leftovers and preserving – my January kitchen

I know preserving doesn’t seem the most likely kitchen activity for the middle of winter but even while I’m making leftover meals (I still have turkey stock for risottos, turkey in the freezer, slow-cooked red cabbage and a lot of Christmas cake) I’m dreaming about Spring/Summer meals. Thanks to the ham and chorizo that’s air-drying next to our wood-store.

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In December I bought a pig from a friend who has a small farm, partly so that we could make good use of the cage Guy made (when we had 3 Berkshire pigs to clear the garden) for protecting ham while it hangs outside. We hang it from rafters at the back of our house, under a covered area where the ham can still benefit from wind but stay protected from rain – or snow if we have any. I salt a leg of ham for a couple of weeks first, then wipe it and wrap for hanging as here.

We also made sausages, a plain English style sausage and fresh chorizo. I’d bought hog casings for sausage and salami previously from Weschenfelder and borrowed a friend’s sausage-making equipment. This time I was very excited when Weschenfelder offered to let me try out their sausage-making machine – it meant I could have several sessions of making sausage and chorizo. Ruby was also very keen to get involved so we had a couple of sausage-making fests after school. Thankfully the machine is really easy to assemble and use, perfect for a clumsy Mum and an 8 year old!

Along with the leftover meat going into noodle dishes and Indonesian influenced Nasi Goreng type dinners, the odd toad in the hole or sausage and mash is going to make an appearance amongst the copious January frugal/healthy lentil and egg based dishes.

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In my kitchen at the moment there’s also:

-Experimentation for Cowboy style campfire dinners for the Giffords Circus competitionfor this year’s tour of the Cotswolds (a must on my list of things to do for 2016). We’re thinking home-made baked beans (that pig may come in handy here too), cornbread, puds with maple syrup?

– Some lovely Farmers hand-cream that I have to hand. I love the fact that it’s made by the sea in North Wales (already planning a holiday to this wonderful coast for this Summer) and uses lavender grown on a hill farm in mid Wales.

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– Lots of enamel ware, including a great little saucepan that I had for Christmas. Earmarked for camping trips this year (I really want to try the Elderflower Orchard at Thistledown Farm this year), in the meantime it’s made warming my milk for morning coffee very pleasurable and has been used for an extra batch of cranberry sauce.

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-Plenty of slow cooking on the wood-burning stove. It’s been used to make the red cabbage and cranberry sauce and seems perfect for slowly simmering stews and casseroles from Gennaro Contaldo’s ‘Slow Cook Italian’ one of my current favourite cookery books that I’m enjoying cooking my way through. Pheasant Ragu tonight.

Bubbling away

Not too many New Year resolutions for me but plenty of things I’m full of enthusiasm for cooking and eating this year and so many places I can’t wait to explore.

Would love to link this post in with In My Kitchen, previously hosted by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and now by Maureen of Orgasmic Chef. I love the glimpses of other people’s kitchens around the world offered by IMK, and look forward to more beautiful, inspirational and inspiring posts from Celia, Sally of My Custard Pie and many others.

 

 

 

home-grown cocktails

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Tis still the season to be merry – and to celebrate the fruits of your labour in style. If you have a few home-made jellies and cordials stashed away to add to the mix, New Year cocktails can be satisfyingly personal too.

cocktails - using home-made jellies

If you’ve planned ahead and squirelled away blackberry whisky, sloe gin, cider, pear vodka or quince ratafia you can get really creative. But if not, many regular preserves or berried treasure stashed in the freezer can help you celebrate a productive year in the garden in style. I always find frozen fruit languishing in the depths of the freezer just when I’m about to pick the next year’s crop – far better then to relish it with something sparkling!

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I’d like to describe gleaning cocktail recipes/ideas from vintage books or stylish bars but have to admit that my own experimentation has mainly been a result of desperation: trying to concoct something on a Friday night when I have gin ready to pour and realised we haven’t got any tonic!

Growing herbs such as lemon verbena and lemon balm does make me eager to try them in syrups though and I can’t resist picking a few rose-hips for similar purposes. Or using a sprig of rosemary as a stirrer in a Whiskey Sour.

This is my favourite, very simple home-grown cocktail:

Cotswold Kir Recipe

I got the idea for this on a holiday to Brittany. Kir is obviously a classic French cocktail made with Crème de Cassis topped up with white wine but we enjoyed a Breton version made with local sparkling cider at a great little B & B. It felt perfect drunk in a rural part of Brittany surrounded by apple orchards; once home we decided a Cotswold Kir suited our own surroundings up a Cotswold hill. Especially as I’d made home-made Cassis with a blackcurrant glut and had some nicely matured home-made sparkling cider ready for quaffing.

Ingredients

Cassis (Very easy to make if you have plenty of home-grown blackcurrants).

Sparkling Cider

Simply add 1 part Cassis to a glass then top up with 9 parts Sparkling Cider for a cocktail as delicious as it’s beautiful.

My friend Chava took the pics here for an article I was writing on home-grown cocktails for Smallholder magazine. It was a month before Christmas, we were both busy but had the wood-burner lit and it seemed a waste not to stop and drink the cocktails we’d made for the photos. We could’ve quite happily settled by the wood- burner for the rest of the day.

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A belated Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

puglian vendemmia

Having relished our English Autumn, we had a lovely trip to Puglia in half term and it was wonderful to see Italy at a time when the olives are being gathered. There are bags of walnuts and almonds outside every village shop and the trattorie all feature wild mushroom dishes.

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Our holidays over the last few years have mainly been British seaside bucket and spade fests, partly because flights in school holidays are so expensive and also because we’ve loved finding hidden Welsh coves and Dorset crabbing spots. Discovering somewhere completely different, leaving our abundance of apples to explore Baroque towns and rural areas with olive nets laid in readiness under ancient trees was such a different treat.

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We stayed at Casa Cicerali, a beautifully restored stone farmhouse with a wonderful wooden decked pool overlooking olive and almond groves. In between Ostuni and Cisternino, two little hill-top towns that were great to explore and buy delicious provisions from, it was also a 20 minute drive to some lovely Adriatic beaches. It wasn’t hot, but being hardy English girls (and the Adriatic sea was distinctly warmer than the Welsh sea that we’re used to) Ruby and I swam in the sea and Ruby made trulli sandcastles.

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Casa Cicerali has been restored by an English family whose modernist white house somehow fits into this valley of vines and olives perfectly. Their girls go to school locally, they were so welcoming from offering to cook us supper for our first night (a baked pasta dish with Italian sausage, home-made bread and brownies – all delicious), lending us buckets and spades and leaving a large jar of their own almonds which we scoffed throughout the week. We could pick any fruit from their trees too (Quince and Persimmon during Autumn).

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It was great to have a local family give us ideas for exploring the area, and their recommended local village restaurant was amazing value. Wonderful and abundant antipasti left us hardly any room for the delicious wild boar and cardoncelli mushroom ragu with pasta. Thank goodness for the walk home to let it go down – through little country lanes that gave us great glimpses of the orti (patches of land where the villagers grow olives, almonds, fruit and maybe a few vegetables).

We shopped at the local market for food, coming home with squid, sausage,lentils and tomatoes to cook and eat on our lovely terrace.

nov 2015 179nov 2015 180Exploring the Baroque streets of Martina Franca, Ruby discovered a florists shop where all the flowers and bouquets were made from candy, chocolate and almonds. Then we got caught in a rain storm and drank far too many strong espressos and ate nutella pies while we sheltered in a bar.

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Now we’re home to English rain and copious apples and quince in place of prickly pear and persimmon. I’m loving the large bowl of almonds we brought home from Casa Cicerali on our kitchen table. They remind me of our great holiday every time we get out the nut crackers.

 

mellow fruitfulness & focaccia

Rampant storms seem to have taken over from all those misty mornings and mellow fruitfulness. Soon all the russet leaves will be on the ground, so before I forget what an utterly stunning Autumn it’s been, I thought I’d recap. And in true “hygge” style, savour the cosiness of wintry baking.

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I can’t remember an Autumn when Keats’ words were more apt. This season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness”  has been exactly that: so many mornings eating breakfast while the sun attempts to break through the mist hanging low over the fields. The coppery, golden and amber hues have been more vivid than ever, stunning as a bright blue sky replaces the mist as a backdrop. And as for the mellow fruitfulness, many of the Quince have been made into membrillo and jars of jelly, Ruby and friends collected rose-hips for syrup and apples are in plentiful supply.

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The wood-burning stove is lit most days and it’s time for slow-cooked stews and baking. Quince and Apple cake from Sarah Raven’s fab ‘Garden Cookbook’ (one of my most-used cookbooks) is my new favourite cake, quince has been used in a Venison, Quince and Cider Stew today and the smell of baking bread draws me into the kitchen. More tempting than venturing outside this week.

I’m still loving using the sourdough starter (offspring of Priscilla Queen of the Refrigerator) kindly sent to me by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, while Ruby and friends are ever niftier at cake-baking. I can let them get on with so much weighing and mixing, even chopping these days without chaos but it’s good to see that cleaning the bowl from chocolate cake is still the preferred baking activity. And although rapidly growing up, my daughter still has fingers that are the perfect size for those dimples in foccacia.

This is the focaccia recipe I generally use:

500g strong white bread flour

1 dessert spoon Maldon sea salt + extra for sprinkling

I x 7g sachet dried, fast-action yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil + extra for drizzling

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped

 

Mix together the flour and dessert spoon of salt in a large bowl and add the yeast along with 350ml warm water and the 2 tablespoons of oil. Bring together into a dough and knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes until the dough loses its stickiness and becomes nicely pliable. Put it in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for an hour or so until doubled in size. Knock back the dough and leave to rise again for another hour then press into a lightly oiled rectangular baking tin. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove for 1/2 hour (close to the oven) while the oven heats to its highest setting.

Use your own fingertips (or borrow some from a child as I often do) to poke rows of dimples. Well, maybe not quite as orderly as rows if you’re anything like my daughter – or me. Drizzle liberally with olive oil (it will collect deliciously in those dimples) and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. You can vary your focaccia each time, maybe pressing halved cherry tomatoes into the dough or some olives.

making focaccia

Of course I haven’t just been gazing at leaves and baking lately – it seems as if our lives are ever busier, particularly with work and school. All the more reason to make focaccia!

cardigan bay hols

Kayaking in a sheltered bay, spotting dolphins and scoffing delicious food at the pizza tipi are some of the things I’ll remember from our recent hols.

We stayed in Newport, a lovely laid-back little place on an estuary in North Pembrokeshire. You can cross the estuary at low-tide (as long as you’re happy to paddle up to the waist) to reach a long windswept beach with great waves for jumping and sand dunes to picnic in.

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I loved the arty/foodie/slightly bohemian vibe and the variety of beaches from sheltered coves (great for paddling around in our inflatable kayak) to vast, white sandy expanses perfect for kite-flying.

We stayed in Carreg Las, a gorgeous Georgian house that we all wanted to move into permanently. It had a light-filled kitchen that was perfect for lingering over coffee in the morning, scoffing bara brith from the nearby bakery and playing games in the evening.Carreg lasAnd the simple but stylish decor with slate/stripped wood floors, pale greys and creams and splashes of colour from Welsh textiles or local art was lovely.

Carreg las bunks

It inspired some art of our own – necklaces made with shells with holes and worn with PJs!

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Our first night treat meal at Llys Meddyg, a restaurant with rooms with a passion for foraging and local rooms was delicious – we ate in the very family friendly and relaxed garden restaurant that opens during the summer.

One morning we climbed Carningli, the hill that rises above Newport and grazed on whimberries as we walked. I can’t wait to return!

 

out of hibernation

I can’t believe that last time I wrote a post I was talking about hibernating. Now I’m making the most of every sunny hour outdoors, enjoying my garden which is wilder than ever and the surrounding countryside, currently all undulating fields in those lovely subdued, mellow hues that ripe barley and wheat tend to have by August.

Of course I haven’t really been hibernating since April. In between work, busy school terms, attempting to play some minor part in the shape of my unruly garden and feeding my family, there doesn’t seem to have been time to blog. These are some of the things I have managed to fit in:

Yet more baking.

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Cake decorating with flowers in the garden seems to still be popular with lots of 7 year old girls around here:

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We had a lovely weekend back in May in Somerset, including visiting the wonderful Ethicurean. I loved the restored walled kitchen garden with far-reaching views over the surrounding countryside. Would love to see how those little seedlings are looking now.

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We played hide and seek in it, a tad embarrassing when I was spotted by a passing couple lying behind a low box hedge. And the food, home-produced/local and scoffed in a restored old greenhouse, was delicious. Lots of jars of fermenting potions on the windowsill too, just my cup of tea.

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Back home, I made gooseberry and elderflower cordial as a change to my usual elderflower cordial.

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We had a great crop of strawberries, I made some Cassis with blackcurrants from garden and I let the asparagus get shoddily surrounded by weeds.

Currently the courgettes are starting to produce fast and furiously, the calendula and nasturtium are as rampant as usual and there are regularly lots of children in the paddling pool. Veggies, flowers and children all becoming increasingly feral as the summer holidays progress.

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I’m missing blogging and am looking forward to catching up – as determined to post more regularly as I am to make the most of the rest of this lovely Summer.

 

 

 

 

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