So those of you who may have become just a teensy weensy bit sick of the photos I keep posting up here of the clear blue skies and sun-kissed beaches of the West Wales coast during what has been, on anyone's view, an absolutely fantastic summer, will be pleased to know that as I write (07:36 on a Sunday morning) the wind that has been howling around the house for the last 36 hours is still doing a good job of trying to blow us off our hill, the rain squalling in torrential downpours. The stormy - and post stormy - skies have their own special appeal, but granted it's not everyone's cup of tea and I haven't exactly welcomed the reappearance of my waterproof trousers into the daily dog walking routine with joy...
The change in the weather is not all bad (honestly!) - it's like that bit that Nigella writes in, Domestic Goddess, when she talks about the Norwegian Cinammon Buns - "I've always thought that bad weather has its compensations, most of them culinary."This is a view I subscribe to wholeheartedly. While I'm all for tasty salads and delicate desserts in their place, my cooking comfort zone is in soups and casseroles, big dishes of crumble, jugs of custard... Summer and hot weather can be something of a challenge for me in the kitchen, so bizarrely, while I'm (mostly inwardly) weeping at the inability to get the washing dry and gnashing my teeth at having to pull on waterproof trousers and wellies to walk the dog instead of slopping about in flipflops, my kitchen heart sings for joy as I pull out the slow cooker and stock up on bay leaves...
Cawl is very much back on the weekly menu these days. You may remember a couple of months back, I took the opportunity to wax a bit lyrical about how fantastic the kids had been in the immediate aftermath of the move here. Having spent most of the summer term going to a language centre to be taught on an intensive Welsh course, they are now speaking Welsh with what appears to be alarming fluency (especially when they are bickering), and well versed in all manner of Welsh customs, including bursting unprovoked into renditions of Sosban Fach and Ar Hyd y Nos, Blue will be off to the Millenium Stadium to watch his first international rugby match in a few weeks' time wearing a Welsh rugby shirt...
They are loving their school, and the dinners continue to be a big hit. They enjoyed the school dinners at their old school, but they always came home ravenous. Here, though, there are seconds and thirds on offer. It is not unusual for them to refuse the treat that I meet them with from the bus because they are still full from lunch. So my longheld dream of being able to provide an easy tea on school dinner days is realised. And while making scones is not everyone's idea of an 'easy tea', bear in mind that while the kids would be happy with the cawl alone, I also have the Husband (and myself) to feed, and a little fiddling about in the kitchen is actually quite enjoyable, especially when the majority of the meal is in the slow cooker.
500g piece of unsmoked gammon
150g soup mix (dried beans and pulses)
1 large onions
1 leek (it is Wales after all)
1.2 litres vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
The night before, remove the gammon from the packaging and put in a bowl. Cover with water and leave to soak. Measure the dried beans and pulses into a measuring jug and add 5 times the volume of water. Leave both overnight.
In the morning, get out the slow cooker and heat to high.
Peel and chop the onion and carrots, and wash and slice the leek. Drain the pulses.
Put the chopped veg and the pulses into a pan, add the stock, bring to the bowl and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, scooping off any scum.
Meanwhile, remove the gammon from the soaking water and add to the slow cooker. Once the stock has boiled for the requisite time, pour the contents of the pan over the gammon, chuck in the cloves and bay leaf, pop the lid on and leave till dinner time.
When you're getting close to dinner time, make the scones.
Cheesey Garlicky Scones
100g plain flour
100g spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp English mustard powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1 clove of garlic, mashed up
50g unsalted butter diced quite small
150g mature cheddar cheese, diced quite small
1 large egg
4 tbsp low fat natural yoghurt
Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Sift the flours, baking powder, mustard powder and smoked paprika into a bowl and combine, then stir in the salt, sugar and garlic.
Add the butter and begin by 'cutting it in' to the flour mix with a knife, then move on to rub the butter in with your fingers till it has almost disappeared.
Stir the cheese through the flour mixture, then whisk together the egg and yoghurt, and combine this with the flour to make a soft dough.
Flour a work surface and your hands, then shape the dough into a rough rectangle/oval (I'm not fussy) about 4 cm thick, then cut into 6 pieces.
Use a palette knife to transfer the scone pieces onto the baking tray and mak sure they have a bit of space between them to expand.
Bake for 25-30 minutes till golden.
While the scones are baking, remove the gammon from the slow cooker to a board or large plate and pull the meat apart using a couple of forks.
Once shredded, return it to the pot ready to serve.
Serve a steaming bowl of cawl with some cheesey garlicky scones on the side. Rainy day dinner time heaven.
Enjoy with a side helping of Welsh folk songs. Take it away, Cerys...