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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Cabbage

We spent last Sunday planting a new hedge at the bottom of our garden (excellent excuse to use the gardening equipment I got for my birthday) but it was absolutely freezing, so cold that I had to de-ice the padlock on the shed door before I could get into it, so I needed something warm and comforting for lunch.

We don’t eat a lot of potatoes in fact I asked the veg box to stop sending them as they were sprouting in the bottom of the box every week. Most of our meals lend themselves better to rice, noodles or pasta. Plus the form of potato I like best is mash potato with tons and tons of butter so not the healthiest of options. However a fabulous looking purple tinged January King Cabbage came in the veg box this week so I decided to try and counteract the butter with loads of cabbage if I wanted to claim it as vaguely acceptable for lunch so mash soon turned into Colcannon.

Now I’m sure purists would object to my addition of the onion and fennel topping but I think it adds a little extra and plus it’s delicious to use on everything.

Colcannon with Fennel and Onion

  • Half a cabbage
  • 6 small potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • Copious amounts of butter
  • 2 tbsp of crème fresh

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Peel and chop the potatoes into quarters and add to a pan with boiling water and simmer until soft – around 25 mins depending on variety and size.

Meanwhile finely slice the onions and add to a frying pan on a low heat with a large knob of butter, after around 10 mins they should be soft and light brown, add the fennel seeds to the pan and cook for a further 5 mins over the low heat until sticky and soft. Remove from pan and leave to one side.

Wash the cabbage leaves, slice finely and add to the frying pan – the water on the leaves will help them soften and wilt – cook for a couple of mins until soft but not coloured.

Drain the potatoes, add back to the pan and mash with copious amounts of butter and the crème fresh along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Once lovely and smooth mix through the cabbage and serve with the onion and fennel on top.

If you’re feeling extra greedy and want to balance that goodness of cabbage you added to your mash – grate some cheese on top. If you’re feeling more patient and less greedy serve alongside sausages or roast chicken.

PS this is me being super excited about my new wheelbarrow! Note the accidental handle/Wellie combo

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The Leftover Blue Cheese

Its easy to feel melancholy the first weekend in January, we have all gone back to work, its freezing cold and on top of that we have to take down the Christmas decorations! So I ignored that job on Saturday morning and instead put on my socks, then my thick socks, then my welly socks, doubled up my gardening gloves with warm gloves underneath and decided to do some clearing in the garden. After a good few hours of work out there I was starving and had completely forgotten how empty the fridge was. All we had were some last stragglers of veg from before new year and the leftover Christmas Stilton that mum sent us home with and were yet to fully stuff our faces on.

So I set about something hearty, rich and warming to recover from my stint in the garden and prepare myself for the miserable task of taking down the decorations. I debated a quiche or flan with the greens and cheese but they didn’t feel cosy enough for the weather – gooey rich pasta bake though would be spot on and added bonus – all the crucial ingredients are always in the cupboard!

Left Over Blue Cheese Pasta Bake

Enough to serve 6 – or one greedy girl with plenty of leftovers for the next few days

  • 300g dried wholemeal pasta
  • 50g cheddar cheese
  • 350g of Blue Stilton (don’t worry if you dotn have that much anything over 200g will be good)
  • 1 tsp dried herbs
  • Whatever veggies you have in the fridge: I used 1 large leek, 2 shallots, half a head of broccoli and a handful of kale.
  • A handful of breadcrumbs – I had panko in the cupboard so used them

Basic White Sauce

  • 75g butter
  • 75g plain white flour
  • 600ml milk

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Add the pasta to a large pan and cover in boiling water and a couple of generous pinches of salt – simmer until al dente the drain.

Whilst the pasta is cooking make your basic white sauce – recipe below.

Crumble in three quarters of your Stilton and all of your cheddar into the sauce along with the mixed herbs and whisk to combine warm until all the cheese has melted, grind in a generous helping of black pepper and remove from the heat.

Chop all of your veggies and soften for a few minutes in a large frying pan with a dash of oil.

Combine your pasta and veggies in a baking dish and pour over your cheesy sauce.

Crumble the remaining stilton over the top then sprinkle over your breadcrumbs.

Pop the dish in the oven and bake for 30 mins by which time the inside should be nice and gooey with a satisfyingly crispy top.

Basic White Sauce

I avoid calling this a Béchamel as technically you should be heating the milk with bay leaves, mace an onion first but who has time for that – especially when you are about to add as much blue cheese as you can!

Melt the butter over a medium heat, remove the pan from the heat then stir in the flour until in forms a smooth paste with no lumps, put the pan back on the heat – add a splash of the milk and whisk to combine, add the rest of the milk and continue to whisk until all the paste is combined and simmer for about 3 mins to cook out the taste of the flour – whisking occasionally.

I then took down and carefully wrapped all the Christmas decorations ready to go back in the loft for another 11 months.

 

Spinach

It feels like we have skipped autumn and jumped right into winter with all the storms we have been having, its not that its cold but it sure as heck is rainy. I love being back up North but I do miss those cold crisp winter days we used to get in London, Manchester is more mild and soggy, the leaves never quite dry up enough to crunch underfoot but its our city and I love it despite the rain.

We have a large Oak tree and a sycamore at the end of our garden which have been keeping us well stocked in soggy leaves so I have been making leafmold ready for the wonderful garden I will have built by this time next year when it is ready. By making leafmold, all I really mean is squashing up the leaves and packing them into black bin bags with a few air wholes in then piling them up at the bottom of the garden. Absolutely minimal effort for what Monty Don assures me will be the gardener’s equivalent of gold dust.

The wild weather does call for something soothing, warm and dare I say it healthy. So time for some green sludge soup. Spinach is a tricky one I add it to a lot of dishes but mainly ones where I can hide the cooked texture a bit, I love the flavour but I find the texture a little slimey so give me it pureed, give me it hidden into dishes or in a stew but never fried on the side – and only ever chopped up minutely in eggs. Soup therefore is the perfect vessel for this veg in my opinion.

Full of vitamins that boost energy levels it should give you a little boost in these rapidly shortening days.

Green Sludge Soup

  • 400g of Spinach
  • 2 Potatoes
  • 2 Shallots
  • 4 cloves of Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp of Vegetable Bouillon Powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper

To serve – and make more elegant, less sludgy

  • Crème Fresh
  • Poached Egg

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Chop the shallots finely and add to a large saucepan with a splash of olive oil, ry until the onions are soft then add the chopped garlic.

Peel and finely dice the two potatoes and add to the pan. Along with the bouillon powder and a litre of boiling water.

Simmer until the potato is cooked through – about 15 mins then add the spinach to the pan – half at a time, it will look like there is no way it is going to al fit in the pan, but trust me it will reduce to almost nothing in the steamy soup. Once all the spinach is added cook for a further 5 mins.

Take off the heat and using a stick blender blend until smooth. Grate in half and nut of nutmeg and a good pinch of salt and pepper, stirring to combine.

To serve mix crème fresh with equal parts of water in order to make a runny cream, drizzle into the bowls of soup, top with a poached egg and another grating of nutmeg and black pepper. Toasted and buttered soldiers are great with it too.