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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Marmalade

I never saw the appeal of marmalade; I found it a bitter imitation of jam, however a few weeks ago I braved some a family friend had made on toast with a big mug of tea and found it irresistible, the balance of acidity, bitterness and sweetness is just perfect. I think the bitter flavours are something you develop into so I’m classing my graduation from jam to marmalade as a sign that I am a grown up and therefore should be getting married and buying a house.

The crucial ingredient in marmalade is the bitter Seville orange, which are only available for a short window from the end of December to the start of March, not exactly local for me (as the name may suggest) however the bright citrusy flavours on a cold Febuary day are hard to resist and the scent in my kitchen was amazing. I had a few Seville oranges left and I’m finding more uses for them – a squeeze of the juice into an Old fashioned gives it a lovely bitter orange edge (and is turned into a real treat when you use chocolate bitters – Chocolate orange in a glass). I am also enjoying having a slice in my morning hot water rather than lemon.

Like any convert I am getting a little evangelical in my new obsession. I’m hoping to go to The Dalemain marmalade awards, held in mid March in the Lake District to buy some excellent new jars and to get ideas for my next years production. Whilst waiting for the award winners I thought I would try a recipe from my favorite preserving book “Salt, Sugar, Smoke” by Diana Henry.

Diana’s recipe calls for blood oranges however as my greengrocer didn’t have any so I used another variety nicknamed “pink oranges” so the finished marmalade still has a pinkish hue rather than the deeper red of the true recipe. My greengrocer also suggested adding a bit of lime juice for a sharp edge – I can’t honestly say I can taste the lime but the marmalade is fab and maybe without it it would be missing something – we wont know until I make it again without.

Note – you need to start the recipe the day before in order to leave the skins to soak.

Breakfast Marmalade

  • 1 pink or red grapefruit
  • 4 pink oranges
  • 3 Seville oranges
  • 150 ml lemon juice
  • 1 lime Juice
  • 2 kg of granulated sugar

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Day 1

Wash all the fruit, peel the grapefruit and cut the skin into fine shreds. Juice all of the oranges (retaining the skins) Measure how much juice you have and top it up with water to 2.5 ltrs in a large mixing bowl.

Scoop the flesh out of the grapefruit and tie into a muslin bag, add to the bowl of juice. Shred the orange skins as finely as possible and add to the bowl.

Leave everything to soak overnight.

Day 2

Add all the contents of the bowl to a preserving pan (or large saucepan) and cook over a medium heat until the skin is completely soft it took mine about 1 hour 45 mins. Strain through a sieve, retaining the shreds but discarding the grapefruit muslin bag. Measure the liquid and top up with water or reduce to 1.5 ltrs, Return to the pan.

Add the lemon juice, lime juice and sugar to the pan ad gently heat to dissolve. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum. Add the shreds and return to the boil.

Continue to boil until it reaches the setting point, either on a sugar thermometer or use the wrinkle test (see below).

Skim off any scrum then allow to cool for 10 minutes before spooning into dry sterilized jars.

The Wrinkle Test

A sugar thermometer is great but if you don’t have one or like me its boxed up at your parents house with most of your other kitchen equipment whilst you wait to move house. When making preserves the wrinkle test is a great way of checking if your jam or marmalade will set without the need for a thermometer.

Before you start making your jam pop a couple of saucers or small plates in the freezer (I use one of my enamel ones as they cool quicker). When you think your preserve is almost set drop a teaspoon of the mixture onto the cold saucer and leave for 60 seconds, push your finger through the middle of the mixture. If the mixture wrinkles as you push through – great you have reached setting point, take it off the heat. If not then cook for another 5 minutes and then perform the test again.