Br…rr it’s cold outside and I want something to warm me up on this cold, blustery day in the Lake District.
Homemade soup is a joy to eat and never fails to raise the spirit-not to mention keeping you warm inside. You can easily add a a few soups to your favourite list of foods; leek and lentil, creamy onion with bubbling cheesy toasts, chunky spiced vegetable. or what about beef soup with dumplings. Tomato soup is the stuff of childhood but this soup is nothing like the sweet, creamy, canned version I used to have. Homemade it has a bright and fresh flavour. You could add torn basil leaves and spice it up with a little chilli powder. For a more substantial meal try these homemade croutons. They transform any soup.
This soup is lovely to eat, keeps you warm and is cheap to make………..a win win situation. Here is my homemade soup made with love for you…
Now what can these be? I have had a few tentative guesses…….Christmas decorations, fly papers, raspberry and meringue strips…actually they are fruit leathers! Deliciously chewy and fruity snacks, they are fun to make and children will love them. There are some similar sweets you can buy for children but they are very sweet and come in very violent colours which are unlikely to have come from any fruit known to man. I made these from windfall apples and foraged blackberries (I had some in the freezer as you are always reluctant to stop picking once you start-generally there are some here) and so they cost next to nothing to make. Here are the recipes for Apple leather an also some Apple with Bramble leather. I’m going to experiment with some of the more exotic fruits that you can buy tinned ie mango and apricots. Just buy the ones in fruit juice and not in syrup which would be quite sweet. Liqudise them using just enough of the juice and then pour into your tray. If you over do the water heat the puree up and cook until the water evaporates. Later in the year I’m going to use my redcurrants and blackcurrants to make more ‘tangy’ versions-like the brambles you would need to put the fruit through a sieve first to remove the pips
We were picking brambles at the week end-a favourite Autumnal day out-and windfall Bramley apples………………….a lovely combination to use for a traditional pie. None of this continental malarkey with sweet pastry and a custard base. No this is a very plain and simple pie using a shortcrust pastry made with margarine and lard. Yes, I can hear you say, it does have to be lard.
Where I come from, Yorkshire, pies have a top and a bottom if you please, tarts only have bottoms. I only added a little sugar to the fruit so that you can taste the fruit but you could always pass the sugar bowl around when you are serving for those that like a sweeter taste. I like to rebel and haven’t precooked the filling- wild I know but it is more usual to precook the apple. It really doesn’t need it and it is much better this way because Bramley apples quickly ‘fall’ when cooked ie they loose their shape and go mushy which then makes for a mushy pie-so I have avoided this by putting the apple in raw, just slice them thinly after coring and peeling. Use a traditional enamel metal plate to get a crisp bottom and no sogginess.
To get back to the brambles,it is tempting to pick too many, especially as this is a’ free’ food, but you don’t need many for this recipe as they are quite strong to taste. However you can also turn them in to jams and jellies if you are so inclined. Or what about turning them into Blackberry gin for Christmas-just pack into a large glass jar, add sugar and pour gin over the top. Put the lid on, give it a shake and then store it somewhere cool for about 6 weeks. Give it the odd shake when you remember and then sieve before using. I also like to make Christmassy gin from damsons and also from sloe berries but these are not so easy to come by. Damsons work well and give a more fruity twist to your gin and tonics. If you want more of a liqueur then add more sugar and less gin.
Now here is something rather delicious for you Spicy Falafel in Pitta Bread with a Tahini and Yoghurt dip..I would like this a lot for my tea tonight (can somebody make it for me?).
Much as I like a good steak it is very nice to have a meat free meal-I am quite happy to have them often, so ‘Meat Free Monday’ could happily become ‘Meat Free a few days of the week. Sunday is probably a step too far for me and I would have to stick to tradition and have a lovely joint of beef or a roast chicken sizzling away in my Aga, especially on a rainy, blustery Sunday. In this, North Western, part of the world we can expect a few of these…. On a more serious note we need to cut down on our meat consumption which, globally speaking, is just not sustainable. I won’t bore you with more important reasons to eat less meat-you will have to take it from me.
These chickpea little nuggets are high in protein and cheap to make. They are full of lovely fresh herbs such as parsley and coriander and fragrant spices. Tucked into warm pitta bread with some salad leaves they make a deliciously different meal. They would be good in a lunch box too-minus the dip
Oops just realised can’t have them for my tea tonight……………….REMEMBER TO SOAK THE CHICKPEAS OVERNIGHT! You could use tinned chickpeas if you are short of time and/or impatient but the freshly cooked ones are so much better.
SPICY FALAFEL WITH TAHINI AND YOGHURT DIP and PITTA BREAD
It warms the cockles of my heart when I go to small food producers who are so dedicated and passionate about their product in spite of the hardwork and difficulties they face along the way. I was delighted to visit THORNBY MOOR DAIRY Crofton Carlisle
Entering the farm shop and dairy I felt I was stepping back in time where cheese is made the old fashioned, natural, way dictated by the rhythms of the process and not to any manufacturing deadlines. Patience and gentle handling are needed to make the best cheese. The dairy is run by Carolyn Fairbairn and her daughter Leonie. Carolyn started to make cheese from the milk of her small goat herd and later on cow’s milk from a neighbouring farm was used to make these delicious cheeses.
Visit the dairy and you can watch the cheese being made. Local, single herd, raw milk is used and the cheese is made, in open vats, entirely by hand. Variations in milling and storage times results in a good range of cheeses from the traditional ‘Cumberland Farmhouse’, a cow’s milk cheese, with a smooth, buttery texture, ‘Blue Whinnow’ a delicate blue and ‘Bewcastle’ a soft, milk curd delicious served with soft fruit or herbs. The goat’s milk cheese range from the ‘Allerdale’ a British style cheese with a clean, almond like flavour to the roundy ‘Stumpies’ fresh, mini cheeses which can be grilled or fried. All the cheeses are carefully and lopacked by hand.
CHUNKY HOMEMADE BEEF BURGERS AND TOMATO RELISH…no photo this time..they were eaten before I had time to get my Lumix out..imagine some soft white buns layered with salad leaves, slices of tomato, chopped gherkins, a very meaty burger, slightly falling apart and a dollop of delicious tomato relish. They did have a jaunty little union jack flag on top and I served them with homemade chunky chips.
Yippee the sun is shining right now in beautiful Cumbria although it may not be by the time you read this…
Kids love to cook so here is something they could make, with help, for a Father’s day barbeque. There is lots of squidgy fun to be had making these. These burgers are nothing like bought frozen burgers, they are juicy, meaty, not too fatty and full of flavour. Most children are very enthusiastic cooks and happy to get stuck in so getting them into the kitchen is easy to do-I wonder why lots of us lose that enthusiasm later on in life?
In the kitchen they will learn important lessons about where their food comes from and what happens to food when we cook it. They will learn about measuring, tasting, mixing and will pick up some basic skills that will stay with them forever – perhaps you will have a future Master chef in the making! Children are also more inclined to taste something new if they have cooked it themselves and that has to be good. And they will be very proud to say ‘I made it myself’
I have made a chunky homemade tomato relish to go with them- it will liven up any barbeque food or is great with other dishes such as scotch eggs or a hot quiche. Try it and see.
The sun is beating down on beautiful Cumbria today-I have no desire to be next to my aga today so this will be a quick, possibly romantic, meal for two. I knew there must be some advantages to having an empty nest. You can have this on the table in a trice with a few freezer/store cupboard items. I used good quality frozen raw large prawns-not just because I didn’t want to venture forth-it would be lovely to have ‘local catch’ prawns available for when the urge takes me but it is not always possible, and, depending where you live, almost impossible. Most of the ‘ordinary’ prawns you see on the fish counter-cooked and therefore pink in colour, have been frozen previously and defrosted for sale. They freeze well, often immediately on the fishing vessel before they have even touched shore, but they don’t travel well so it is often best to buy them frozen raw (grey in colour) which gives you control over the whole fishy process.
When buying any sort of prawn get them in the shell and peel them yourself the flavour is much better and you can use the shells to make a quick fish stock if you are feeling virtuous….Defrost your prawns on some kitchen paper to make sure that they don’t sit in water and this helps to keep the flavour. If you are lucky and geographically in the optimum place and are able to buy fresh they should smell ‘fresh’ and not ‘fishy’ and have bright shells with no darkening or black spots.
One more thing….what is a prawn or a shrimp………the classification and names of prawns can be confusing and open to interpretation: Generally speaking we buy PRAWNS in the UK, small, medium or large. They can also be called TIGER PRAWNS or KING PRAWNS for the larger ones or just NORTH ATLANTIC PRAWNS. Most prawns are called SHRIMP in the USA. Here in the north west we have very small brown prawns which WE call shrimps-these delicious little mouthfuls are fished along the Solway coast. They are lovingly hand peeled and when potted up with butter and a little mace are a true Cumbrian delicacy. The mediterranean prawns are sometimes called CREVETTES. DUBLIN BAY PRAWNS (also known as LANGOUSTINES) are much larger and look like little lobsters with heads eyes and claws…………………………………..CONFUSED? so am I.
This is quite a luscious pudding..creamy, fruity and some crumbly sweet meringue pieces. I have used my own meringues which are SO much better than bought (why are they so much sweeter than homemade ones when meringues are nearly 100% sugar anyway?) but if you are pushed you could use bought ones. I used frozen raspberries but later in the season you could use fresh ones and if you have home grown ones this would be heaven in a glass. Other soft fruits would work too, strawberries, blackcurrants or redcurrants. Take care with the currants they need more sugar to sweeten them
This is THE month for sowing seeds for a delicious summer-I’m hard at work in my vegetable garden sowing in anticipation of super fresh goodies to eat later in the year. Of course there are a few hurdles to surmount not least the vagaries of the British weather ( too much rain, not enough rain, too cold, too hot, not enough sun and too much sun) and the indiscriminate chomping by slugs and worse.
I have just sown some lovely rocket and mixed salad and am looking forward to the peppery taste of the rocket and the freshness of the leaves which I will pick as a ‘cut and come again’ that is harvesting a few leaves at a time and leaving the plant to grow on and produce more and more…-no more smelly supermarket bags of leaves for me. The ones in the picture are just getting going but the fleece is on stand by in case we get a cold night and the crushed egg shells a good and organic deterrent to unwelcome guest who also want an easy meal. My favourite ‘Charlotte’ potatoes are in, these waxy, thin skinned salad potato will be dug up to order and on the table before you can say Golden Delicous…. melting with butter or perhaps a little olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs-quite yummy. My little sons, when pressed into work in the vegetable garden didn’t need any encouraging to dig up the potatoes they said they ‘were digging for gold’ and they were.
Fresh herbs are perhaps the best to grow for culinary excitement so you can pick big generous handfuls later in the year rather than be content with the mingy little growing pots of over forced herbs in the supermarket. My easy favourites are the aniseedy dill to serve with fish or just sprinkled over a creamy mayonnaise and the fragrant, spicy coriander to add sparkle to curries and and wake up my taste buds after winter comfort foods. Sweetcorn can be set off now (inside for this), nothing is better than eating the cobs straight from the plant and briefly cooked on a smokey barbeque. Homegrown peas are just the best, mine rarely make it to the kitchen let alone a pan of boiling water, I like them raw sprinkled over a salad or lightly crushed with some olive oil and garlic to make a chunky dip. I could go on…tiny sweet beetroots and baby turnips, finger thin carrots and more unusual vegetable such as pak choi and chicory..I am getting ahead of myself and there is a lot of work and TLC to be put in before I can enjoy the fruits of my labour.
However if you are new to this lark then start of with the easiest things and then you won’t be put of if things go wrong (and they do even for the experienced gardener)-my bet would be the salads and the peas.
Just back from the Italian Dolomites the skiing was lacking in style and quite scary but the pizzas were fantastic. Thin and crispy, with just a little topping, we watched as the pizza dough was twirled in the air to get the required thinness and then cooked quickly in a proper wood oven they were on the table in a trice before I had time to recover from the exertion of hurtling down the piste. There was a bewildering choice of toppings ( I wish that I hadn’t left the phrase book on the hall table at home..) from sausages and ham, eggs, rocket, tuna, seafood, pineapple, mushrooms, etc. My favourite was the plain and simple tomato with cheese and garlic. It had a stronger cheese for flavour (not sure which) and the lovely soft mozzarella that stretches between pizza and mouth alarmingly. It doesn’t let go until you can manage the quick twist and flick of the chin. No doubt the tomato base was lovingly made by hand, gently simmering fresh tomatos with fragrant basil and then reducing it until it is thick enough to spread. I will try to make this properly sometime but in the meantime-
Let’s not kid ourselves sometimes a quick and easy dish using the really GOOD convenience ingredients available are just perfect for a ‘coming home for work don’t have time to cook’ sort of meal or,indeed for any day of the week. You can rustle these up in 20 minutes or less
Panini pizza for an easy supper dish or snack-pronto