hygge & wood-burner cooking

Last time I wrote here it was about Midsummer madness, now my feet are cosy in sheepskin slippers and I’m warming myself next to the wood-burner. This morning it was -2 degrees first thing, beautifully frosty outside but the garden is looking sadly bereft of vegetation. There are still lots of seed-heads and much as I like to think my tardiness when it comes to Autumn clearing is good for wildlife (I hate bare earth with all those nutrients being lost) it does now look decidedly scruffy.

Time to prepare the ground for some new planting I think. First though, there’s the lovely winter pleasure of planning it all, dreaming of red speckled borlotti climbing up teepees and of rainbow chard edging beds – while I sip tea by the wood-burner.

Having written recently about Hygge for Smallholder magazine I’m trying not to do that post-Christmas dreaming of Caribbean beaches and embrace the wood-burner cosiness of these chilly months. Maybe bake some salty, rosemary-scattered focaccia to eat with good coffee on a weekend morning.

Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is of course a Danish term used to describe cosiness, comfort and generally taking pleasure in the good things in life. The sort of feeling you get when snuggling up on a sheepskin, warmed by an open fire, maybe a mulled cider to hand and some home-reared pork effortlessly slow-cooking in the oven.

Candles would of course be lit and there would be friends and family around to share all this laid-back pleasure with.

Along with Scandi-chic, hygge is currently everywhere, in fact it’s being used a lot by stylish and far too tempting home-wares stores to sell everything from Icelandic jumpers to expensive candles. With the bank balance reduced significantly by the festive period, I’m doing my best to resist. Trying to remember that hygge isn’t all about lovely knitware; the point is surely that we should remember to celebrate the simple moments in our day whether it’s noticing the first shoots of spring buds appearing or enjoying a mug of tea with a friend.

Danish winters are long and dark and perhaps call for a lot of nourishing of the soul! Hygge is a way of not just dealing with those winters but relishing them, an attitude that is just as relevant to our British way of life, when winter always seems just a month or two too long.

A lovely place for inspiration is Trine Hahnemann’s ‘Scandinavian Comfort Food. Embracing the Art of Hygge.’ Many of Trine’s recipes are so enticing for this time of year (meatballs with celeriac and apples or duck legs with potatoes, apples and brown cabbage) plus there are numerous healthily delicious recipes for home-grown vegetables. It’s the spirit in which they’re cooked, shared and enjoyed that seems to be vital though, along with the relaxed setting.

from Trine Hahnemann’s ‘Scandinavian Comfort Food’

The more I explore hygge (including reading this lovely piece by Mrs Thomasina Tittlemouse) the more I’m reminded that my wood-burner cosiness is all the more enjoyable after being outdoors. Whether it’s a run across the fields on a bright but chilly morning, half an hour stacking the logs in the wood-store or venturing out for a walk up the hill.

All that bracing fresh air cries out for some easy, imprecise, slow-cooking on the wood-burner to return to, maybe a tasty stew or roast vegetables using the last of my colourful stripy beetroot:

Roasted Vegetables with Winter Herbs – Recipe

Substitute herbs or veggies (celeriac or swede is also good here) according to personal favourites/gluts in the garden – most winter root vegetables go well with the robust flavours of woody perennial herbs.

Ingredients

Several sprigs of rosemary, thyme, sage and a couple of bay leaves (or substitute myrtle)

½ Squash such as butternut (about 250g) cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) wedges, no need to peel the skin off.

2 medium potatoes, cut into wedges

1 medium beetroot, scrubbed and cut into wedges

2 carrots

2 parsnips

2 medium onions, peeled and cut into wedges

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled but bashed with the blunt end of a knife

3 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Scrub your vegetables well/peel if needed then dry on kitchen roll and place in a bowl with the garlic cloves, and herbs – all except the beetroot, which needs to be added at the last minute otherwise you’ll stain all the veggies a vibrant pink. Season with salt and pepper and mix well so that everything is well coated with oil. You can cover the vegetable mixture with clingfilm and leave for a few hours before cooking if preparing ahead.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to its highest temperature, or ensure the fire in your wood-burning stove is roaring. Lay the vegetables on a baking tray, then add the beetroot chunks, tossing carefully to coat in oil and herbs. Now roast in the hot oven for 35 minutes or so until tender.

Serve as a side dish with meat or fish or scatter with chunks of feta cheese and rocket to enjoy with crusty bread as a warm winter salad.

Hopefully I’ll be able to resist rushing out to buy hand-knitted socks and forget those thoughts around lottery wins and a month or so spent in the Caribbean. Remembering there’s something about returning home at dusk after a winter walk, the smell of wood-fire in the air. I’ll keep my fantasies to planting/harvesting dreams of purple beans snaking up canes and squash running amok. Making sure in the meantime that I have a pile of blankets to hand, a few candles and a good book.

 

 

griddled asparagus with halloumi & myrtle berry oil

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The sun is shining, the kitchen doors are flung open all day and it’s definitely the weather for griddled asparagus. I may live up a Cotswolds hill but all this glorious sunshine and simple meals enjoyed outdoors is making me crave Mediterranean flavours too.

I still have a long wait for home-grown asparagus – in fact I was starting to worry that the asparagus I grew from seed last year had disappeared during the winter. Happily thin little spears have started to appear, but I need to wait a couple of years until I can harvest from these plants.

Living not far from the Vale of Evesham, there’s a plentiful supply around here of locally grown asparagus though.

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My favourite is from a farm in the next village that I love cycling to for extra veg (especially at the moment when the garden is so lush but there’s still a wait for lots of Summer crops). The asparagus is freshly pulled, in large crates that I choose from – excellent value too as it isn’t yet graded or washed.

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I love it simply steamed with olive oil or butter but today it seemed like the weather for griddling. While the griddle pan was hot I couldn’t resist adding slices of halloumi too; with a drizzle of olive oil and some good bread it made a quick but delicious lunch.

The olive oil was sent to me from Marina Colonna, a Masseria (farm) in Italy that looks lovely – I had a peak at the film here. The extra virgin olive oil is fruity and full of flavour in its own right but I’ve also become very inspired by their flavoured oils. I love the fact that they’re flavoured with fruit and herbs grown on the family farm and they’re also more unusual than any flavoured oils I’ve come across before.

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Natural Zest of Organic Oranges or Lemons is going to be delicious drizzled over simple, summery grilled fish but how about olive oil with natural zest of organic citrus Bergamia or cardamom flavoured oil? The olive oil with natural rose essence is earmarked for a Middle Eastern inspired cake with ground almonds, while the truffle oil is heading for pasta and risotto. I’m definitely going to try some of Marina Colonna’s own recipes here too – really fancy the octopus with mandarin oil and when my broad beans are ready some will be heading into the broad bean puree with chicory and toasted bread.

Anyway, back to my lunch. Hardly a recipe, I simply heated the griddle pan, brushed it with olive oil and griddled thin spears of asparagus for a few minutes. Next into the griddle pan went slices of halloumi for 30 seconds or so each side. The myrtle (I’m thinking I must grow some!) oil was drizzled over both and I added a few basil leaves. As I had some leftover bread, this went into the griddle pan too. Delicious.

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And nicely quick to cook, so it didn’t keep me too long from this:

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Would love to link up with the fab Simple and In Season hosted by Ren Behan and Louisa of Eat Your Veg’s Spring Four Season’s Food (great for healthy, family friendly recipe ideas) which she co-hosts with Anneli of the lovely Delicieux.

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chicken with marigold petals & rampant herbs – may in my kitchen

My chicken with red peppers & marigold peppers was inspired both by Sophie Grigson and a visit to herb guru Jekka McVicar’s herb farm. I loved the open day at Jekka’s fabulous Herbetum and came away with some enticing new herbs to plant and enthusiastic plans for cooking with the herbs already to hand outside my kitchen. DSC07308 DSC07316 DSC07322 I reached for a copy of Sophie Grigson’s herbs, which I bought a few years ago from a second-hand bookshop and adapted her recipe for ‘Chicken Red Pepper and Marigold Fajitas’ to use up some of the leftover cooked cockerel I had in the freezer from Easter lunch: Chicken with Marigold Petals & Red Peppers 1 tablespoon cumin seeds 1 tablespoon coriander seeds 1 teaspoon dried oregano 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into strips 1 onion sliced 2 garlic cloves sliced 1 chilli, sliced A handful of cooked, leftover chicken A teaspoon of chopped fresh lovage juice of 1/2 lime petals of 3 marigold flowers A handful of chopped fresh parsley Dry fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a frying pan until they give off a heady aroma. Grind them in a pestle and mortar with the oregano. Heat the oil in a wide frying pan over a moderate heat and cook the peppers, lovage, onion, garlic and chilli for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle over the spices, season with salt and pepper, stir, cover and reduce heat to low then leave to sweat for 10 minutes or until tender. Raise the heat and add the chicken, stir fry until heated through then stir in the lime juice and serve strewn with parsley and marigold petals. This would be fabulous with fajitas as Sophie suggests, or with rice. I’d been baking focaccia with rosemary (Ruby’s fingers are still perfect for those indents where all the lovely olive oil, rosemary and sea salt gather) that morning – we had a weekend away around the Jekka McVicar herb farm visit and much as I enjoy the treat of a couple of meals out, I’m always crazily keen to cook when we return home. So we happily scoffed a tasty mismatch of food at lunchtime. DSC07323DSC07324 Skipping away from my kitchen for a minute and back to that wonderful herb farm, it was brilliant to see such an amazing selection of unusual herbs. The brilliant thing about Jekka’s Herbetum is that you can also see well established versions of the herbs that are on sale growing in lovely raised beds, with great labels that suggest ways to use them, often culinary. For instance I couldn’t resist buying a ‘Jekka’ thyme after seeing this lovely profusion of flowers and being very taken with the suggestion of using the thyme flowers in salads. DSC07267 And when we felt how soft this low-growing thyme ‘Minimalist’ was, both Ruby and I Ioved the idea of planting it somewhere where we could walk over it. DSC07268 I hadn’t seen mace growing before and couldn’t resist buying some to cook with at home. DSC07273 So many lovely herbs to choose from: DSC07283 Ruby decided she wanted to buy a herb too and found it as hard to choose as her Mum: DSC07262 My enthusiasm for planting seems to have rubbed off too. In a dubious way. For Ruby, it’s not herbs in pots; my daughter decided she’d love to grow dandelions in her hair: I’ll spare you the pics of the shower cap propagation method she used later. DSC07302 Back home, the rampant herbs that I spy from my kitchen window are tempting me to experiment more in the kitchen: DSC07307 I’m hoping the bergamot seeds I bought will germinate as I enjoyed a wonderfully fragrant tea made simply with dried bergamot flowers at Jekka’s herb farm and am hoping to replicate it at home. While I wait for bergamot to grow, I’ve been enjoying some lovely tea samples kindly sent by Teavivre. Sipping some freshly brewed Ripened Tangerine tea while watering my seedlings or savouring the organic fragrant black tea has made me realise how much of a rut I’ve got into with my mid morning coffee. Will definitely be varying it now, especially as I’m finding a morning cup of green or black tea very refreshing in the lovely sunshine we’re having. These teas are much more interesting than reaching for a tea-bag:

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I do like what Teavivre told me about their visits to the Tea Plantations in China too: “Our regular trips allow us to not just find the best teas, but also visit our supplier’s farms to personally verify their growing and production methods.” They tell me that they use organically farmed tea wherever possible. Will write more about my herby experiments soon, wondering about making tea-bread while I have these interesting teas too. In the meantime I’m off to have a peep at some other kitchens around the world in Celia of  Fig Jam & Lime Cordial’s fab In My Kitchen. Although I seem to have meandered away from my kitchen in this post, growing and planting are so intertwined with what I cook, so would love to join in. And as this is a very herby post, would love to join in this month’s herbs on Saturday which Karen of Lavender and Lovage hosts. If you like growing and cooking with herbs too, it’s a great place for recipe ideas. lavenderandlovage_cooking2

rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

If you visited my garden at the moment, a glimpse of the rhubarb patch would reveal that my weeding is as shoddy as ever. It’s on my long mental ‘to-do’ list, honestly, but as always my priority has been to eat it.

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Whether scoffed with vanilla yoghurt and home-made muesli for breakfast, served up in a fool for pud or in a very pink drink, rhubarb is never far away at present.

I recently spent a few lovely hours up a wildly wonderful hill near to Abergavenny and came home with a jar of sweet rose dukkah. A fragrant blend of dried rose petals, roasted Herefordshire cobnuts, pistachios, vanilla, cardamom and saffron, it pairs wonderfully with rhubarb. And adds a subtle sweetness that means you can avoid excess sugar in rhubarb puds such as crumble or rhubarb clafoutis.

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Concocted by Liz Knight whose creative resourcefulness (she was tapping nearby birch trees for sap when I visited) I admire and wrote about here, sweet rose dukkah seems both exotic and redolent of her wonderful Welsh borders hillside. As Liz explained, its rugged beauty isn’t suited for any sort of farming other than sheep, so Merlin’s hill is never sprayed with pesticides. Leaving an abundance of wild ingredients for the picking.

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Sweet rose dukkah can be sprinkled onto cakes or rolled into lamb to create a crust too. But for the moment, thanks to an abundance of the slender pink stemmed stuff, it’s partnering rhubarb in my kitchen.

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My regular starting point with rhubarb is to make a sort of easy, bung it in the oven, compote:

Baked Rhubarb Compote

Chop 1 kg rhubarb into 5 cm-ish lengths, place in a baking tray or dish, squeeze over the juice of an orange and about 125g caster sugar (if you’ve got hold of sweet rose dukkah, you can reduce this according to taste) cover with foil and bake in a medium oven for 30 minutes or so until tender.

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The beauty of making compote in the oven rather than in a pan for me is that it’s far easier to end up with rhubarb that still has some shape and colour, even if you forget about it. Whereas if you cook it in a pan, multi-task/let yourself be distracted for a few minutes and you have a shapeless mush.

Delicious simply with Greek yoghurt (add muesli or granola and you have a fab breakfast) this rhubarb can now be a starting point for many puds. Lovely in rhubarb custard, I also make a very easy rhubarb fool.

Rhubarb Fool

Take 4 heaped tablespoons of the rhubarb compote above and mash with a fork (I like some texture, but you can aim for more of a puree if preferred) then fold into 2 tablespoons vanilla yoghurt or Greek yoghurt and 1 tablespoon double cream.

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Sweet rose dukkah is lovely sprinkled over rhubarb fool. You should also be left with some gloriously pink/amber syrup from the rhubarb compote dish.

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Mine is reserved in the fridge, and may well be destined for fruity, rustic weekend cocktails.

The chunkier stems of rhubarb have been cooked slowly with a little water, heading for cordial:

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I used the Jamie Oliver recipe here for cordial. It’s pleasingly simple but results in a pink tipple that’s as lovely with sparkling water as it is with Prosecco.

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Angelica and Sweet Cicely are next on the list to be partnered with rhubarb (another way to reduce sugar) particularly as I can see their fresh new growth emerging amongst the herbs close to the kitchen door. And yes, they need weeding too…..

Thanks lots to Cristina Colli, who took the photos of Liz Knight foraging and who I spent a great day talking about food with – you can see more of her lovely photography and styling here.

And despite a meander up a wild hillside, as this post is mainly about my rhubarby kitchen, would love to share my kitchen (and hence have the excuse for some nosy peeps in other kitchens around the world) by joining in with Celia of Fig Jam & Lime Cordial’s April In My Kitchen.

slow-cooked hogget

Although we’ve had several glorious days of uplifting Spring sunshine lately and I’ve enjoyed some great gardening time with Ruby, there are still days when only slow-cooked comfort food will do. The hogget from Windrush Farm that I cooked for 6 hours with rosemary, garlic and our home-made cider was definitely food to warm the soul as well as body.

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Locally farmed in a traditional way and cooked slowly on our wood-burning stove, the hogget was full of flavour, tender and still succulent due to the liquid.

Windrush Farm isn’t far from home, near Cold Aston in the Cotswolds and some great old breeds of sheep are farmed there – pedigree Windrush Berrichons, Dorsets and Whitefaced Woodlands. All naturally reared on pasture, resulting in great flavour and nutrition.

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Even better, they sell hogget and mutton. I’ve been wanting to try mutton for ages – partly because I look at the new lambs at this time of year and like the idea of them living longer. Also I was curious about the difference in flavour from animals that have grown slowly and naturally to those that are barely weaned.

I have to admit that I didn’t know what hogget was until I spoke to Peter from Windrush Farm; it’s in between lamb and mutton, meat from sheep between 12 and 24 months. Very tasty it is too, and so suited to slow cooking.

Living as I do amidst gorgeous honey coloured towns and villages that were mostly built from the wool trade, I was really interested to hear that hogget was common back when there was a market for wool. Now that their fleeces have so little value, it rarely makes economic sense for farmers to keep sheep, other than ewes and rams for breeding, beyond 12 months. Great then to hear of a local farm that’s keeping this tradition going.

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I cooked a shoulder of hogget very simply – this is hardly a recipe, more about great produce. But this is how I went about slow-roasting this delicious meat:

First strip a couple of sprigs of rosemary of leaves and bash them in a pestle and mortar with 2 cloves garlic, Maldon sea salt and some olive oil. I rubbed this garlicky paste all over the hogget and left it for a few hours. Then I cooked a couple of sliced onions slowly in more olive oil and placed them in a large casserole pot. The hogget was then browned for about 10 minutes in the frying pan I’d cooked the onions. I placed the hogget on the onions, added a couple more whole cloves of garlic and a glass of cider, then cooled covered at 110C for about 6 hours. I removed the hogget and covered it in foil while I added a tin of cannellini beans to the onions and stirred through.

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We ate our hogget and beans with lots of purple sprouting and garlicky potatoes. Leftovers went down very well too with flatbread, labneh, houmous and salads.

We still have a few hogget chops that I’m planning to try in a tagine and my thoughts are turning to mutton already. Thanks lots to Windrush Farm for such tasty meat.

 

 

 

 

buffalo and kidney pie

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Lately I’ve developed a pie fixation. Damp, grey February days are surely meant for slow-cooked food and unctuous pie fillings. Babies have also given me a convenient excuse.

First, I visited a friend with a gorgeous new baby boy and thought a large roast chicken and mushroom pie seemed the right thing to take for a sleep deprived Mum who had lots of other mouths to feed. I politely kept her company in scoffing of course. Ruby and I were also both keen to visit her newest (and very cuddly) cousin, Teddy during half term. When we first met Teddy, I took a steak and kidney pie and it turned out to be just what my sister needed. Again it would’ve been rude not to accompany her in eating pie. A few weeks of breast-feeding and sleep deprivation later, I decided that she’d be in even more need of iron in pie form. I had some stewing steak in the freezer that I was keen to try from the wonderful Buffalo farm that I visited recently and my sister is a big fan of offal. So buffalo and kidney it was.

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Buffalo and kidney with lots of tasty chestnut mushrooms actually, all cooked slowly for a few hours on the wood-burning stove the evening before our visit. I simmered everything except the buffalo for a while before adding the chunks of lean meat, aiming at an unctuous pie filling full of flavour but with some texture from the buffalo. I’d been warned not to overcook buffalo meat as it’s incredibly tender and, knowing how much taste there is in this well-reared, natural meat, I didn’t want to reduce it down to nothing.

I cheated with bought puff pastry – well, with a nephew to cuddle, I didn’t want to waste time on the morning of our visit. It was a good pie though, and yes, I obviously had to join my sister in tucking into lots of it.

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Buffalo and Kidney Pie

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

400g chestnut mushrooms, cut in quarters

4 tablespoons olive oil

small handful parsley leaves

2 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

500g stewing steak (I used Buffalo)

250g kidneys, chopped

200ml stock (I used chicken as I had some to hand from the roast chicken pie, but beef would be good)

200ml red wine

1 packet puff pastry

1 egg, beaten

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan, add the carrot and onion and cook for 5 minutes or so then add to a large casserole. Add the butter to the pan, cook the mushrooms for a few minutes, add the parsley, then add to the vegetables in the casserole. Season half the flour in a bowl or plate and turn the kidneys in it then heat some oil in the pan and brown the kidney. Add to the casserole along with the stock and red wine, season, cover and cook on a gentle heat for 1 1/2 hours. Toss the buffalo meat in the remaining flour, brown and add to the casserole. Continue to simmer for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours until you have a wonderfully tender mixture that still has some texture. If you are using less tender meat than buffalo, add at the beginning with the kidney.

Heat the oven to 190C. Pour the filling into a pie dish (I made a couple with this mixture) but it depends on the size of your pie dish). Roll out the pastry, cover the pie, crimping the edges in a rustic fashion, and use a pastry brush to brush with a beaten egg. Cook for 30 minutes or until nicely golden.

Lovely with mash and a mound of purple sprouting broccoli.

 

 

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