The Cookie Monster

IMG_0833At some mysterious moment in time I have become a cookie lover. Maybe to compensate for the new healthy me; no caffeine, juice crazy, pilates loving, food crazy mummy, cookies have crept into the kitchen and I seem to be the head consumer. Now I’m not talking shop bought cardboard numbers, I am talking homemade, energy boosting handfuls of goodness. Stuffed full of the new migrants in my larder, which frankly I had barely heard of a year ago but seem to be all the rage now. I kind of feel I’m right on trend, which is rare I may add. Once you get over the butter content the rest of the ingredients are healthy, nutritious and allegedly ‘good’ for you.

We have been through all the motions, test driven all sorts of recipes. The pink one likes them hard and biscuit like, the blue one is unfussed and Mr.P likes them soft and almost chewy. There’s always been one or two ingredients in common and that’s oats and butter but beyond that we have tried every combination imaginable, raisins, rice flour, pine nuts, maple syrup, oatmeal and the list goes on. I was keen to keep oats in the mix as it was reminiscent of my own childhood snack famously known as a ‘Nig Nog’. ‘Nig-Nogs’ were a wonderful oaty, syrupy, buttery creation mummy had dreamt up, I think they came out slightly different every time, it simply didn’t matter as to me and my siblings they were the business. I can’t say these are an exact replica as sadly it’s a long time since I ate a nig-nog but they are pretty close and with the new added ‘super’ addition of hemp seeds and ground flax seed it is a  cookie that seriously reflects the foodie fads of today, and particularly my larder. Another ingredient in their favour is the small amount of sugar, due to the dates and their rich, indulgent taste I have lowered the sugar content significantly and used coconut palm sugar, which is a natural sweetener and a more nutritious alternative to the standard white stuff. All in all they are almost – and I say almost, ‘guilt-free’.

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Oat, Hemp and Pumpkin Seeds Cookies

Makes between 16-20 cookies

85g soft organic butter

40g coconut palm sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

40g pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons of hemp seeds

2 tablespoons of milled organic flax seed (I buy Linwoods)

3 tablespoons of malted grain flour

75g organic jumbp porridge oats

1\4  tsp bicarbonate soda

pinch of salt

4 medjool dates chopped up

Pre-heat oven to 180.

Cream together the butter, sugar and dates with an electric mixer with the balloon whisk beating hard. Slow the speed down and add in the rest of the ingredients till the mixture comes together.

Line a baking sheet with baking paper and place large walnut size balls of cookie dough on the sheet spaced evenly apart. Bake in a pre-heated oven for between 10 – 15 minutes. 15 if you want harder crunchy cookies and 10 if you want a softer, chewier number! Remember they always harden when they cool. Keep in an airtight container.

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Spooky Halloween Pasta


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No greater love have I, than for beetroot. In the last 10 years it has been a regular feature in my garden and indeed kitchen and what better day to use it than on Halloween to really spook people out with its freaky color! Don’t ask me how this particular recipe came about but I clearly must have been bored one day and challenging myself as to how to get the little people to consume the ‘freaky’ purple/pink stuff. Scary it is, but weirdly it works. Based on a very simple tomato sauce with fresh garlic and beetroot the whole lot is whizzed together to get this vibrant, crazy concoction. Curiously it does work and believe me I’m a pretty harsh critic. It’s earthy and sweet but with the grounding of tomatoes is reassuringly familiar. We have it on pasta but one could use it to dip crudities into and strangely the pink one has it on her burger buns, minus the burger – now that is odd!

IMG_0705 (2)Beetroot and Tomato Sauce for Pasta

1 tin of organic chopped tomatoes

2 whole cloves of garlic, chopped

3 cooked beetroot, peeled and cut into chunks

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Pinch of Maldon sea salt, ground black pepper

1.Put the tinned tomatoes, garlic, beetroot and splash of olive oil in a pan and simmer very gently for about 45 minutes.

  1. Let it cool down and then liquidize, add a little pepper and salt and store in the fridge until required.

We serve it with plain penne pasta and lashings of parmesan, but it is also a good dip for cucumber, carrots and any cold crudities.

This sauce freezes well and also keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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Goodbye Indian Summer

511 Spoilt we have been, bye bye ‘Indian Summer’, hello autumn. Cold it is not, wet and windy it is. I actually adore the change in seasons, collecting conkers, making leaf wands, splashing through the puddles. Jack Frost has been about at the farm, so much so that what was left in the vegetable garden has curled up its toes and bailed out for the year. The courgettes all fled at the first whiff of frost, the raspberries have persevered but are now on their last legs, and the runner beans have grown into tough old specimens only warranting being kept for their seeds which we’ll sow next year. The fields have been ploughed up, leaves are falling and the days are getting shorter. At least the light bit is. In parallel with the shift in to Autumn my palate has also changed. I am craving comforting, warming food, food that is harvested at this time of year; root vegetables, nuts, game, squash.

Salads hardly tick the box as ‘heart warming’ food but thoughtfully put together they do reflect what’s going on outside and can satisfy in a mysterious way.  Autumn salads of raw cauliflower, grated courgette and feta worked perfectly in the balmier days of September, now I’ve moved on to roasted romanesco, hazelnut and stilton and most recently succumbed to hearty soups, butternut and sweet corn being a recent hit. At the farm we are a long way from being self-sufficient so a weekly Riverford Organic box acts as a wonderful incentive to experiment with vegetables some of which I would not normally buy, and occasionally don’t even recognise! It’s always a bit of a test kitchen but the net result is I seem to consume vast amounts of veggies in all possible guises. What has aided the random creations I come up with is a rather nifty and dare I say, punchy jar of Belazu Rose Harrissa. This gem is the perfect larder secret. You’ve got to like spice and heat to appreciate it, if you do, then it can raise any culinary number out of the ‘normal’ zone and elevate it to something quite exceptional, pulling in heat and warmth at a time of year when food needs it!

Rose Harissa is very simply a red chilli and paprika paste with spices and of course rose petals. That makes it sound super fancy, don’t be put off. The addition of rose petals takes the edge of the spice and adds a fragrant dimension not typically associated with normal harissa. Of course my tiny little pot, and you do only need an incy wincy bit, does not classically advise it as an addition to salads or soups, but I promise it is a splendid discovery. The blurb on the back suggests adding it to marinades, couscous or hummus. Frankly I think the options are endless, tagines, fish stews, and hot pots to name a few more. All in all it’s been rather a staple of my cooking in the last few weeks and one that will continue as the nights get colder, days darker and the need for warming comforting food becomes ever more apparent.

The other staple in my diet has been nasturtium flowers. I planted a pack of seeds, probably too late and consequently have ended up with a raucous herb garden overflowing with bright orange, red and yellow flowers deep into autumn. They are such a welcome, if a little gaudy splash of color at this time of year, so pretty tossed into salads as not only are they edible but also tasty. So at the end of a rather damp week in town my 2 rather random bits of advice are buy some nasturtium seeds for 2015 and some Belazu Rose Harissa Paste for immediate consumption to pep up the dark days of winter ahead!

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Autumn Warming Butternut and Sweetcorn Soup with Harissa and Yogurt

A rather ‘hearty’ soup for half termers and halloween!

Serves 4

350g peeled butternut squash cut into chunks

1 corn of the cob – corn sliced off the cob

1 leek – sliced into slithers

1 banana shallot or onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

1 small thumb of peeled ginger

1 litre of water

Natural yogurt

Belazu Rose Harissa Paste

1. Pop a splash of olive oil and small knob of butter in a large saucepan and add the butternut, leek, shallot or onion, garlic and ginger. Toss around till the onion and leek start to soften and gain a little color, at least 5 minutes. Add the corn and 1 litre of water.

2. Allow the water to come up to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes till the butternut is falling apart. Make sure the vegetables are always covered in water so add more if it is looking a little low.

3. Liquidise the soup on the highest setting for at least 5 minutes until extremely smooth.  If it is still too thick add a little more water or a splash of milk. Add a good pinch or 2 of Maldon sea salt and a good grate of black pepper. Serve with a spoonful of natural yogurt and a drizzle of the oil from the harissa paste and a little smidgen of the paste on top of the yogurt.

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Snacking

Banana bread 011 To snack or not to snack? The perpetual dilemma for mothers of little people who need to get the balance right between keeping the batteries charged yet not ruining their little darlings appetite at the next sitting. As a rule I am a little draconian when it comes to snacks, hence I have historically made ‘fruit’ the snack. If you’re hungry between meals then an apple, banana, peach or pear will suffice but nothing more glamorous than that. However as autumn sets its teeth in with wild winds, driving rain and blinkered bright sun I seem to have weakened my resolve and have started playing around with other options. I guess there’s a guilt factor there as well. I happen to know that the ‘blue one’ is King Fussy in the school dining room so I am hugely suspicious as to what, if anything, goes down his gullet during the day. He’s certainly not going to starve and if you could be party to our breakfast feast there is genuinely no concern but after an intense day concentrating and with another 2 hours till tea it’s a long time from 8 till 5.30pm with little in your belly particularly with a swimming class to contend with!

I have always been a lover of banana bread but always baulk at the sugar and butter content, so with this in mind I went on an Internet – Google voyage to salvage a healthier alternative. I googled many, many recipes and ended up none the wiser. Nothing quite did it so I embarked on my own testing session. I decided to use olive oil instead of butter, maple syrup instead of sugar and an organic malted grain flour instead of plain white. None of that is particularly revolutionary, so my guess is the addition of ripe mashed bananas is the key forgiving element, in that they add more natural sweetness and also help in the wonderful texture of the bread. I can smugly say, the result was gratifyingly good – confirmed by the little people’s inhalation of said bread. No cloying, sickly sugary after taste, but sweet enough to engage. For my troops this has been the perfect pick me up straight after school when a little sustenance is required but fruit no longer quite ticks the box and empty carb filled biscuits and buns are a no-no. It’s portable, easy to eat and keeps for several days. Of course it also is the ideal substitute to cake and has been my trump card for convincing the ‘little people’ to polish off their brocolli. We have tried toasting it and the ‘blue one’ is quite taken with eating it slathered in ‘blackberry and apple’ jam, courtesy of Auntie Bunty’s foraging expedition. So with all that in mind we are converted, bring on the banana bread, so easy to make and so good for that afternoon energy boost without killing tea, not to mention the fact it is the obvious home for overipe, brown bruised bananas!

Malted Grain Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf

3 ripe bananas

1/3 cup of olive oil

1/3 cup of maple syrup

1 organic egg

1 teaspoon of baking soda

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups of malted grain bread flour (Waitrose Organic)

Set the oven to 175 and line a loaf tin with baking paper

In a mixing bowl beat the bananas with the whisk, add in the oil, maple syrup, egg and salt. Stop the beaters and stir in the flour, till well incorporated.

Pour the batter into your loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour. This seems a long time and it may well look cooked on the outside but it takes a surprising time to cook all the way through. To check, put a skewer into the centre, if it comes out clean it is cooked and ready.

Cool on a wire rack.

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The proof is in the pudding

Blackberry and lemon posset 005We are not really a pudding family. I don’t count ice cream or cakes, so beyond that classic puds rarely get a look in. Occasionally I knock one up to remind myself they exist but on the whole they rarely feature on the menu. That’s until we have guests to stay and I convince Mr.P it’s a pretty sensible way of finishing a meal, after all it’s hardly like I’m inventing a new course.  The last couple of weekends we’ve been entertaining hence the pudding bonanza; blackberry and apple crumble has featured as has a simple lemon posset. We have foraged and produced. Nothing makes the ‘blue one’ happier than a spot of harvesting, I guess it’s the hunter gatherer instinct. There’s also a certain smugness from making something that nature has produced for free, particularly now when the hedgerows are decked out in berries, apples are 2 a penny and the sloes are just waiting for the first frost before picking begins!

This post however is not about autumn fruit or autumn pudding but a dessert that can be adapted to any of the seasons. The dark horse is ‘lemon posset’, a sublime, scrummy and scarily speedy to make pudding. From pan to plate, as such, it really is completely foolproof, easy and quick. What’s more it only has 3 ingredients and is super versatile and quite delicious. I topped mine with blackberries but you could use anything or nothing! It’s  a good dinner party number to have up your sleeve if you are time poor and just a cunning one to have in your repertoire as it keeps in the fridge for several days. It’s rich and lemony, a kind of set lemon custard though that really does not do it justice. Baked lemon cream is a more generous description, yet again it doesn’t really sell it. All I can say is you’ll have to trust me on this one. Ten minutes. Yes, ten minutes is all it will take to create and only 1 pan to wash up. What’s not to like?

Blackberry and lemon posset 008Lemon Posset with Blackberries

Makes 8- 10 shot glasses

600ml of double cream

140 g of golden caster sugar

2 lemons, juiced and zested

1. Pop the cream and sugar in a pan and very gently bring up to the boil. Simmer gently for 3 minutes.

2. Take it off the heat and add the lemon juice and zest – whisking all the time.

3. Pour into shot glasses or whatever receptacle you want it to set in. Leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours before topping with your berry of choice and serving.

Serve with vanilla shortbread or just simply with berries.

 

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Healthy pizza? debate!

I mean honestly is there such a thing? Pizza is hardly sinful it just seems to have a rather bad reputation and even worse PR team behind it. Homemade with organic flour, fresh tomato sauce and well sourced mozzarella it packs rather a good punch and depending what you put on top may even tick a few of your ‘5 a day’ or are we on to ‘8’? Talking of which I can’t keep up with food fads and trends, policy and directives from our government. What I do know and what my creed tells me, is the less written on it the better. Take simple ‘in season’ fruit and vegetables – organically grown and ideally locally sourced – you won’t see any writing on them. The problems arise when one tries to squeeze them into modern-day style eating, packed in a tin with preservatives, sugar and salt, cooked within an inch of their lives to be added into some ready meal. It’s common sense really. Food, particularly fruit, vegetables, meat and fish should not have a list of ingredients on it with the exception of a use by date!

IMG_0145Rant, rant, rant. Well I have just finished reading ‘Eat your Heart Out’ the not so palatable story behind the globalisation of our farming industry. It certainly makes you think before you shop. On a brighter note ‘Daylesford’, the epitome of organic, old England and where our food should come from, has just launched their ‘Mini Meals’ range. Quite delicious. Rarely, actually to be honest, never, have I bought a ‘ready meal’ as such for the pink and blue but I would certainly make an exception here. The first range has been sensitively thought out and seems to work well with the onset of Autumn. Hearth warming, nutritional comfort food, their delicious concoctions have been cooked up to keep hungry little people motoring through the cooler months. This range comprises of 5 choices, nothing too radical, good sensible nursery food with a degree; a butternut curry (which I happily devoured), beef stew, bolognaise, creamy chicken with leeks and beans and little meatballs. Someone has done their homework because this food tastes good, really good and in true Oliver Twist style little people will be coming back for ‘more’!

Oh the distractions, all that initial talk about pizza and I have completely deviated. Back to the matter in hand, let me share with you what has to be the most delectable, healthy, green version of pizza that has ever passed my lips. We’re back on nursery food again, but believe me this will happily satisfy any mummy at lunchtime. Sadly not my creation, it was dreamed up by a good friend who is always inventing scrummy vegetarian menus for her 2 poppets. Drum roll, ……quinoa. Quinoa I hear you say, quinoa on pizza? Yes, yes and yes again. This ‘healthy’ grain deserves recognition, sneaking in the ‘superfood’ quinoa with the double wammy bonus points of being both high in fibre and protein is genius. My little people are not big fans of what they fondly call ‘sawdust’ and refuse point blank to eat it on it’s own, yet on the pizza it’s another story. Back to this pizza, apart from it is not really pizza if we are being really honest. It’s organic, wholemeal pitta, at least that’s the base. Pitta with a healthy spoonful of homemade basil pesto, quinoa, mozzarella and parmesan. It’s basically a quick fix, healthy pretend pizza, a great alternative to the all time favourite margherita and my pink and blue love it. Do give it a whirl it’s quick to prepare and really remarkably tasty!

 Healthy ‘green’, quinoa Pizza

Homemade Basil Pesto

3 to 4 /  large handfuls of fresh basil leaves or 1 good size supermarket packet

20 g pinenuts (ideally lightly toasted in the oven for 5 minutes)

30g grated parmesan

½ garlic clove

Olive oil

For the base and toppings:

50 g quinoa – cooked as instructed on the packet

1 packet of organic  brown pitta bread (6 per pack)

1 packet of good mozzarella – torn up

Additional grated parmesan

Set the oven to 180.

1.First make your pesto by popping the garlic, pinenuts and parmesan into a food processor/ magi mix, and whizz up with a hefty splash of olive oil (50ml to start). You should have a coarsely chopped paste which you now add the basil into with another splash of olive oil. The key is not to bruise the basil too much through over chopping, by cutting it last you minimise that risk! Make sure it is thick and paste like, if not add some more basil.

2.Now line a baking tray with baking paper. Slice the pittas in half, spread each pitta with the pesto, place a spoonful of quinoa on top of each pizza and spread around evenly, top with torn up mozzarella and a good grating of parmesan.

3.Pop the pizzas in the oven for between 10 and 14 minutes till the cheese is bubbling and the pittas have crisped up a little. Top with torn basil and cherry tomatoes.

Notes on Daylesford Mini Meals:

Daylesford Mini Meals are available from the Daylesford farmshops in London and Kingham and also online at Ocado. For little people aged 3 to 8. http://www.daylesford.com

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Fig Ice Cream with roasted almonds and Passito di Pantelleria

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It’s a funny time of year, not autumn, not summer, hot and sticky but the leaves are falling from the trees. Strangely London has been consistently balmy and warm and this has thrown me into a culinary conundrum , I am all at sea as to what I want to cook and what to eat. Unbelievably, and rather shockingly ice cream mode is still in force, the pink and blue demanding regular hits, which brings me happily on to the ‘sweetest fig ice cream’, made a few weeks ago on the heavenly island of Pantelleria. Where the wind blows strong from North Africa one could be mistaken into thinking nothing delicate and complex could grow, but Pantelleria has a unique garden and figs are just one of the many delicacies that we foraged and feasted on. As for what we drank have a look at http://www.thehappydecanter.com for an encyclapeadic run down as to what to quench your thirst with on this fair isle!

Figs are a sexy little fruit. They smell intoxicating, look divine and are prettily painted in every subtle shade of purple and mauve  to olive-green and sage. On an island such as Pantelleria the air is thick with the scent of them, it rests heavily in the August heat and blows on the breeze so one is never far away from their sweet invitation. I adore them, reaching through the tough, sandpaper like leaves to the bounty is real nectar for me. Bursting at their seams, dripping with sugar syrup, these were the figs I was after for my ice cream. Almost alcoholic in taste they were so heavy they could barely stay on the tree a moment longer and hence were the perfect specimens to whizz up into my mascarpone ice cream. Topped with roasted chopped almonds and a drizzle of ‘Passito di Pantelleria’ this is my kind of pudding. It’s probably going to be hard to replicate back in Blighty as I’m missing a few crucial ingredients, sun-baked figs for one, but the mascarpone ice cream is certainly worth making just by its’ lonesome self!

Fresh Fig and Mascarpone Ice Cream with roasted almonds and Passito di Pantelleria

1 cup of caster sugar

1 1/2 cups of water

1 lemon – about 3 tablespoons of juice

1 1/2 cups of mascarpone

10 oozingly ripe fresh figs

100 grms of whole, skin on almonds, roasted till golden

Passito di Pantelleria (optional)

1. Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil for 2 minutes. Now add the lemon juice and let it cool to room temperature.

2. Wash the figs and liquidise (skin and all) until you have a ‘smoothish’ puree.

3. Add the figs, syrup and the mascarpone together, stir thoroughly and place in an ice cream maker and churn. Alternatively freeze in small containers but remember to fork through regularly, every 15 minutes, until well set and frozen.

4. Serve within 48 hours of making with chopped almonds and a splattering of ‘Passito di Pantelleria’.

http://www.thehappydecanter.com has more details on what ‘Passito’ to drink.

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Heritage tomatoes with ‘Labaneh’

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Exactly half way through the school holidays and both the pink and blue have been blighted by chicken pox. In spite of their discomfort I rather sadistically am happy to have ticked that box in the knowledge that we can now never be ‘poxed’ again. To be honest beyond the unsightly aspect of it, all it really boiled down to were 2 very sleepless nights per child and a lot of writhing and wriggling. 48 hours after the spots had appeared everyone seemed to have moved on, next activity please Mummy! Having fled the city we have been going feral in the country. I am pleased to report that the ‘blue ones’ broody hen has proudly produced 2 chicks. One egg never did the distance but the other 2 cracked open, 21 days on the nose, none of this day late or day early nonsense. The black little chicks have been cheeping away ever since and have been blessed with the slightly obscure names of, ‘Super-hero chick Walter’ and ‘Super-hero chick Amalfi’. Genius! In a bid to flee the nursery the cockerel has now taken up residence on the edge of the water trough, right outside the kitchen much to the amusement of the pink, blue and myself.

Summer holidays do not provide much scope for spending quality time in the kitchen. Lots of food is consumed, so cooking does take place, and plenty of clearing up for that matter, but the creative cook in me is rather restrained and dare I say, frustrated. Every now and again something catches my eye and I start playing, carving out a window, desperate to complete it before I get called upon for a treasure hunt or to transform into the tickle monster! This is exactly what happened last saturday when a recipe for ‘Labaneh’ pricked my attention. I have made ‘labaneh’ before but it was light years ago and I kind of needed to remind myself what it was all about. Making ‘labaneh’ in terms of preparation time takes precisely 5 minutes, ignoring the 25 I had spent looking for a muslin, it then needs about a day to drain and then it is ready to use. All in all perfect for time poor cooks in summer.

‘Labaneh’, ‘labneh’ and ‘labnah’ is very simply ‘strained yogurt’. Surprisingly this creates a rather interesting tangy, creamy cheese commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Allegedly it originates from Lebanon and has to be the easiest fresh cheese one could ever make. Inexpensive, healthy, spreadable even the ‘little people’ could make it! The strained cheese is made by mixing lemon juice with a little oil and salt with the yogurt and placing the mix in a muslin (or jelly bag for want of finding a muslin) over a bowl to catch the whey. The longer you leave it the more whey drips out leaving a more ‘rollable’ cheese. I let mine initially drip for 12 hours and then used it in a tomato salad. It was like a cross between extremely fresh ricotta and goats cheese, it tasted sublime and complemented the salad in a rather seductive way. I then left the rest of the yogurt for another day or so and ended up with a crumbly goats cheese consistency that I rolled in toasted almonds and herbs and ate greedily with smashed broad beans and mint.

Labaneh (recipe adapted from the fabulous book ‘Honey & Co’ Food from the Middle East’ Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich

350g plain yogurt ( I actually used Greek Yogurt and it worked really well)

1tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt

Mix everything together and then place the mix into a muslin or a jelly bag over a bowl. I stretched mine over a pyrex with an elastic band holding the bag above the bottom of the bowl. I let it drip away in the fridge mainly because of our rather warm summer, but I believe leaving it at room temperature is quite normal. I let it drip away for 12 hours and used a batch and then left the rest for another day or so when it really did turn very cheese like!

IMG_0129Heritage Tomato Salad with Labaneh, parsley, capers and almond crumbs

Labaneh – as above

Mixed heritage tomatoes, using green, yellow, red, cherry etc -if you can find them Isle of Wight tomatoes are fantastic at this time of year

1 tablespoon of rinsed capers

1 handful of flat leaf parsley

1 tablespoon of roasted almonds chopped finely

2 tablespoon of olive oil toasted crumbs (ideally made with good bread, brushetta, ciabatta or sourdough) Mix with the almonds.

Olive oil, white balsamic, salt and pepper

This salad is a wonder. It’s a kind of ‘throw it together’ number which works assuming you have fabulous tomatoes, good olive oil and of course your delicious labaneh. I added the crumbs just to ‘jazz’ it up and what with the addition of the toasted almonds it really had the desired effect. All you have to do is cut your tomatoes, scatter your capers and parsley, grind a little pepper and salt, splash some olive oil and balsamic, dot teaspoonfuls of the labaneh over the tomatoes and add your crumbs.

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The ‘Wild’ West Coast

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Ardmaddy Castle – Day 1 :  Fishing on the open seas : 30 mackerel, 3 crabs, no lobsters!

 

Day 2: Raid of the vegetable garden; raspberries, broad beans, courgettes to name a few!

Day 3: 1 rainbow trout and rain

What a spoiling way to start the holidays. For four glorious days we frolicked around the west coast of Scotland; fished, swam, rode, raided. It’s a wild, beautiful, barren land, sparsely populated and utterly intoxicating. We were the lucky ones to be staying on the breathtaking ‘Ardmaddy’ estate; with views down the sea loch to the island of ‘Scarba’ and beyond, and a sun that refused to go down till past 10 pm, it felt like we had hit gold, that was until day 3, when in true Scottish style it rained, it bucketed and was a wee bit miserable!! That however soon blew over and in no time we were once again in baking sun firmly in the belief that this little pocket of paradise is Scotlands’ best kept secret.

I am not sure what makes the perfect holiday and to be honest the components change as time and life march on. Once upon a time roughing it in Africa ticked the box for me, at some stage in my ’20’s’ St.Tropez was the answer to all our criteria, now I laugh at the thought of pitching a tent on the edge of Lake Malawi or the ‘little people’ eating at ‘Le Club 55’ and traipsing down the Pampelonne beach. I guess it’s all part if life’s rich tapestry and so may explain why I just loved our Scottish jaunt so much, after all it was just over the hill at Loch Melfort that my own family had spent many a happy holiday throughout my teenage years. Our trip to ‘Ardmaddy’ was hence familiar in many ways and not in so in many others.

Having established I am deeply fond of this tranquil and stunning pocket of Scotland let me explain what really resonated with me; the food! Wild food from the land and from the sea. We were hunter gatherers of the highest order. On day 1 we caught no less than 30 mackerel. I’m not joking it was like a scene from ‘Jaws’, all at once every line bent in half and we were left hauling in our trawl. The lobster pots did not provide lobsters for us (they did days later, 3 were caught) but we lucked out on the crab. Our wonderful female host caught a cracking rainbow trout and our host provided us with venison that had been shot some months earlier. The ‘Ardmaddy’ walled garden was stuffed with every conceivable vegetable and salad component. It was bliss, particularly for a food obsessed geek like myself.

Thirty mackerel I hear you say. Unbelievable, yet within 3 days the whole catch had been consumed. Fresh on the bbq, smoked  and made into pate, gougons with almonds, even the lobster pots got some. The ‘blue one’ was so taken with the haul that he would have eaten it ‘sushi style’ on the boat had anyone been game for some gutting on board. As for the crab, I now totally ‘get’ why ‘handpicked white crab meat’ is practically more expensive than gold. Boy it’s time-consuming to do, but I don’t think I have ever tasted such a sweet delicate flavor. Added to this array of foraged and hunted food, we had the freshest broad beans, artichokes, salad, new potatoes, beetroot and endless other homegrown vegetables, we ate like kings and rolled south to England rather blue at having to leave such a haven behind. Of course now home we are living it up on our own somewhat more modest vegetable patch, concocting the freshest of summer salads and basking in the sun, dining at dusk and watching the barn owl out hunting. Long live summer and happy dining.

Garden Salad with ‘Mint and Yogurt’ dressing or a ‘Dijon and Yogurt’ dressing

A foot note on  garden salad;

This is all about what’s in the garden, what needs to be eaten and what is going to satisfy the taste buds. Given how balmy it has been recently the salads above are all about clean distinct flavours, they are light yet have crunch in the form of ‘mini-mini’ carrots, raw beetroot and radishes. I use courgette flowers, I mean why not, any herb flowers will do, chives are lovely but rosemary and sage flowers are also very pretty, and for a little luxury double podded broad beans but only because I have so many! All of these are cushioned on a mountain of freshly picked leaves. Most salads like this taste so good they rarely need anything more than a splattering of really good olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar and a pinch of Maldon sea salt and ground black pepper. That said, I do think one can get rather blaze at this time of year hence the need for a little ingenuity in the salad dressing department.

So to pep up those leaves and to rev up the salad stakes here are 2 of my absolute all time favorite dressings. A little heavier than your standard ‘French Dressing’ and rather good because of it!

Dijon and Yogurt Dressing

3 tablespoons of good olive oil

1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon of natural yoghurt

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon of runny honey

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk the mustard and honey together until combined and then very slowly whisk in all the olive oil – it will become very thick and almost mayonnaise like – don’t fret though as the addition of vinegar will loosen the dressing  – then add the yogurt and whisk again, followed by a pinch of salt and grind of pepper. If the dressing is too thick loosen it off with either a little cold water whisked in slowly or a little lemon juice. Serve over salad immediately. This dressing will split if left – just whisk again and it will come back together.

Mint and Yogurt Dressing

1.5 large tablespoons of natural organic full fat yogurt

1 small teaspoon of honey

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large handful of freshly chopped garden mint

1 lime – zested

Salt and ground black pepper

With a mini balloon whisk, whisk the honey and yogurt together and then slowly drizzle in the olive oil. A bit like the Dijon dressing the yogurt with split from the oil but a quick whisk soon solves this. Add in the mint and lime zest, salt and pepper and serve with salad!

ARDMADDY CASTLE

For more information on Ardmaddy Castle, have a look at the website : http://www.ardmaddy.com

The gardens are open all year, dawn till dusk, there is a wonderful array of plants for sale and seasonal fruit and vegetables. Possibly the best courgette flowers I have ever laid eyes on! Don’t miss out, if you are in the area it is absolutely worth a visit.

 

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Gone fishing….

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It’s the end of term and the ‘blue one’ has officially finished his first phase of education, if you can call nursery that. ‘Big School’ awaits and all the joys of learning and knowledge that may bring, yet not before a rather long summer holiday. First on the agenda is the breeding program, encouraged by the ‘life cycle topic’ the blue has been studying at kindergarten, he has started his own on the farm! Refusing to pick the eggs from the broody hen, we have been left with no alternative but to place said broody madam in her own palace, sitting extremely tight on top of 4 eggs, 21 days from now we will hopefully have some chicks. Fingers crossed as there is a lot riding on it. For the less broody, their eggs continue to be collected ending up in an array of delicious concoctions including one of my childhood favourites, scotch eggs.

I have never made scotch eggs until this year, it must have been the glut of eggs that encouraged me. I mean who would have thought a year ago I could seriously get away with serving what Mr.P fondly calls ‘Basra baked eggs’ (Shakshuka to you and me), hence new egg recipes are always welcome and I guess that’s what prompted the desire to embark on scotch egg production. And it really is a production, a serious labour of love. Mummy used to make them, that was when I was a little person myself, I actually vividly remember them being packed into picnics destined for long sailing trips down the river Deben hunting for sharks teeth!! And I guess that is partly the reason I was inspired, after all they are perfect picnic food, practically a meal in themselves and for me, evocative of a much adored childhood long since gone. So with a day fishing on the Avon looming and a party of enthusiastic anglers expecting lunch I was ready to get making.

 

In my view the key to the perfect scotch egg is extremely good, well seasoned sausage meat. The sausage meat firstly needs to be really high quality and then it needs to have additional goodies added to it, I flavour mine with grated apple, chilli and fennel seeds. This critical combo of super tasty sausage then needs to encase a hard-boiled egg that is still just, just soft, all of which has been deep-fried in a combination of panko crumbs and polenta. There’s a lot going on here and to get it right is a combination of luck and good judgement. Miraculously they worked, a million light years a way from those ghastly shop bought ones costing 99p, but they are time-consuming, don’t embark on this little project if you’re up against the clock. Having got it right, probably through a stroke of luck, I tried the same with quail eggs making a canapé option, yet with less success. Aesthetically they were not quite so pleasing as the sausage meat shrunk too much and they certainly were not the perfect specimen I had envisaged, still tasted yummy and were guzzled up. Frankly I would stick to the normal size, much more satisfying all round. So if you are feeling brave and love a scotch egg, get making. I can’t promise the quantities are 100% accurate, you may need to ‘ad hoc’ it a bit. Play around with the sausage meat flavourings, I like mine quite punchy but you may want a milder option.

 Scotch Eggs

 Free range organic eggs

Sausage meat seasoned with fennel seeds, grated apple, chilli flakes, ground black pepper, grated nutmeg

Breadcrumbs : I use a mix of polenta, panko and any other fine breadcrumbs I have knocking around

 Flour

 Egg wash

 Sunflower oil to deep fat fry

 1. First boil the eggs, the ones I use are from our hens and probably medium in size, I keep them at room temperature and put them into ‘rolling boiling’ water for 4 minutes 30 seconds and then straight into cold water. I normally boil 3 at a time. Peel the eggs once they have cooled, be very gentle.

 2. Season your sausage meat, your choice, as mentioned I love a good pinch of chilli and fennel seeds, about 1 grated apple and additional ground pepper and freshly ground nutmeg and mix together well.

 3. Flour your eggs. Now place a ball of sausage meat in your hand, flatten completely and very gently encase the egg pulling the seams together. Try not to make the sausage meat layer too thick, about 1/2 cm is perfect. Place in the fridge to chill.

 4. This is the messy bit so be prepared …. Start with 3 bowls and a tray to put your eggs on, one bowl needs to have egg wash in, one – flour and one the breadcrumbs. Place the first sausage encased egg in the flour gently cover all over and then dip in the egg wash, promptly followed by the breadcrumbs. Bravo, the messy bit is over now it’s just the deep fat frying bit left.

 5. I don’t own a deep fat fryer so have always done this in a saucepan. It works perfectly, just be careful. Heat about 4 inches of sunflower oil up very gently until it  ‘crisps a breadcrumb’ , at this stage lower your eggs in and allow them to fry till golden – remember the sausage meat has to cook but you don’t want them in their so long that it cooks the egg anymore. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen roll.

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