We’re having a (Tropical) heatwave!

Why are the British never satisfied – when its wet, we wish for dry; when its cold we wish for hot! And now we have it, we are all trying to keep cool. And what better way than a nice dish of ice cream.

I have always loved ice-cream – not the Mr Whippy soft stuff but proper ice cream but with eggs and cream and different tastes.  When my brother was little, he used to think “various ices” on a menu was a flavour and there seems to be no ending now to the “various” combinations – you can even have savoury ones for inbetween courses.

A few years ago, I entered a competition and won an ice cream maker but I also have a few favourites which don’t need one – you just whip it up and freeze  If you haven’t got a maker, and it’s asked for, you can get by with taking the mixture out of the freezer and mashing the ice crystals in for a few times. Keeping it easy for you, these are all made without a maker – so you can definitely say you made these all by yourself.

French chocolate Ice cream (daughter no1’s favourite)

  • 50g castor sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 175g plain chocolate
  • 3 egg yolks (save the whites for meringues etc – you can even freeze them)
  • 300ml double cream

Melt the sugar and water in a pan to a syrup.  Break up the chocolate into a bowl and add the hot syrup. Mix until smooth and add the yolks.  Whip the cream until stiff and add the chocolate, folding it through until all combine. Freeze. Simples!

Lemon Ice Cream

  • 1 large lemon, juice and zested
  • 200g castor sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 250 ml double cream

Combine the zest and sugar.  Put the milk in a bowl and stir in the zest mixture until the sugar is dissolved.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Whip the cream until stiff and gently fold into the lemon mixture. Line a loaf tin with cling film overlapping the edges.  Pour into the tin, cover over with the edges and freeze.  Tip out and slice to serve.

Stem Ginger Ice Cream

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 110g icing sugar
  • 3 – 4 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 275ml double cream, stiffly whipped

Whisk the yolks and icing sugar together until pale and very thick.  Fold in the ginger and whipped cream.  Using a clean whisk, whisk the egg whites into peaks and gently fold into the mixture.  Pour into a 1.5 litre plastic container and freeze overnight.

Peach Ice Cream – Peaches are just coming into their own now so make the most of this most delicious of soft fruits!

  • 6 ripe peaches
  • 600ml pot double cream
  • 397g can condensed milk

Put the peaches in a heatproof bowl and pour over boiling water.  Leave for 5 minutes and peel off the skins and remove the stone.  Roughly chop them and set aside. Whisk the cream with the condensed milk until thickened slightly and falls in ribbons from the whisk.  Add the peach chunks to the cream, stirring gently.  Put into a 2 litre plastic container and freeze for 3 – 4 hours or overnight.  Take out of the freezer 20 – 30 minutes before you want it.

Obviously all of the above are for more than one – but ice cream will settle happily in the freezer for at least a month – make all of these and you don’t have to think about a treat for a while!

Summertime . . . .

We are very lucky to live in the Vale of Evesham, surely one of the great allotments of England with its many fruit and vegetable growers.  PLEASE try and avoid eating strawberries out of season – and definitely not from abroad!  The sweetness and juiciness of a just picked fruit cannot be equalled and now is the time to make the best of them!

You may note that the recipes below are for more than one – but they will all keep and freeze if necessary – and you want to make them whilst the best of strawberries are available. How lovely it will be on a dull, grey day to have a taste of summer (if they last that long!).

Strawberry and Elderflower sorbet – you won’t find a more summery dish than this. The perfect refreshing treat to cool down on a hot day.

  • 550g strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 200 ml elderflower cordial (see June edition for recipe)
  • Juice of ½ lemon

Put the strawberries, cordial, 200ml cold water and the lemon juice into a blender and whizz for 2 – 3 minutes till smooth.  Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, using the back of a spoon to push through any thicker puree. Press down to extract as much as possible then discard and pips and any fibres left in the sieve.  Cover and chill for 2 hours. Pour into a container and freeze, taking it out every hour or so to mash with a fork to get limit ice crystals for a 2 – 3 times. Remove from the freezer at least 5 minutes before serving.

 Strawberry Gazpacho

  • 330g vine-ripened tomatoes chopped
  • 700g ripe strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 75ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying and drizzling
  • Basil leaves to garnish

Put the tomatoes, strawberries, red pepper, shallot, garlic and vinegar in a large bowl and leave overnight. The next day, add the olive oil and whizz together until smooth adding a splash of water if too thick. Season to taste.  Fry some little pieces of bread in olive oil, drain and sprinkle with sea salt and serve with the soup, torn basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

Strawberry and Mascarpone Gelato – Strawberry and mascarpone is a classic mix and this is also one of the easiest ice cream recipes you could possibly make!

  • 300g strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 500g mascarpone
  • 100g white chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 200g strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 2 tbsp golden caster sugar

Put the chopped strawberries in a bowl. Add the cordial and sprinkle over the sugar. Set aside to macerate for up to 1 hour. Beat the mascarpone and white chocolate together, then fold through the strawberry mixture. Put in a cling film-lined, straight-sided freezer-proof box (about 1 litre) and freeze overnight.  For the soft strawberries, put the berries and cordial in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Set aside for 15 minutes. Slice the ice cream and spoon over the strawberries to serve.

Summer’s Coming!

The arrival of swallows and so many good things grown or reared locally!  I love May with all its promise of Summer to come and everything fresh and newly green! It’s also the time for British asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes. The potatoes have been grown on the island for 140 years and today there are approximately 20 island farmers who grow them (and often no other crops) on approximately 7,300 acres and can only be grown on Jersey to have the name. As for the asparagus, I am very lucky to live in the Valley of Evesham, one of the homes of British asparagus. I know you can buy this most of the year from abroad – but there is nothing like the Real Thing from just around the corner! This first recipe is using these two British stalwarts – but with a twist!

Coconut Potato Bowl with Lime and Ginger (I’m not giving you exact amounts here – just use how ever much you need to feed how many people!)

  •  Jersey Royal potatoes, roughly chopped
  •  cauliflower florets
  •  Coconut oil, melted, enough to coat
  •  Sea salt and pepper
  •  asparagus
  •  olive oil
  •  cherry tomatoes, halved
  •  spring onion, sliced
  •  Baby broad beans
  •  Sliced cooked beetroot
  •  coconut flakes, toasted, to garnish

Dressing; 2 tbsp olive oil      finely grated zest and juice of a lime      grated ginger

Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas mark 6. Place the potatoes and cauliflower florets in a roasting tray, drizzle over the coconut oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes until tender and beginning to brown. In the meantime, prepare everything else; brush the asparagus with some olive oil, heat a griddle pan until hot and cook the stems until charred and tender. Set aside. For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil and lime juice, then stir in the zest and ginger and season with some salt and pepper. To assemble, arrange the potatoes and cauliflower to one side and place the other ingredients round the bowl (or how you prefer), drizzle with the dressing and scatter over the coconut flakes, or serve on the side.

Asparagus Soup – this will make more than for one – but I will allow you to batch cook and freeze on this occasion as the season is relatively short for British Asparagus!

  • 25g butter
  • a little vegetable oil
  • 350g asparagus spears, stalks chopped, woody ends discarded, tips reserved
  • 3 shallots, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 large handfuls spinach
  • 700ml vegetable stock (fresh if possible)
  • olive oil, for drizzling (optional)
  • rustic bread (preferably sourdough), to serve (optional)

Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan until foaming. Fry the asparagus tips for a few mins to soften. Remove and set aside. Add the shallots, asparagus stalks and garlic, and cook for 5-10 mins until softened but still bright. Stir through the spinach, pour over the stock, bring to the boil, then blitz with a hand blender. Season generously and add hot water to loosen if needed. Ladle into bowls and scatter the asparagus tips over each. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with some nice crusty bread.

CRAB AND ASPARAGUS WITH THAI MAYONNAISE – again, the amount of asparagus and crab is up to you.

  • Asparagus spears
  • crab meat      
  • sliced sourdough bread
  • olive oil
  • handful of rocket leaves or spinach
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons of good mayonnaise
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1/2 – 1 red chilli
  • freshly grated zest of 1lime
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (if this is the first time you have used it please don’t be put off by the smell – it tastes much better!)
  • chopped coriander

Cook the asparagus in boiling water for 2 – 4 minutes, drain and refresh under cold running water. Stir the garlic, chilli, zest, fish sauce and coriander into the mayonnaise.  Season, if necessary, fold in the crab meat and set aside.  Toast the bread, drizzle with olive oil and scatter over rocket or spinach leaves. Pile the crab mixture on top. Toss the cold asparagus spears in a little olive oil and arrange over the crab meat.

Alternatively, you could cook LOTS of asparagus and serve, on the side, hot with lashings butter – using any leftover toast to soak up the juices!

It’s National Pie Week!*

* who knew there was such a thing?

I never knew my Scottish grandparents as they had died before I was born, but was very close to my English mum’s parents who lived near Barrow-in-Furness.  Every summer, my mum, brother and I took the train from the Glasgow to Lancaster, then a small one from there to Roose where granny met us, walking home to her house where we would spend most of the summer holidays.  I adored Granny, even more so as we only saw her at Easter and July.  She was a pastry chef and baker and made the most wonderful cakes and pies.  One of her “specials” was meat and potato pie – and it turns  out The Husband’s grandma was also the maker of meat and potato pies! Thus, this special pie is definitely one of our favourite comfort dinners – particularly on cold and raw days.  It’s taken me a while to experiment with the pastry but I think this is it.

Meat and Potato Pie (I’ve scaled down the recipe for 2 – but it will taste good tomorrow with pickles and mustard)

  • 250 grams stewing steak
  • 2 – 3 potatoes and 1 chopped onion
  • 110g Self raising flour
  • 40 grams suet
  • 30 grams chilled butter

Braise the meat till tender in some stock (oxo)on top of the hob. Boil the potatoes and onions till soft. Drain, keeping the water to thicken for gravy with the meat juice.  Put the meat, potato and onion into a pie dish. Make up the gravy with the vegetable and meat water with granules till thick, pour over and allow to cool. Measure the flour and suet into a bowl.  Grate in the butter and rub together.  Make the pastry adding a little water to come together.  Roll out on a floured board and cover the meat mixture in the dish.  Score a cross in the top and pop in a hot oven (about 200oC) and bake till golden brown.  Serve with green vegetables and mustard.  Guaranteed to fill you up and keep out the cold!

For a sweet pie, I am turning to a recipe I was given years ago by the wife of “Our Man in Paris” who lived there in the 1930’s and had now retired to the village where I lived. I’ve had it for over 40 years and have never needed any other as it just works – so why try to tinker with perfection?

Rhubarb Meringue Tarts (using my lovely rhubarb from the garden)

  • Pastry: 275g plain flour 25g ground almonds 175g butter
  • 75g castor sugar rind of 1/2 lemon 1 egg yolk 3 tablespoons milk**
  • 2 free-range eggs, separated
  • 350g rhubarb, cut into 2cm/¾in chunks
  • 85g castor sugar
  • 1 small lemon, juice and zest
  • 2 1/2tbsp cornflour
  • 2 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. To make pastry, rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Add the beaten egg yolk and milk and bring together. Turn out onto a floured board and quickly roll* out to line a small (or 2 individual) greased flan tins. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 10 minutes. Remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and brush with a little milk. Return the tins to the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes until golden brown. Place the rhubarb, 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the lemon juice and zest in a pan. Cover and cook over a low heat until the rhubarb has softened. Mix the cornflour and water in a bowl to form a smooth paste. Stir into the rhubarb, bring to a boil and stir until thick. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the two egg yolks. Use a ladle to pour the mixture into the baked pastry cases. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the remaining sugar, whisking between each addition. Spoon the meringue over the fruit filling and bake for about 20 minutes or until the meringue is golden-brown.

*the less and quicker you handle pastry the better – try and keep a cool hand!

**this recipe will give you more pastry than you will need but I tend to make a batch and freeze the remainder for another time.

Sometimes, you can please everyone at the same time!

Poor old February gets such a bad reputation.  Maybe because it’s so often cold and dark and dreary.  And whilst only 28 days it can feel endless.  Personally, I don’t mind it at all as the shoots of daffodils, crocus and snowdrops push their way through the ground and the the promise of an awakened garden calls. The days get longer and hope reigns of new beginnings.

We’ve had a busy week with a trip to Norfolk, meeting up with friends and, finally, planning some time away. It seems so long since we could grab a map and a pin and make a quick decision of where to go! At least The Husband and I can usually agree on this but, sometimes, when I am planning supper, there can be a bit of disagreement! He would always have hot and spicy over anything else whilst I prefer flavoursome to having a burned mouth. This recipe suits both of us – gives me my favourite comfort food of a fish pie and him the comfort of spice!

Curried Fish Pie

  • 1lb potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 400g skinless cod loin (you could add some raw prawns to vary)
  • 1tsp ground turmeric
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp grated root ginger
  • 1 garlic cloves
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 25g coriander, roughly chopped
  • 1 fresh red chilli or a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 200g full-fat coconut milk
  • 1tbsp cornflour
  • 100g cherry tomatoes
  • 25g butter
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 200°C, fan 180°C, gas 6. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 15 minutes or until very tender. Drain well and set aside. Meanwhile, cook the onion in the coconut oil in a large frying pan for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Chop the cod into roughly 4cm chunks and toss with 1⁄2 teaspoon of turmeric, a squeeze of lemon juice and a good pinch of salt in a bowl; set aside. Stir the ginger and garlic into the onions and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Stir in the cumin, 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds and 1⁄2 teaspoon of turmeric, then cook for a further minute. Add half of the coriander to the pan along with the chilli and cook for just 1 minute. Mix a little of the coconut milk with the cornflour in a small bowl, then add to the pan with the rest of the coconut milk and the cherry tomatoes. Simmer for 3 minutes; the sauce should thicken slightly.

For the topping, heat the butter in the saucepan you cooked the potatoes in. Add the remaining turmeric and mustard seeds, plus the smoked paprika and cook for 1 minute. Mix in the potatoes making sure they are coated in the buttery spices. Sprinkle with a little salt and the remaining lemon juice. Using a fork, gently crush the potatoes but don’t mash completely. You want lots of texture to create crunchy bits.

Remove the curry sauce from the heat. Season to taste, then mix in the fish and rest of the coriander. Tip it all into an ovenproof dish and spoon the crushed potatoes on top, spreading them out well. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the topping is golden and crusty.

Curried fish pie with spiced potato topping

You will have noticed that we are only using half a tin of coconut milk for above – so rather than put it in the fridge, forget about it and throw it out a week later, why not make this lovely pudding to complete your supper?

  • 40 pudding rice
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 200ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 tbsp soft light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium pan, combine the rice, coconut milk, milk, 2 tbsp sugar and 1/4 tsp salt; stir well. Set the pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover with a lid and cook gently for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally until the rice is tender and has thickened. Stir in the vanilla extract. Serve with some fresh fruit and lime or lemon zest.

Make Sure you get Enough!

2 January – Christmas and Hogmanay have all passed in a whirl – hopefully, you were all where you wanted to be and with all whom you loved. Covid 19 continues run amongst us and we are trying our best to keep healthy and to look after those who aren’t.

It’s very easy when you are busy to not be taking too much care of yourself and think the reason you are a bit on the tired side is because you haven’t been taking it easy – but it could be you are not getting enough of essential vitamins and B12 is one of the ones the body can’t produce by itself.  Its vital for creating red blood cells and to release energy from food – and without it may leave you feeling tired and weak. Happily, we don’t have to find too much of it to get a daily dose and can be found in eggs, fish, cheese, milk products – and Marmite! And the following 2 recipes, of course!

Baked Haddock Risotto (we’ve made risotto before but this is a baked one so constant stirring isn’t required, leaving you free to do the dusting – or read a book!)

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced (you can swap for a leek if you prefer)
  • 1 – 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 140g arborio rice
  • 100ml white wine (and a glass for the cook!)
  • 1/2 litre vegetable stock (a cube will do)
  • 150g thick cut cavolo nero, (an Italian dark green cabbage), thick stems discarded
  • 120g haddock (I prefer smoked, but it’s up to you – both work well)
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and cut into wedges
  • 50g parmesan cheese, finely gratedPut the oven on at 180oC.  Using an openproof pan, fry the onion (or leek) and garlic in the oil for 3 – 4 minutes, until starting to soften.  Add the rice and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes.  Pour in the wine and simmer until mostly evaporated and add the stock . Bring to simmer, cover and put in the oven for about 30 minutes. Stir in the cavolo and nestle the fish on top. Cover and return to the oven for another 15 minutes until the haddock is cooked. Break up the fish with a fork and stir through the rice.  Season and stir in the lemon zest and the cheese, serving with lemon wedges.  For an additional hit of B12, you can also add a poached egg on top.
Image result for baked smoked haddock risotto

As it’s obviously not easy to just buy a little of Cavolo Nero, I thought you might also like this additional recipe of a very easy soup.

  • 1 tablespoon oilive oil
  • 1 small onion (or leek)
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
  •  a bay leaf
  • 1 -2 potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 1/2 litre of stock, chicken or vegetable (a cube will do)
  • cavolo nero, torn and tough stalks discarded

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion or leek, garlic, chilli and bay leaf and sweat over a low heat for 15 = 20 minutes.  Add the potatoes and stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.  Stir in the cabbage and simmer until just cooked.  Serve in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, extra chilli flakes if liked and a shaving of parmesan.

And if you have even more left over, try tossing some in a little olive oil and popping in the oven for about 10 minutes alongside whatever else you are cooking – it’s a little delicious little kick of crispy greeness!

Wishing you a Happy Healthy New Year – from The Husband, Catkin, The Four Hens and Me!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas – one of my favourite times of the year! I love the decorating and planning of it, choosing gifts and wrapping, having a houseful of family and friends. 

It can, however, be a sad time with a loved one no longer here – or it seems as if the whole world has got someone to share it with and you are on your own.

Thus, this month, I am not giving you recipes for traditional big meals, but for sweet treats you can make and give as gifts to friends and neighbours – or equally enjoy on your own, being good to yourself. Collect tins or jars from the charity shop (making them winners too!) and decorate them with pretty ribbons and paper.  Christmas is not the time to hold back on the bling!

NB before anyone comments on the amount of sugar in the next 3 recipes, I know it looks a lot but don’t forget these are sweet treats and only eaten occasionally!

GRANNY’S LEMON CURD

  • 225 grams sugar
  • 50 grams butter
  • juice and zest of a lemon
  • 2 well beaten eggs

Half fill a pan with water and put on to heat.  Put all the ingredients in a bowl, big enough to put into the pan without the water bubbling over.  Keep on a low heat until everything melts, stirring occasionally. Continue cooking until a spoonful on a cold plate wrinkles when pushed.  Pour into small jars, cool and keep in the fridge.  Its lovely on hot buttered toast and also as a pudding by swirling it into natural yogurt.

GRANNY’S TREACLE TOFFEE

  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 100 grams butter
  • 3 tablespoons treacle
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar

Put everything into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Keep on a rolling boil (I keep a wooden spoon in it so it doesn’t over boil).  It is ready when a small spoonful goes hard when dropped into a bowl of cold water.  Pour into a greased baking tin (BE CAREFUL AS ITS VERY HOT AND WILL BURN YOUR SKIN).  Allow to harden, turn tin over and tap till it drops out.  Keep in a airproof tin or tupperware.

SCOTTISH TABLET (English fudge) Incredibly easy and even a non-Scot can make it! This recipe was given to me by my friend, Sandra. We started nursing together 50 years ago last August and been close ever since. We don’t see each other as often as we would like – but when we do it’s as if there has never been a space.

  • 150ml evaporated milk
  • 150ml water
  • 75g butter
  • 450g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

Butter a 7 inch shallow tin. Put milk, water, sugar and butter in a saucepan and heat through slowly until the sugar has dissolved. The boil steadily for about 10 k- 15 minutes stirring constantly. Test by dropping into a cold glass of water and is ready when you can roll it between your fingers. Take off the heat and add vanilla essence. Cool slightly then beat until the mixture starts to thicken and crystalise. Pour into tin and leave to set. Mark into squares and keep in an airtight tin (it won’t be there for long!)

For the ultimate comfort drink, there will always be HOT CHOCOLATE and here are a couple of festive additions. Why not make a batch, keep (a lot) for yourself and leave a warming flask full on your neighbour’s doorstep as a surprise?

MULLED WINE HOT CHOCOLATE

  • 300ml red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 cloves
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons demerara sugar
  • 500mls milk
  • 150g dark chocolate

Heat gently and simmer for 10 minutes. In a separate pan, heat the milk, then gradually whisk in the dark chocolate. Strain the red wine into the chocolate pan and stir. Serve in small glasses or cups with extra cinnamon stick stirrers.

LUXURY HOT CHOCOLATE – with lots of topping suggestions!

  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 litre milk
  • 2 tablespoons demerara sugar
  • 100g chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 100 ml single cream

Put the cocoa in a large bowl or jug and mix in enough cold milk to make a smooth paste. Put the rest of the milk in a pan and bring to a simmer. Whisk the milk into the cocoa paste until everything is incorporated then pour back into the pan. Add the sugar, chopped chocolate, vanilla and cream and heat gently, stirring until everything is combined. Sweeten with extra demerara sugar to your liking.

TOPPINGS – dark rum, whisky, brandy, Disaronno or Baileys / squirty cream / Cadbury flake /cinnamon sticks/ ground cinnamon / chocolate chips / mini marshmallows /fudge chunks

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Ailsa, The Husband, Catkin, the cat, and The Four Hens!

lupin1

REvamps

I didn’t mean it to happen just before Christmas – but it is! Revamping the kitchen by having the kitchen cabinet doors and housing resprayed – which, of course, meant the walls had to be repainted; new blinds, new cushions and throw for the sofa. And all the cupboards had to be gone through and cleaned and tidied as they will be on display for the week that they have gone off to be painted! Half way through and it’s looking great.

With all this going on, though, there has been little time for cooking – and it was easier to do first thing to be out of the way for the day. Never interrupt a girl with a paintbrush in her hand! So thinking ahead, I pulled out some old recipes I hadn’t made for a while that I could start off whilst having breakfast and then leave until the evening to finish. It struck me, then, that these were actually good recipes for this time of year when everyone is busy, busy!

Heavenly Spare Ribs

  • 1/2 dozen pork spare ribs (or however many you are hungry for!)
  • 250ml water + beef stock cube
  • chopped onion
  • 60ml soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons five spice powder
  • 60ml dry sherry (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons honey or sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

Put stock in a saucepan with all of the following ingredients and bring to the boil. Add the ribs and turn to simmer for about 45 minutes until tender with lid on. (at this point you can leave till later). Remove the lid and bring to boil until sauce thickens to a rich, sticky sauce. Serve with rice and pak choi and garnish with sliced spring onions, chilli and chopped coriander..

Coconut Basil Rice – this wonderfully fragrant, slightly sticky rice is perfect for mopping up the above. Black mustard seed add texture and a nutty flavour without being too hot.

  • 175g basmati or Thai rice
  • 6 thai basil leaves
  • 25 ml sunflower oil
  • 3 dessertspoons black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 can coconut milk (use the remainder to make a delicious rice pudding another day!)

Place the rice in a sieve and wash under cold running water. Drain well. Tear leaves into small pieces. Heat oil and add mustard seed until they start popping. Stir in the rice until well coated with il. Add the coconut milk and 125 ml water. Bring to the boil, stir and simmer uncovered for 10 – 15 minutes. Stir in the leaves, cover tightly and eave to steam for 10 minutes. Fluff up with a fork and serve immediately.

Thai Style Baby Back Ribs - Oliver's Markets

After all this, I still need something sweet (just think of all the calories I must be using running up and down ladders!). So this is my cheat’s pudding – very quick and easy but you can also make it look good enough to serve at the dinner party you are going to have to show off the new kitchen!

Yogurt Panna Cotta

  • one and 1/4 sheet leaf gelatine (just snap off with scissors)
  • 50ml milk
  • 225 Greek yogurt (half a large tub) – any flavour you like! We love coconut and/or mango

Soak the gelatine in cold water. Heat milk up – not boiling. Squeeze out the water from gelatine and add to hot milk. Stir to completely dissolve. Add to yogurt. Put into 2 ramekins and put in fridge to set. You can eat straight from dish but if you want to show off, run a knife around the edges and turn out.

Fun part:

You can add jam/compote/ fruit to bottom of dish before adding yogurt. Top with any fruit, grated chocolate, grated coconut, crushed amaretti biscuits, a shortbread biscuit on the side. ANYTHING really – experiment! – that will look as if you have spent ages making (when you haven’t!)

Yogurt Panna Cotta with Raspberry Compote Recipe | MyRecipes

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (or anywhere else you want to eat it)

The beautiful colours and light of Autumn herald nights drawing in and darker nights. The Husband hates the switching of the hour but I really embrace the changing of the seasons. Whilst, obviously, I love hot summer days and long summer nights, Autumn and Winter bring their own delights. Crisp, frosty mornings, firelight and drawing the curtains to snuggle down with The Cat and a good book (and not feeling guilty that I should be working in the garden!).

It’s a change of eating/cooking habits, too. Salads and barbeques (although The Husband has been known to be out on ours in snow and ice cooking the excellent flatiron steaks he does!) make way for stews and soups and comfort puddings. It’s also very easy to start piling on a few pounds, too, so I think the best way to avoid that is to start the day well with a good breakfast. Personally, I sit down to fresh fruit, porridge (jumbo oats, milk, a little brown sugar (and a tiny shake of salt), 1 slice of sourdough toast and honey and a large cup of strong coffee. I know breakfasts aren’t for everyone, so I thought I would just give a few suggestions to get you going. They don’t have to be eaten first thing – call them brunch if it makes you feel easier – but they will fill you up, giving you energy for the day and kick start your metabolism.

BREAKFAST SMOOTHIES – Smoothies are a great introduction to breakfast if you don’t normally have much of an appetite first thing. They are also a good portable option if you are off out. Compared with some hardcore recipes, this green smoothie is quite sweet and fruity whilst still giving a healthy serving of greens.

Green and Fruity smoothie

  • 40g tinned peach slices (discard liquid)/fresh or frozen fruit
  • 40g frozen spinach
  • 1 medium banana
  • 200ml water (or as required)

Blend all the ingredients together until smooth. Add more water to achieve the desired consistency.

Banana and oats smoothie:  transform your speckled bananas into an energy-boosting liquid breakfast. Blend 1 ripe banana with 2 tablespoons of oats and 100ml of semi-skimmed milk until smooth. This can also be made using a soya drink.

Very berry smoothie:  take 1 banana, 140g of frozen summer berries or forest fruits, 40g of low-fat natural yoghurt and about 100ml of apple juice. Blend the banana and berries until smooth. With the blades whirring, pour in apple juice to achieve the consistency you like. 

BREAKFAST PANCAKES – this makes quite a few pancakes, depending on size. However, they freeze beautifully and are also delicious toasted the next day!

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 25g melted butter, plus extra for cooking
  • 200ml milk
  • vegetable oil, for cooking
  • maple syrup
  • toppings of your choice, such as cooked bacon, chocolate chips, blueberries or peanut butter and jam

Mix 200g self-raising flour, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, 1 tbsp golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt together in a large bowl. Create a well in the centre with the back of your spoon then add 3 large eggs, 25g melted butter and 200ml milk. Whisk together either with a balloon whisk or electric hand beaters until smooth then pour into a jug. Heat a small knob of butter and 1 tsp of oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. When the butter looks frothy, pour in rounds of the batter, approximately 8cm wide. Make sure you don’t put the pancakes too close together as they will spread during cooking. Cook the pancakes on one side for about 1-2 mins or until lots of tiny bubbles start to appear and pop on the surface. Flip the pancakes over and cook for a further minute on the other side. Repeat until all the batter is used up. Serve your pancakes stacked up on a plate with a drizzle of maple syrup and any of your favourite toppings.

CHEESY FRENCH TOAST

  • 2 eggs , beaten
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 35g gruyère , grated
  • 1 teasp chopped chives
  • knob of butter
  • thick slices of baguette loaf
  • 60g cherry tomatoes on the vine
  • olive oil , for grilling
  • sliced ham – serrano is delicious!
  • watercress , to serve

Heat the grill to high. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cheese and chives. Melt the butter in a large non-stick pan over a medium heat. Dip slices of bread into the egg mixture, then place them in the pan. Cook for 3-5 mins on each side, or until golden and crisp, then keep warm in a low oven if you need to. Place the vine tomatoes on a baking tray, drizzle with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until they start to soften and blister. On a large platter, pile up the cheesy French bread, grilled tomatoes, sliced ham and a pile of watercress, and dig in!

Cheesy French toast with ham & grilled vine tomatoes

Eggstra! Eggstra! Read all about it!

I’ve just got some new hens – and they are absolutely loving scratching and running around our old orchard area. Its lovely to see them – even though they also think they should be scratching up the actual garden and creating great puddles of dry leaves on the paths. In return for our care they are laying really well so, naturally, I have started looking at what to do with the eggs!

Eggs are amazing – each a little powerhouse of food just waiting to be used! You can boil, fry, poach, and scramble them; make an omelette and French toast – and nearly every baking recipe uses them!

As eggs are so basic, I’m obviously not going to be just giving you any recipes you already know – so here are just a few “out of your comfort zone” ones. I do hope you will give one a try!

Green Shakshuka – from the Middle East

  • 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 leek
  • 1/2 bag of spinach
  • 125g frozen peas
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 pack of parsley
  • 1/2 pack coriander, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 pack of mint, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 dessertspoon harissa paste – or to taste 
  • natural yogurt
  • pitta bread to serve

Heat the oil in a wide, shallow frying pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks with a pinch of salt and cook for 4 mins until softened. Add handfuls of spinach to the pan, stirring until wilted. Stir in the peas, garlic, cumin, herbs and some seasoning. Cook for a few mins until it smells fragrant, then create 2 gaps and crack an egg into each. Cover and cook for 10 mins or until the whites are set but the yolks are runny – they will carry on cooking slightly as you take them to the table. Season the eggs with flaky sea salt, dollop spoonfuls of the yogurt interspersed with the harissa, and scatter over a few mint leaves.

Baked Eggs with potatoes, mushrooms and cheese

Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Put the potatoes in a pan of water, bring to the boil, cook for 5 mins, then drain. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Cook the potatoes, mushrooms and garlic for 5-8 mins to soften the mushrooms and brown the edges of the potatoes. Stir in half the thyme and cook for 1 min more.Spoon the potato mixture into a baking dish and sprinkle with the cheese and the remaining thyme. Make holes in the mixture and break in 4 eggs. Bake in the oven for 12-15 mins until the eggs are set and the cheese has melted

Thai Eggs

Put the eggs into a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Time 8 mins from boiling. Cool under running water, then peel. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, fish sauce and tamarind in a pan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, skimming the top if you need to. Check the taste, it should be sweet and sour. Adjust with sugar, fish sauce or tamarind if you need to. Meanwhile, heat a 5cm depth of oil in a wok or large frying pan. Once shimmering, add the shallots, garlic and chillies. Fry for 1 min or until golden and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper. Can be done a few hrs ahead. Fry the eggs for 3-4 mins or until the outsides take on tinges of golden brown. Remove from oil and drain. To serve, quarter the eggs and place in a serving dish. In a separate bowl, combine the coriander with the crisp chilli, garlic and shallots. Mix well. Pour the sauce and coriander mix over the eggs and serve.

You might like to know that the real name for this dish is Son-in-Law eggs. The story goes the Thai street food staple was cooked by a mother who was less than happy with how her daughter was being treated by her son-in-law. So, she serves him the deep-fried eggs to let him know that if he’s not careful, his jewels are next in the frying line!