Thursday, 18 September 2014

Bullace cheese

If you didn't know (I didn't), a bullace is somewhere between a damson and a plum. Smaller than the latter, not as sharp as the former - certainly not the 5kg or so I managed to scrump from a friend's trees yesterday morning...

When I say 'scrump' - I was invited - but I really didn't intend to take so many. But the sun was warm, the mood peaceful - the type of weather that literary types might refer to as 'replete' - replete with mellow September sunshine, redolent with birdsong, with the hum of bees, with goodwill and with the sense of a good thing coming gracefully to an end - as summer must eventually do, Indian or otherwise.

The bullaces were literally dropping off the trees as we picked - and although I only had one bag with me, it was too easy to fill as we chatted.

I wasn't in the least prepared, so popped in to the local 'low end' supermarket for sugar and cheap vodka, safe in the knowledge that the best place to start would probably be a little something to cheer up the dark winter nights that I expect are to come. I also bought some gin, but once home realised that I didn't have 2 appropriate receptacles. So I used the vodka and the gin can wait for the sloes...

500g down (enough to pimp a 75cl bottle of average to low-grade vodka), I cast around for other likely ingredient combinations.

3 jars of bullace and stem ginger jam (thanks Sarah Raven) later, and I still had nearly 3 kilos to go. I'd taken the recipe for damson cheese - very similar to 'membrillo' of Spanish cuisine - from my friend. If you haven't come across this before, it's a set fruit 'jelly', to be eaten, sliced rather than spooned, as a savoury - with cheese - or, as we discussed while I was sampling hers, perhaps stirred into gravies and the like. It would taste delicious with lamb as an alternative to redcurrant.

The process is relatively straightforward and has none of the setting point stress I associate with making jam - make a purée, then add sugar and bubble gently down. The recipe even helpfully describes how to tell if the mixture is ready in terms of the sound it will make ("a plop") as well as what it will look like. Marvellous.

As my friend advised, I didn't bother stoning the bullaces before embarking on the cheese. I'd already stoned over a kilo to achieve the required weight for the jam making, and it was a total pain (not to mention making my already inelegant fingernails look even worse - I had some vivid cherry flashbacks as I cursed my way through them) - and as you sieve the purée anyway, I decided to heed her advice. I'd noted that about 1.25kg of whole fruit yielded a kilo of stoned when making the jam, so worked on that basis.

It takes a little time, but the resulting cheese is really delicious, and I can see it cheering up many a winter evening to come. I could also venture to suggest that the little packages of fruity delightfulness would make appropriate offerings for that festival beginning with C that comes up in 3 months time. But as it's only September, I can't bring myself to elaborate further on that subject...

Bullace (or Damson) cheese


- 2.5 kg bullaces, washed, stalks and any stray leaves etc removed.
- granulated sugar (exact amounts depend on the amount of purée you achieve after the first stage - you need 450-600g sugar for every 600ml (1lb for every pint if you're imperial) of purée depending on how tart the purée tastes - and perhaps how tart you think you'd like your finished product)
- 50g unsalted butter (optional)


Put the bullaces in a large heavy based pan - if you're a jam maker, the jam pan will do nicely, and add 600ml water.

Bring to a boil and simmer, occasionally mashing the bullaces with a potato masher, until you have a thick, syrupy pulp which will be beautifully pink - this takes about 30-40 minutes.

Sieve this pulp in batches. I must confess to sieving it all and then going to bed because it was late and I was tired. So if you're still going at this point, measure as you go to work out how much sugar you need. If you're a lightweight like me, when you're ready for stage 2 (and I expect the puree would freeze well if needed) measure the puree.

Add sugar accordingly - 450g for each 600ml of puree - then return to the pan and add the butter (if using - apparently it makes for a mellower cheese). 

Heat gently to dissolve all the sugar, then bring to a simmer and continue to cook gently for as long as it takes to achieve a thick glossy paste that "plops and sticks to a wooden spoon or will levae a clear trail is the spoon is drawn across the bottom of the pan". It took mine closer to 11/2 hours before I was confident I'd reached the right point.

At this point, you need to oil whatever receptacles you are going to use to set the cheese in. Ramekins will work, jam jars to make bigger portions, or you could make a big slab in a loaf tin. You could also, I guess, make 'cubes' using ice cube trays if that doesn't re-open any Annabel Karmel babyweaning type scars for you... *

Sterilise your pots, dry and lightly oil them, then spoon in the cheese and leave to cool.

Turn the cooled cheese out of the moulds and wrap in waxed paper. 

Apparently, you should leave it for 6-8 weeks before eating. And it'll last for up to 2 years.

Well, it's always good to know the theories, isn't it?

* I didn't have quite enough to fill a final ramekin, and because the Pink one was home, 'poorly' and gave me the idea for it, I spread the last bit out on a piece of greasproof paper to see if I could re-create the 'fruit leather' that is so popular in my children's peers' lunch boxes and which I refuse to buy...

When it was cool, I cut it into strips and rolled it up. Eat your heart out, Annabel Karmel...

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Fodder for Foodies - the Llwynhelyg Farm Shop

Such an unassuming entrance but don't be fooled - the Llwynhelyg Farm Shop is a veritable treasure trove of fresh meat and veg, local produce - cheeses, fish, home made 'ready meals and desserts, and 'storecupboard' staples. In the summer months, the car park is also home to the wonderful El Salsa Mexican takeaway (sadly now closed till next year)

The shop absolutely lives up to its Twitter moniker '@FooderforFoodys'.

What I love most is that this is a shop that caters for your every need. I use it mainly for veg and eggs - being as it is on the way to the children's school (indeed, it supplies their school with fruit for break) so very convenient to drop in. However, if you didn't want to cook, they also sell home made 'ready meals' and desserts - which I have on good authority are brilliant. And I know it won't be long before I succumb to the temptation of the pie fridge...

Not only can you get everything you might need to cook dinner - from sausage and mash to something far more sophisticated, it's a fantastically friendly shop too which makes it a joy to go in to, even with fractious post-school children (who welcome the days we drop in as it offers them an opportunity to plead with me to buy them olives there!). Not only are the people happy to help and chat, but the shop is full of great touches - such as pronunciation notes:

and what fantastic 'caws' it is...

No wonder then that its won loads of awards

If you're in the area - on holiday or because you happen to live round here - it's definitely worth a visit - indeed, I'd say it's a destination in itself, but then I am probably biased.

You'll find the Llwynhelyg Farm Shop on the A487 at Sarnau, north of Cardigan. You can also follow them on Twitter and find them on Facebook. They didn't ask me to write this post, and all views expressed are my own. It's a great shop. You should go there! 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Blackberry & Apple Cake

So the weather is perfect Indian Summer weather here in West Wales. 

There's a definite Autumnal chill to the mornings - mists and mellow fruitfulness abounding (more about the mellow fruitfulness to come, as you'd probably guessed).

You can tell the seasons are on the turn - the swallows are massing, chattering noisily before swooping off to make a few turns then returning to the telephone wire, eventually to push off to warmer climes. 

The holidaymakers have dwindled with the return to school, leaving the roads clearer and the beaches emptier - but the sun is still shining

Someone, I can' t remember who, queried whether there'd be blackberries here, this close to the sea, but I'm pleased to say that there are - and they are beautiful. One of the things about moving house is that it's the little things that you have to rediscover that can be the most tricky - where to get your tyres changed, where to go to the dentist, where to pick your blackberries... Believe me, the blackberries were a great concern.

But I needn't have worried. The lanes where the dog gets his standard walk (counting down the days now till we can hit our favourite beaches again) are full of the most fantastic blackberries.- luscious and plentiful. I am scratched and stung, but can't resist another 'pick' each time we go out.

Not only blackberries, but apples are also plentiful, and we've been in receipt of various bags of locally grown bounty. It's fantastic.

This cake came originally from a Good Food recipe, but my cake tins are slightly bigger than those required by the original recipe, and after much bitter complaining (well, perhaps I exaggerate) by the Husband that there's never any cake left by the time he gets to the tins, I decided to make not just one cake (which I was going to do, to take to a new friend who has invited me round for a coffee tomorrow), but 2. So I've increased the recipe accordingly to give two 23 cm cakes. If you want to just make one cake, the link is above, but when has having 2 cakes ever been a problem? I think this will probably freeze well - although perhaps leave off the hazelnuts and icing sugar.

What makes this cake is the ground almonds, I mean I know I'm a fan and everything, but it really does make a delicious moist sponge, a perfect foil to the tangy fruit. The hazelnuts make a good crunch, and eaten warm with a blob of cream, well, it's just a taste of the Welsh - English - British Autumn.

Blackberry & Apple Cake

juice of half a lemon
4 small- medium sized cooking apples
290g unsalted butter, softened
290g caster sugar
7 large eggs
230g self raising flour
70g ground almonds
230g blackberries

For the topping
4 tbsp demerara sugar
50g unsalted butter
a good shake of cinammon

50g peeled toasted hazelnuts
icing sugar for dusting

You also need 2 x 23 cm springform tins, greased and lined.

Pre-heat the oven to 160C.

Put the lemon juice in a bowl, peel and core the apples and cut each into 12 slices and toss the slices into the lemon juice - this will stop them going brown before you fold the slices into the cake batter.

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Whisk together the eggs, then slowly add 2/3 of the mixture to the butter & sugar, beating all the time. If the mixture looks curdled, add a little of the flour.

Once 2/3 of the eggs have been beaten in thoroughly, fold in the remaining eggs, then the flour and ground almonds. 

Fold in the blackberries and most of the apple slices to the batter, then divide between the 2 tins.

Bang down the tins and smooth down the batter gently, then scatter over the remaining apple slices.

Put the sugar and cinnammon for the topping into a  bowl and chop through the butter as if you were making a crumble topping. Sprinkle this over the 2 cakes then bake them for 50-60 minutes till a skewer comes out clean.

When the cakes come out of the oven, sprinkle over the hazelnuts, then leave to cool, dusting with icing sugar before serving warm with the breath of the oven and some lovely cream (although feel free to eat it cold with a cup of tea too).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Spicy Marrow & Coconut Soup

It is indeed that time of year where I gnash my teeth and wonder yet again what I am going to do with all those bloody courgettes - particularly as the kids would rather pull out their fingernails than willingly eat them aren't keen. Yet, as every year, we planted the plants, so only have ourselves to blame.


While we've managed to mostly keep on top of the crop, a couple of marrows snuck in under the radar. With one, I cooked up a rather potent marrow and apricot chutney, spiced with one of the Husband's fiery chillis, and with the other, a marrow & coconut soup, inspired by a Sarah Raven recipe, laced with harissa and mint, perfect for lunches (although just a shame that the salting of the marrow meant that I didn't get said lunch today till about 2 p.m....

You might suggest that with all the harissa and mint, you can't actually taste much of the marrow in this soup - but I'd hazard that this is not necessarily a bad thing... In fact, when I made this, I started off with half a tablespoon of harissa but frequent tasting dictated the addition of more. Feel free to add less or more as you like.

Spicy Marrow & Coconut Soup

Makes just over 2 litres (that's a lot of lunches)

1.4kg marrow
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 large onion
1 large clove of garlic
1.5 tbsp harissa paste
good handful of mint leaves
1 litre chicken stock
400ml can coconut milk

Peel and de-seed the marrow, and chop into 2 cm cubes.

Put the cubes of marrow into a colander over a bowl or dish, salting the marrow as you go. Leave for at least 30 minutes to drain out at least some of the liquid from the marrow. Rinse the salt off, then tip the marrow out onto a teatowel and pat dry.

Heat the rapeseed oil gently in a large pan. Finely chop the onion and garlic, then sweat in the oil for a few minutes before stirring in the harissa and adding the marrow. Cook for a few more minutes while chop chop up the mint, then chuck the mint in the pan, add half the stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes or so.

Whizz up the soup with a hand held blender, taste for seasoning and add salt & pepper as necessary. Add the rest of the stock and the coconut milk, whizz again, taste again and serve, if necessary warming gently beforehand.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Cardamom Blackberry Chai Cake

We had a month off from the Clandestine Cake Club in August, and so September's meeting crept round rather quickly (a bit like the start of term), with the theme of 'Indian Summer'.

I used up some of the first of the blackberries I picked a couple of weeks in a Signe Johansen Blackberry & Almond Cardamom cake that I found on the Guild of Food Writers website. The original is gluten free but I didn't have enough ground almonds, or baking powder, or even ground cardamom for that matter, but it was still delicious. However, what it also inspired was the cake I took along to cake club, combined with the Seldom Seen Chai Cake that I made ages and ages ago. 

I made the chai up first thing, and the Husband complained that it made the house smell horrible, but I think it was because it was combined with the smell of vinegar soaking chutney ingredients. Not a great odour to greet the day with, I'll accept.

Anyway, I was pleased with the resulting cake: less gingery than the original, more cardamom and run through with blackberries, covering the theme 'Indian Summer' both meteorologically and geographically to provide a gently spiced cake bursting with the best the British (well, in the case, the Welsh) hedgerow has to offer at this time of year.

Cardamom Blackberry Cake with Lemon Icing

For the Chai

350ml semi-skimmed milk
12 cardamom pods, bashed in a pestle and mortar
2 cloves
1 cinammon stick
2 regular tea bags

For the Cake

170g unsalted butter
200g golden syrup
50g dark soft brown sugar
30 cardamom pods
300g wholemeal self raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
200ml chai (made as above)
200g blackberries

For the Icing

200g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
200g icing sugar
lemon juice - about 3/4 of a lemon's worth

You'll also need a lined 20cm cake tin


Make the chai first by pouring the milk into a small pan, adding the rest of the ingredients and simmering gently for 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then strain in to a jug. You need 200ml for the cake so add a little more milk if necessary.

Pre-heat the oven to 170C.

Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a pan and melt gently, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Bash up the cardamom pods, scrape out the seeds, discard the husks, then grind the seeds up in a pestle and mortar.

Add the ground up seeds, the flour, ground ginger and salt  into a bowl and stir together. Pour in the melted butter and syrup mixture, stir in the eggs and finally the chai, then fold in the blackberries.

Bake for around an hour till a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs on it, then leave to cool before icing.

Make the icing by creaming together the butter and icing sugar then slowly adding the lemon juice till you have a delightfully spreadable icing that also zings with lemon. This will lift the cake to new heights that are well worth reaching, believe me!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Mary Berry Cooks... Rich Chocolate Traybake with swirly icing

Yes, I know, you've got the book or seen the recipe online, and it's not swirly icing, is it, it's feather icing. Piped lines of white chocolate artfully smudged with a cocktail stick to make pretty, Mr Kipling-esque 'feathers' across the top of the milk chocolate ganache.

Yeah, right. Like that's ever going to happen for me.

Off for a final hoorah of the summer holidays this weekend (camping for a good friend's 40th birthday, on the campsite that she and her husband and kids have just bought. How cool is that? Our friends - our camping buddies - own a campsite. How COOL is that??) though, cake was called for and traybake was going to fit the bill.

But first, I must digress.

I haven't written much about camping this summer. Truth is that a couple of things have conspired. 

Firstly, I feel strangely coy about our decision, subsequently executed at the beginning of the year, to sell our beloved Daisy and upgrade to Sadie (or Wussie as she seems to be referred to mostly, based on an unfortunate number plate). We all loved Daisy, our 1989 T25, and selling her wasn't an easy decision but she was viciously uneconomical in the petrol department and we weren't content with pottering down to Dorset every couple of weekends. Already planning trips into Europe, and knowing in our hearts that she wouldn't be up to it (or, rather, our holiday fund wasn't up to funding her guzzling petrol all the way through France), the move to Wales was the final nail in the coffin - her paintwork would never have survived the salty atmosphere living by the sea. So Daisy went to a good home (I won't go into details, but I felt like she was continuing the good work she started with us) and we searched for our next van. We have upgraded massively, and on every level Wussie is superior. I miss Daisy. But not enough to feel too sad.

Secondly, we haven't actually done that much camping. Plenty of day trips, and having the van has meant we can stay out longer, take food with us, but as I may have mentioned before, living in such a coastal and rural area, well, the need, the desperate desire to escape to the sea that certainly I used to feel, is just not there. We did have a fantastic weekend camping down in Newport, a mere 20 minute drive away, and of course, the holiday in France, all made possible by Wussie, but, really, that's it.

But this weekend, the last of the summer holidays, we're off camping on our friends' campsite for Liz's 40th. Liz is awesome, and she's going to be such a fantastic campsite owner. At the moment, the site they've bought isn't licensed for tents, but they are working on it. And if you have a caravan or camper and need somewhere near Chippenham/Bath to stay, let me know...

In the tradition of several awesome camping birthdays we've been to, there's an element of everyone mucking in together to bring tonnes of booze salads, puddings and cakes. 

Incidentally, does anyone get the feeling that as you get older, there's a formula that should be applied to ensure you don't bring too much booze to events like this? I haven't quite worked it out - I bet I'm not the only person to have experienced these weekends where everyone forgets that they have kids and responsible jobs (either in or outside the home) and enthusiastically brings the same amount as they would have aged 23...

Anyway, digression over, and cake is where I was. I made 2 Mary Berry traybakes in preparation for the festivities. I'm not a huge fan of Mary Berry, and my views on the whole GBBO caravan have already been documented I wouldn't know exactly what happened in recent episodes, because I'm not watching the latest series, but I'd just like to say that the suggestion of 'naughty editing' by the BBC to make more out of the Baked Alaska issue than was there, painting a darker picture of the actions of one of the contestants, only goes to convince me that I'm right, and this show is not really much better than Jeremy Kyle...

But my mother in law gave me a Mary Berry cookbook for my birthday, and I'll concede that conniver in carcrash TV or not, Mary Berry does make a good tray bake. Her lemon drizzle traybake is pretty hard to beat for quick and easy, and I've made it a number of times, and, for this weekend, I also made her rich chocolate tray bake with feathered icing. Very straightforward, chocolate sponge, chocolate ganache, and then white chocolate.

The white chocolate should have been piped in straight lines (ha!), evenly spaced across the cake, and then I should have dragged a cocktail stick through to produce the 'feathers'.

Well there was no chance. I'm not great at decorative icing, and while I did toy with attempting a white chocolate "Happy Birthday Liz", I thought better of it and decided swirls would be a good option. And so they were. Melted white chocolate spooned into a piping bag, I snipped the end off as close to the end as I could and simply swirled.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Smoked Paprika Potato Wedges

This is absolutely my favourite way to eat potatoes at the moment - and has been for some time but I've never got round to putting it up here because I just make them without regard for quantity. Smoked paprika potato wedges. Crunchy with salt; smoky with, er, smoked paprika. 


I could just say, "Yeah, just slice up some potatoes, toss them in oil, smoked paprika, salt & pepper and whack them in the oven until they're cooked" (which is, really, how I roll) but really that wouldn't be much of a post. 

When I look back, initially, I didn't put any recipes in these posts. The 'Recipe Junkie' was always about me devouring other people's recipes - whether in books or online, in newspapers, magazines or old notebooks, and was never about me suggesting my own recipes were really any good, despite what you might think, or how I might occasionally come across (in which case give me a slap).. 

And that's still really where I'm coming from, although sometimes (if you'll excuse the conceit of the statement) I think that I come up with something that's pretty good. But I'd be the first to say that it's usually had its roots elsewhere. There's not a huge amount of completely original thought gone into anything I cook. I mean, how much original thought can there be? Someone might introduce a new fad in OUR food culture, a new idea, but you can be sure that somewhere else in the world, it's been consumed, cooked for years... 

A quick Google tells me that chia seeds were being grown by the Aztecs in 3,500 BC. Yes, Gwynnie, really. 

Woodfired ovens? Well, hello - hardly a new concept.

So I don't pretend that this is my idea - there are hundreds of similar recipes out there. But this is my current favourite way to eat potatoes (am I repeating myself?) and I thought I'd share it with you.

Smoked Paprika Potato Wedges

Serves 4

4 large-ish white potatoes (about 800g)
2 tsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
A good pinch or sea salt
2-3 grinds of black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220C, and put a baking tray into the oven to heat up.

Wash your potatoes, and slice them into wedges - about 10-12 from each potato. 

Put the potato pieces into a bowl, drizzle over the oil and toss the potatoes so all are covered, then sprinkle over the paprika, salt and pepper and toss everything all together again.

Tip the potatoes onto the hot baking sheet, shake into a single layer, then pop back in to the oven and cook for at least 45 minutes, may be longer if needed, taking the sheet out every so often and stirring the wedges around to ensure even cooking.

Serve with burgers, with fish, or just on their own, with mayo to dip.