Wild Garlic and Pistachio Pesto Stuffed Roast Pork Belly with Cider

wild garlic stuffed pork belly

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients: (serves 8)

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

For the Wild Garlic Pistachio Pesto:

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

Method:

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

Wild garlic, hazelnut and smoky chipotle “pesto”

wild garlic hazelnut chipotle chilli pesto

 

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

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

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

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

wild garlic chipotle homemade pappardelle

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

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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

 

Vietnamese Pho (almost)

vietnamese beef tendon pho

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

Ingredients: (made 2 big bowls)

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

To garnish:

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

Method:

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

 

Braised Beef Tendons with sticky Jasmine Rice & Pork Floss

Chinese braised beef tendons, pork floss

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

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

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

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

Beef tendons

Raw tendons on left and in the stock on right

Ingredients: (serves 4)

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

To serve:

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

Method:

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

Pea and Bean Salad with Orange Blossom Dressing

pea and bean salad with orange blossom dressing

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

Ingredients:

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

For the dressing:

Method:

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

Fiery Celeriac Salad

fiery celeriac salad

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

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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

 

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

Easter panna cotta salted caramel egg-5

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

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

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

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

vanilla and salted caramel panna cotta

Ingredients:

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

Salted Caramel Sauce:

Method:

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

Easter panna cotta salted caramel egg-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy Easter Baking: Chocolate Mini Egg Swirls

 

Easter mini egg swirls

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

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

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

Ingredients: Makes about 10 swirls.

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

Method:

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

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

Easter chocolate mini egg swirls

Great to make with kids over Easter

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

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

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

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

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

lick the spoon salted caramel eggs

 

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

lick the spoon milk honeycomb egg

 

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

lick the spoon

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

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

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

lick the spoon

 

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

 

 

 

Wine to drink with dark chocolate

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

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

cafe cabernet

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

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

cafe cabernet

Science in action….

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

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

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

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

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

Triple Chocolate Fudge War Cake

Yes, it's actually cake

Yes, it’s actually cake

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

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

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

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

triple chocolate fudge cake

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

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

 

triple chocolate fudge cake soldiers 3

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

triple chocolate fudge cake 5

 

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

chocolate fudge cake2

 

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

Defend the CAKE!!!

Defend the CAKE!!!

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

Chilli Cheese Profiteroles with Chicken Fat Porcini Béchamel Filling

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

The secret is all in the rendered chicken fat…

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

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

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

Ingredients:

For the smoky chilli choux:

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

For the filling

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

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

Method:

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

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 £1.38), 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 £1.40 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 Môn 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 £20 (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 £10 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 Môn 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).

 

Melton Mowbray Farmer’s Market Game Auction

Game, foraged mushrooms, veg, just a few of the things you can bid on at the auction

Tuesday mornings are my favourite because I head across the road to Melton Farmer’s Market, eat a bacon sandwich and head into the auction sheds to see what treats are on offer. One of the many things I love about this bustling weekly market is that you never know what you are going to find.

A couple of months ago I nominated Melton Farmer’s Market for the Best Food Market category in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. A couple of weeks ago I was stood in the kitchens prepping Sunday lunch and listening to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme on the little radio, as I always do, when I heard Valentine Warner read out my nomination. I really like Valentine’s approach to food and cooking, in fact the only cookbook I have in the work kitchen is his “What to Eat Now – Autumn/Winter” book, which sits next to the radio. I recognised my words instantly, Melton Farmer’s market had made it to the final three from hundreds of nominations, I was ecstatic! I’m still ecstatic about it, Melton Farmer’s market is the heart and soul of countryside living and it really deserves to be celebrated.

Earlier in the year I took Radio Leicester’s Ben Jackson to the market. Ben is passionate about the county and it’s wonderful food and we had a blast, as we always do when we hang out together, and I promised that once game season kicks off we would do it again. Well game season is in full swing and yesterday morning off we went to see what was on offer in the Fur and Feather shed.

Melton Farmer’s market never disappoints, you can listen to me and Ben and find out just how easy it is to bid at the game auction by clicking on this link:

Melton Mowbray Game Auction – Radio Leicester (audio)

There were pheasants, partridges, pigeons, rabbits, hares, ducks, venison and grouse hanging on the racks and on the tables were boxes of huge turgid savoy cabbages, bags of onions, plenty of massive squashes, a giant pumpkin and lots of boxes of foraged mushrooms, marvellous!

What I love about the auction is that the people around you love to talk about the food that’s being sold. Recipe tips are exchanged and foraging spots shared. Unlike pretty much everyone else that attends the auction I’m not a huge fan of the blewitt mushrooms which are called Blue Legs here. I prefer the meaty parasol mushrooms and am always the solitary bidder (likewise when I buy squirrels!) so people are always happy to tell me where they’ve seen lots growing.

Whilst there on Tuesday morning we chatted to the bidders around us, swapping hanging and cooking techniques, discussing how the price for the venison was high this week and the price of live chickens so low (just £1 for 4 birds) and that you could pick up two big plump live turkeys for just £30 today. I wish I had more outdoor space I really do, I think my chickens would object to sharing their coop with a huge turkey or two.

Lots of people outside of such a community seem to view game as being something for the upper classes, for the toffs to shoot and eat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Game is cheap, healthy and plentiful. Game isn’t a “food trend” on people’s plates round here, it’s a seasonal feast that’s looked forward to each year and welcomed back into our kitchens with gleefully hungry, open arms.

Pheasants were going for £1.50/brace, Grouse went for a whopping £13 this week as there was just the one brace and the mallards just £1.50. That huge pumpkin was sold to me for a mere £1!

The veg is always top quality and we walked away with the most perfect savoy cabbages and a whopping pumpkin that weighted in at 7.4kg for just £1. So far that pumpkin has been turned into a huge pumpkin and porcini lasagne, 50 yes FIFTY rich and fudgy pumpkin, walnut and chocolate brownies and I STILL have 1/4 of it left to use up.

It’s not just the auctions that draw me to the market every week but in the food shed you will find the wonderful Maria and her homemade delights. Maria’s homemade butter is just incredible and this week her husband Tony, who makes wonderful chilli sauces and wooden chopping boards, had been out shooting and whipped up lots of venison pâte.

In the 3 years that I’ve been living in Melton Mowbray, and using the cattle market twice a week, it has become my main source of food and enjoyment in this town. It never fails to enrich my cupboards, larder and dining table and will hopefully continue to do so for many  years. If you ever get a chance to come over to Melton on a Tuesday morning then make sure you have a wander around all the different sheds; you’ll find antiques, collectables, firewood, building wood, clothes, kitchenalia, not to mention all the ferrets, pigs, sheep, cows, canaries, geese, well the list goes on and on. Come over, come early (auctions kick off about 9:30am), grab yourself a wild boar bacon sandwich from Paul (aka The Roosterman) and take it all in, you won’t be disappointed.

 

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!

East Midlands Food and Drink Festival in Melton Mowbray

This weekend the annual food and drink festival took place at the cattle market in Melton Mowbray. Normally I head over on the Sunday and spend the day drinking wine, cider and beer with my favourite producers, but alas I had to work this weekend so was able to get over for a couple of hours on Saturday to catch up with people and take a few shots.

Booze o’clock

Natterjack cider is usually my first point of call at any Melton food event and this year was no different, although I opted for one of his wonderful apple juices instead of the hard stuff. Booze was everywhere to tempt me and the lovely chaps from CAMRA were making my abstinence all the more difficult with their beer tasting sessions.

Beer tasting, one of my favourite pastimes

Mark from Gourmet Spice was there, he’s ace. I always love seeing him at events and checking out all his new spice rubs, oils and vinegars. His Togarishi spice blend is awesome, the best I’ve found in the UK, blows your head off mind! His new Mango and Green Apple balsamic vinegar is an absolute cracker too. I ended up leaving with a bag full of his new goodies!

The lovely Mark from Gourmet Spice

There was cheese a plenty which always makes me happy. You should definitely seek out Sparkenhoe vintage Red Leicester, it’s made with love and care by the fabulous and local LeicestershireHandmade Cheese Company, it’s the perfect example of an artisan cheese, just heavenly. I sampled their new blue cheese Battlefield Blue, yeah that’s a cheese I could quite happily bathe in…

Handmade Cheese Co new cheese, it’s absolutely wonderful

Good cheese = a very happy Hazel

Plenty of game for sale

I was taking a shot of hanging cured meat when I bumped into the lovely Rachel who organised Melton Pie Fest, yes I’m taking photos of meat because I LOVE cured meat and look how beautiful it is…

Cured meat, come to me baby!

No one went hungry…

The lovely fellas from Pomegranate were cooking and selling an array of Iranian culinary delights

Fluffy cloud meringues, toasties and Chinese food all did well

Fear not, it didn’t take me long to find the macarons…

Pretty macarons, I had a pistachio and a lemon one, breakfast macarons are the way forward

My absolute favourite stand is always the GB Italia stand. Not only are their Sicilian wines, liquors and limoncello divine but Rosemarie is the most awesome lady ever. I only get to see her once a year but I made sure I stocked up on some Limoncello to get me through until my homemade one is ready. Even if you are not interested in food and drink your ticket cost is worth it just to hang out with Rosemarie and her total enthusiasm for life and Sicilian wine will cheer even the grumpiest of souls.

From Limoncello to purple cauliflowers, all my kinda food and booze

It took me ages to find the Great Food Magazine stand manned by editor Matt Wright. I kept asking friends who I bumped into and they all replied with: “he’s somewhere over there apparently, haven’t found him yet”. Well after quite some searching I did eventually find him behind a wicker basket stand (yeah I’m not entirely sure what that was doing there) and he broke my booze abstention instantly by his determined persistence: Matt: “Time for a beer?” Me: “Hell yeah”. I really do have no willpower, actually thats a lie I just got a half from the `Belvoir Brewery stand (located by the Great Food stand, coincidence? I think not) just ordering a half took serious willpower. This was rewarded however by the abundance of free badges on the Belvoir bar that simple said “I Love Beaver”, obviously I picked us up a couple.

Matt was behind the basket stand everyone

I also bumped into Tim Burke who writes all the news for Great Food mag. “Have you seen today’s Leicester Mercury?” He asked, errr no. “We’re in it!” He exclaimed. So thrilled to be featured in their new Food Special as one of Leicestershire’s Food Heroes for this blog!

“News, views and recipes from the Great Food magazine writer, who also contributes to the website Domestic Sluttery. Her own  blog demands a visit, if only for the hugely entertaining About Me section.” Awesome.

Really thrilled to be included, also there was Tim for his blog and Matt for the fab Great Food magazine, celebratory beers were called for.

Also there was the wonderful Just Soaps Of The Earth with her stunning handmade soaps, creams, balms and all manner of treats to make you look and smell better. I couldn’t resist her Kitchen Soap and Patchouli shower gel so I currently smell like my 15 year old self, in a good way, not in a stinky teenager cider and fags way, hmmm actually I probably smell exactly like my 15 year old self.

One is edible, one will make you smell amazing

Ace to see so many lovely friends there with so many new brilliant products, were you there? Did you find something awesome?

Pie Fest in Melton Mowbray

                                                                  Pie me!

Last Wednesday morning BBC Radio Leicester’s Ben Jackson and my fellow Radio Leicester Food Friday cook Penny, met at my cottage to prepare ourselves for a morning of pie eating. We had the enviable job of judging Best Pie in the first Melton Mowbray pie competition open to all the local pubs, cafes and restaurants. You can hear us eating and judging some of the pies on Ben’s show (about 1hr 41mins in).

Don’t we all looks so glamorous in our official pie eating garments?

It took over an hour to work our way through the pies that had made it onto the judging table and guided by Stephen Hallam, Melton Mowbray pie maker extraordinaire, we carefully analysed each pie on a number of strict criteria such as pastry thickness, texture of filling, amount of filling, quality of bake and of course flavour. Some pies that scored highly on one scored low on others and before the figures were added up for each one we really had no idea which one was going to win.

                                             Stephen Hallam and a couple of the pies

                                                        Penny and the winning pie

The winner turned out to be Miss B’s Tearooms Hedgerow pie that had a viennese pastry top and filled with blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and elderflower. It was a cracking little pie and served with a big dollop of clotted cream it was quite frankly bloody lovely!

The pie competition was the warm up for the weekend’s Pie Fest which took over the town’s market place. I headed there on Saturday for a couple of hours in the sunshine to talk and eat pie…

Ian from Hartland Pies with his kickass Melton Mowbray pork pie topped with his very own chilli jam

Luckily I arrived just as the festival opened and headed to Hartland Pies for some breakfast. Their pork and black pudding pie was the perfect solution to my breakfast yearnings but I was totally blown away by his chilli jam topped Melton Mowbray. His pastry is just out of this world, he did tell me the secret but if I told you I would obviously have to kill you so you will just have to buy one and try and work it out yourself 🙂 They had sold out of pies just 2 hours later!

 

                         The lovely Louise from Miss B’s Tearoom with her trophy

Food historian Matthew O’Callaghan gave talks about the history of the pie

Stephen Hallam gave Melton Mowbray pie making demos outside his shop all weekend

                                                       How to hand raise a pie

                                                          Jazz and pies…nice

Gorgeous freehand sewing machine tea cosies made by Createry Studio

                             Hey ladies, how YOU doin’? Mark works his magic

It was an ace way to spend a couple of hours and I’m gutted I had to dash off as I really quite fancied an afternoon sat in the sunshine eating pies, drinking ale and listening to jazz, but then again there is always next year and after the success of this year I reckon it’s going to be bigger and better again.

 

Rutland Food Festival

It was an early start for all the traders this morning on the windy shore of Rutland Water. We arrived bright and early to set up the Great Food Magazine stand, battled the wind and managed, thanks to Matt the editor’s diagram, to eventually erect a giant sail put up the gazebo and stake it down. I also managed to break my dress and have my boobs constantly fall out as I wrestled with the gusting winds that were intent on carrying the stand away (I think this combined with the bracing wind actually did the trick of perking waking me up).

                               The stand is up and there is a happy Glen

We battled with the wind but finally we had a stand, much to the relief of Glen who was still struggling to come to terms with having to get up at 7am on a Saturday morning (I had been up since 6am so my sympathy wasn’t forthcoming).

     The view from the Great Food Mag stand before the event opened, not too shabby ehy?

We had the most incredible view across the beautiful Rutland reservoir and before the show opened I managed to get around some of the other stands and catch up with a few of my favourite local producers. First stop was to see the wonderful Nicola aka Little Cakes, my absolute favourite cake maker, you should check out the photo shoot I did with her and her stunning wedding cakes.

There was the truly wonderful Hambleton Bakery who’s bread I adore and made sure I bought a loaf of their sourdough before the gates opened and they sold out (which they did after just a few hours).

                          Their brownies were just divine, if you see them BUY THEM

                               Their muffins and mini brioche made me food swoon

Also there was the brilliant Grainstore Brewery who make Rutland Bitter.  Like Melton Mowbray pork Pies and Stilton cheese Rutland Bitter actually has protected geographical status, it is only allowed to be brewed by one brewery and this HAS to be the largest one in the county. It’s only one of 3 beers in the entire country to have PDO status and a mighty lovely brew it is too!

Everyone got into the swing of things with the sun shining, the beer flowing and the bands playing. The wind had dropped to a gentle breeze and everyone kicked back and soaked up the good times.

                                     Everybody needs a bosom/dog for a pillow

There was lots of great meat to be had too, we were pitched next to Picks Organic Meats who make the most wonderful burgers that are packed full of deep beefy flavours.  I visit them quite often when they have their stall at Melton Market on Saturdays and have their own meat on sale plus wood pigeon, squirrel and more recent they also have fresh fish.

We had a lovely day catching up with fellow food lovers and discovered a cracking new band called By The Rivers who are based in Leicester, if you like your reggae and ska then you should definitely check them out. They’re a group of young lads with huge amounts of talent and have already supported The Specials. Yeah we had an ace day, even Glen who hates early mornings/daylight enjoyed himself which is basically the highest of accolades.