It is officially summer time (in Cumbria at least) although it must have been summer time elsewhere for some time, we are always a tad behind. The hedgerows are full of billowing clouds of elderflowers with their sweet smell and I am looking forward to gathering them for a summer treat -ambrosial elderflower cordial . Here is a very simple recipe, just a compilation of ingredients really but there are just a few things to bear in mind before you dash out into the countryside: gather the flowers on a sunny day and look for ones that are fully out, they should have a distinct flowery smell. Also don’t pick those along the roadsides which may be contaminated with car fumes etc. Avoid actually washing them if you can, choose clean ones.
For a delicously summery drink add the cordial to Prosecco or for a non-alcholic version dilute with tonic water and serve with lots of ice, lemon slices and fresh mint. Ideally you should be drinking this in the sunshine in a beautiful summer garden or beside a babbling brook in the shade…………………………………………..but it tastes just as lovely anywhere.
You can reduce the cordial to make it more syrupy and then pour this over ice cream or use to flavour cakes and biscuits. It is beautiful with that other fleeting summer treat, gooseberries. Lightly cook them (just until they burst and no more) in a tiny amount of water. Add sugar and cordial and liquidise (reserving a few for the tip). When cold fold into creme fraiche or greek yoghurt and serve with a drizzle or the more concentrated syrup, the reserved gooseberries and a few elder flowers.
I’m sticking my neck on the line here-the Very Best Chocolate Brownies? Who does she think she is …well I have been working at this recipe for a number of years and a lot of brownies have been eaten by family and friends-it’s hard for some people.
The brownie world is split into two camps -those that love the more ‘CAKEY’ types of brownies and those that love the more ‘SQUIDGY’ type. Both have their place in the culinary brownie world but my favourite would have to be the ‘SQUIDGY’. type. To make the ‘CAKEY’ type you have, not surprisingly, a cake type mix but to get the ‘SQUIDGY’ type you are aiming for a batter type mix that easily pours into your tin.
Here are some things to think about before you try these out:
Kit matters especially if you are planning to do a lot of baking and investing in the best is a good idea-I’ve lost count of the number of cheaper tins etc that I have thrown out over the years after they have buckled and twisted in the heat. So invest in a sturdy tin they are often called, very helpfully,-brownie pans. I’m not mad keen on the non stick versions, this eventually wears off and where does it go? Yes, it’s in your food. Perhaps I am being a little harsh here as the more modern versions are more durable.
Lining the pan is important-you only need to do the base. I like the re useable ones but if you don’t want to do this use a baking paper with silicone, not just greasproof paper. The higher the sugar content the more your cakes/biscuits/meringues will stick and these brownies have a lot of sugar in them.
Take care melting the chocolate-it is very temperamental. On the temperamental scale the easiest to melt is chocolate with a high proportion of chocolate solids eg a good dark chocolate with 70% chocolate solids, the trickiest to melt is white chocolate ( it is not really a chocolate as it doesn’t contain any chocolate solids) and milk chocolate is somewhere in between. I use a microwave, break up the chocolate into pieces and put into a plastic jug-spread them out a bit so they are not just piled in the middle. Microwave this in short bursts on high. Don’t stir it as this can cause it to ‘seize’ up and ruin just turn the jug back and forth until it is melted. Once it starts to melt it will go very quickly-Don’t burn it.
Now Christmas is snapping at my heels and there is a vague feeling of panic about all the cooking, buying, wrapping, celebrating etc that has to be done in the next few weeks…my top tip for this week is make a PLAN. I love having visitors to stay over, and I have quite a few, but don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen. I love the idea of floating around with glass in hand eating beautiful delicious nibbles and cocktails or sitting by the log fire and enjoying time my friends and family. I love beautiful decorations too that make everyone’s stay feel special. I do manage some of this even though I say it myself! How do you do this? Well it’s all about planning the food well in advance and now is the time to get a wriggle on and make some lovely festive dishes that will sit very happily in your freezer waiting to be whipped out at the last minute.
Christmas day isn’t really the problem it’s the days before and the days after that complicate things especially if you have friends and family, like mine, that need to stay over for a few days – I make a sketchy plan for all the meals and even sketchier shopping lists. Ok, it’s a bit anal but if I do this then I can, truly, enjoy the holiday with out burning out on Christmas Eve and having a major melt down.
Here is an old favourite of mine that is already sitting in my freezer and will make an appearance on Christmas Eve so there is no last minute cooking and I can enjoy that glass of champagne!
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
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
Take a look at these…there are just a few ingredients for this simple family lasagne. You can make the recipe ‘more special’ by using eg Gruyere or Parmesan cheese in the sauce.
I have used good quality minced beef from my local butcher so I know exactly what is in it (and what is not in it..). Time can be an issue when choosing a local butcher or the supermarket but you can always in larger quantities and then freeze the meat. So stop horsing around and make your own!
This is one of my favourite festive dishes and it always appears some time over the Christmas holidays. The mix of warm spices, cranberries and orange go well together with the tender pork and it looks stunning on the festive table. You can make it ahead of time or well ahead and freeze it. I like to have a few dishes tucked away ready to be whisked out at the last minute so that I don’t have to miss any of the Christmas fun and this is perfect. Like lots of dishes it is even better re-heated the next day.