A New Year’s Update

I hadn’t realised it had been quite so long since I’d last written a blog, but to be honest there hasn’t been an awful lot of garden activity to write about. The majority of the vegetable patch has been cleared, with a few giant leeks and some purple sprouting broccoli remaining. The broccoli is starting to come into season with the first few shoots pushing through. As it’s been so unseasonably warm in the South East, we’ve got a lot of daffodils starting to come up, some with flowers. I’m not entirely sure what will happen to them, but I’m hoping that some of the bulbs hang on for a while as they look beautiful in spring, as well as bringing some optimism that the cold winter is coming to an end.

The main job I have tackled this winter has been to make a hazel fence. We wanted to create something to break the garden up and I’d seen a picture of a natural fence with raspberries growing through it. So instead of buying ready made panels, I found and got in contact with a  really nice man called Lee Bassett (http://coppicecrafts.blogspot.co.uk/) who helped me order the right amount of everything to create the fence I was looking for. Ambitiously I was hoping to make the whole thing in a day or two. IMG_7797Realistically it’s taken a month or so, with the majority of that time talking about making a fence rather than being in the garden making it. None the less, we finally started making it and it’s now almost finished. I wanted to keep quite an open weave so the plants can grow through. IMG_7846

There’s a bit of tidying up to do, and some smaller poles to weave into the top but it’s taken shape. The next job will be to get some raspberries and other currants to grow through them.

Whilst it may have been quiet in the garden, the kitchen has been non stop over Christmas and new year. We’ve had some lovely food and have shared with friends and family. In the rush to get everything completed, there’s very few photos, but the Christmas cake (see below) was quite a boozy hit. IMG_7865

It feels quite funny that in a couple of months time, I’ll start planting seeds ready for the spring and summer’s vegetables. I’ve learnt a lot over the last year, made some mistakes definitely but have also had some real triumphs too. The good far outweighs the bad, so this year I’m hoping to put the lessons I’ve learnt into practice, not sow six courgette plants, to pick the sweetcorn at the right time and to not bother with cabbages or cauliflower. One of the things I’m very much looking forward to is trying some different varieties. I once had a globe courgette, which essentially was a courgette still but had a very different, sweet flavour. So growing these along with some other odd varieties will be a great challenge.

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Oh the Seasons are a Changin’

Having just logged on to WordPress I can now see it’s been around four months since I last wrote. The changes since then have been incredible, the produce I’ve grown, picked and eaten or preserved and the changes that have happened to the land in general. On our regular bike rides, the land has changed from being productive and abundant to bare and stripped. We’ve been on a gastronomic holiday to Cornwall, have made and planted up a new flower bed and enjoyed “fish month” in which we ate fish every day. This was great fun, we knew we both liked fish but when forced to eat it, we were both pleasantly surprised at the range of fish and just what you can do with it.
I’ve started planting bulbs around the garden for the first bursts of colour in the garden and have been mulching and digging in manure in preparation for next year’s crop. In hearing the winter is going to be a cold one, there has to be something to look forward to, to remember that life will spring back up again from the dormant earth.

I’m pleased with the vegetables I’ve managed to grow this year, I was thinking back over how well the year had been and thought that I didn’t do that well. Then I looked back at some of the photos I took and I think I did better than I realised. So as a round up, here’s what I grew and how it went:
Courgettes & Marrows
Before I started this was one of my must have veg. I grew loads of them, I planted about 15 seeds, all of which germinated and then I realised just how big the plants got. I gave most of the plants away but kept six which have been incredibly productive and are still growing tasty little courgettes. I was surprised by how juicy they were, especially compared to the woody supermarket ones. Marrows however have grown well but in comparison to the courgettes just aren’t as good. I do now have quite a few jars of marrow and ginger jam and have some more left over. Free to a good home!
Runner Beans and Peas
The runner beans grew very well, narrowly missing out for the longest runner bean competition at the Baltonsborough Show! I soon learnt though that we don’t eat that many runner beans, although the ones we had were nice and it’s good to have some height to the patch. Peas were the biggest failure of the whole patch, they didn’t get bigger than a couple of inches before being eaten by pigeons. Must try harder next year…
MultiVegSweetcorn
Having been incredibly excited about this it was a big disappointment. The couple of cobs we did get we/I managed to cook very badly (one got left too long on a BBQ and the other wasn’t cooked for long enough in boiling water). The rest either went to seed or got eaten by something or other. I’ll give these a go again next year and try and grow more, they’re worthy of a whole bed.

Potatoes
Probably my biggest success. They grew well, produced a massive crop and are being stored now in the cool and dark for consumption over the winter. Very pleased indeed. They taste quite different to shop bought potatoes too, or at least I can tell the difference – Nick disputes this. I grew Desiree and baby Charlotte potatoes. The biggest issue I encountered was digging them up and not putting the fork through them.
Tomatoes, Peppers & Chillies
The tomatoes did incredibly well, especially in a year that wasn’t suited for tomatoes. I had a series of free plants which were specialist tomatoes and then grew some Moneymakers from seed too. The crop was massive, I’ve been roasting and freezing them like there’s no tomorrow. I think the advice I Tomatoesread about putting them in poly tunnels helped too, the fruits ripened easily. The only thing I would do differently is manage them, I left the side shoots and ended up with tangled tomato bushes!
Peppers and chillies weren’t as good, outside of the poly tunnels they just didn’t ripen. I have a few chillies but nowhere near as many as expected. I was impressed with the peppers though, although they didn’t ripen they grew well so I think if the weather is kind next year they’ll have a good chance.
Carrots, Parsnips and Beetroot
Another mixed bag, they all grew well but the parsnips have suffered badly from rust. The ones that weren’t affected have been really tasty and make great roast parsnips and parsnip puree!
Carrots have also been hit and miss, some have been wonderfully tasty, nothing like the carrots you buy in mass bags. But others have been attacked by carrot root fly so were only worth lobbing into the compost. The ones we had though were well worth it.
Beetroot was a winner, massive and really tasty. We were eating beetroot for weeks on end and ended up pickling the rest. I’m now just about to start on the second crop which we’re having with roast pork belly tonight.
Leeks, garlic, onions and shallots
All in all a great success with the exception of the garlic. However this has now made another SalmonandLeeksappearance so may redeem itself. The shallots were amazing, we’ve got enough to last the winter easily. I only planted a few onions but those we do have are massive! Definitely to be used for a batch of bolognaise or something similar. The leeks have also been brilliant, I’ve just made a chicken and leek pie filling for dinner next week and used one in there. They’ll be brilliant with salmon too. They’re a great flavour and are huge, really pleased with these.
Brassicas – cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli
I only grew the cabbage and cauliflower as I was given some seeds which had them in a multi pack. I’m glad I tried them and I now know first had not to bother next year. Realistically we don’t eat them and they’re a nightmare to try and look after. Everything seems to eat these apart from us! The broccoli (purple sprouting) will be ready in the first few months of the new year so I’ll see how that goes. The brassica bed might not feature next year.
So all in all it’s been a very productive first year. I’m impressed with how well everything grew on the whole and have learnt many lessons about what to do next year. I’d like to try some different varieties of some of the vegetables I grew this year as well as a couple of completely new additions. We’ve got some hazel turning up in the near future too, which I’m going to use to grow berries against. For now though, there’s more bulbs to plant and manure to turn in but I’ll keep you posted with anything of interest (to me anyway, hope it is to you too).

The Smells of Success

Whilst on our regular Sunday morning bike ride, this morning something struck me; it was the heady smell of raspberries growing in acres of poly tunnels. The smell itself was intoxicating but it’s representation made me think, this time of year is the real start of harvesting, the crops are plentiful and are not forced, it’s so easy to eat seasonal produce at this time of year as there’s so much Shallotschoice. When I see the array of vegetables and fruits in the supermarket in early April, it always feels like they’re cheating a bit, very little naturally grows in this country at that time of year, so why should we have that produce as an option – if it’s not available, don’t make it so. It feels wonderful to eat the vegetables we’ve grown over this last month, knowing they’ve not been forced on. In the fields on our cycling route in Kent, the peas are done with, the raspberries and strawberries are in abundance and being picked at a great rate and the wheat is starting to be harvested – combine harvesters everywhere!

Strawberry

In my vegetable patch, I’ve still got more courgettes than I know what to do with, as well as a sufficient amount of beetroot and potatoes. There are a couple of cauliflowers starting to come through, although we haven’t tried any yet. I’ve now dug and am drying the shallots I planted all those months ago too. The mass of them means I don’t think we’re going to run out any time soon. Tonight we’re having the first of the runner beans with dinner and yesterday we enjoyed the first of the Charlotte potatoes.

Last night we had friends here for dinner and it was a real pleasure to be able to cook food that I’ve grown myself. We had thyme roast CharlottePotatoescod with Charlotte potatoes, courgettes, white beetroot and tomatoes (I have to admit my tomatoes aren’t ready yet…). The freshness of both the vegetables themselves but also the flavours meant that for me, it represented this time of year on a plate perfectly. Today for lunch after a disappointing start I had a quick look around and picked some vegetables to go with some crispy chicken breast and couscous, free, fresh and tasty.

Chilli Crab Linguine

During the week I made a really quick, easy and tasty chilli crab linguine. I first made pasta a few years ago, after watching one of the Masterchef programmes. Little did I know just how simple it was! The recipe to make pasta is very straight forward and rolling it out isn’t so bad with the right tools and an extra pair of hands. Seafood at this time of year just feels like the right thing to eat, it’s light, fresh and exceptionally flavoursome. This is based upon a recipe I found online, originally by Angela Hartnett, the Michelin starred chef proprietor of Murano in Mayfair.

Ingredients (serves two)

(you will need a pasta machine for this recipe – or buy some linguine from the shop)

1 egg
100g 00 pasta flour
100g white crab meat
100g 50/50 white and brown crab meat
½ red chilli, deseeded
2 spring onions
25ml white wine
Seasoning

Method

Make the pasta by breaking the egg into a bowl and gradually adding the pasta flour. Add around 80g before deciding whether to add the rest. If it’s too dry and doesn’t combine, don’t add more; if it’s still wet enough to take more flour, continue to add the remainder. Make sure that the flour is incorporated and form into a ball. Wrap in cling film or a plastic bag and put in the fridge for around an hour to rest.

Once the pasta has rested, on a floured surface (using pasta flour) squash the ball enough that it’ll fit through the largest gap of the pasta machine and start to roll out. Fold the sheet of pasta on itself and put through the largest gap again. Continue to do this, gradually reducing the size of gap until you get to the second smallest (size 2 on ours). Make sure that you use plenty of pasta flour so that it doesn’t stick to itself or the work surface. Add the linguine attachment and in smaller sheets, roll the pasta through to form the linguine. Hang over wooden spoons to dry, unless you have a wooden pasta hanger. Leave to dry until you need it.Pasta

For the crab mixture, dice the chilli finely and add to a medium high heated frying pan with a little oil. Slice the spring onions and add them too, frying off for a minute or two. Then add the crab meat and heat through for two minutes. Add the wine and cook down. Whilst this is cooking down, put the pasta into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for two minutes.

Drain and stir through the crab mixture, season to taste.ChilliCrabLinguine

Whilst making the pasta takes a little while, the rest of the dish takes about 10min in total from start to serving. A quick, very tasty and simple dinner which is pretty healthy too.

The Vegetables of my Labour

I wouldn’t say that growing vegetables for the first time is easy, there’s a hell of a lot to learn and a fair bit of manual labour involved – preparing the soil, sowing, planting out, weeding, watering etc. But when you get to eat the produce you realise the seemingly small amount of work is nothing compared to what you get back.

I followed books and seed packets and with a fair amount of enthusiasm in the earlier months of this year I planted a lot of seeds, most of them early. Which in some ways was a bad idea as I then had to look after them in a small greenhouse until the last frosts had passed. The upside, however, of this is that by the end of June I’m able to eat some of my vegetables I might have been waiting longer for otherwise. So far we’ve had barbecued courgette for a Father’s day barbecue, which was far more juicy and well taste in some ways is hard to describe but just more delicious than shop bought courgettes. We’ve also got potatoes and beetroot, along with some beetroot tops for dinner this evening.

I’ve heard people talking about home grown vegetables before and for a large amount of the time during my childhood, we ate home grown vegetables. People often say that they’re like normal vegetables but a million times tastier. Which from my experience I would agree with. Before though, I never used to have to work for the vegetables I ate. My dad looked after the allotment, he still does, and therefore he put in the hard work to give the family the rewards. Now it’s me putting in the hard work, somehow the produce tastes even sweeter. To see things grow in my vegetable patch that I’ve helped from a tiny single seed is amazing. I understand to some people I may sound like I’m stating the obvious but when you’ve never done this before, it’s quite astounding.

So excuse me for being a little smug but here’s why (asparagus still courtesy of my dad!) (fish courtesy of Nick’s cooking skills):

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Forgot to add in my simple supper of oven baked sea bass with asparagus

Spring has Sprung

It’s been just over a month since I last wrote a blog and in that time much has changed in the garden. The majority of my vegetables have been planted out into the patch with only some nasturtiums and lettuce occupying the greenhouse. The birds are back too, we’re very lucky to have an array of different birds including finches, wagtails and woodpeckers. I’m sure there are many more but without a bird book I’m not entirely sure what they are. The tomatoes and peppers have recently gone in, and are looking good so far. Some plants are faring better than others though, the potatoes have taken off but my peas, garlic and sweetcorn are having a hard time. I’m hoping that a little food and regular watering will sort it all out. If not, we’ll be eating none of their produce in the months to come.
One of the things I have to keep in mind when I search for perfection in year one, is that this is all an experiment. I don’t know what will grow well, I don’t know what we’ll eat, I don’t know what I’ll grow again next year, but over the course of this year I’ll find the answers to those and make some notes on how to improve next year.

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As I’ve been busy with this work stuff, including jetting off to Dublin every other week, I haven’t had as much time for cooking as I’d have liked. That said, the enticing fresh produce of spring has meant that whenever I’ve had a spare moment I’ve been cooking with the joys of spring. This last month’s highlights include slow roast chicken with lemon and thyme, vanilla panna cotta with strawberry jelly, duck breast with cavolo nero and asparagus, roast leg of lamb with roast new potatoes, beetroot, peas and courgette and sous vide strawberries with granny smith apple sorbet and shortbread biscuit. Nick and I also enjoyed lunch at L’autre Pied; it’s always such an inspiration to eat out at amazing restaurants, to see the flavour combinations, new techniques and ideas (amuse bouche to dessert above).

Slow Roast Lemon and Thyme Chicken with Roast Vegetables
This recipe takes a long time from start to finish. But it is well worth it, it’s from How to Cook Like Heston and is the most amazing roast chicken I’ve ever eaten. As the chicken is slow cooked and brined before it maintains all the juicy flavours and is incredibly succulent. The advice is also to remove the wishbone prior to cooking, as it makes the breast a lot easier to carve. By slicing the meat as I’ve done (see below) it allows for the muscle fibres to be cut across, making it melt in the mouth.

Ingredients
Whole chicken – size is dependent on how many people you need to feed or how much you want for leftovers
6% brine solution, (I used 150g in 2.5ℓof water) make sure it’s enough to cover the chicken
Butter (lots)
Thyme
1 lemon
White wine
Potatoes
Duck fat
Courgettes
Carrots
Seasoning

Method
Make the brine mixture and put into a large pan with the chicken, making sure that the chicken is covered fully. Put into the fridge overnight.
Remove from the fridge and pat the chicken dry with kitchen towel, then take 100g of soft butter and massage into the chicken. Put roll and pierce the lemon and put into the cavity, along with a few sprigs of thyme. Put onto a roasting tray and into an oven at 90°c (70°c fan) for 3-4 hrs. When the thickest part of the breast is 60°c (using a meat thermometer) remove the chicken from the oven and cover with foil.
In this time, peel and par boil the potatoes and carrots for 10-15min. Fluff the potatoes so the outsides go crispy and coat with duck fat, about 2-3tbsp should be fine. Season well and pop into the oven at 200°c for an hour, turning occasionally.
Make a basting sauce from 20g butter, 50ml wine and a couple of sprigs of thyme. Heat this in a saucepan so the ingredients combine and whilst the chicken is resting, baste this mixture over the top regularly.
RoastChickenSlice the courgettes in half and roast for 20-30min, depending on the size of your courgettes.
After 45min resting, heat the oven to full whack and put the chicken back in for 10 – 15min until the skin is crispy and golden.
To make a light sauce, use the chicken juices and combine with a little wine, a tsp Dijon mustard and a couple of sprigs of parsley. Heat together then spoon over the chicken once served.
Slice the breasts off whole from the chicken and then slice again width ways (see below). Serve with the veggies and a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce. A perfect spring chicken meal.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberry Jelly
I first saw this on a Junior Masterchef Australia episode and have taken the idea but changed the recipe slightly. The first one I made was very rubbery and didn’t have that amazing creamy mouth feel that a panna cotta should have. I heard somewhere that a panna cotta when turned out should be wobbly like Homer’s belly (as in The Simpsons, not the ancient Greek poet!). The strawberry jelly provides freshness, and with some delicious Kentish strawberries in season now, it’s the perfect time to make it.

Ingredients (makes 4)
For the strawberry jelly
150g fresh strawberries
100ml water
30g caster sugar
2 gelatine leaves (4g)
For the panna cotta
2 gelatine leaves (4g)
250ml milk
250ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract
25g caster sugar

Method
For the strawberry jelly, chop up the strawberries into small pieces, saving one or two for decoration. Put into a large glass bowl and add the water and sugar. Place over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Heat gently and mash the strawberries so that the flavour is extracted.IMG_7148
Put the gelatine leaves (2 of them) into a jug of cold water and leave for 5min.
Once the strawberry flavour has infused into the water (taste to make sure), strain the fruit from the liquid, then squeeze out the water and add the gelatine leaves. Put back over the heat for a couple of minutes to combine, when place a few tablespoons into each of the four moulds. Place in the fridge to cool and set for a few hours.
StrawberryJellyOnce set, make the panna cotta by heating the milk, cream, vanilla and sugar. Again, soak the gelatine leaves in a jug of cold water. Once the cream and milk mixture is simmering, remove from the heat, then squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves and add to the pan. Stir to combine fully, then once cooled slightly, add to the jelly in the moulds.
PannaCottaTo serve, take a small pallet knife or spatula if your moulds are metal, and slide down the side of each one to break the seal. Turn upside down and pop onto a plate to serve.

Sous Vide Strawberries with Granny Smith Sorbet and Shortbread Biscuit
Following a house warming party last weekend, we’ve spent the majority of the week (happily) eating leftovers. With some left over apples from apple bobbing which everyone was a little nervous about, and some strawberries that managed to avoid the Pimms jug I thought I’d make a fresh spring like dessert to go with dinner.

Ingredients
5 granny smith apples, peeled and cored
Juice of 2 lemons
200g caster sugar
250ml water
100g strawberries
20ml white wine (frozen)
5g caster sugar
55g butter
25g caster sugar
90g plain flour

Method
For the apple sorbet, chop the apples into relatively small pieces, then cover with the lemon juice, stirring to coat all the pieces, then put into a plastic dish into the freezer.
Make the stock syrup by combining the 200g caster sugar and 250ml water and bring to the boil gently. Once boiling remove from the heat.
Add the stock syrup to the frozen apples and blend into a liquid mixture, then put into the ice cream machine to churn for around 30min. Remove and put into a plastic container in the freezer to fully set.
GSSorbetSVStrawberriesTo make the shortbread, combine the butter, caster sugar and plain flour in a bowl, then press together with your hands. Roll out to around 7mm thick, then cut into your desired shape with a cutter or knife. Bake in the oven on a non-stick mat for 15-20min then cool on a wire rack.
For the sous vide strawberries, freeze the wine in a small container in the freezer. This is just to prevent the vacuum machine from sucking it out when it removes the air.
Place the whole strawberries (green leaves and stems removed) along with the frozen wine and 5g caster sugar into a sous vide bag and vacuum and seal. Heat the sous vide machine to 85°c then cook for 15min.
Serve for the fresh tastes of a British spring!

So hopefully the next few weeks will see some edible produce coming out of the vegetable patch, I have to admit I’m really looking forward to tasting it. I’m also looking forward to having some colour in the garden. We have a few roses which are beautiful but I’ve just planted a bunch of wild flower seeds and some non-wild flowers seeds too. Two oak trees have also just been planted from germinated acorns we found when making the vegetable patch. So with a healthy glow of a tan, hint of pretty garden optimism and the smell of a slow cooked lam shoulder in the oven, I’m off for another week or few. Hope you’re enjoying spring as much as I am.

It’s a Celebration!

What a month it’s been! We’ve celebrated so many different occasions and had a truly wonderful time for each. I got a new job so which means less time to cook and garden, but that which I do have is concentrated a lot more. It’s a great job with a wonderful bunch of people so I’m happy to be doing it. There have also been birthdays, weddings, passing exams, friends leaving work and Easter to celebrate this month, whilst there has been a reasonable amount of alcohol involved with the majority of these celebrations, food has also played a starring role.

In the garden, the vegetables are growing at a great rate of knots. I’m now realising that I may have planted some too early as they’re taking over the greenhouse (courgettes) but it’s all part of the learning curve, being that this is the first year I’ve had a vegetable patch. None the less, I now have some healthy plants growing, including garlic and shallots outside, with peas, parsnips potatoes and carrots planted; inside I have courgettes, marrows, cauliflower, cabbages, broccoli, beetroot, onions, leeks, peppers,  chillies, tomatoes, sweetcorn, sweet peas, runner beans  and nasturtiums.  I’m pretty sure I’ve planted far too many of each and too many varieties but I’ll give them all a go, see which ones work, which ones we eat and plant those next year too. IMG_6986The herb planter is now in too, and we’ve made some mini poly tunnels but still need to make a couple more to stop the pesky pigeons gobbling my fresh new seedlings when they go outside. Another job now completed that we’d been putting off is cleaning the cowls, they had been getting more and more green before the gloriously still day which saw Nick ascend to the top with a pressure washer!

The rare time that I have spent in the kitchen recently has been making a variety of food for celebrations. Starting with a four layered chocolate cake for a friend’s surprise birthday, then slow roast lamb shoulder for Easter and finishing up with some very simple home-made Easter eggs.

Chocolate and Vanilla Layer Cake

When asking what sort of cake a friend would like for her surprise birthday, I got back one answer: chocolate! Needless to say it went down a treat on a rather wet but fun day after tobogganing. Sorry about the mix of metric and imperial, I found a recipe I liked for the icing, but used the standard 4 4 2 and 4 my mum taught me for the cakes!

Ingredients
8oz butter
8oz golden caster sugar
4 eggs
7oz self-raising flour
1tsp vanilla extract
1oz cocoa powder (I used Green & Blacks 70%)
200g dark chocolate
200g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar

Method

Cream together 4oz of the butter and 4oz of the caster sugar until light and fluffy. Add in two of the eggs and the vanilla extract and mix well. Gradually add in 4oz of the self-raising flour until combined.

Cream together the rest of the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy again, then add the eggs and mix well. Add in the rest of the flour and the cocoa powder and mix until it’s all well combined.

Transfer into two lined and greased cake tin (I used a 20cm diameter tin) and put into the oven for around 20min. When you can smell the cakes, check that it’s cooked by poking a cocktail stick into the middle. If it comes out clean, it’s done, if not return it to the oven – keep checking periodically until it’s cooked through.

When they’re cooked, take them out and transfer onto a cooling rack, one upside down.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water on a low heat, the water must be steaming, so boil it first, but not boiling when the chocolate is over it so turn it down so it doesn’t split.

Combine the icing sugar and butter in a separate bowl and mix together until light and fluffy. Once the chocolate has melted, add that and mix well. Allow to cool at room temperature before spreading over the cake.ChocolateCake

Once the cakes are completely cool, slice them in half – I use a cake slicer, which is a bit like a cheese wire but it slices horizontally. It can be adjusted to any height so check the mid-point of the cake and carefully pull it through. It might need a little help to get started, use a knife for this.

The cake which was cooled upside down should be on the base. Add a layer of icing, then the alternate colour cake. Repeat for all four cakes, then use the rest of the icing to cover the outside. Decorate with chocolate curls or anything else you see fit.

Slow Roast Shoulder of Lamb

This recipe was first used on the advice of our wonderful butcher – if anyone knows meat… It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe and really shows off the lamb shoulder for what it’s good for – slow cooking to provide a tasty and tender meal. This recipe can easily server around 6 people but if there are less then it’s great for leftovers too. Lamb is often used as an Easter celebration and it’s a great excuse to use this recipe which I just love.

Ingredients
Whole lamb shoulder
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 cloves of garlic
Sea salt
Olive oil
Potatoes
Carrots
Parsnips
Beetroot
Balsamic vinegar
Red wine vinegar
500ml lamb stock
2 sprigs of mint

Method

Pre-heat the oven to full heat. Make small incisions across the lamb shoulder at around 1” intervals and poke in slices of the garlic and bits of the rosemary sprigs. Season with a little sea salt and a bit of olive oil and rub into the skin well. Put the lamb into the oven, then turn the temperature down to 170°c and leave it for four hours.

With one hour to go, peel and chop the potatoes, carrots and parsnips and gently boil them for 15 – 20min, drain and return to the pan. Pour some of the lamb fat from the roasting tray into the veg and give them a good shake to coat well. Put them onto a roasting tray and into a 200°c oven for around an hour, turning half way through.

Peel and quarter the beetroot and toss them in a little balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt, then put into a small tray of their own into the oven with the other vegetables.LambShoulder

Once the lamb is cooked, take it out of the oven and put onto a warm plate to rest. Scrape the juices of the lamb into a small saucepan to make the sauce. Add a tbsp. of red wine vinegar and the lamb stock and boil to combine and reduce. When the sauce is ready, chop the mint finely and add it in too.

Pull the meat apart with two forks and pile on a serving plate, along with the roast vegetables to serve.

Home-made Easter Eggs

The final “recipe” is more of an idea or a thing to do. There’s very little in ingredient mixing that happens with these eggs but they’re great fun to make and can be designed to suit anyone’s tastes (although it helps if you like chocolate!).  The smaller eggs can be filled with a range of fillings or can be left whole. I’ll include my ingredients and method but it’s more about the pictures.

Ingredients:
200g Green & Black’s white chocolate
200g Green & Blacks 70% dark chocolate
100g Green & Black’s milk chocolate

Method

I’ve tried a few times now to temper chocolate, each with it’s different method of failure. This time, I gave up and heated the chocolate… it turned out beautifully glossy and crisp!

Break the chocolate into three separate bowls and heat gradually over a pan of steaming but not boiling water. When the last few bits of chocolate are nearly melted, remove from the heat. Repeat with each bowl of chocolate.

IMG_7056WhiteEggUsing teaspoons, dessert spoons and a pastry brush, pour, twirl, splatter or paint the chocolate into the desired design in the moulds. I left a few hollow with the ambition of filling them – they didn’t’ get that far! Leave to set in the fridge then heat up one half of the egg on the “join” side very gently in a frying pan and push onto the other half to seal.

Although I thought mine were quite pretty (and very tasty) they weren’t that inventive. If I were to do it again, I’d make some praline to sprinkle in the melted chocolate, fill the small eggs with salted caramel and possibly chop a few pistachios or other nuts to go in too. The beautiful thing about making your own eggs, and in fact your own food, is that you can add or remove whatever you like to it to suit your tastes.

Home Made Treats for Sharing

The previous couple of weeks has seen me spending a large amount of time on courses and work related activities. However, I’ve managed to squeeze in some baking for various occasions, some slow cooked ribs to share with friends and a lovely visit to a hidden gem in Broadstairs.

For now the garden and seedling seem to be taking care of themselves, whilst there’s still a lot of work to do there’s less that needs large amounts of attention. Next week, in April, I’ll start planting some more seedlings, will move those outgrowing their seed trays and will plant the early potatoes and keep my fingers crossed that the frosts have all passed. Last week Nick and I went to Broadstairs with my parents, to the catering college that my dad used to attend. We had a truly stunning three course meal, made and served (silver service) by the students of the college. The range of food on offer was good, the flavour combinations and execution of the cooking itself was brilliant, and even more so considering it was prepared by student chefs. And at £11.75 each, for three courses plus (very reasonably priced) drinks it’s somewhere we’d all go back to in an instant. The only disappointment was that I was too full to even consider popping into Morelli’s for ice cream afterwards. Morelli’s is an ice cream shop that has featured in the Observer Food Monthly magazine and supplies to Harrods, if you’re ever in Broadstairs then it’s well worth a visit.

Food wise this week has been mainly about two things, baking and ribs. I’ve made a selection of macarons for Mother’s Day and a hen party I went to, caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart, lemon meringue pie and some hearty beef ribs, slow cooked of course. Whilst I do have some cooking ability, the food I’ve made recently has not been difficult; the recipes are very simple and easy to follow. There are of course places where you can go wrong, but if you follow the recipe the on the whole you’ll get some good results.

I made lemon macarons for Mother’s Day this year and they went down a treat. They don’t last that long but as long as there are people you can share them with, they don’t need to last long. Macarons are one of those cool sweets that appear very difficult to make, but with four ingredients plus filling they’re not that hard at all. There are a few rules and secrets I’ve picked up and always follow, and they seem to come out consistently well. I also made salted caramel macarons, which follow the same shell recipe as the lemon ones (substitute or avoid the colouring) but have a different filling, which I’ll include at the bottom.

Lemon Macarons

Ingredients:

For the shells
125g icing sugar (sifted)
125g ground almonds (weigh after sifting and remove anything that’s left)
100g egg whites (around three eggs but weigh them out and get 100g)
110g caster sugar (sifted)
Yellow food colouring
For the filling
100g caster sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks
2 lemons (juice and zest)
150g unsalted butter

Method:

In a large clean bowl, sift together the ground almonds and icing sugar, making sure that any large pieces of almond are removed and the weight is correct after sifting.

In a separate bowl (that of a mixer or one you can whisk the egg whites in), weigh out the egg whites and whisk to a stiff peak. Gradually add the caster sugar a tablespoon at a time, making sure it’s incorporated before adding the next one.

Once fully combined, add a couple of drops of yellow food colouring and whisk to combine. A bit at a time (I add mine in four lots) pour in the almond/icing sugar mixture and fold in with a spatula or metal spoon. Make sure it’s all mixed together thoroughly, but do this gently so as not to knock the air out of the meringue.

Pipe the macarons onto a lined and well-greased baking sheet, so they are about the size of a 50p (about an inch) each. Once they’re all piped, give the baking sheets a couple of hard whacks onto the surface, then leave for about 2hrs (possibly longer) until they have formed a crust.MacaronPiped

Bake at 160°c for 11min, then carefully remove from the baking sheet and put onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the lemon curd filling, put the caster sugar and eggs into a glass bowl and beat together, then add the lemon zest and juice and the butter, cut into cubes. Place this over a saucepan of just simmering water and leave for about 40min stirring occasionally. It doesn’t need too much attention but make sure that the water isn’t too hot, otherwise you’ll have scrambled egg. Once it’s thickened, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Pipe the cool lemon curd onto one half of the macaron shells and top with another.

MacaronShellsLemonMacarons

Salted Caramel Filling
75g caster sugar
75g light muscovado sugar
50g butter
100ml double cream
Sea salt flakes

Put the caster sugar and a tbsp. of water into a saucepan and on a medium heat, heat slowly until it forms a golden caramel colour. Remove from the heat and add the other ingredients (apart from the sea salt), then return to the heat and boil for 2-3min. Add the sea salt flakes and allow to cool. Pipe into the macaron shells and sandwich together.

*Call for help*!
If anyone out there has an induction hob and has made either a dry or wet caramel, please let me know how you do it. The caramel I made for this recipe took me around 40min to make. I used to have a gas hob and if I left caster sugar on there for 40min I could kiss goodbye to the saucepan afterwards. No idea what I’m doing wrong but happy to listen to any advice, please comment at the bottom of this blog.

The lemon curd I made for the macarons turned out to be an industrial amount, so with the leftovers I made a lemon meringue pie.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Ingredients:

100g plain flour
50g unsalted butter
40g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
Water to bind
2 egg whites
80g caster sugar

Method:

Blitz the flour, butter, egg yolks and sugar together in a food processor to form a breadcrumb like mixture, then add a little water to bind it together. Remove and wrap in cling film, then rest in the fridge for about 30min.

Roll out fairly thinly and put into a greased tart tin (I used two small tins, about 10cm in diameter). Be a little careful as the pastry is very crumbly so breaks easily, however if it does crack, patch it up with a little extra pastry. Push into the edges of the tin using a ball made from a little of the leftover pastry. Trim the edges then bake blind for 15min, then remove the beans and bake for a further 5min, both at 180°c.

LemonMeringuePieAllow the cases to cool a little, and in this time make the meringue by whisking the egg whites to stiff peaks, then gradually (a tbsp. at a time) add the caster sugar in, making sure it’s fully  combined and glossy.

Fill the pastry case with the leftover lemon curd (or make it using the macaron lemon curd recipe above), then top with the meringue. Either use a cook’s blowtorch to brown the meringue or bake in the oven at 180°c for 15min or until golden brown on top.

Now from the sweet treats onto the savoury. Ribs are a very cheap cut of meat and if you’re a meat eater you’ve probably had some pretty tasty ones in restaurants or from packets in supermarkets. It’s fair to say they do take some time, but the results at the end of it are amazing and contain only what you put into the sauce – no artificial flavours if you don’t want them. The recipe I found (as usual for me) is from Jamie Oliver – he seems to do slow cooked meats incredibly well and really packs in the flavour.

Beef Short Ribs with Sticky BBQ Sauce

Ingredients:

Beef ribs – we know our butcher pretty well and asked for beef ribs and got enough to feed two. They looked really big to start off with, but shrink a lot so be careful of this when buying them.
Seasoning
Olive oil
180ml tomato ketchup
200ml stout
4tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1tsp English mustard
4tsps malt vinegar
4tsps golden syrup

Method:

Drizzle a little olive oil onto the ribs and rub in, then cover with salt and pepper to taste. Put the ribs into a roasting tray and double cover with tin foil. Put into a pre-heated oven at 100°c and leave for 8hrs.

Go off and enjoy your day

Come back in the evening and make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a saucepan and bringing to the boil. Simmer for 10-20min until the sauce becomes thick and glazy. Remove the ribs from the oven and take off the tin foil, transfer them to a baking tray and cover with the sauce. Put the fat that’s come off the ribs into a jar or cup and leave to cool then put in the fridge. It’ll come in very handy for roast potatoes. Put the ribs back into the oven at 150°c for about 40min.

In this time, make whatever you want to go with it – I made chips and sweetcorn. With the sweetcorn,BeefRibs get a couple of pieces of tin foil, big enough to wrap each cob in and smother a little butter over, then season the butter. Place the sweetcorn on the butter and wrap up into parcels. Put into the oven with the ribs for about 40min too. Open to check they’re done and if not, return to the oven for a little while – the ribs can cope with an extra 10min; they’ve been in there all day. Peel and cut the chips, then boil for 10min. Drain and leave to cool slightly. Fry in small batches for 3min, then drain again, then fry for 1min to crisp up before serving. Remove the bones from the ribs (they’ll just fall out without trying too much) and serve by pulling pieces off and plating with your side dishes.

The last recipe I’m going to include this week is for a caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart. I was invited to a hen party and following a fab treasure hunt we had afternoon tea, for which we were all asked to bring something. I made salted caramel macarons, as they always go down well, and a caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart. I knew there would be a couple of vegetarians there and it’s a nice light tart anyway, something that a non-veggie can enjoy. I was so surprised and pleased that the guests enjoyed it so much, that I’m going to include it on here too.

Caramelised Onion and Goat’s Cheese Tart

Ingredients:

100g plain flour
50g unsalted butter
Tbsp or two of water
2 red onions
1 white onion
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
2-3 sprigs of thyme
1tbsp dark muscavado or dark soft brown sugar
100g goats cheese
2 eggs
200ml double cream
Seasoning to taste

Method:

Mix together in a food processor the plain flour and butter until it looks like breadcrumbs and add enough water to bind. Take out and form into a ball, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for 30min.

Roll out the pastry and line a greased 25cm flan tin. Bake blind for 15min then remove the beans and bake for 5min more at 180°c.

In the meantime, slice the red onions and finely chop the white onion then fry for about 10min in a little oil or butter until caramelised on a medium to high heat.

Add the thyme, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar and cook for a further 5-10min on a medium heat, add a little water if it gets too dry.OnionGoatsCheeseTart

Put these in the baked tart case then add the goats cheese crumbled over the top. Whisk the eggs and cream together in a bowl and add seasoning to taste. Pour this over the top and add a little more thyme then bake for 30min at 150°c

Leave to cool a little then serve