with its generosity of flavour and ease of cooking.

The foundations to this recipe remain the same whatever time of year you make it: smoky chorizo (or fresh Spanish sausage works well if you prefer), chicken thighs and veg. Easy.

Depending on what veg is in season you can make a version of this all year round with what is growing in your garden or what’s available on the shelves/on the market stall. Sometimes I add potatoes and others it may be a tin of chickpeas or simply stick to soft veg, whatever you’re in the mood for, this recipe can do it.

The below recipe is more like a rough guide, put as much in as you like, swap whatever you like, its all good.  In the summer I’ll often add slices of clementine and tarragon along with fennel and asparagus, the winter brings hardier herbs like rosemary or fennel seeds, just take the skeleton of it below and experiment away.

Easy smoky chicken traybake:

Ingredients:

  • Chanternay carrots, whole
  • Red peppers, sliced
  • Cherry tomatoes, whole
  • Baby potatoes, whole or tin of drained chickpeas
  • courgettes, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 ring spicy chorizo sliced into 1 cm rounds
  • Chicken thighs
  • Spray oil
  • Smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Heat your oven to 200C (fan).
  2. Put the veg, chicken and chorizo into a roasting tray and give a good mix, spray with the oil and sprinkle over the paprika and salt and pepper. Arrange your chicken on top of the veg and roast for about 35 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the skin deeply golden and crispy. Done 🙂