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 MĂ´n 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….

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 ÂŁ1 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

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 CafĂ© 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 CafĂ© 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 ÂŁ8.98 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 BĂ©chamel 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 bĂ©chamel 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 MĂ´n 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.

Vegan Soup Mix “Sushi”

vegan soup mix sushi

Yes, yes I know this isn’t sushi, sushi means vinegared rice and this recipe contains neither but it seems the easiest way to kind of describe the dish to non Japanese speakers….

I bought a packet of “soup mix” the other day, it contained various dried grains, lentils, peas etc and cost about 60p for 500g. A friend had been urban foraging and generously given me a beautiful large crown prince pumpkin so these were to form the basis for that night’s dinner. As I cooked the soup mix I kept tasting bits, I wanted it so it was still pretty firm in texture yet soft enough to eat and once it reached that exact moment the idea for this dish was born. Obviously you need to make sure that the mix you use doesn’t contain any ingredients that need pre-soaking or can be harmful if eaten al-dente.

Ingredients:

  • 200g Morrisons own brand soup mix grains and pulses 
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown miso
  • 1 crown prince pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed and thickly slices
  • 1 tblsp Cotswold Gold rapeseed oil (or other nutty oil)
  • tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 1 tsp nigella
  • salt and pepper
  • red onion, thinly sliced
  • diced cucumber
  • small stick celery, chopped
  • lollo rosso leaves, torn into pieces
  • nori sheets
  • tamari
  • wasabi paste

Method:

  1. Combine the pumpkin, oil, cumin, garlic, nigella, salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven until the pumpkin is soft, set aside to cool.
  2. Cook the soup mix in water that has the miso dissolved in it, cook for about half the packet recommended cooking time, the pulses should still have a good nutty texture to them, drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.
  3. Add the onion, cucumber, celery and lollo rosso to the soup mix and combine well.
  4. Make a potent dip by combining some tamari with a generous dollop of fiery wasabi and mix well.
  5. Lay out a sheet of nori, spoon over a layer of soup mix/salad and top with a slice of pumpkin, roll then immediately dip in the sauce and eat. Make each one as you go otherwise the seaweed will go soggy.

Buckwheat, Butternut & Pistachio Burgers with Smoky Zataar Sauce

Quick iPhone pic

Quick iPhone pic before diving in…

Last week I started making dinner without knowing what it was going to be, I do this quite often, it’s like any creative process, sometimes you set out with a very clear vision and others the ingredients and cooking processes just gently guide you to the finished dish.

Go back 12 years ago to my first chefs job back at the Royal Mail sorting offices in Bath and my veggie burgers were a surefire hit with the morning crew. I would have been up all night ,alone in the huge kitchens feeding the nightshift, and around 4am would start creating veggie burgers for the roll selection. I always liked to use up any leftover ingredients from the nightshift and the veggie burgers were a great way of doing this, they quickly became known as Hazel’s Erotic Rolls (I also introduced the posties to Banana and Marmite rolls, total winner!).

I’ve been a big fan of Spiceway products ever since I stumbled across them in a farm shop just outside Bath, I ended up using 3 of their blends to make this dish, they’re ace, I reviewed them for Great Food Magazine about a year ago and now my cupboard feels pretty bare without them.

Ingredients:

For the squash:

  • Butternut squash, peeled & diced
  • 1 tblsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tblsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp Spiceway Heavenly Herbs
  • 1 tsp dried lovage seeds

For the burgers:

  • 1 mug part cooked buckwheat groats (only boiled for about 4 minutes so it still has a nice bite and is very nutty)
  • The roasted butternut squash mix
  • 3 heaped tblsp ground almonds
  • 1 tsp veg stock powder
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 3 tsp porcini powder (blits dried porcini in a coffee grinder)
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds
  • 1 handful chopped pistachios
  • 2 handfuls Spiceway Salad Sprinkles
  • 2 handfuls baby broad beans (use the frozen ones and blanch in boiling water for just 1 minute)
  • 1 handful chopped carrot leaves
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds

For the dip:

  • 200ml natural yoghurt
  • 2 heaped tblsp Spiceway Zippy Zataar
  • 1 tblsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbslp agave syrup

Method:

  1. Combine all the roast butternut squash ingredients and roast in an oven heated to 200C until the squash has softened and starting to caramelise.
  2. Blitz half of the squash in a food processor (or just mash) then combine the rest with the remaining squash and all the other burger ingredients, if the mixture is too wet add more ground almonds, taste and season then form into burger shapes and chill for 30minutes to help them keep their shape.
  3. Pop the burgers on some greased baking parchment and roast in an oven preheated to about 200C for about 15 mins or until done.
  4. Mix the sauce ingredients together, leave for about 15 minutes for the flavours to develop. Serve the burgers stuffed into pittas with some watercress/salad leaves and drizzled with the sauce.

Comforting Barley and Sherry Soup

barley and sherry soupWhen it comes to quick and easy comfort food to brighten up yet another snowy day there are few things that beat a filling barley soup. It’s basically the soup that keeps on giving as the next day (if you’ve any left) the grains will have swollen and soaked up more of the soothing liquid and transformed it into a rib sticking stew.

If you are familiar with this blog you will already know my love for using a rich, full bodied cream sherry in my dishes, it’s much cheaper than Marsala which I also adore using and kept nice and chilled in the fridge makes for a nice little cook’s tot as the soup gently simmers.

There’s a lot of snobbery about sherry, especially when it comes to cream sherries, I’ve never understood this, it’s often from people who care more about what their food looks like and who made it rather than what it actually tastes like.  To those people I say embrace ingredients, ditch the wanky food snobbery and fill your bellies with this really cheap and ace soup/stew/bowl of comfort 🙂

Ingredients:

  • knob of butter
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp dried fennel seeds (plus extra to serve)
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 mugs of dried pearl barley
  • 750ml- 1L stock approx  (I use a mixture of chicken and veg from Essential Cuisine)
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 2 bayleaves
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 courgette, diced
  • 75ml cream sherry (ish)
  • celery salt and white pepper
  • handful of chopped fresh carrot tops

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a big saucepan, add the carrots, onion, garlic, fennel seeds and cook for a couple of minutes whilst stirring. 
  2. Add the barley, thyme, bay leaves, garlic granules and stock. Bring to a boil then simmer for about 15 minutes, add more water if needed.
  3. Add the diced courgette and sherry, continue to cook until barley is cooked then season with celery salt and pepper and stir in most of the carrot tops.
  4. Serve topped with a few fennel seeds and carrot leaves

Spring celebratory salad! Beetroot, pistachio, orange flower and yoghurt salad

beetroot, orange blossom, pistachio, greek yoghurt salad

Apologies for the crappy photos today but you get the general idea 🙂

Yes I know there are blustery snow flurries outside but my tiny veg and herb garden is creaking back to life and this morning was gloriously sunny so I threw together a little celebratory salad using the tender young leaves and flowers that have appeared.

What resulted is the most heavenly floral salad of colour, scent and flavour that is sure to pull the tastebuds into their Spring wardrobe and look to the longer days with great anticipation of what the garden is to bring throughout the year.

Ingredients:

  • handful of watercress
  • 2 cooked beetroot in vinegar (just the stuff from the supermarket that comes in a pack in the fridge) quartered
  • 1 tablespoon red onion, very finely chopped
  • greek yoghurt
  • young leaves and petals from the garden (carrot tops, fennel fronds, lemon balm, mint, dandelion, sorrel, chard, chives, celery, beetroot, pansy, primrose)
  • whole shelled pistachios
  • 1 capful orange blossom water
  • drizzle agave syrup

Method:

Pile the watercress, beetroot, leaves and onion on a plate. Dollop over some greek yoghurt, sprinkle over the orange flower water, drizzle the agave then scatter pistachios and petals over the top.

beetroot, orange blossom, pistachio, greek yoghurt salad-2

Psychedelic Meat Treat – Ham Hock, Beetroot and Horseradish Terrine

Ham hock beetroot and horseradish terrine

I love making terrines, you can take a few really cheap ingredients and turn them into something pretty impressive looking that tastes ace and feeds loads of people with very little effort.

Normally I make a pig head terrine with edible flowers one but I fancied something a bit different so picked up a lovely gammon hock from my butchers, Derek Jones (Just ÂŁ1.38), and a few trotters and I was good to go. Unlike most people’s versions I always like to include quite a bit of the jelly in the terrine as it’s packed full of flavour and when spread over hot toast it makes the perfect butter substitute as it instantly melts into loveliness in a way that butter just can’t live up to.

Ingredients:

  • 2 x gammon hocks
  • few sticks celery
  • 1 red onion, halved
  •  few carrots
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • bouquet garni (few bits from the garden: bay, thyme, sage etc)
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • few peppercorns
  • 3 pigs trotters
  • 200g cornichons, chopped
  • 1/2 beetroot, peeled and V-sliced into matchsticks
  • 2 tablespoon grated horseradish (I used a Polish horseradish and chilli mix that has no cream)
  • handful chopped parsley

ham hock beetroot horseradish terrine

Method:

  1. Put your hocks, trotter, carrots, celery, onions, garlic and herbs (except parsley) into a big pot. Cover with cold water, add the fennel and peppercorns and bring to s simmer, and cook very gently for about 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is falling away from the bones when gently pulled.
  2. Remove the meat and reduce the stock by about half and strain.
  3. Pick the meat from the hocks and trotters and allow to cool.
  4. Ina big bowl combine the meat, chopped cornichons, parsley, horseradish, beetroot and plenty of pepper, taste and see if it needs a bit more horseradish.
  5. Put the mix in your moulds, I used a big silicon loaf tin and silicon cupcake tray.
  6. Pour over the reduced stock and chill in the fridge overnight.

*Any excess stock you can just pop in a jar and keep in the fridge, spread it on toast, add it to risottos, soups, stews,gravies, whatever takes your fancy. It’s packed full of flavour and is just absolute kitchen gold.

ham hock beetroot and horseradish terrine

Slice and look how pretty it is

mini ham hock beetroot horseradish terrines

Kiss My Arse – A dish for Valentine’s Day

Ox tongue and pope's eye steak

Ox tongue and bum are a romantic winner

I’ve never given a crap about Valentine’s Day, it’s bullshit.  Feel free to buy me flowers, chocolates and champagne dinners ANY other day of the year except the one that the greeting card industry insists upon. In fact please do buy me all of the above because I normally buy my own and it would make a nice change (and I’d much rather cheese than chocolate).

This dish seems somewhat appropriate for this week’s day of nervous love interests, hopeful singletons, gleeful florists, stressed chefs and poor old FOH managers.  A few days ago I visited Weald Smokery and picked up some of their new thinly sliced smoked ox tongue. I love ox tongue, I’ve never had it smoked though and normally I have it in big thick slices and plenty of green sauce. I love the smokiness of a steak cooked on a BBQ so decided to use the smoke of the tongue to pair with a steak, but which one?

The pope’s eye steak is a little hidden gem of a cut most often chucked into the trim bin for mince. It sits right inside the aitch bone of the beast and in layman’s terms is the sphincter or arse muscle. It’s rippled with white lines that also gives it’s other name of the spider steak because it looks a bit like a cobweb in its marbling.

Normally when you see marbling in a steak you think, “hmmm, lots of flavour but going to need careful cooking” but not with the pope’s eye. This steak has plenty of wonderful flavour and is so delicately tender I can eat cooked black (crusted exterior) and blue (centre) which in my book is really the ONLY way I like to eat beef. This tenderness however will greatly depend on how the animal was hung and butchered as it can dry out if the beast has been split and the muscle exposed to air.

Popping into my local butcher’s, Derek Jones, on a Tuesday morning (their second busiest of the week) and asking for cow’s arse was bound to draw a few raised eyebrows but they know me very well in there.  In fact Ben, one of the butchers, greeted me with “yeah we’ve got some cat feet in especially for you” when he saw me (no they don’t really have cat feet before I get messages of complaint!). The steak cost just ÂŁ1.40 which is a total bargain for a cut with the texture of fillet but with plenty of good flavour.

I just cooked everything really simply and served with a little leftover porcini and basil crepe tower, some peppery winter leaves and carrot tops from the garden and homemade porcini butter.

Ingredients:

  • pope’s eye steak
  • drizzle rapeseed oil
  • sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • smoked ox tongue, thinly sliced

Method:

  1. Get your pan nice and hot and rub your steak with a bit of oil and season. Pop your steak in the pan, it should spit and sizzle and turn only once. I like my steaks blue so it’s just cooked for a minute then left to rest for 4 minutes on a warm plate under some foil.
  2. While its resting just use the residual heat in the pan to heat through the tongue slices (no heat under the pan) as they will cook in a few seconds.

And that’s it, a few more salt flakes and grinds of black pepper and you steak is done. The  porcini butter will ooze across it and bring out it’s umami and the fresh peppery salad will balance the richness. Perfect.

 

Pot Roasted Lamb with Braised Shallots

lamb and leek flower sauce

 

It’s absolutely freezing right now, the snow is falling and it’s time to raid the freezer for something that will gently braise away filling the cottage with warm hunger pang inducing scents. At the back of the freezer, much to my surprise I found a big hunk of lamb leg that I must have bought a good 6 months ago and completely forgotten about it hidden away behind the frozen elderflower syrups. I marinated it in a warming blend of garlic, rosemary and thyme whilst it defrosted then simply popped it in a big roasting pot with some peeled pickling onions, lamb stock and sherry. In Summer I tend to serve lamb with fresh mint sauce but colder days mean sturdier stuff so I opt for leek flower sauce which is an incredibly potent blend of leek flowers, salt and seasoning and packs a real flavour punch.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cloves garlic, few sprigs rosemary, small bunch thyme, olive oil
  • lamb leg joint
  • 6 pickling onions, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons Essential Cuisine lamb stock powder
  • 300ml amontillado sherry
  • 3 bay leaves
  • freshly ground black pepper and Halen MĂ´n salt

To serve:

Roasted veg, steamed savoy cabbage and leek flower sauce.

Method:

  1. Blitz the first four ingredients to make your marinade then rub it all over your lamb and leave for 24 hours.
  2. Put everything in a pot, cover then roast in the oven at 180C for about 1 1/2 hours then remove meat to rest covered with tin foil and tea towels whilst you reduce the liquid by about half to make the gravy.

Pine Needle Duck Egg and Bacon Sandwich

pine needle duck egg sandwich

The best start to your day

There is no better start to your day than a bloody good bacon and egg sandwich and today I can happily declare I have made the best one I’ve ever tasted.  Each year I insist on getting the biggest Christmas tree that will fit into my living room, they’re always locally grown, cost just ÂŁ20 (for an 8ft tree) and hold their needles really well despite being attacked by cats/me after a few too many sherries.

Once I’ve finally accepted that the Xmas decs need to come down (usually around February) the tree normally moves from my cottage into the chicken pen for the girls to explore. This year however it’s been bloody freezing so I’ve been snapping bits off to throw on the fire. This has made the house smell amazing and whilst tucking into breakfast one morning the flavours and smells all came together and the idea for this was born.

In the past I’ve infused eggs with the flavour of truffles simply by popping the eggs in a sealed Kilner jar with a few bits of truffle (Mr Truffle sells bits of truffle as well as whole ones which are perfect for this). Before the branches are burnt the pine needles are shaken into a big tupperware box. Due to the selectively permeable shell of the egg it absorbs the surrounding aromas (hence why you should never keep eggs in the fridge) so I decided to pop a few duck eggs into a container with some pine needles and leave for a few days.

The gentle pine flavour in the rich duck yolk just rocks my world. If left infusing for too long the pine would be overpowering so just around 3 days has been perfect .  I’m leaving some more eggs in for an extra day to make a pine duck egg ravioli next, if it’s anything as good as this sandwich then I’m in for a real treat.

pine needle sandwich

 

Ingredients:

  • pine needles
  • duck egg
  • your favourite bacon
  • your favourite ketchup
  • mayo
  • rocket leaves
  • white bread

Method:

  1. Pop your duck egg into a tupperware box that contains a handful of pine needles, seal and leave for a few days.
  2. Fry your bacon in a pan until crispy, move to the side then fry your duck egg in the rendered fat.
  3. Mayo and ketchup your bread, add a layer of fresh rocket leaves then add the crispy bacon and top with your duck egg, season then pop your bread lid on and tuck in.

Christmas Ham Salad (for when it’s all become too much)

christmas ham salad

Happy Christmas! Full yet? Boxing Day is probably my favourite food day of the year – no pressure, no rules, no timescale (and in my cottage you will now have been wearing pyjamas for about 36 hours), just grazing and making magic happen with leftovers.

This year we’re on quite a frugal budget so we opted for a big smoked gammon on the bone for Christmas dinner, it cost just ÂŁ10 and will feed us for well over a week. I simmered it in cola and pickling spices for a couple of hours yesterday before glazing it with rose hip jam and a mix of fiery English and sweet wholegrain mustards before blasting it in the oven for 20 minutes to caramelise.

What with the rich indulgence of yesterday still heavy in my stomach I fancied something altogether lighter with at least some sort of nod to freshness and health. I threw together this salad that not only used up some of the ham but also commandeered some of the leftover mustard and dill sauce from our homemade gravadlax to make the perfect dressing.

The sweet and salty smokiness of the ham, the sour cranberries, fiery rocket leaves, earthy crunch of toasted almonds and the drizzle of dill dressing ticks all the right boxes for me with this salad. Pile it high on a platter and let everyone dive in.

Ingredients:

  • rocket leaves
  • cucumber, thinly sliced
  • leftover smoked ham
  • pumpkin seeds
  • dried cranberries
  • orange zest
  • toasted almonds
  • dill and mustard dressing

I used Azelias Dill Sauce recipe as inspiration for my sauce and cobbled one together using what I had to hand:

  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon English mustard
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch Halen MĂ´n smoked sea salt flakes
  • roughly 200ml Cotswold Gold rapeseed oil (it’s wonderfully nutty)

Just put the first 6 sauce ingredients into a blender or processor with the sauce attachment fitted and blitz then drizzle in your oil in a slow stream, taste and adjust seasoning and add more fiery English mustard if it needs it.

For the salad:

Just throw everything together and drizzle with the dressing then sit back and drink a nice glass of wine and put your feet up.

Quince and Vanilla Mulled Wine (the BEST I’ve ever tasted)

quince mulled wine

I’m currently sipping on what is without a doubt the best mulled wine I’ve ever tasted. On Friday night after the Radio Leicester Christmas Food phone-in (you should definitely listen to this on Christmas morning, it’s 2 hours of food chat and festive songs – YES!) we headed back to presenter Ben Jackson’s house for food and drinks. As soon as we arrived he said “right who’s for mulled wine?” ME ME ME!

This was no ordinary British mulled wine though, Ben presented us with a warm glass of Swedish glögg which he had poured over sultanas and whole almonds. I was blown away. It was straight from a bottle bought over from Sweden and it kicked any of our British mulled wines’ asses on flavour without batting a Swedish eyelid.

Ben very kindly gave me a packet of glögg spices that he’s had in the cupboard “for about 4 years”. The Glögg packet contains lots of whole green cardamom pods, loads of cinnamon bark, whole cloves and dried bits of citrus peel. The cardamom is key, lots of it but kept whole in their green pods.

Feeling the need for festive cheer I had a scout for some ingredients in my cupboards to throw in too. Normally I add orange but I didn’t have any, what I did have lots of however was plenty of quinces and lots of vanilla pods. The resulting boozy concoction has blown me away and even Glen, who hates all wine, really likes it (the highest praise indeed). Forget putting sliced oranges in mulled wine, if you can get your hands on the heady scented quince then throw it in there and never look back!

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 large quince, thickly sliced
  • 25g Glögg spices (whole green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon bark)
  • 2 vanilla pods, sliced lengthways
  • 1/2 a mug of soft brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sultanas
  • 2 whole pieces of preserved stem ginger
  • Whole blanched almonds and a few more sultanas to serve.

Simply gently warm everything together on the lowest heat (with a lid on) so everything has time to infuse. Ladle through a tea strainer into glasses that have a few sultanas and whole blanched almonds in the bottom.

Winter Veg and Seed Salad

 

Brighten up your Winter

Brighten up your Winter

Winter and salads shouldn’t be such ace buddies but they get along like a warm cosy house on fire. The fresh winter veg is crisp and refreshing with a nice winter earthiness that is kicked up a notch with bright citrus flavours from jewel-like ruby pomegranate seeds and a squeeze of clementine.

Yesterday morning was spent at a very cold and wet Melton Mowbray cattle market with the very lovely Rupal Rajani from BBC Radio Leicester. Rupal is vegetarian so was obviously delighted (not delighted one little bit – sorry Rupal) when I took her around the game auction. As we walked into the Fur & Feather shed we spotted a man with a huge fluffy grey rabbit sat on a bag of feed. The rabbit was beyond adorable, we both fell in love with it. Just as Rupal was getting her phone out to take a quick pic the man grabbed it, flipped it upside down by the neck, stuffed it in his coat and disappeared out into the rain. As we moved further into the shed people were busy stuffing shot birds from the game auction into carrier bags and holdalls, yeah this wasn’t the nicest place for a vegetarian (again…sorry Rupal).

I’m hoping I made up for all of this by making her a lovely winter salad, just to show that I can cook without the addition of dead animals really.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 red cabbage, shredded (I use a speed peeler for this)
  • 1/2 red onion, very finely sliced
  • 1 large jerusalem artichoke, pared into wafer thin strips using a speed peeler or box grater if you don’t have one.
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 clementine
  • 1 apple finely sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 pear finely sliced into matchsticks
  • handful pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon blue poppy seeds
  • chopped fresh parsley ( or mint/coriander/fennel fronds)
  • seeds from 1 pomegranate
  • drizzle of raspberry vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

Just combine everything in a big bowl and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes (I leave mine overnight).

 

Bonfire Daiquiris!

Smoky boozy goodness

I love Bonfire Night. When I lived in High Wycombe a group of us used to put on a fire show for thousands of people in Beaconsfield before the huge firework display kicked off. There would be about 20 of us with fire poi, chains, staffs, balls, fire breathing, oh it was ace fun! Last weekend though I spent it in the kitchens, I could hear the thumping boom of the fireworks over the roar of the industrial grill fan and smell the bonfires in the air but I missed the display. Tonight however, I will be making up for all that by making this ace cocktail, standing in my tiny garden and writing my name in the air excitedly with a sparkler – see who needs big firework displays when you can do that instead ehy 🙂

Bonfire Daiquiri

  • 35ml smoked tea rum
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • juice of half a lime
  • cloudy apple juice

 To make the smoked tea rum:

  • 250ml golden rum
  • 12 strands good quality Lapsang Souchong tea (St Martin’s Coffee in Leicester sell a wonderful one)

Simply pop the strands into the rum and leave to infuse for a minimum of 2 days. The smokiness will become more intense over time and the rum will become darker.

 Now to make the cocktail:

Just put everything in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice (or clean jam jar with lid), shake and strain into an ice filled tumbler. I’m calling tonight…Bonfire Of The Daiquiris! Ta-daaa! BOOM 🙂

Beetroot, Chocolate and Cardamom Brownies

squidgy, fudgy brownies that count towards your 5 a day…

Oh brownies how I love you and your squidgy, gooey wonderment. Yesterday I headed into the BBC Radio Leicester studio to see presenter Ben Jackson with whom I do the Food friday radio cooking sessions with and gardening guru, chilli head and all round ace guy Ady Dayman. I decided to bake them something using goodies from my tiny garden and despite managing to set fire to the baking parchment TWICE during cooking the brownies turned out pretty damn awesome.

Ben and Ady enjoying the brownies during the phone in…

I managed to get to the studio whilst they were still warm and joined Ben and Ady for the Gardening phone-in, you can listen to us giving seasonal gardening and food tips by clicking here. It was a fab afternoon and the brownies went down a storm, even with Ben’s producer Nam who is somewhat vegetable averse! That’s the secret to people who don’t like vegetables, cover them in CHOCOLATE 🙂

They are really easy to make too:

Ingredients:

I use a mug to measure everything out in, my mug holds 350ml water.

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 mug caster sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon cardamom powder (or 8 crushed cardamom seed pods)
  • 1/2 mug  good rapeseed oil (or olive oil would be nice also)
  • 1 capful good vanilla extract
  • 2 beetroot (about tennis ball size)
  • 1 mug plain flour
  • 3/4 mug cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
Method:
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Put some gloves on or you will get very purple hands from handling the beetroot. Peel the raw beetroot, chop roughly and put into a food processor until chopped finely. If you don’t have a processor just grate the beetroot.
  2.  In a large bowl whisk the eggs, sugar and cardamom powder until quite creamy (I use an electric whisk but a hand whisk will be fine) then whilst still whisking pour in your oil in a steady stream.
  3.  Tip in your beetroot and stir in until fully mixed together.
  4. Sift in your flour, salt and cocoa and fold into the mixture completely.
  5.  Line and grease a 20cmX30cm tin, pour in your brownie mix and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until you can insert a skewer into the centre and just a few crumbs are stuck to it.  Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before eating if you can manage to resist, sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar and serve warm with some good vanilla ice cream.
If you find that your brownies are still too squidgy for you just pop them back in the oven for a little bit longer.

Cider and Cheese Fondue for BBC Radio Leicester’s Food friday

mmm melty cheesy boozy goodness…

So last Friday was my turn to do BBC Radio Leicester’s Food Friday piece with the fabulous Ben Jackson and what better way to kickstart my morning than cider and cheese. I was a *touch* hungover after an unexpected but very much welcome few glasses of wine the night before and as it turns out, cider cheese fondue is in fact a seriously good hangover cure!

I always have a blast when Ben comes to visit, he is so passionate about food, cooking and particularly local food that we spend most of our time swapping food news, stories, new food finds/cookbooks we’ve found and basically just immersing ourselves in a month’s worth of goings on. Then I cook, we laugh, I usually add lots of booze to something and we eat, good times.

Here we are making cider and cheese fondue (1hr40mins into the show) where I actually use the phrase: “Hey it’s Winter, lets get our booze on”, yeah thats me with a hangover, yeah I have no shame.

Good local cider and ace cheese are the solid foundations to a heavenly gooey dish, fancy giving it a go? Here’s how (you could even cook along to us making it by clicking on the blue link above, totally interactive, so techno hip):

Cheese and Cider Fondue:

Ingredients:

  • 500g grated cheese (I used 100g Emmental, 200g Sparkenhoe Red Leicester, 200g Smoked Lincolnshire Poacher)
  •  1 tablespoon corn flour
  • 450ml cider (I used local Scrambler sparkling cider)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • pinch dried thyme
  • few slivers garlic, fresh or dried
  • 1 teaspoon dried onion granules
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Calvados
  • 1 heaped teaspoon porcini powder
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
Method:
  1. Grate your cheese into a bowl, add the corn flour and mix well.
  2. Combine cider, thyme, garlic and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to boil. When boiling reduce heat and add a handful of cheese. Stir in until its melted.
  3.  Keep adding cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly until all the cheese is used.
  4.  Add your onion granules, nutmeg, black pepper, porcini mushroom powder and chilli flakes then stir in your calvados.
  5. Serve hot with chunks of crusty bread, boiled new potatoes, crisps, chunks of ham, chips, whatever takes your fancy!

Smoked Rum and Ginger Cheesecake for the Domestic Sluttery Pudding Club

This month’s Domestic Sluttery Pudding Club is all about cheesecake (last month was chocolate and I made Sex Pots), my favourite pudding of all! This cheesecake takes a bit of prep in as much as you will need to get things infusing for few days before you make them but that takes pretty much zero effort and once done you can knock this together in minutes, PLUS you get the most incredible smoked rum to use in cocktails 🙂

This recipe uses a fresh unpasturised sheep’s curd made by Homewood Cheese, it’s wonderfully fresh and creamy and therefore perfect for this recipe.  If you can’t get hold of ewe’s curd however you could use ricotta instead.

 To make the smoked tea rum: (5 days before dessert required)

  • 250ml golden rum
  • 12 strands good quality Lapsang Souchong tea

Simply pop the strands into the rum and leave to infuse for a minimum of 2 days. I’ve said use 250ml rum as it keeps forever and just gets better with time so it’s there for the next time, it’s also amazing in cocktails!

Ingredients:

  •  100ml Smoked Tea Rum
  • 50g sultanas (go for the jumbo ones)
  • 100g stem ginger biscuits
  • 30g unsalted butter (melted)
  • 150ml whipping cream
  • 150g fresh sheep’s curd
  • 1 jar stem ginger in syrup
  • 1 big sprig fresh rosemary

Crystallised rosemary (optional)

  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 egg white
  • fine white caster sugar

 3 days before you need you dessert:

  1.  Place your sultanas in a cup and pour over the smoked tea rum making sure all the sultanas are covered.  Cover the cup with cling film and leave to infuse for 3 days.  This may seem a long time but after 3 days the sultanas will be so plump that they pop when you bite into them releasing a burst of flavour.
  2. Take a clean sprig of rosemary and push it into the centre of your jar of stem ginger and syrup in order to infuse.

The day before:

  1. Dip the remaining sprigs of rosemary into the egg white, then using a small sieve (a tea strainer is perfect) gently dust the rosemary with the caster sugar, coating evenly but lightly. Lay the sprigs gently on a baking sheet and leave overnight in an airing cupboard in order for it to crystallise.

On the day:

  1.  Crush the stem ginger biscuits and add the melted butter.  Stir to combine then divide the mixture between 4 glasses and push down gently to even off using the back of a spoon. Pop into the fridge to set whilst you make the next layer.
  2. Whip your cream until it will happily stay stuck to a spoon when held upside down. Stir in in the sheep’s curd and make sure it is evenly mixed then stir in the sultanas and rum. Take your glasses out of the fridge and divide the mixture between them carefully pushing the cream down onto the biscuit base to avoid air gaps and leaving room at the top for a layer of rosemary ginger syrup.
  3. Pour over the syrup then top each dessert with a small sprig of rosemary.  The beauty of making these in glasses is that as your spoon travels through the layers you pick up all the flavours, and its a lot less faff than using dessert rings!

Cobnut, Pistachio and Mung Bean “Pesto”

Mung bean pesto, are you mad? Well, perhaps a bit but this makes sense. This morning I took a lovely joint of Welsh salt marsh lamb out of the freezer for dinner later then headed to my cupboard. I’ve been cultivating a few jars of sprouting mung beans for about 4 days now, and as I was giving them all a bit of a drink this morning I had a nibble. As I munched away I looked at my joint of lamb and a thought occurred to me: the mung beans tasted very similar to the fresh cobnuts that I’ve neen nibbling on for the last week. I’d basically nibbled away pretty much the whole lot that was destined for a lovely pesto to go with the lamb.

Along with a distinct nuttiness, mung beans have a grassiness to them that would really bring out the flavour of the meat. That was it, the food processor was out and the tasting began. Bits of this and bits of that were grabbed from the garden and what resulted was an incredible green sauce that not only made my Welsh lamb sing like CĂ´r-y-Traeth but will be making tomorrow’s pasta dish swoon.

Ingredients:

  • 4 handfuls sprouting mung beans
  • 1 handful rocket leaves
  • 2 handfuls parsley
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 red and 1 green chilli and seeds
  • 1 handful fresh cobnuts
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1 handful pistachio nuts
  • lots of freshly ground black pepper
  • Halen MĂ´n smoked salt flakes
  • zest of 1 lime
  • juice of half a lime
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Just throw everything into a food processor and blitz, loosen with the olive oil until you get a consistency you are happy with. Serve spooned over lamb or stir into pasta with a raw fresh egg yolk and top with grated Grana Padano cheese.

Wild Wood Pigeon, a Lemon Verbena Surprise and Glen gets naked…

Thursday morning and I’m in a bit of a flutter. I’m recording a baking session with Ben Jackson for BBC Radio Leicester in an hour, I’ve been frantically cleaning and mopping the kitchen and I’ve just discovered that Poppy Bumface (our kitten) is locked in the cottage next door and I can hear her crying through the wall. I’ve no idea what time my neighbour is coming home (or how she got in there for that matter) and I haven’t managed to prep any ingredients

Whilst I’m peering through the neighbour’s letterbox at a crying Poppy Bumface, (probably making her much more distressed) unbeknownst to me Boris Cat has brought a present into the kitchen. I return to find a flurry of grey and white feathers, a smug looking Boris Cat and a decapitated, still warm, plump wood pigeon on my freshly mopped floor. Feathers are stuck to the still wet floor, cupboards, fridge door and there is a little trail of blood leading to the back door. Brilliant.

Boris Cat, hunter extraordinaire

As bad as his timing was,two things are very impressive about this, 1: Boris wears not one but TWO bells on his collar and therefore sounds like a herd of reindeer as he moves (and looks like a feline Mr T.   2: The body of the wood pigeon was completely untouched, it was a clean kill, just the head removed which I don’t eat and the body presented to be by the oven. Couldn’t help but be massively impressed by this.

The back door was wide open and there on the doorstep stood my 2 chickens looking rather shaken at the murder they had clearly just witnessed! The last thing I wanted was for Ben to arrive into this scene of blood, feathers and traumatised chickens so I very quickly plucked the pigeon, removed the breasts, heart and lungs, popped them in the fridge and cleared the kitchen (and fed the chickens some hemp seeds and grapes to try and reassure them that all was well!).

Despite my somewhat flustered state the recording went well and if you want to listen click here. I am 1hr 41mins into the broadcast.

So I had 2 wonderfully plump wood pigeon breasts, a heart and liver, what to make? I just kept it really simple and pan fried it with butter, seasoning and sherry. A forage about in my garden delivered lots of edible leaves and flowers. By picking lots of different leaves and flowers I was able to try different combinations. It was absolutely beautiful. The big surprises were how incredible the combination of lemon verbena and pigeon was. The sharp herbal lemon twist just balanced the earthy pigeon and sweet sherry. The lovage leaves were another surprise combination that I’m going to be exploring. In fact everything was just delicious.  The liver was like the most delicate mousse, far superior to any chicken liver, more like foie gras. I’m guessing it’s down to the wood pigeons gorging themselves on the chicken corn and mash that I put out every day.

“Give me back my wood pigeon, I caught it, it’s MINE!”

Ingredients:

  • 2 plump wood pigeon breasts
  • 1 pigeon heart
  • 1 liver
  • big knob of butter
  • salt and pepper
  • sweet sherry (big splosh)

Salad leaves:

  • chard
  • wood sorrel
  • lovage
  • beetroot
  • lemon verbena
  • tarragon
  • fennel fronds
  • chives
  • nasturtium
  • celery
  • pea
  • lollo rosso
  • frisee
  • rocket

Flowers:

  • chives
  • fennel
  • viola
  • runner bean
  • rocket
  • borage
  • french bean
  • nasturtium

Method:

Melt the butter, season the breasts and fry for a couple of minutes each side. The outside was nice and caramelised but the inside still pink. Towards the end of cooking add the heart and liver, cook for a minute then add the sherry, flame and spoon the juices over the meat. Add chopped chives, transfer to a plate and rest for a couple of minutes. Arrange leaves and flowers on a plate, slice the breasts in half and place on the leaves along with the heart and liver and spoon over the juices from the pan.

It was such a beautiful afternoon in the garden, eating free food and drinking red wine. I even gave myself a whole hour off from working just to enjoy the garden with Glen…

Wood sorrel, my giant sunflower, courgette flower and my aces trainers 🙂

I don’t think Boris was ready for Glen doing some naked sunbathing though…

Boris can’t believe it when Glen starts stripping, no idea what he’s laughing at

Smoked Mackerel Sourdough with Fried Green Tomatoes and Green Tomato & Grape Ketchup

This weekend is perfect for making my Green Tomato and Grape Ketchup. It’s so versatile, use it as you would your regular ketchup (excellent in a bacon sandwich) and perfect with smoked mackerel. Give this really quick and simple dish a go for a healthy lunch or quick supper.

Ingredients:

  • 1 green tomato
  • coarse polenta for dusting
  • salt and pepper
  • glug of oil
  • slice of sourdough bread
  • butter
  • rocket
  • smoked peppered mackerel fillet
  • green tomato and grape ketchup

Method:

  1. Slice the tomato, dust the slices in seasoned polenta and fry gently until soft and starting to brown, drain on kitchen paper.
  2. Toast the sourdough, slather in butter, top with rocket leaves then your fried tomato. Break your fillet into pieces and place on top of the rocket then drizzle with the ketchup.