eating weeds, baking sourdough & escapologist sheep – inspiring winter reading

The depths of winter seems like a good time to bake bread. Quick flat-bread is easy throughout the seasons – cooked in minutes on the wood-burner hotplates when it’s cold or in a regular oven to go with a herby salad from the garden in summer. But slowly proven bread, maybe risen by wild yeasts from a sourdough starter, baked with nourishing stone-ground organic flour feels right for those months after Christmas when comforting but healthy food is craved. And getting a new sourdough starter established definitely seems easy in a kitchen that’s constantly cosily warmed by the wood-burning stove. Bread389 Winter evenings are perfect for curling up with a good book too of course. There seems to have been far too little time for that lately, but the following books have not only inspired me to give sourdough another go, to experiment with herbs more and to look forward to Spring foraging; they’re leading on to more great reading. In ‘The Modern Peasant’ by Jojo Tulloh, a sort of self sufficiency for city-dwellers is explored. Jojo initially describes visiting Patience Gray’s hillside home in rural Southern Italy. Lured by Patience Gray’s autobiographical cookbook ‘Honey from a Weed’ (next on my list to read!) Jojo describes the old bread oven where figs dried, the fireplace where hams and sausages were smoked and the larder full of preserves. She concludes: “Patience’s remarkable ability to live both in the present and in the past got me thinking, as did her propensity for learning from others. I returned to Hackney determined to eat more weeds (Patience’s universal panacea), get bees and seek out those who could teach me their hard-earnt skills.” Having thoroughly enjoyed Jojo’s account of meeting and learning from organic bee-keepers, a farmer who combines pig-keeping with cheese-making (feeding the pigs seems a great use for all that surplus whey), foragers and bakers, I determined to revisit sourdough, make easy everyday sausages without skins (one of the many tempting recipes in this book) and eat more weeds. The weed-eating enthusiasm was further encouraged by Ian Hemphill’s ‘The Spice & Herb Bible’, an amazingly comprehensive and hefty tome which covers everything from growing herbs, foraging for them, their history and imaginative ways to cook with them. You can even learn the names of the herbs in numerous languages. image001 As I said this book is hefty, not the sort to pick up and read from cover to cover, more the sort I’ll refer to when wondering if there’s anything new I can do with my Angelica, wanting to master a Massaman curry or fancying blending a spice rub. It’s packed with fascinating facts (if I find Alexanders I now know what to do with them and did you know they were named after Alexander the Great?) and interesting recipes. Baharat Beef with Olives sounds both comforting and exotic, while I’m keen to mix my own Ras el Hanout and make Lavender and Lemon Olive Oil Cakes. Ian Hemphill (a household name in Australia) has travelled all over the world in search of new spices and herbs and his passion is evident in this spice encyclopaedia which I’m looking forward to dipping into regularly. While the books above make me want to cook and eat, John Jackson’s ‘A Little Piece of England’ makes me hanker for more animals. ALPOE-COVER600In John’s account of how he, his wife and three children built up their smallholding in rural Kent in the sixties and seventies, owls are harboured in the barn and upstairs in the family home his daughter is always looking after a litter of pups or hatching chicks. Their sheep have learnt a few tricks from Houdini. And tales of their guinea fowl makes me nostalgic for the semi-wild old character who used to hang out here. 1024rooster John tells how the Cuckoo Maran hens “gave us lovely brown eggs that looked homely and cheerful at breakfast time.” But food doesn’t feature a lot in this book at all; the family clearly love their animals and although they have notions of roast guinea fowl, they never focus on livestock as food. Apart from a few eggs, they mainly seem to be bred for the love of them: “It was understood in the family that old age pensioners were allowed to die in peace and dignity. Some of them held out for a long time.” So ancient rabbits, guinea pigs and guinea fowls all become much-loved extended family members. A book to curl up by the wood-burner with, that will make you smile as you read, this reissue is also beautifully produced. It features lovely pen and ink illustrations by Val Biro. 1024sheep I like John’s approach to gardening, which reminds me of my own lazy gardening style: “The plan had been to contrive ways of growing interesting plants without disturbing the general wildness of the place.” Most of all though, I love John’s enthusiasm for living a life intertwined with the land: “The best way to get an understanding of the land is to use it. I have long believed that the health of a nation is better, and its communities and its cultures stronger, the more it cleaves to and values the land it lives on.” All making me want to relish the cosiness of baking bread in the kitchen for the moment, but also sort out the shoddy state of my seed box in readiness for Spring.     With thanks for my review copies of ‘A Little Piece of England’ by John Jackson and ‘The Spice & Herb Bible’ by Ian Hemphill. I bought ‘The Modern Peasant’ by Jojo Tulloh after a twitter recommendation – very grateful. All rambling opinions are my own.

salald, edible flowers & higgidy pies

I have to admit that the words pie and salad are not often paired in this house. Pie and mash, yes regularly. Pie and steamed veggies even. Salad, flowers and pies, not really. But thanks to some totally delicious and very summery pies that I was sent recently by Higgidy and a selection of salad seedlings from Sarah Raven we’ve been turned.

Imaginative fillings such as Sweet Potato & Feta with pumpkin seeds, Chicken & Smoky Spanish Chorizo Pie had something to do with it. Then there’s the fact that the side dish was very handily growing just by the back door.

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The mizuna, red mustard, rocket and red & green lettuce seedlings were sent to me by Sarah Raven back in April, with fab seed markers and a feed to encourage healthy growth. The idea was that I would grow my own side salads to accompany the pies that would follow in June.

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Some of the seedlings were planted in a little area next to my strawberry bed, but I have to admit that the ones that fared best were planted in a pot right next to the back door. Sheltered, against a sunny wall and very handy for watering they also provided handy leaves for lunchtime sandwiches before the arrival of pies.

I don’t normally buy pies, although I’m very partial to a home-made chicken and mushroom, buffalo and kidney or wild greens and ricotta version. As these turned up when we were just back from holiday and I had lots of work to catch up on, they were particularly welcome.

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Pies that taste like properly handmade pies too, but with lovely fillings I hadn’t thought of. As well as including classics such as the Little Smoked Bacon & Cheddar Quiche (Ruby’s favourite).

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There are some great, imaginative ideas for side dishes both on the pie boxes (Warm White Bean Salad to go with the Chicken & Spanish Chorizo Pie, Moroccan spiced Carrot & Orange for the Sweet Potato & Feta) and on the Higgidy web-site. Because I was looking forward to an easy supper, and I returned from holiday to a garden full of edible flowers, I popped outside and then tossed the following ingredients together for this salad to enjoy with my pies:

Garden Salad with Edible Flowers

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A few handfuls of mizuna, rocket, red mustard, lettuce (grown from my Sarah Raven seedlings)

Purple & red radish sliced

A handful of flat leaf parsley tips

A few fennel fronds & pea-tips

Salad Burnet (for a cucumber-ish flavour)

A handful of edible flowers – borage, violets, chop suey green flowers, chive flowers, calendula)

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1 tablespoon cider vinegar

4 tablespoons local rapeseed oil

A little sea-salt

 

Very glad I have a few pies still in the freezer – the first new potatoes are nearly ready and I’m thinking already of tossing a few with sorrel & butter to scoff with a Chicken & Chorizo pie.

With thanks to Higgidy and Sarah Raven for providing me with delicious pies and salad seedlings.

 

 

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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persian salad & beautiful broccoli – a change of appetite

Lamb scottadito with summer fregola was the first thing I cooked from ‘a change of appetite’; I had some local, organic lamb cutlets and Diana Henry’s marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and chilli flakes was simply delicious. I couldn’t wait to try her smoked mackerel, beetroot and poppy seed relish the following evening. DH_Day4_097 Next was the sweet-tart gooseberry, almond and spelt cake. Inspiring ideas to use the last of my purple sprouting broccoli before it flowers too. And so it continued – a pattern of hungrily reading Diana’s beautiful prose then cooking my way through the enticing recipes immediately. a change of appetite jacket This is a book about healthy eating, and it arrived at my home at a time when the wild cherry tree is covered in blossom and the warmer weather is forcing me to shed those more forgiving layers of clothes. Lighter, less calorie-laden dishes are obviously welcome. But that isn’t why I’m so keen to eat my way through ‘a change of appetite’ – it’s just all so blooming tempting. Even Ruby, my six year old daughter who’s begun looking suspiciously at my chocolate brownies recently (asking if I’ve sneaked in any beetroot) has bookmarked the date, apricot and walnut loaf cake. It’s brimming with dried fruit, malted brown flour and healthy seeds, so I’ll happily bake it for her. And scoff it too, it looks wonderful. Definitely one of my new favourites for a feel-good browse at the end of a busy working day, ‘a change of appetite’ is such an utterly beautiful book. The gorgeous photography helps but Diana Henry’s recipes and descriptions are just as seductive. From her Persian salad (I note happily that most of the ingredients including borage flowers and violets are currently growing just outside the kitchen) to squid with couscous, chilli, mint and lemon, this may be healthy food but there’s not a hint of self-denial. Written by a food writer who blatantly adores eating, none of the recipes are going to be joyless. In fact Diana stresses that her latest book is about food that’s “accidentally healthy” and I love her assertion that: “I’m much more into living life to the full than I am into thinking of my body as a temple.” Diana set out to “explore what a ‘healthy diet’ actually is and come up with dishes that were so good (and good for you, too, but first of all delicious that you wouldn’t feel you were missing out” and there are lots of interesting facts and opinions about which fats are fine to use freely, which to keep an eye on and why switching from refined carbs to whole grains is sensible. The emphasis though is on drawing on the robust flavours of Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, Japanese, Thai, Burmese and Vietnamese food – with food so fabulously fragrant with herbs and spices, you don’t crave excess fat, salt or sugar. With scandi salmon burgers, Sicilian artichoke and broad bean salad and Persian saffron and mint chicken amongst the many recipes still on my to-cook list, this book is influencing my planting plans as much as my shopping. While dried sour cherries and lots of interesting whole-grains are on the shopping list, Diana Henry has inspired me to be more imaginative in salads with the many garden herbs that are already emerging. And to grow more radish. Many hued radish in fact. Rather than use herbs as an afterthought in salads, Diana has reminded me that “…in the Middle East, they can be the salad.” And with dill fronds mingling with flat leaf parsley, mint and edible flower petals (violets and borage I think) as well as mauve and pink radish in this Persian salad, look at how beautiful this can be: DH_Day8_067 With thanks to Octopus books for my review copy of ‘a change of appetite’ by Diana Henry, published March 2014 and for the use of the lovely photos above from the book. If you’re as addicted to books about food as I am, I can also recommend a read of this piece on Diana Henry’s blog about her favourite cookery books. It may prove expensive though.

the creamery kitchen – a review

The creamery kitchen by Jenny Linford is full of lovely, traditional dairy recipes, the sort that would’ve once been passed down from generation to generation – in an era when most people would’ve been comfortable making butter, maybe a little cheese at home.

Having recently discovered the homely delights of cheese making at home, I was very excited when I heard about this book. Having already made labneh and basic cream cheese at home, some of the recipes were already familiar to me. But I hadn’t tackled butter or buttermilk, or realised how gloriously simple they are to make.

Once I’d made buttermilk (and loved the fact that, unlike the stuff I’ve previously bought from the supermarket, I know that this is made from quality milk from local Jersey cows) I used some in the Buttermilk & Parmesan scone recipe from ‘the creamery kitchen’. Even though I chose to use wholemeal flour, the buttermilk made the scones beautifully light. They were delicious, even if my version didn’t look quite like the ones in this gorgeous photo by Clare Winfield.

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I also used some buttermilk instead of sour cream (next on my list to try) in the wonderful Polish apple pancake recipe from Ren Behan here. Buttermilk fried chicken is next on my list for the last of the buttermilk.029_RPS1679_creamery_friedchicken

There are lots of similarly simple dairy ideas but plenty of unusual recipe ideas too so I think this is an inspiring book for home cooks of all levels. Jenny Linford reassuringly guides us through the processes – from setting up a creamery to making your own butter, cream cheese and mascarpone, there are lots of tips and snippets of advice; the sort that in another era would’ve been shared over a pot of tea with your sister or mother.

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Just as Jenny Linford’s style is very approachable, Clare Winfield’s photographs have a beautiful simplicity, displaying just how enticing a jar of buttermilk in a jar covered with muslin or a creamy bowl of home-made yoghurt can be. We’re reminded that you need very little equipment for most dairy-making; armed with a heavy-based pan, some fine-meshed cheesecloth, a good kitchen thermometer, sharp knife and a slotted spoon, you could tackle most of the recipes in this book.

Yet recipes such as Saffron and Cardamon Labneh with Mango, Fried Buttermilk Chicken and Serbian Burek show how important dairy making is to so many different cultures. Once you’ve made yoghurt or cream cheese, there are some wonderful ideas for using them in dishes inspired by cuisines around the world.

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Having previously made ricotta traditionally by re-heating whey, I tried Jenny’s simpler version which involves curdling whole milk with white wine vinegar – I loved the ease of this method. The book doesn’t move beyond soft cheeses, but as I’m in no hurry to be tempted into making a stinky blue cheese or an aged pecorino this was quite a relief. I know how easily led/hopelessly optimistic I am when it comes to food, so a beautiful picture of mature stilton would’ve had me reaching for the rennet quicker than you can say listeria.

You could use ‘the creamery kitchen’ purely for its instructions to easily make butter, buttermilk, yoghurt and maybe a little cream cheese and if you have access to good, un-homogenized milk, it’ll be very rewarding. Jenny shows how basic dairy products can also be used as stepping stones for making delicious and useful concoctions such as labneh and mascarpone. For those like me who can’t resist going one step further there are suggestions for how to cook with these versatile dairy products. Ranging from the sweetly tempting (Fig & Honey Ricotta Cheesecake, Rhubarb & Mascarpone Tart) to the savoury (Spinach & Cheese Burek and Lamb Skewers with Za’atar Labneh) these are recipes that definitely encourage experimenting.

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Totally agree with Jenny that:

“Given that all dairy foods have one ingredient – milk- as their starting point, the range of textures and subtly varying flavours within them is remarkable…”

The creamery kitchen by Jenny Lindford. Photography by Clare Winfield. Published by Ryland Peters & Small Feb 2014

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Reader offer: The Creamery Kitchen will be 16.99 by telephoning Macmillan Direct on 01256 302 699 and quoting the reference GLR 9MQ.

I received a review copy of ‘the creamery kitchen’ but wasn’t paid for this review: all opinions are my own. All photos in this post are by Clare Winfield and taken from ‘the creamery kitchen’.

 

learning to cook street food – a review of daylesford cookery school

I’m a big fan of street food – all those robust flavours, frugal ingredients and eating with your fingers is my idea of culinary heaven. But it’s a long time since I followed my nose to the billowing smoke of late night food stalls in the Djema al Fna in Marrakech. Or even scoffed pizza smeared with the most delicious tomato sauce straight from a wood-burning oven in an Italian hill-town.

Living up a Cotswold hill has lots of advantages when it comes to eating well; I feel so lucky to have the space to grow and even rear my own food, I have wonderful un-homogenised Jersey milk from a local farmer, there are some brilliant farmer/cheese-makers around here. And I can buy tasty meat from a nearby smallholder who look after their animals so well using organic principles (have just bought some sausages for toad in the hole). Apart from the odd exception (the splendid Urban Rajah brought Indian street food to Chipping Campden recently as part of the Bite food festival) street-food is not our forte though. For one thing, there just aren’t enough streets.

So attending a cookery class on street food, equipping myself for some DIY street food in the warmth of my own kitchen was a really exciting prospect. As was a grim February day spent amidst amongst all the organic loveliness of Daylesford.

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Before entering the cookery school, I couldn’t resist a quick look around the shop with it’s enticing array of organic food so beautifully displayed.

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In the cookery school, which has the same contemporary rustic style as the food shop, with lots of natural, muted colours, pale painted beams and jars of wholesome ingredients, we were given a warm welcome with offers of coffee and herbal teas.

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As we put on our aprons, the cookery school team talked us through the plan for our day cooking street food. With ingredients all laid out in readiness for tackling Asian style broths, kedgeree arancini, fish tacos and lamb meatballs, my mouth was watering. If only I could be this organised in my own kitchen.

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First of all though, we made marshmallows. Beetroot marshmallows with hot chocolate sauce to be precise. You can’t detect the beetroot flavour in the marshmallows, and to be fair, you couldn’t exactly count them as one of your five a day, but it’s a wonderfully natural way to create a gorgeously subtle pink colour. I wouldn’t have attempted making these at home before, so it was brilliant to have a go with experienced chefs on hand to help – not to mention being able to hand over my bowl and saucepan for washing up afterwards! I’ll definitely be making them at home now though, for presents or as a very pretty pudding that’ll definitely impress little girls.

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As well as enjoying a few marshmallows with chocolate sauce and coffee at the end of the day, we were given a bag each to bring home. Ruby was delighted and I was a popular Mummy. For one night.

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Using beetroot as a natural colouring was a sign of things to come. Daylesford farm practices organic, sustainable farming without using dangerous pesticides and herbicides on crops or artificial growth promoters, antibiotics and drugs on their animals. It was soon evident that the team at the cookery school share a genuine passion for real food; food that’s simple, natural and in season. The street food that we cooked and learnt about drew inspiration from the colourful snacks found in Thailand, Italy and Mexico. The style and punchy flavours were all there, but the majority of ingredients were from the market garden just outside the door of the cookery school.

Lamb meatballs had Moorish influences in their flavourings (cumin seeds, lemon zest, fennel seeds and coriander) but were particularly delicious as they used wonderful organic lamb farmed by Daylesford. When we made the kedgeree for our arancini, the un-homogenised milk from Daylesford’s Friesian cows was wonderfully creamy and the ‘chives’ were actually spring onion tops from the garden. We ate them with a very tasty selection of home-grown winter salad leaves.

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The day involved a good mix of hands-on cooking and relaxed sitting watching cookery demonstrations (with plenty of offers of a very delicious wine). As with all good cookery schools, it wasn’t just about having a lovely, greedy day and learning four or five recipes. Steve, who led the cookery class, had lots of useful tips and snippets of information and he’d clearly chosen dishes that enabled him to teach principles of cooking that could be applied to so many different ingredients. The kedgeree arancini for example, enabled him to teach us about risotto (interestingly he always uses water rather than stock in vegetable risottos, enabling the vegetables to be the stars) while the Mexican inspired fish tacos enabled him to teach us about home-smoking; mackerel and salmon was lightly smoked over oat chippings.

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I came away fired up with enthusiasm about home-made ‘street-food’ – keen to get on with our plans to build a pizza oven in the garden and to try at home the delicious fennel, pomegranate and mint couscous we ate with meatballs.

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 Already a fan of roasting whole heads of garlic for all that gorgeous sweet flavour, I’m now going to follow Steve’s tip of roasting a few at a time and preserving them under olive oil ready for quick, mid-week use. Especially if our harvest is good this year.

I also came away eager to present Ruby with the beautifully wrapped bag of baby pink marshmallows that I’d made myself. Here’s the recipe, kindly supplied by Daylesford:

Beetroot Marshmallows

Ingredients: 2 egg whites

500g caster sugar

250ml water

1 small beetroot

2 tbsp. icing sugar

2 tbsp.  corn flour

6 leaves gelatine

Prepare the gelatine by soaking the leaves in cold water. Combine the grated beetroot and water, simmer for 3-4 minutes, remove and allow to cool. Strain away the beetroot and combine the sugar with the pink water in a pan.

Pop the pan over a moderate heat and begin to bring up to 122C (you will need a good food thermometer or probe). In the meantime, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks in a stand mixer. When the sugar syrup has reached the correct temperature, pour it onto the egg whites with the whisk still beating. Squeeze the gelatine leaves of any excess water and pop into the warm pan left over from the sugar syrup before adding to the whisked meringue. Allow the mixer to continue for 5-8 minutes until the meringue is thick, glossy and cool.

Line a tin with a greasing of grape seed oil and a dusting of the icing sugar and corn flour combined. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the tray and allow to cool at room temperature for 2-3 hours.

When set, cut the marshmallows into cubes with an oiled knife on a surface dusted with a little corn flour and icing sugar. Dust lightly, coating with the icing sugar mixture and store in an airtight container or pop on to a plate.

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Daylesford cookery school offers a range of other classes, including Wild Food and Foraging, Nose to Tail, Cooking the Perfect Roast Dinner, Artisan Bread-Making and Bistro Classics.  For anyone looking for a real treat, it would be amazing to have a massage in the very lovely haybarn (which I wrote about here) afterwards.

I visited Daylesford cookery school to review on behalf of Cotswolds Concierge, which offers a fab guide to the Cotswolds from restaurants to hotels and days out.

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