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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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.

 

 

 

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.