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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Courgette Two

The sounds of a productive garden in summer, the buzzing of bees, the tweets of birds and the groaning of the courgette plants under the weight of their fruit… the last one may be exaggerated but not by much! The garden has been going crazy with all the sunshine and thankfully now the odd downpour. Nothing has appreciated this weather more than the courgettes which have gone from zero to more than you can possibly eat in the space of a fortnight. We have four plants and I picked 6 courgettes off of them on Monday. Having already picked two over the weekend and more will be ready for the weekend. Added to this I rather stupidly have not reduced our local veg box scheme so guess what came in there!

Needless to say I was racking my brains for an idea of how to use so many at once because as much as I love griddling them for salads there are only so many I can eat that way! So I started thinking about the best meals I’ve eaten with courgettes and it came to me – at an amazing restaurant in Istanbul called Lokanta Maya we had the most incredible courgette fritters. Luckily the dish is so popular the recipe is written on a mirror on the wall of the restaurant. I recreated them with a few tweaks and I think they went down well – Joel described them as tasting “a little bit naughty” which I think is a good thing.

Courgette Fritters

  • 1kg courgettes (4 medium)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 100g whole meal flour
  • 100g plain white flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 handful flat leaf parsley
  • 4 spring onions
  • 150g feta
  • 300ml vegetable oil for frying
  • Greek yoghurt to serveGrate the courgettes and place in a colander over a bowl, mix with 1 tbsp salt and leave for 30 mins then squeeze our all the liquid you can.

If you wish to keep each batch warm and serve together pre heat the oven to a low warming temperate – about 75 degrees and pop a baking tray in the oven.

Finely chop both the parsley and spring onions and add to the courgette.

In a large bowl combine the flour, eggs milk and pepper  then whisk until a smooth batter.

Crumble the feta and mix through the batter.

In a large frying pan pour in enough oil to create a 1cm deep layer of oil and heat over a medium to high flame. Once the oil is hot (test with a tiny drop of the mixture, it should bubble and sizzle as soon as it hits the pan if it’s ready).

Carefully and in small batches add 1 tbsp of the mixture to the pan, fry for about a minute and a half before turning over and frying for a further minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and turn into kitchen roll or if like me you have a tray over a plate.

One the batch are ready to be removed from the pan transfer the resting ones to the oven.

Serve with some Greek yogurt and/or a squeeze of lemon juice. Great as a snack, starter or side.

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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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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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.

 

 

 

Runner Bean

So things have been very quiet on the blog for a few months, there has been a lot going on for me in the real world, Joel and I have bought and moved into our own house, we got married on a gorgeous sunny day surrounded by all our friends and family, Joel had a nasty bicycle vs car accident, which thankfully he has now recovered from.

We are spending time working on the house, making it ours and I have so many plans for the garden. Although with everything going on this summer the furthest I got with growing veggies was popping in the runner beans Joel’s parents gave us, and my usual salad leaves and herbs. Considering I literally stuck the small runner bean plants in the ground and stretched some string across the fence for support the runner bean plants did amazingly well, we have had a more beans than we could eat since the start of July. They are now coming to an end, the big chunky ones I have left on the plant till they dry out and I can harvest the beans to plant next year, the rest of them I have turned into chutney.

Our family friends Jenny and Peter make this chutney every year and it is always delicious – just the right balance of sweet and tangy so of course I had to get the recipe from them to make with my last batch of beans from the garden. The recipe came from the queen of reliable recipes – Delia, I should have known.

Spiced Pickled Runner Beans

Adapted from Delia’s recipe

  • 900g of Runner Beans – trimmed and sliced
  • 700g Onions – finely chopped
  • 850ml Malt Vinegar
  • 40g Cornflour
  • 1 tbsp Mustard Powder
  • 1 tbsp Turmeric
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 675g Demerara Sugar

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Add the chopped onions and 300mls of the vinegar to a large pan and simmer until softened – around 20 mins.

Boil the sliced beans in a separate pan – Delia suggests 5 mins but I cooked mine for 10 due to now being a little tough, drain and add to the onion and vinegar mixture.

Mix the spices and corn flour with a little of the remaining vinegar to make a paste then add to the onion mix along with the rest of the vinegar.

Simmer for 10 mins, then add the sugar and simmer for a further 15 mins.

Pot the pickle into warm sterilized jars and leave to mature for at least a month.

Also here is a few pictures of our adventures over the past few months I’ve been away from the blog.

 

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