goose eggs & greens, rhubarb & custard

Goose eggs-rhubarb (640x425)Even on rainy days, May surely has to be the loveliest month – after a downpour, the fresh, lush growth is even lovelier. The Sweet Cicely in my poor, weed-strewn herb border is covered in frothy creamy umbels, competing with the cow parsley in the field next door. Jewel-like drops of water glisten from the Lady’s Mantle  and there’s blossom everywhere – spilling from the wild cherry tree from which our hammock hangs, and promising good things from the apple, pear, plum and quince trees.

Despite all the lush green growth, we’re still in the hungry gap of course. There’s so much hope of good harvests from the tiny borlotti beans pushing out of the damp earth towards my teepee (if they can race the self-sown nasturtium seedlings that are springing up everywhere) to the new potato plants that are loving the current mix of sun and rain.

But hope and promise is about all there is just yet when it comes to eating my garden.Apart from the greens that is.

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There are plenty of chives and numerous herbs to be sprinkled on my lunchtime omelettes and sandwiches. Last year’s chard is utterly flourishing and crying out to be made use of before it runs to seed. Nettles a plenty of course. And there’s lots of wild garlic to be gathered from the woods – we’ve found a great new spot that’s a handy bike ride away for my daughter, while I turn puce running behind her.  Mixes of greens seem perfect for May – for mixing with soft cheese and filling pasta parcels, pies and definitely adding to concoctions such as frittata with the goose eggs that happily coincide.

Goose Eggs AW

Pie 4 (640x425)

As perfectly May as rhubarb and custard, the still slender pink rhubarb making a perfect tart partner to rich ice creams and custard (goose eggs are perfect here again).  Lots of other rhubarb recipes I’d like to try too, maybe combining Liz Knight’s rose dukkah. And if the slugs and snails get in the way of my May optimism, there’s always rhubarb cake to cheer me up. Made with this easy Diana Henry recipe at the weekend, it’s moist and yummy, a bit too tempting with my morning coffee while working.

Foraged Fritatta

The seedlings on my windowsill may be dawdling but the nettles are sprinting. Weeds are rampaging everywhere in the garden and there doesn’t seem enough time to tackle half of them. Eating the pesky things seems the best option. Along with last year’s chard (valiantly braving the elements while newer sowings take their time) and some wild garlic from the woods, one of my favourite ways of eating those nettle tops is in a fritatta.Frittata 3 AW (1)

 

I’m full of enthusiasm for similar mixes of greens at the moment, mainly ‘foraged’ from the garden. I glance out of the window and the garden still seems to offer meagre pickings. Yet there’s always a handful of greens to add to a quick lunchtime omelette or to wilt and mix with ricotta and parmesan for filling pasta shells. I might add some of last year’s Italian greens that are hanging on in there in the asparagus bed and a few dandelion leaves. Then there’s the tops of the Brussels flowers I grew last year, the plants are pretty much over and look very scruffy but I’m reluctant to pull them out while they’re adding to my colander of tasty, nutritious (and free!) greens.

Foraged Frittata

6 eggs (I often include goose eggs as they’re around at the moment and add a richness, their large yolks making the frittata SO yellow)

A colander of chard, nettle tops, wild garlic, whatever edible cultivated and wild green take your fancy.

I onion, chopped

A small bowl of grated parmesan.

Salt & pepper.

Olive oil.

Add a glug of olive oil to a frying pan and add the onion with a pinch of salt, then cook on a low heat slowly until it’s softened and deliciously sweet. Meanwhile wash the greens thoroughly in a colander then wilt in a pan. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze the excess water from the greens then chop – I find this easy with scissors. Beat the eggs in a bowl, add the greens, parmesan, cooked onions and season.

Add another glug of olive oil to a frying pan, turn the heat to medium/high and add the egg mixture, Turn the heat down to low immediately and cook slowly for 10 to 15 minutes until the frittata is almost set then place under a pre-heated grill until the top is set. Great eaten straight away but leftovers are lovely cold too.

Makes me relish the hungry gap!

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.

FARMERS-hand-cream

– 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.

Festive

-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.

casa cicerali

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).

casa cicerali pool

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!

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