Blackberry

With the hot dry summer we were having until a few weeks ago I thought the blackberries would be small dry and bitter this year but it seems the rain came just in time. Beautiful big juicy berries are all over the woods behind our house. So out we went with tubs to fill, me in my yellow wellies Joel in shorts (shorts?!?!) and in half an hour had easily filled 2 large tubs. I could not recommend it more as a Sunday afternoon activity being out in the woods picking fruit really takes you back to being a kid again plus free fruit! I made a crumble of course (blackberry, apple and orange with an oatey topping) and some blackberry vinegar to try and keep the flavour of these delicious fruits for the months ahead and to liven up some winter salads.

Quick garden update: both the veg and the flowers are massively appreciating the rain, the greens are doing particularly well now and I have been handing out green bouquets of lakes, chards and aztec broccoli (watch this space). I have one very small butternut squash from my roadside seedling purchase so fingers crossed but in my heart of hearts I suspect it won’t ripen very well in a Manchester autumn but it’s been loads of fun to try.

Blackberry and Sage Vinegar

  • 700g blackberries – rinsed
  • 700ml apple cider vinegar
  • 350g granulated sugar
  • 6 Sage leaves

Optional equipment- paper coffee filters

In a Kilner type jar (who actually buyer kilner when Ikea do them so cheap?!?) add your blackberries, sage leaves and vinegar.

Leave for at least a week although 3 weeks would be better.

Strain the vinegar through a sieve into a pan and discard the blackberries.

Add the sugar to the pan and heat over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved.

Once the sugar has dissolved bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

Leave to cool.

I then like to filter the vinegar as it creates a lovely clear liquid and will last longer as you have removed impurities. To do this arrange a coffee filter in a funnel over the bottle you will store the vinegar in and slowly add the vinegar to the filter ensuring it doesn’t go above the top of the paper.

Enjoy!

I would use this on salads – delicious with bitter leaves or peaches. You could also use it as the base of a sauce to go with venison or duck in the winter.

Ps Joel’s legs looked like he had had a run in with a gang of angry cats – morale of the story don’t wear shorts to pick blackberries!

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Sugar Snap Pea

I am so excited about our garden at the moment, particularly the vegetables, they are coming on amazingly well hugely helped by the gorgeous unheard of sunshine we are having in Manchester. The beetroot and chard have recovered from the leaf miner bug that devastated them a few weeks ago, the kale has recovered from their caterpillar attack and everything else has just grown like the clappers. The first photo was taken 2 weeks ago, and the 2nd this morning, I cant believe how fast everything is growing!

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One thing that hasn’t grown quite as well as I would have hoped is the sugar snap peas, whilst we have had a few, and I’m guilty of eating one every time I go out to the garden to inspect the veg they haven’t given us the abundant harvest I was hoping for. From what I gather they don’t love too much sunshine and dry weather so maybe that’s where they have fallen down a bit. Never mind, the rest of the crops most than make up for them.

So with my handful of pea pods that made it inside I thought I would make a delicious light meal for one that really showed them off. I always think a meal for one is an opportunity to really treat yourself; you don’t have to pander to anyone else’s tastes you just get to have all the things you love. Gnudi is similar to gnocchi but without potatoes, the main component is ricotta so they are much lighter and more summery and work so well with some fresh green veggies, in this case my lovely sweet sugar snap peas.

Ricotta Gnudi with Peas

Serves one – could easily be multiplied for up to 4 people I think more would be a faff.

  • 175g ricotta
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3tbsp Parmesan
  • Gated nutmeg
  • 75g fine semolina*
  • 25g butter
  • 8 Sage Leaves
  • Handful of sugar snap peas

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Strain the ricotta in some muslin – either overnight hanging or if your unorganised like me by squeezing it until as much liquid as possible comes out.

Combine the strained ricotta, egg yolk, parmesan and a good grating of nutmeg to form a thick dry-ish paste.

Spread a layer of semolina onto a plate, dampen your hands with water then cover in semolina – roll small ball of the nudie mixture in your hands to make a small sausage (there should be 12-14 gnudis) then place on the plate of semolina.

In a perfect world place the gnudi – covered in a clean tea towel (not cling film!) in the fridge for at least 4 hours so a skin forms and the center firms up. You can skip this step as long as you got your ricotta really dry and are careful with the next step although they wont be as perfect.

Add the gnudi a few at a time to a just simmering pan of salted water (if its boiling they will go to mush!) as soon as the nudies float to the surface fish out with a slotted spoon and place to one side on a plate. Repeat until all the nudies have floated up to the surface.

In a frying pan over a medium heat add the butter, once it has melted add the sage leaves for 1 min so they flavour the butter, add the gnudi and sliced sugar snap peas and cook for 2 mins until the nudies are lightly golden and the peas have softened slightly but still have bite.

Serve and enjoy – hopefully outside in the lovely sunshine!

*If you cant find fine semolina put blitz semolina in the blender for a few mins.

 

Cherries

Cherries are without doubt my favourite fruit but I’m only interested in them when they are fresh and in season, its not that I’m evangelical about local seasonal produce (I do my best but can always be tempted by something exotic) it’s that the cherries flown in when they are out of season taste of nothing but disappointment and nobody wants that! So I was absolutely delighted to find the week we spent at my Aunty Sandie’s in France coincided perfectly with their cherry tree being absolutely laden with ripe cherries – my absolute dream.

We spent a week soaking up sunshine, relaxing in the pool, eating Sandie’s fabulous food and stuffing ourselves with cherries. I meant to make this recipe when we were out there but I didn’t manage to summon up the effort of doing so when the other option was lying by the pool so it served me right when I had to buy the cherries when I got home. It’s a French inspired recipe though so it did feel like we were keeping the holiday going back home, especially with the amazing weather we have been having.

Cherry and Almond Clafoutis

Serves 6 – or two super greedy people who find it acceptable to also eat for breakfast

  • 400g of cherries – stalks removed but with the stone left in.
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 1tbsp good quality vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 3tbsp chopped almonds

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In a 23cm round deep pie dish spread out the cherries – the stones are left in as they impact a bitter almond flavour.

In a pan heat the milk and vanilla and on a high heat take to the boiling point then immediately remove from the heat, add the butter whisk together then set aside until it cools.

Whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined, add the flour and ground almonds, whisk to combine. Add the milk mixture and whisk again to combine ensuring there are no lumps. Set the batter aside for 20 mins whilst the oven preheats to 180 degrees.

Pour the batter over the cherries and pop in the oven for 25-30 mins until golden on top and only slightly wobbly.

Serve at room temperature with the chopped almond and sugar sprinkled over. Warn people that there are stones in the cherries!

Just a few holiday pics as well…

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Chives

There are finally signs of spring around, we had a few days of sunshine, the cherry blossom in next doors garden looks amazing and the bulbs have really come into their own.

The herbs I have in pots and planted last year have also woken up, particularly the chives. Last year I had a real issue with slugs eating them but I spread some egg shell around and have been more attentive in my slug hunts so touch wood I haven’t had any issues this year and they are looking great. Other than trying to keep the slugs at bay I have done absolutely nothing to look after them, they are so easy!

There have been some pretty major advances on the garden front, Dad and Joel took out the lower branches of the Oak tree allowing loads more light into the bottom of the garden. I now have two raised veg beds and we have been digging out two large flower borders from the grass including making a circular area of slate chippings in the middle of the border ready for a bench. We’ve started the planting in the borders but have some way to go – a few key things are thyme and alpine strawberries to provide ground cover, Philadelphus  for scent, a clematis to joining the climbing rose we inherited and plenty of others including a whole host of herbs around the seating area. Ill pop a few pictures at the bottom if anyone is interested.

Back to the food…Chives are such a lovely flavour, fresh and a little oniony but not overpowering. I think they get used too much as a garnish, chopped and scattered over any dish without much thought to their value as an ingredient. I tend to use them when I want that savoury onion-y flavour but with more subtlety than spring onion,  perfect in a creamy salad dressing or with white fish. I wanted to make something where they were one of the main flavours and I love a savoury scone in fact I would much rather have a savoury scone than a sweet with jam and clotted cream. I judge a coffee shop or cafe on the quality of their cheese scone – Joel does this with Victoria sandwiches (although he isn’t exactly fussy). Soup and a scone is hard to beat as a lunch combination in my book.

Chive and Feta Mini Scones

Makes 14 Mini Scones

  • 100g wholemeal plain flour
  • 75g of white plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 35g butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • Salt and Papper
  • 150g feta – crumbles into chunks
  • 3 tbsp chopped chives

 

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Pre heat the oven to 175 degrees. Combine the flours, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda in a mixing bowl. Rub the butter in to make a fine sand like texture. Add the feta and chopped chives, a pinch of salt and grind of black pepper.

Whisk the egg in a separate bowl and add to the flour (holding back a teaspoons worth), combine with a little milk until it just comes together as a dough – you dont want it too wet and you dont want to overwork it of the scones will be dense.

On a floured surface, roll (or just pat out) to a thickness of about 2 cm. Cut out using a small circular cutter and place on a lined baking sheet.  Brush the top of each scone with the remaining egg.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 12 mins.

There is no reason you couldn’t make these as big scones and cook for longer, I just like the little mini ones!

We ate ours with a spring green soup.

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Jerusalem Artichokes

When the vegetable box came a couple of weeks ago and in with my cabbage, mushrooms, apples etc was a brown paper bag of knobolly strange little vegetables I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I have eaten Jerusalem Artichokes before however it’s always been in the form of a mash or puree or soup – in other words mushy! Don’t get me wrong I like a break for my teeth once in a while and I love mash but I was keen to try something different. I used their earthy nutty flavour as a guide and combined with some smoky bacon and Rosemary as well as a fresh hit of lemon to make a nice simple side dish.

The Jerusalem Artichokes is earthy and nutty like a globe artichoke, but is not related to them, in fact it’s a type of sunflower which having googled what their flowers look like you can instantly see – I am definitely going to consider growing them as apparently they are super easy to grow – let me know if anyone has any experience of growing them?

The garden is progressing slowly, weighing it up against working on the house (the house won this bank holiday – the plus side being the whole of downstairs has now been decorated!) but we had some sunshine last Sunday so we dug two vegetable patches out of the lawn and I traipsed up and down the side of the house with barrow loads of compost, we now have what very much looks like two lined up graves in the garden. Hopefully when we use some wood to make them into raised beds they will look less grave-y – fingers crossed. We also laid out lots of string for beds and paths so we have a pretty good idea of what it will all look like. Dad is coming up next weekend and bringing his fancy new chainsaw to help us cut down a couple of the oak tree branches to raise the canopy and let a bit more light into the bottom of the garden and I’ll get to grill mum on ideas for planting. Holding out for a few sunnier, or at least not rainy days so we can get to work on it.

Anyway enough garden rambling back to the vegetables..

 Earthy Jerusalem Artichokes

Serves four as a side dish

  • 8 medium Jerusalem Artichokes
  • 1 lemon – zested and juiced.
  • 5 Rashes of smoky streaky bacon
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp of finely chopped Rosemary
  • Optional delicious extra – a few drops of truffle oil

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The artichokes will go brown if peeled and left out so first of all fill a mixing bowl with cold water and add the juice of the lemon to the water – as you peel each artichoke pop them straight into the lemony water. Once they are all peeled chop into small wedges.

Drain the wedges from the lemon water and add to a shallow frying pan on a medium heat, add a mug full of water to the pan and cover with a lid or tin foil – this allows them to part steam part boil in the pan. Once you can hear the water simmering leave over a low to medium heat for fifteen minutes by which time the artichoke wedges should have softened but still retain their shape.

Whilst the artichokes are cooking fry or grill the bacon until it is nice and crispy, set aside to cool then slice into thin strips.

Remove the lid of the pan turn up to a medium heat and allow any remaining water to evaporate off then add the butter, rosemary, half of the lemon zest as well as a good pinch of salt and pepper. Sautee for around 5 minutes so all the flavours can combine and the artichokes can turn golden brown.

Serve with the remaining lemon zesty and for a real treat a few drops of truffle oil.