Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A good ol' fashioned forage!

Phew! Things are getting super busy round here. Things are in the works. Big things, and so I'm working really hard all the time, only sneaking in a bit of knitting and cricket watching between phone calls, google searches and emailing.

But I did take some time out last week for a quick forage! It's elderflower season and there was no way I was going to let this pass me by. Having tried my Mum's homemade elderflower cordial a couple of years ago, and found it much nicer (and less sweet) than the commercial counterparts, I was determined to have a go. I waited patiently for the season to roll around, worried I might miss it. Then suddenly one night after work I noticed a huge elder in bloom in the pub garden, and knew time was of the essence. So I donned my gardening clothes, grabbed the kitchen scissors and a bag and headed off in search of some elders on common land that would be perfect for picking.
I was worried I wouldn't find anything, but just over an hour later I was home with 35 flower heads! I couldn't believe it was that easier. So I dutifully dismissed the insects with some sharp shaking and set about making cordial. It smelt alright, but not great, and I was concerned about the deep colour, but as it happens its so delicious that I was sent out again this week for more to make sure we have enough of a stock to last the year!
Having found even more flower heads on my second trip (I now know all the elder hotspots in the area!) I decided not only to make cordial again, but this time attempt a liquor. I've had lots of success in the past few months with my random liquor making, and so why not add another to the list. I'll let you know how it goes in three weeks!

In the meantime, if you see some elderflowers, I highly recommend grabbing them while you can, not only will you have delicious cordial to keep you refreshed throughout the summer, but you'll have a house that smells amazing! This little cat certainly seems to agree!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The salad days of asparagus.

So, we didn't get a downpour. No deluge. Just a bit of drizzle and some damp air to make me blog in anticipation, then...nothing. We've had clear weather ever since.
Which is good, because it meant I was able to discover a new combination of ingredients, all brought together into the most delicious lazy Sunday salad for a late dinner after a day of building belated raised beds, and watching the final action from the football season.
May in England means it's finally asparagus season, and when the local stuff arrived, from a mere five miles away, I was very smug indeed to get my hands on a bunch. I proudly carried it home, in my hands, not daring to put in my handbag, and placed it in the fridge, where it awaited the perfect recipe.
Tomorrow I am going to make The Tart with it. But tonight I wanted something simpler, and frankly, heathier. And so I bring you this simple salad with a new-found favourite dressing. It all came together in about fifteen minutes, and was eaten in less!

Simple greens salad.

For the salad:

Enough pasta for two people (with perhaps an added handful for posterity)
two small leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced thinly
three large asparagus spears, bottoms trimmed
handful of runner beans, topped and tailed and sliced thinly
knob of butter

For the dressing:

three teaspoons of capers
handful of mint leaves
handful of coriander leaves
juice of half a lemon
a tablespoon of grated Parmesan
three tablespoons of half fat creme fraiche

Place the pasta in a large saucepan of water. Place a sieve over the top with the asparagus and runners beans in it. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Leave until pasta is done. I like mine al dente so it was boiling for aprox. 9 mins. Remove from the heat. Set the greens aside and drain the pasta, leaving it to cool.

While the pasta cools place another pan on the heat, turning it down to low and place the butter, leeks and greens in the pan and cover, allowing to cook slightly in their own steam. This will poach the leeks and finish off the cooking of the greens.

Meanwhile through the salad ingredients in a food processor (or pestle and mortar) and whoosh until combined.

When the leeks are softened and the greens almost tender but holding some crunch (they should retain their bright green colour), pour the whole lot into a large bowl. Add the cooled pasta and toss, finally add the dressing. Toss again, and eat, adding more lemon juice to taste.

p.s. sorry about the pour light in the photos, the day was fading fast as I took them, and the natural light with it!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


I woke up this morning to gloom. A dark sky, not a glimpse of blue to be seen, and a tell-tale dampness hanging on everything. And I couldn't be more thrilled.
I know that sounds strange, but I can't remember the last time we had rain here. We've had the odd overcast day here and there, and it's threatened on a couple of occasions, but the whole of April was bone dry, and our garden is suffering. Even with my frantic watering it's still not the same as a good ole' deluge. I'm not sure that's quite what we're going to get today, but I'll take what I can get, and thoroughly enjoyed my potter around the garden in the drizzle earlier.
I'm sorry it's been so quiet around here. I have good intentions, and then my memory card loses my pictures, and I get distracted by things like being able to selfishly knit again (hurrah for the end of the test knit), and dashing across to other cities to visit friends returning from exotic climes. Right now I'm afraid I shall have to leave you content with some very happy, damp-looking plants!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The ever-adaptable amazing tart.

I've got myself hooked on tart. It's not good. Well actually it is damn good. And this is the problem. It is so good that I made it twice the week of the bank holiday mayhem, and currently have pastry and filling ready and waiting for yet another. It's basically a quiche, but I don't like quiche, and yet I love this. Yes, it's that good.
Which is a problem, because I'm pretty certain that its things like this tart that are not helping me drop the weight I seem to be carrying around. You see, it turns out that pie and beer is not a particularly good diet, and if you get into the habit of these things your body punishes you. I know. And yet I cannot help but make this tart again tonight, because it's easy and tasty and goes so very well with steamed broccoli (which is a superfood, and therefore clearly cancels out any calories that might be in a slice of tart, right? Right?)
The first time I made it I used cream and cheese and leeks poached in white wine, and it was delicious. Then I decided that in order to at least have the pretense of it being healthy cutting out the cream would be best, so I used skimmed milk and roasted butternut squash and caramalised onions and a hint of cream cheese and lots of black pepper. And it was delicious. Tonight I am using hot smoked mackerel, and poached leeks, and one less egg (opps! not enough in the fridge) a hint of cream, but no cheese. It already smells amazing.
What I'm getting at is that you really shouldn't make this tart. I mean you should, but I cannot hold myself responsible for the tart-obsession that might take over. Then again, that might just be my problem!
What I am including here is the recipe for a small tart with the squash and onion filling, but frankly it seems that you can put anything in this thing, and doubling the size would be really easy. Next on my list of fillings to try is roasted tomatoes, pesto and goats cheese. See....I'm already planning another. Help! I need an intervention!
The ever-adaptable, scarily morish tart - serves one, ahem, I mean four.

I use a 7.5" by 1" fluted tart pan with a removable base and find this makes four perfect servings.

Shortcrust pastry:

250g Plain flour
1 egg yolk
125g butter

Blend together all the ingredients apart from the milk, either in a bowl by hand, or in a food processor, and then gradually add milk 1tbsp at a time until the dough just comes together. Chill for at least an hour before using.

Preheat the oven to 170C. Roll out and then gently line your tart pan, trimming the pastry, but allowing at least a half inch overlap in case of shrinkage. You'll have plenty of pastry left, which can be wrapped in the fridge or frozen. Line the tart pan with greaseproof and fill with baking beans and blind bake for 20mins. Then remove from the oven, retrieve the baking beans and greaseproof and return to the oven for 5 more minutes, or until the pastry is dry to the touch, but not too coloured. Trim the edges and allow to cool.


1 egg
1 egg yolk
175ml of cream/milk (I've been using 75ml cream and 100ml milk)
2 tbsp cream cheese
freshly ground pepper
pinch of salt
1/2 roasted butternut squash, cut into cubes (or basically whatever takes your fancy)
1 onion, cooked slowly with 2 tsp brown sugar until soft and fragrant (or whatever takes your fancy, although I do believe you need an oniony flavour, but whether thats onions, leeks or spring onions is up to you)

Preheat the oven to 180C

Beat the eggs, and slowly add the milk/cream mixture, and finally the cream cheese. Beat well to combine, and then add freshly ground black pepper to taste, and a small pinch of salt.

Arrange the squash and onion evenly in the base of tart shell, and then place the whole thing on a baking tray. Open the oven and slide the baking tray halfway in. Then gently pour over the custard mix (this should prevent spillage if you fill and then carry to the oven). Cook for 30mins until just set in the middle, well risen and slightly golden. Allow to cool slighlty then serve warm with either a dressed salad or steamed greens.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Hot cross bun porridge

I know, I know, Easter is over, the glut of bank holiday four-day weekends a distant memory, and the chocolate wrappers long since licked clean. But since my job means I don't actually get four-day weekends (I worked Good Friday, and both Saturdays) I am still clinging to Easter and wishing it could hold out a little longer.

Like the weather we've been having! I can barely believe that we haven't had rain here for over a month. It's a nightmare for the garden - I've become an obsessive plant tender, dashing out with my mop bucket every morning to make sure our little veggies stay hydrated. (The mop bucket because we have no outside tap, and having been good and installed a water butt, we've still had no rain to fill it!) - but it's wonderful for morale.
This morning whilst dashing about doing chores I suddenly realised that we were out of museli, had no granola, and not even the wherewithall to make toast. I've been a bit of a groceries slacker this week and we seem to be running low of everything other than radishes and wine. And much as I'd love to drink wine for breakfast, I think they have judgemental names for people like that, and there ain't no way a radish is passing my lips.

So porridge it would have to be. I'm not sure such a warming breakfast was exactly what I fancied given it's already warm here today, but working on an empty stomach is not something I can do (I'm one of those people who wakes up hungry and is grumpy within seconds if I don't start shovelling food and coffee in myself). As a result I decided to freshen up my oats and channel the Easter baker in me. Hot cross bun porridge! Genius! I love hot cross buns and use Easter as a terrible excuse to stuff them in my face at any and every opportunity, so why not take the spirit of that and put it in my porridge.

One cup of porridge oats, one of milk, one of water, a large handful of dried fruit and mixed peel, and a generous dash of mixed spice. Cook. Douse with maple syrup. Eat. Perfect.
Now I'm dashing to work feeling not only sated, but rather smug! I'll be back over the weekend with a new tart recipe that I've discovered, and liked so much I made it twice last week. Have a good end to the week everyone.