Thursday, 30 August 2012

Post-holiday Pork with Lentil & Fennel Salad

We came back from our holiday on Monday. 

 We didn't go far into France but we found beautiful beaches, 



wonderful campsites 

check out our view!

and lots to do. We spent lots of time on the beach, body boarding, sand castle building and (hooray) reading.

quality mummy time


orchards at Cidrerie le Pere Mahieu
We also found time to visit an organic cider farm on our way from Vauville to Portbail, a small chateau as we crossed the Cherbourg peninsula from West to East, and to breathe in the history of the WW2 D Day landings in the area around Ste Marie du Mont, Ste Mere Eglise and Utah Beach. I'm hoping to get a chance to write a post just about this - off my usual topic, but it was such a very moving and awe-inspiring experience. Just approaching the beaches made me tingle. Maybe I'm being fanciful and maybe I've read too much literature about the Second World War, but it seemed to me as we visited the little towns so crucial in those days of June 1944 that the history and energy of the place absorbed through the soles of our feet, even without a visit to the fantastic Utah Beach Museum. For all that its focus is the US contribution to the D Day and specifically to the action at Utah Beach, it also gave an amazing overview of how WW2 progressed to that point, and beyond. A humbling experience indeed.

Utah Beach
One of the US memorials at Utah Beach


Returning from holiday is always sad and exciting at the same time for me. This time, the return wasn't helped by the weather (that old "piles of washing and no where to dry it" conundrum), and the fact that the garden had gone mad in our absence leaving us with groaning bean plants, courgettes coming out of our ears, and fennel in need of eating. Unlike the gloriously ripe tomatoes we found in France, our greenhouse is full of stubbornly green ones, and I'm not sure we're ever going to get enough sun to ripen them. I'll keep you posted. 

As well as the inevitable returning to the house jobs, and getting back into work, it's back to school next week so I've been tracking down bits of uniform and lost PE bags, and trying to finish up all the jobs I was supposed to get done this holidays. Most importantly, curtains for Blue's bedroom, completing the change from little boy room to Harry Potter Gryffindor room (sob - not at the Harry Potter-ness but the loss of little boy-ness). On top of all that I woke up on Tuesday morning with some horrible creeping nausea type virus thing, so I just haven't been feeling on form at all, and I made myself stay away from my blog until I'd got all the jobs done.

Anyway, the curtains are now cobbled together finished (such self-control), and the virus seems to be clearing up, and last night it was the turn of the fennel to get some post-holiday treatment, so I have something to blog about. 

I had some pork steaks in the freezer which I defrosted and trimmed of most of the fat (yes, I have gagne'd beaucoup de poids during the holiday - all that vin, fromage and saucisson...) marinaded in the juice of half a lemon, a crushed clove of garlic and the finely chopped 'leaves' from some rosemary sprigs, and pan fried - 3-4 minutes tops on each side. For the kids, once I'd cooked the pork, I removed the meat and set aside, then added a teaspoon of dijon mustard to the pan along with a tablespoon of creme fraiche left over from the trip, and heated this up, stirring in the pan juices. They enjoyed the pork & sauce served with pasta and finely sliced green beans from the garden.

But what of the fennel? Oh yes. Doesn't it look magnificent. The plumes are too tall for me to get into one photo. Mum's staying with us at the moment having returned Fred the Dog after his summer hols, and she is always quick to remind me that when I was younger and still living with my parents, I used to claim that fennel tasted like boiled welly boots and refuse to eat it. How times have changed. This salad is loosely based on one of HF-W's in Veg Everyday. I made quite a lot of changes to accomodate what I did and didn't have available, and threw in some beans as well, just because we've got tonnes in the garden, but you don't need to use them if you don't want to.


Lentil & Fennel Salad

Serves 3 accompanying a pork steak, a piece of fish etc or 2 as a main course salad on its own.

125g puy lentils
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
some fennel fronds (optional)
1tsp veg stock powder
4 small/medium fennel bulbs, trimmed 
150g green beans/runner beans, sliced (optional)
2tsp dijon mustard
120ml olive oil
2 tbsp cider vinegar
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper

Put the lentils in a pan, cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Boil for a minute then drain and return to the pan. Cover the lentils with water, add the chopped shallot, bay leaf. fennel fronds and sprinkle in the stock powder, then bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or so. 

Meanwhile, slice the fennel bulbs as finely as you can length-ways, reserve half, and the chop the pther half into fine dice. make up the dressing by shaking together the dijon mustard, cider vinegar, sugar, sea salt and freshly ground pepper in an appropriate receptacle. I'm not proud - I use a jam jar for this (remembering mostly to screw the lid on properly before shaking...).

After the lentils have cooked for 20 mins or so, and are nearly cooked, add the finely diced fennel (reserve the sliced portion - you're going to eat this bit raw!) and the sliced beans and continue cooking till the fennel & beans are cooked - not much more than 5 minutes. If there is still liquid in the pan, drain the lentils, remove the bay leaf and fennel fronds, then stir in half the dressing to the warm lentils and leave to cool.

When ready to eat (i.e. once the pork is cooked), mound the lentils into a bowl or on a plate, and scatter the raw fennel slices around the outside. Top with the thinly sliced pan fried pork and serve with the remaining dressing (no creme fraiche sauce with these). 

As a postscript, I hadn't planned to serve the lentils to the kids because I was still feeling ill and couldn't be doing with the refusals, but in fact they bot tried them when we adults ate, and they both liked them. Result.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Easy (!) Cherry & Raspberry Cheesecake Tart

Yes, another EASY recipe.

Later today we are heading off to France. I am sooo excited. It's a long time since I have spent any appreciable amount of time there, and it is a place that I love, so I am looking forward to everything about the next 9 days, including time with the Husband and Blue & Pink. I am also looking forward to croissants and cheese, baguettes and ripe produce - tomatoes and peaches will be particularly on my hit list. We are taking the van over to Cherbourg and have one night booked in a camping municipal quite close by, then who knows where we will end up...

A few weeks ago, I made the no fuss fruit tart out of Kitchen for the Forever Nigella challenge. On Thursday, we had our last meal with Juliette, the French girl who has been staying with us for the last 3 weeks. Despite my fears she proved remarkably easy to feed. Over the time she was with us, as well as gaining an interesting insight into the sleeping habits of teenagers, it became clear that although skinny as a rake, in the annoying way of French teenage girls, Juliette likes her puddings. I wanted to make something special for her last night with us, but that wouldn't take up any time. Working on the same theme as the no fuss fruit tart, but using cherry jam and raspberries instead of lemon curd and mixed summer berries, I came up with 

Easy Cherry & Raspberry Cheesecake Tart

NB the only thing to note about this is that it needs about 4 hrs in the fridge (or longer) before eating.

375g digestive biscuits
75g soft unsalted butter
300g cream cheese, if you remember, get it out of the fridge beforehand
approx 300g cherry jam (I didn't measure exactly, just scooped it out till it looked right with the ceam cheese)
350-400g raspberries
dark chocolate for grating

Whizz up the biscuits and butter in a food processor till all crumbled and then press into a tart tin, (ideally approx 25cm diameter, and one with a loose bottom) to make a case. Put this in the freezer for 15 minutes or so to firm up.

Clean out the processor bowl and then whizz up (or just mix by hand) the cream cheese and jam, then spread into the bottom of the tart case.

Spread the raspberries gently over the filling (don't drop from a great height or they will sink in) and pop into the fridge for at least 4 hours, although over night would be good (it helps with getting it out of the tin for presentation purposes, if you are fussy about things like that).

When ready to eat, remove from the fridge and if you can, pop it out of the tin. Grate over some dark chocolate.

this is the last slice...

I thought I would link this up to the 'Zero Baking required' blog event because it's just that. This another great blog event organised and hosted by Sarah at Maison Cupcake. Check out lots of easy no bake recipes now that summer finally seems to be here :-)

Right, that's it from me. I'm off to pack me a van and head to the Continent. See you in 10 days time!

Friday, 17 August 2012

The easiest cake in the world

While I was staying with mum last week, not only did I get the recipe inspiration for a delicious gooseberry & elderflower cake, but she also passed me, somewhat surreptitiously, some scribbled instructions for the Yoghurt Pot Cake.

This is one of those genius cakes that you wish you'd known about forever. There's a basic recipe, and you can take it and adapt it pretty much infinitely.

I thought I would share it with you, because, if you like having homemade cake in the house (and I've said it before, but I get downright twitchy if there's nothing in the tins) it really will make your life easier.

The basic measurement is a 150 ml pot of yoghurt. Put the contents in a bowl and add 2 pots of sugar, 1 pot of oil, 3 pots of self-raising flour and 2 beaten eggs.

To this concoction you can add anything. The scribbled instructions I got from mum read as follows:

"Add anything:
Ground Almonds (just add less flour)
Lemon juice & zest
Vanilla essence/ carrots/apples etc etc"

Finally, mix together and "shove in at 160C for about 45 mins

While I didn't have a 150ml pot of yoghurt in the fridge, I had the end of a large pot of blueberry yoghurt and also some 0% fat natural (so virutous) needing eating. I didn't have the pot so I just measured up to 150ml/pot, and made

Blueberry & almond cake

Using the method above, my ingredients were: approx 75ml each blueberry & natural yoghurt; 2 pots (i.e. measured up to 300ml) of soft light brown sugar; 1 pot (measured up to 150 ml - etc etc) of ground almonds, 2 pots of SR flour, 1 pot sunflower oil and about 100g blueberries. I lined a 20cm square cake tin and used that.

And the result? Well judge for yourself

It was moist and very very tasty. The kids loved it and I can guarantee that it will be gracing their linchboxes next term in various guises. I'm thinking raspberries (some from the freezer, gathered from the PYO earlier this summer) and lemon next time - what will you put in yours?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Meatloaf - mini or otherwise

On Sunday, I ventured into the supermarket.

This is not something I do lightly or, out of choice, accompanied - especially not by the children who drive me completely bonkers in the supermarket, so on this occasion at least, the odds were in my favour.

One of the reasons I actually attended my local hall of over-consumption was to get some steak sauce. The other one was because in the holidays, I become totally disorganised - and what with weeks away here and there - scout camp, a week at mum's etc, I find it hard to focus on doing a sensible online shop.

Anyway, that's quite enough about my inadequacies (for the moment, at least). I needed steak sauce to make Nigella's mini meatloaves out of Express. The recipe is conveniently on so I've added the link there. I've made them before, mini style, and used them to add delight to Blue's lunch boxes. When I saw the August challenge for Forever Nigella, Fridge Raider Snacks, I knew this was the recipe to make. Would the Goddess eat these picking from the fridge in a silky dressing gown - I have an inkling that she would.

However - disaster! No steak sauce to be had. Not to be deterred, I decided to go off piste and selected a bottle of Mr Levi Roots Reggae Reggae sauce - of the mild variety, given that the kids would be eating the resulting meatloaf. Then, when I was preparing the mixture, I decided that what it also needed was some spring onions (I had some left over from out of the garden). And I didn't have quite the right amount of sausage meat. Finally, to make the fridge raider element more likely, I decided to make one big meatloaf, rather than minis - my reasoning being that if I made the mini ones, I would be sensible and freeze the ones we didn't eat this evening. However, with a big one, the leftovers, should there be any, will go in the fridge, to be picked at, if not in a slinky silk dressing gown, then in a pair of tatty PJs.


500g beef mince
400g high meat content sausages
80g oats
bunch of spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
70g mild Reggae Reggae Sauce
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
1tsp seasalt

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas 6, and line a loaf tin with foil.

In a bowl, squeeze the sausagemeat out of the skins, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well with a fork.

Spoon the mixture into the lined loaf tin, smooth down with a fork and pop in the oven for about 45 minutes. Check that the middle is piping hot before removing from the oven.

I shall be serving it up with green salad from the garden, potato salad and, if he'll let me, the Husband's pickled onions, and unlike last night where all I had to look forward to in the middle of the night was a wake up from Pink worried about a giant spider, tonight, I may just sneak downstairs for a little midnight snack...

Forever Nigella #18 is hosted by Karen at Lavender and Loveage, for Sarah at Maison Cupcake.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Spinach & Coconut Soup

There is a huge crop of spinach in the garden.

Now, I love spinach. Always have done. One of my ultimate comforts dishes is wholemeal toast topped with steamed, chopped spinach and a soft poached egg. Can’t beat it, if you ask me, but the kids are a little more fussy. Neither of them are particularly keen on leafy greens and it’s something of a challenge to me, especially when it grows so well in the garden, to find ways to tempt them. Chopped up in quiche is a good one, and I once discussed this with a community children’s nurse who said she used to mash it into potato and call it mint choc chip mash. Can’t recall what she used for the ‘choc’ part, though.

One real winner though, is soup, and the way I like my spinach soup is with an oriental-ish twist, using a little chilli (for warmth rather than fiery heat) and coconut milk. Blending the lovely green stalks and leaves with these 2 ingredients takes the edge of the ‘spinachy-ness’ – that admittedly metallic tang that you can get with it – and adds real depth and flavour. It is also extremely easy and I love the simplicity of it. It is one of my favourite things to eat when it’s a bit miserable outside.
Yesterday seemed to be a pretty good day for soup – after the heat of the weekend, the weather seemed to be mirroring the collective post-Olympic closing ceremony slump, with persistent drizzle, and I felt like cooking something nourishing – not to mention to use up the spinach.

Spinach & Coconut Soup

1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 large (i.e. mild) red chilli
500g spinach, washed, (If using big leaves with established stalks, separate stalks and leaves, slice stalks into manageable lengths, roughly shred the leaves – you won’t need to do this if you use baby spinach or the smaller leaves you tend to get pre-packed in supermarkets)
400ml tin of light coconut milk
500ml vegetable stock (I use marigold bouillon powder)

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and add the onion and garlic. Fry on a gentle heat for a few minutes till starting to soften. While this is happening, and deseed the chilli if you want to reduce the heat further, and finely chop. When the onion and garlic is softened, add the spinach stalks and chilli, and cook, stirring every so often for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and stock, bring to the boil, and then add in the spinach leaves. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for a few minutes till the stalks are tender and the leaves have wilted.
Use a stick blender (or whatever you use for such things) to whizz the soup up into a beautiful green concoction.


 I'm linking up to the August No Croutons required challenge - soup or salad using coconut, and hosted by Jac at Tinned Tomatoes 

Monday, 13 August 2012

Porchetta Inglese (with apologies to Ms Lawson)

Mmmmmm slow cooked pork, stuffed with an aromatic filling. For reasons that will become clear, I’m calling this ‘Porchetta Inglese’ (with apologies for any incorrect use of Italian there).

The last thing I did on Saturday night before collapsing into bed after our day at the Olympics was to got a leg of pork out of the freezer on Saturday night with no particular ideas in mind, just knowing that we had to eat the following day and that I would probably be knackered. The fact that I remembered to do this is to be applauded – otherwise we would just have had gooseberry and elderflower cake. No great problem in itself, I guess…
Anyway, yesterday was hot, hot, hot. I wasn’t particularly in the mood for a big, traditional roast dinner, so I picked up Forever Summer for inspiration. I was thinking slow roasting on the basis that although the oven would be on for longer, I could just whack the meat in, leave it there and get on with something else.

Unfortunately, by the time I got round to consulting recipe books it was already after lunch, and bearing in mind I was aiming for the kids to have a reasonably early night, there didn’t seem to be much time for slow roasting. However, Forever Summer practically fell open at the recipe for Porchetta, and it looked good. So what that I wouldn’t have 24 hrs to marinade the meat in the fridge prior to cooking: my joint was slightly smaller than that specified, and I had (just) the cooking time.

In order to make use of the beautiful sage that I have in the garden at the moment, and with an eye on making a more English tasting meal for our French guest, I changed the stuffing, and made a mixture using sage and Bramley apple rather than rosemary bay and garlic. Hence Porchetta Inglese.  I did leave in the ground cloves though, from the original recipe. I had some shallots from the garden that needed eating up because they hadn't dried properly so would have rotted if we'd tried to store them, so i peeled and split them and roasted the pork on top of them. And finally, to add to the ‘English’ experience for our guest, I rubbed salt and fennel seed into the skin that I had removed, and roasted it in a very hot oven so that we could have crackling. 

Porchetta Ingelese

1.5-2kg boned leg of pork (The Goddess uses boned shoulder and neck)
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 cooking apple, peeled and diced quite small
Large handful of sage leaves, finely sliced
1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Some peeled shallots if you have them

Pre-heat the oven to 1800C/1600 fan.

Deal with your joint of meat: using a sharp knife, carefully remove the skin and fat. If you know that you are going to be doing this with your joint, you could get the butcher to do it for you, although remember to take the skin home with you if you want to make crackling too. Then, if necessary, slice further into the middle of the joint, where the bone was to enable you to flatten the piece of meat out, then bash it with a rolling pin/meat tenderiser till it's approx 3 cm flat. 

It might take some bashing, and approx is fine - bear in mind that you wil be rolling it up around some stuffing, and tying it with string, so it needs to be a big enough piece of meat after you've bashed it to do this.

Make your stuffing. Heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan, and cook the onion for a few minutes till it's softening. Add the apple, sage, fennel seed and ground cloves and carry on cooking till the apple is starting to look soft and it all smells lovely. 

Let the stuffing cool a bit, then spread it inside the meat. Once you've done this, you need to roll the meat up and tie it with string at intervals to hold it together. Not the easiest - if you've got a handy helper around,  all the better.

If you have any shallots (I did), peel them, break them into their individual 'cloves' and put int he bottom of your roasting tin. Put the meat in the tin (on top of the shallots if you are using them), grind over some salt and pepper, splosh on some olive oil, and put in the oven for 3-4 hours. Check after 2 hours and if the meat is browning too much, cover with some foil.

When the meat is cooked it will fall apart and be totally delicious. 

The recommended way of eating this is in big floury ciabatta rolls, but as the garden is in full flow at the moment, we ate it more conventionally with new potatoes, and steamed carrots and beans, freshly picked (smug).

Now I am linking this up to 3 linkys this month...

First, you guessed it, Forever Nigella#18 - fridge raider snacks. If you can't imagine how delicious this meat would be cold, picked straight from the cooler in a slinky dressing gown, then you really shouldn't be cooking this. I love cold roast meat, and I can confirm that this definitely hits the spot. 

Lavender & Loveage is hosting the event for Forever Nigella


Secondly, because of the lovely garden sage I used in the stuffing, l am linking up to Lavender and Lovage's Herbs on a Saturday. 2 links to this gorgeous blog at once...

Finally, I think this is worthy of an entry on to Funky Foodies.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Gooseberry & Elderflower Cake with Orange Mascarpone Cream

So that’s week 3 of the holidays done. Time to celebrate with a mighty fine cake.

check out that picnic/outdoor play area
The last week has been particularly exciting. We headed North to stay with my parents in (mostly sunny) Yorkshire. In an almost unparalleled spurt of sight-seeing enthusiasm (probably brought on by the presence of la BF*) we had 2 days out, one to York, always a big hit, and the other over to Halifax and the delights of the Eureka National Children’s Museum. If you have kids under the age of 11, I would absolutely recommend this place. Not only is the museum completely interactive, but they have the most fantastic picnic/park facilities outside so you can take regular breaks for running around (adults too if you’re that desperate -  I’m sure no one would mind). It’s right next door to Halifax railway station, and the best thing is that our tickets turned out to be valid for a whole year so we can go back again. Seeing as my half term salvation is usually a week at Mum’s this is GOOD NEWS.

The Husband had to head off to Germany on Wednesday evening so I had the delights of the M1 southbound with my delightful children. All you need to know is that we got home in one piece.

 Time for a quick turnaround before our big day at Greenwich Park yesterday, to watch the show-jumping and combined running/shooting events of the Modern Pentathlon. Many people have written very eloquently about how wonderful and amazing the Olympics have been, and while I'm not going to expand (much) here, I cannot fault our experience yesterday. I was completely bowled over by how friendly London can be. I lived there once, many years ago, as a trainee solicitor, and go back reasonably regularly, and my experience yesterday right from getting off the train at Waterloo, was completely different from anything I have ever experienced.  Add to that the fact that the sport was amazing – I have no particular enthusiasm for modern pentathlon or the individual elements we saw, but I was completely sucked in, as were the kids. We witnessed skill, determination, endurance, great sportsman-ship - a truly fantastic experience.

Svoboda - new Olympic champion

On a more flippant note, I will read the showjumping bits in Riders (in my opinion, one of Ms Cooper's finest) with more interrest next time...

Woodbridge (Team GB)... err... jumping...

So here I am on Sunday, thinking this is all very well, but I haven’t actually cooked anything for a week now apart from boiling some pasta and a glut of beans from the garden (due to a week away), grating some cheese on top and calling it tea on Friday evening when I’d recovered from my motorway experience.

I got a piece of pork out of the freezer last night – one of the last joints left over from the half pig we purchased from our local friendly smallholder – ready for some form of slow roasting. Watch this space... However, pudding is sorted.

While we were at my mum’s, she fed us in fine style. She is a great cook, and had catered the whole week in advance, producing good family friendly meals out of the freezer every day. Nothing fancy, but great food – meatballs, fish pie, vegetable lasagne. However she excels at pudding (not dessert – definitely a pudding woman). She made this delicious pudding/cake using rhubarb and the juice of an orange. It disappeared in one sitting, although it should probably feed around 10. It totally inspired me and so this evening we had:

Gooseberry & Elderflower cake with orange mascarpone cream


For the cake: 300g gooseberries, topped & tailed; 200g golden caster sugar; 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial ; Finely grated zest of half an orange (you need half for the cake, half for the topping); 140g unsalted butter, softened; 2 eggs, beaten; ½ teaspoon of baking powder; 85g self raising flour; 100g ground almonds; and for the topping: 25g unsalted butter, 25g light soft brown sugar; Finely grated zest of half an orange; 50g flaked almonds; Icing sugar for dusting

For the mascarpone cream: 250g tub mascarpone; juice of about half an orange – you will need to add more or less depending on how orangey you would like your cream etc, 1-2 tsp sifted icing sugar (again, to taste).


Mix the gooseberries with 40 g of caster sugar, a tablespoon of elderflower cordial & ½ the orange zest and set aside for an hour, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 190C/gas 5/ fan 170 & butter and line the base of a deep 23cm cake tin.

Cream together the butter and remaining sugar. Add the eggs, baking powder, flour, ground almonds and the remaining tablespoon of elderflower cordial. Beat gently but don’t over mix. Spoon the mixture into the tin and give the tin a couple of bangs down on the surface to level. Drain the gooseberries and spoon over the mixture. Pop it in the oven for 25 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the topping – melt the butter, then combine it with the sugar, the rest of the orange zest and the flaked almonds. After 25 minutes, reduce the heat of the oven to 180/gas4/fan160, take the cake out of the oven, sprinkle over the topping and return the cake to the oven for another 15-20 minutes (or until firm). If you need to Make the cake for longer and it looks like it might burn on top, cover the tin with foil. Cool in the tin.

Beat the mascarpone with the orange juice and sifted icing sugar to taste; Dust the cake with icing sugar and serve.

Try not to eat it all at once.

*la babysitter-francaise

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Overton Gallery - A great place to eat with kids

I have retreated to my parents’ home for a week. OK, so I also have the Husband, the kids and la BF in tow, and I am working, but it feels a little like a break. We travelled up yesterday and I really wish I’d read this post from Hello It's Gemma, and stopped at Endcliffe Park near Sheffield, instead of breaking earlier and eating our picnic in the very unattractive surroundings of the car park Leicester Forest East services (Northbound).

Anyway, I digress. The lovely ladies at Crumbs asked me if I would write a post about a place I would recommend to eat with my family when out and about. “Oh yes!” I thought. “I’ll do that”. And then I thought about it. How often do I actually eat out with my family? Not that often, it turns out. We tend to picnic – the benefits of a camper van. There was a time when we were still in the naïve stages of parenting where we thought ‘Our lives won’t change now we have children. We can still eat out and enjoy it.’ Oh how wrong we were – but that’s for another post - when I'm psychologically far enough removed from the experiences we had proving ourselves wrong.

However, the post by Hello It’s Gemma did get me to thinking that where we live is a great place for a stop off if you’re travelling west on the M3/A303 out of London (or returning that way – obviously), so I thought why not do a little for the local economy. 

Overton is about 6 miles west of Basingstoke, and is about 10 minutes from Junction 7 of the M3, or from the Popham exit off the A303. And yes, you could stop at Heston’s Little Chef, but why not head a little further into Jane Austen country (she wrote Pride & Prejudice just down the road, you know) and come and visit. 

If you’re looking for refreshment, I can do no more than recommend the truly delightful Overton Gallery

And despite what I have already written, we do take the kids here.

Not only is the tea room fronted by the most gorgeous cave of Emma Bridgewater-esque delights, the tearoom itself is now mostly housed in an airy conservatory/orangery type affair, recently constructed to make the most of the cute little garden while at the same time being realistic about the whims of the British weather. There are tables outside too, or you can lounge on the squashy sofa in the conservatory with the doors open to allow the summer breezes to waft you as you consume delicious homemade cakes. They have a delicious snacky meal menu too – there’s always a soup and a pate served with bread and salad, ciabatta filled with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and avocado, falafel pitta, bagel with salmon and cream cheese and toasted sandwiches which are good for kids as are the pitta with taramasalata and hummus. And the cakes. I cannot commend them to you enough. They are to die for. Honestly.

While you are lounging with your coffee and cake (or glass of wine - they are licensed if you are eating) the kids can check out the garden. Once you are fed and watered, there are a couple of great parks to run around in nearby, or you can feed the ducks on the River Test at Bridge Street. And on your way to or from the village, you can stop off at the fabulous Laverstoke Park Farm Shop for some truly delicious organic meat or vegetables, produced in the fields round the village. What more do you need to know?

Friday, 3 August 2012

Forever Summer? Strawberry Ice cream - Nigella's way

On Friday, we went to the Bourne Valley Pick Your Own, the closest PYO to us (as far as I know). A lovely, wholesome morning out resulting in a couple of kilos of delicious strawberries (and some raspberries). A contrast then to my antics on Saturday night at the Wam Bam Club at Cafe de Paris in central London, on a neighbour's hen night..

"Dress your glamorous best" was the exhortation. I felt like I was doomed. 'Glamorous best' is not something that comes naturally to me... However, in the end it was fine, and buoyed up with the purchase of some very lovely pink/purple patent leather heels (thank you, THANKYOU M&S) - heels that I could actually walk in, dance in and (wait for it) shimmy in (it was a burlesque club after all) - and a not insignificant amount of alcohol - I had a great night.

Feeling slightly guilty about leaving my brood, I was wondering about a treat for those left behind, and so, inspired by another blogger, I decided that there was nothing for it but to make Nigella's Strawberry ice cream, as published in Forever Summer, and on here.

Making ice cream isn't so hard, although if, like me you don't have an ice cream maker, it can be a bit labour intensive at the freeze stage, because you need to keep taking it out of the freezer and beat it all up again to stop the ice crystals forming. Previously, I've done this by hand (not that I've made ice cream that often you understand, but when I have...) - but a moment of revelation - use a food processor. Not withstanding the messy business of transferring the freezing strawberry custard from the tub to the food processor and back again, this makes it much easier.

So anyway, you macerate the strawberries in some caster sugar, and then get on with making the custard base. This involves egg yolks and caster sugar which you whisk together (I used my trusty old Kenwood)

Now I'd like to be able to say that the custard part went smoothly, and to begin with it did. I didn't have a vanilla pod so I used a teaspoon of vanilla extract to flavour my milk/cream, and in the interests of following the recipe, I heated the liquid and left it to cool for 20 minutes before making the rest of the custard. I added the warmed liquid to the egg yolk/sugar mixture, then back into the pan, and stirred as instructed. I thought it was all going smoothly, and then - disaster! I checked the back of the spoon I was using to stir and instead of looking all smooth and custard like, little specs were forming. The custard was 'splitting'. PANIC. I was panicking, so I didn't have time to take a photo - sorry.

And this is where I love Nigella. Although I didn't have the sink already filled with cold water, I quickly filled the sink, plunged the pan in and whisked like mad. It worked. Smoothness restored, I could resume my cool, calm collected pose and continue. Once the custard is made, it's pretty much plain sailing. The custard has to cool, then you whizz up the strawberries and fold them into the custard, like so

Once it's all stirred together, you put it in your chosen container, and then to the freezer. Now, if you had an ice cream makerm you'd have ice cream very quickly. I don't so for the next 3 hours (give or take), I had to take the ice cream out, pour it back in to the food processor, and whizz, to get rid of the ice crystals.

Now, I wasn't there at the initial consumption stage (by then I was learning how to throw a feather boa, burlesque style), and I have now picture, but the kids tell me it was delicious. What they could chip off. The Husband had taken it out of the freezer 10 minutes before they were due to eat and it clearly hadn't had enough time to defrost. Either that, or I have a chunk of strawberry ice in the fridge. Once I have returned from my mum's house at the end of the week, I will be investigating this further. In the meantime, if anyone can enlighten me further, I would be very, very grateful!!

Pick Your Own - and make ice cream, jam and meringues

The summer holidays are going well. It’s Friday, week 2, and I have only really lost my temper once. True, last week we were on scout camp and I hardly spent any ‘one to one’ time with my delightful children, but even so, this is pretty much a record for me. That’s not to say it’s not been without its stresses. I am fitting in 6 hours work a day along with all the rest of it, but I have a great job which allows me to work early in the morning, late at night, from home, so I can be fairly flexible. I’ve been getting up early to break the back of the day’s work while the kids watch TV, and then we can see what we feel like doing.

And yes, at the moment, we have la baby-sitter francaise staying. Despite her tendancy to sleep till 10.30 in the morning, she has been pretty handy. She made a delicious chocolate cake with the kids yesterday and has been keeping them occupied for either a morning or an afternoon while I work.

This morning, once la BF had surfaced, we went off to the BourneValley Pick Your Own a few miles away. Now I’m not the first person to go off into raptures about PYO, and how they are a great way to spend some time in the holidays, but I bet I’m not the last. The kids, who will drag their heels at the merest suggestion that they might help in the garden, consider this to be one of the high points of life.

What might be considered slave labour in other less fortunate parts of the world, constitutes a great morning out, and the best bit about it is that you get all that entertainment at essentially a nil cost. I mean, yes, you pay for the fruit you & they have picked, but you get to bring home loads of lush, local fresh fruit – at considerably less the price than you’d pay in the supermarket, with the attendant benefits that the kids get to run around in the fresh air, scoff the odd surreptitious raspberry, and not once do they pester you to buy the revolting cheese strings or whatever other hideously processed food item of desire that might take their fancy should you venture into the supermarket with them.

Our local PYO is situated in a lovely setting in North Hampshire. In addition to the lovely fruit, there is also a ‘playground’ updated, Blue & Pink were delighted to find today, by the addition of a trampoline. We picked up our punnets and headed off for the fruit on a promise of time in the playground post-picking. The kids have clearly grown up because this visit, they actually picked fruit and it ended up in the punnets – although perhaps I should have had them weighed in and out.

As always, I got a little carried away – I just can’t help myself – and in truth, came away with far too much fruit. However, the good news was that I over-picked on raspberries, which freeze very well.

So what did I do with all this bounteous produce?

Well, the first creation was raspberry jelly. No, I didn’t make it using leaf gelatine and juice from the actual raspberries we’d picked. Pink found a pack of jelly in the cupboard and so we made up the jelly and the kids filled pudding bowls with fruit, then we poured the jelly over the top and set it in the fridge. I didn’t take a picture, but I’m sure you can imagine. There was enough for a small ramekin’s worth for la BF. I needn’t have worried about feeding her. She thought it was brilliant and we have scheduled a trip to a supermarket (oh dear) so that she can stock up to take many flavours back to France. So much for sophisticated palates of our Gallic cousins, although in her defence, she has younger siblings.

The next thing I embarked on was strawberry ice cream. I had fixated on this recipe in Forever Summer, since reading this entry from The Marmalade Project in the recent Forever Nigella event that I entered (and won one of the prizes – get me!). After a slight panic and a ‘splitting custard’ moment, which I recovered from with what I like to think was ‘aplomb’, the ice cream made it into the freezer, and 3 hourly magimix whizzes later, we will have lush strawberry ice cream tomorrow.

With the ice cream doing its thang in the freezer, I turned , my attention to the raspberries, glorious ruby jewels that they are. To be honest, I just didn’t have time to do anything particularly exciting with them, and I froze the bulk of what we picked for another day, but I did use 500g worth along with 200g of redcurrants from the garden to make jam courtesy of Sarah Raven’s Garden cookbook.

Apart from the fact that the recipe promised 5 jars and I got half of what I was expecting, it’s good jam – tastes delicious – and the addition of the redcurrants mean the setting anguish is pretty much extinguished because of the high pectin levels (if you don’t believe me, just take my word for it).

And finally. Well, the ice cream required 10 egg yolks. Which leaves 10 egg whites going begging. Egg whites do freeze well, but meringue is also easy to make. A quandary. In the end, 10 egg whites worth of meringue seemed excessive so I froze 5 egg whites. This is what I created with the rest: my tower of inelegant but delicious meringue.

If you are interested, pre-heat the oven to 1100C. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt till stiff but still looking ‘wet’.  Assuming 4 egg whites, add 2 tablespoons of the sugar (for 4 egg whites, you’ll need 8 oz/225g caster sugar. For my 5 whites today I used 10 oz sugar) and carry on whisking till very stiff. Then spoon the mixture onto baking sheets lined with baking paper, swirling artfully if you can – some people might pipe at this stage. Not me. I don’t get on with piping bags. Bake the meringues for 2 hours or so – until dry and lift easily off the baking paper.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how to eat  meringue, but tomorrow, I am leaving the bosom of my family to go on a hen night, and to assuage the guilt, they will be eating the meringues with homemade strawberry ice cream...

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Reclaiming the kitchen - Quick (& Chaotic) Portuguese Custard Tarts

We got back from camp on Friday afternoon and I'd been mega-organised so that for the first few days back, I didn't really have to do much in the way of cooking. Yes, I know I maxed out with a pretty splendid pavlova (yes, i do say so myself) on Saturday night for the post-camp post-mortem, but we had quiche on Sunday night, Nigella's African Chicken drumsticks on Monday night (already frozen in the marinade a couple of weeks' ago with that meal in mind, so I just had to de-frost and cook some rice) and fresh tortelloni (also stashed in the freezer) last night. The rest of the time, we have been eating up the leftovers from the camp itself and from Saturday's BBQ. While this has all made my life much easier in some respects (back at work, settling la BF* in, catching a modest amount of sporting endeavour...) I have felt strangely adrift, especially with someone French to feed.

Today it was time to reclaim the kitchen. Lemon & rosemary pork steaks with corn on the cob along with, from the garden, new potatoes and a 'medley of beans' (broads, dwarf French, purple beans, borlotti), and to follow, Quick Portuguese Tarts from Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals.

Now, I don't own a copy of 30 Minute Meals - it kind of passed me by as a cook book - but I was browsing in the library the other day while the kids picked their summer reading challenge books (and sulked because I wouldn't let them choose DVDs) and I picked it up. I was strangely drawn in and before I knew it, I was checking it out, along with a book of curry recipes by Anjum Anand.

I'm probably the last to know this, but the premise of 30 Minute Meals is that you can cook a delicious 2 course meal from scratch in 30 minutes. Apparently, "... It’s about being organised, working fast and using shortcuts and clever tricks to put insanely delicious plates of food on the table in no time.". I read the introduction quite carefully, because I wanted to make sure I'd got it right. Then I read some of the recipes.

The food itself looks great. Very Jamie Oliver, good meals. I’ll definitely be trying some of them – I might even buy the book, But 30 minutes? Really? And after a hard day’s work? I reckon I’m reasonably handy in the kitchen. I know what’s what, and how to do most of what’s called for in the book, but I am having trouble envisaging how I might whip up any of the menus in the allotted time. However, I’ll reserve judgment on that for now, and ask you to watch this space… 

In the meantime, let me tell you about the Quick Portuguese Tarts that came from the book (I gave you the link again – can you tell that I liked them?).

Now, I remember back in the early Jamie days, making something similar from The Return of the Naked Chef. In fact, I just looked it up and it’s pretty much the same thing, although the 30 minute version is a little more ‘bang, crash’. You have to extract the recipe from the overall scheme of the instructions because the meal is timetabled as a whole, for the allotted 30 minutes, so it dots back and forward from main to pud and back again, but it’s pretty straightforward to get out the relevant bits. 

You make the pastry cases using puff pastry which you dust with cinnamon, then roll into a sausage, slice up and then squodge out each rolled up piece into a pastry case using a muffin tin as a guide. You bake the cases empty, and then when they come out of the oven all puffed up, you push the middle of the pastry back down so you can spoon in the filling – a mix of crème fraiche, orange zest vanilla, sugar and egg. Back in the oven, and while the filling cooks to a wobble, you make a caramel using the juice of the orange and what seems like an obscene amount of sugar. 

Once the tarts are cooked, you whip then out of the oven, drizzle over the caramel and leave to cool.

They are delicious. Pink didn’t like hers, but she’s funny with things like that. The recipe made 6 and they all went, even though I was hoping to keep one aside to send the Husband to work with tomorrow. I also managed to make a satisfying amount of mess as I went. Jamie advocates clearing as you go into the sink. Sorry Jamie - I think I may have fallen at the first hurdle...

*la baby-sitter francaise