Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Kitchen Diaries II

Autumn Blackberries 
Sunday morning and it’s my radio day. It’s a packed show with a prerecord of Rose Prince opening The Weston and Lois Weedon Horticultural Society's Annual Produce and Flower Show. It’s a nightmare title and despite saying it out loud as I am driving to the show and yet as I go on air  I get it wrong.  Suddenly I get a jab of nerves.  I am unable to say it properly.  Of course Kevin is amused and picks up on it creating second chance for me to get it wrong again.  I determine to say it correctly.  I can feel the people in Weston and Lois Weedon rolling their eyes. Maybe I’ll get it right next year.  

The horticultural show is in it is 72nd year and was a fabulous afternoon. The audio with Rose Prince was made all the better by the chatter and noise of people in the background.  There is atmosphere and  I enjoy chatting with a genuinely lovely lady.  We move out of the tent to get a second audio about her pop up bakery and find a quiet spot by a gate.  As we are talking she spots a mop of black glossy elderberries.  I catch a look of intention and smile as she worries that the farmer will mind.  I like her all the more for thinking about the farmer. 

Having a crumble cake for dessert makes a change from just the usual crumble and custard

I tweet during a record to @RealNigelSlater that I am going to chat about his new book, and read a random paragraph out loud.  His words are poetry and I am thrilled as Nigel tweets back that he was listening in.  I am so glad that I didn’t know beforehand.  I think that there is an assumption that bubbly people don’t get nervous.  We do.  We just hide it really well behind a big smile.

Nigel's new book is an absolute treat to read. The style is consistent with the previous diary, but this book is closer in design to the Tender volumes.  It is a work of art, with an exquisite font, textured cover and heavy paper.  It is in every sense beautiful, but I don't want to to just sit on the bookshelf   ...  I want to bring it to life by cooking lunch from it so I head home via Waitrose. 

As the rain pours down we pop buckets about the garden room to catch the drips and the children get under my feet. We can’t repair the roof until some other work is done ..  I won’t bore you .. but a comforting chicken and parsley pie from The Kitchen Diaries II and a favorite Blackberry Hazelnut and Cinnamon crumble cake from Tender II is exactly what’s needed. 

 When I get home I brave the rain and run into the garden to pick some parsley, but the weather and slugs have got the better of my poor plant and the paltry amount I have left is not worth using. It seems unfair to send my husband out in this rain.  Not having parsley is not the end of the world though when it comes to cooking pie and Nigel’s recipes have a structure, a simplicity, if you like of using uncomplicated delicious combinations and so if like me you run out of a key ingredient you can often substitute without loosing the main characteristics of the recipe. I peer into my fridge and am relived to spot some dill.  It’s remarkably fresh considering it is a few days old. 

The eggs my chickens lay have such yellow yolks they make the pastry golden.
With the crumble cake I have to swap two ingredients because William is allergic to apples and oats. I substitute apple for a conference pear and scatter chopped hazelnuts over the crumble to add texture, but the cake is in essence the same. Nigel suggests that the cake is better the next day ..  but despite making this cake a dozen times I’ve yet to find that out.

It's a perfect rainy Sunday afternoon. There is a constant pitter patter on the roof and the kitchen gets steamy. As I roll out the pastry Isobel asks why it is Nigel’s pie.  She insists that the pie is mine.  I show her the book and explain that the recipe was not by me and so with a five year olds logic she decides to mark it with a pastry N for Nigel and I leave her to it as the phone rings.  It is my sister. I ask if she wants to join us for lunch.  There is no hesitation. She heads straight over with a friend arriving as I am serving up.  She ignores my husbands begrudging welcome as he remarks that now there be no leftovers. There is laugher, rain, a bottle of white wine from my brother’s vineyard and pie. Delicious warming chicken pie, with golden pastry, bay leaf infused gravy and soft leeks. 

My husband was right.  There were no leftovers.  Not a scrap.

Chicken, leek and parsley pie - from page 347 The Kitchen Diaries II

A big, informal pie for a family gathering. Use cooked roast chicken if you wish, but this is something worth roasting your chicken pieces for. By all means crimp and primp your pastry, but I prefer the simpler approach of laying a ready-made pastry sheet over the top, brushing it with seasoned egg and milk for a good shine.

chicken pieces: 800g, on the bone

leeks: 4

butter: a thick slice

plain flour: 3 heaped tablespoons

hot stock: 650ml

bay leaves: 3
parsley: a small handful
all-butter puff pastry: a 375g sheet
beaten egg and milk, seasoned,
for brushing

Set the oven at 200°C/Gas 6. Put the chicken pieces in a roasting tin and
bake for thirty minutes, till golden. Remove from the oven, leave to cool a
little, then remove the flesh from the bones in large, bite-sized pieces and
set aside.

Thinly slice the leeks, wash them thoroughly, then cook them with the
butter and about 100ml of water till soft and brightly coloured. It is essential
not to let them colour, so keep a lid on and don’t have the heat too high.
When they are soft, stir in the flour, leave to cook for a few minutes, then
gradually pour in the hot stock, stirring as you go. Continue to cook, letting
the leek mixture simmer for ten minutes or so, till you have a thickish sauce.
Add the cooked chicken, bay leaves, chopped parsley and some salt and
pepper and continue cooking for a good five minutes. Try not to let the
chicken break up too much.

Spoon the chicken and leek filling into a pie dish. Unroll the pastry and
place it over the top of the dish, letting it overhang the sides. Brush the
pastry with the seasoned beaten egg and milk, cut small slits in the top to
let out the steam and bake for twenty-five minutes or until the pastry is
crisp and golden.
  Enough for 6

*Please note that this recipe was reproduced with kind permission from Nigel Slater and Forth Estate.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Planting Alliums

Allium Big Impact from Thompson and Morgan 

On Wednesday I make the mistake of thinking that I will go for a bike ride later in the day.  It rains later and I am annoyed with myself, so as looked out into the garden yesterday and spotted a box of white papery bulbs on the side I took my trowel and spent ten minutes popping them in the ground.  After a day of cleaning and paperwork it felt good to get my hands in the soil planting splendid summer promises.  

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Rose Prince at The Weston & Lois Weedon Horticultural Society's Annual Produce and Flower Show

The fun of the competition 

I took a superb photo of a terrier at the show.  When I got home and sorted through the photos I took a good long look at this one and it confirmed what I have been considering for weeks.  A fourth child is out of the question so I decide that I need a terrier to make my life complete.  Watch this space .. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Big Fair Bake

Fairtrade Sugar

Today is the Vanilla gift swap  .. we are all taking part in The Big Fair Bake  and I am nervous  .. about 40 bloggers are taking part.   I was on  LBC Radio at 7am this morning to talk about it and a survey from the Fairtrade foundation that came up with some fascinating information about Cookbooks having their place and the start of The Big Fair Bake. There wan't much chance to talk about it in any details so I've added in some of the information here. 

The statistics show that when it comes to baking, mum is still the best teacher. The results are from a survey commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation in partnership with, and it says that more than half of us say that we learnt our baking skills from our mothers, with 33% claiming that their favourite tried-and- tested baking recipes were handed down from their mother or grandmother .. so I am wondering today which of the recipe will be family recipes?

The Survey shows that more than half of people stick exactly to their mum’s recipe, especially in the North (67%), and they are generally proud to tell people that it is a family recipe (Scotland 70%) although there are also many adventurous cooks who adapt old recipes and give them a modern twist. People in the South, Midlands and Wales are the happiest to adapt.

It seems that using Fairtrade ingredients when they bake is also really important to many people. Some 62% say they choose Fairtrade products sometimes, and 14% say they choose Fairtrade products whenever they can.  Both men and women are as likely to always try to buy Fairtrade, with people at the younger and older ends of the age scale more likely to choose Fairtrade than those in the middle.

There is such allot of baking ingredients that can be used in baking sugar, cocoa, vanilla, cardamom, raisins, brazil nuts, almonds and many more. I’ve seen first hand how Fairtrade offers farmers a minimum price .. and a sustainable livelihood,  and how that additional Fairtrade Premium for investment in community adds to education, clean water, healthcare and housing .. it’s an amazing thing too see first hand..

So if you want to make a delicious difference join in The Big Fair Bake today click here and maybe cook one of your family favorites.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Breaded Plaice Fillets Served on Scandinavian Rye bread

We made breaded plaice fillets, served on Scandinavian rye bread with a fresh remoulade
It is fresh outside.  An autumn nip in the air.  I am running about trying to find my makeup bag when Carmella arrives.  Of course I am late.  I wonder if I am ever going to get out of the door.  Before we head off the cat needs feeding.  She meows pathetically as though I haven’t fed her for a week.  The chickens get last nights leftovers and Polly needs cleaning up after but I am not cross - she is just nine weeks old.  I kiss the children and promise something delicious for supper to my husband. Goodbye, goodbye..  a day without children ..  hurrah  ..  and we’re off.  It’s going to be a fishy day.

Cambridge is just a fifty minute drive and we head to The Cambridge Cookery School.  Today is all about fish. It’s a subject that I need some confidence with.  I seem to stick to the same old, same old when it comes to cooking fish, with variations a theme, baked salmon, salmon teriyaki, fish pie and Lucas Hollwegs fabulous prawn risotto. Carmella and I arrive just in time.

We spent the morning learning to fillet fresh mackerel, and plaice.  The fish are wonderfully fresh with bright eyes, dark gills and firm skin.  They smell vaguely of the sea.  I know that part of the reason I stick to the same thing over and over with fish is that I can eat only the freshest fish.  The mere wiff of old fish and I flee the fish counter as though I am being pursued. We share our sources of fish with each other and I recommend Martins Seafresh.  The fish I have had from them is the freshest I've ever seen, saving catching it myself. 

The atmosphere in the school is bright, and I really like is that the school is absolutely spotlessly clean.  It’s one of the things I notice, and everything glistens.  Our teacher, Tina bubbles with information and clearly enjoys herself. We make fish stock, prepare mussels, make plaice en papillotte with our fillets, cook off the best place fillets in bread crumbs and make our own mayonnaise which we then turn into a remoulade.  My favorite is the mackerel in sweet and sour sauce, it’s a shame we have to eat it straight away because marinated overnight would mean the saffron and oranges would get right into the flesh and really get to tango together.  Nevertheless it is absolutely delicious and we eat our fish for lunch.  Tina pops a fresh lemon and fruit tart on the table left over from the pastry course and I find myself wondering about booking a day of pasty, it is just the perfect finish  to lunch.  We chat and enjoy the fish and agree that the trick to fish is getting it really fresh, and keeping it simple.  There is a tendency to over complicate things says Tina, but let the fish take centre stage.

We were finished by 2 o’clock, and I leave inspired.  With no children Carmella and I have the perfect opportunity to sneak off into Cambridge, so like a pair of schoolgirls skipping double maths, we spent the afternoon shopping.  I bought a new hat and bag, and some huge plump figs and I popped my head into Christ Church College. Sadly it was closing so I photographed the outside and decided that I must go to Cambridge more often, and I must cook fish more often.

Click below to listen to Tina's advice on how to make fresh mayonnaise. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Contented Cook

Xanthe Clay's Spanish Canas.  
Photograph by Tara Fisher from The Contented Cook, Kyle Books

I spent yesterday packaging vanilla powder for the vanilla gift swap.  The smell takes me straight back to Uganda and the Ndali processing house. I realised that I couldn't take everyone I knew to Uganda .. but I could bring something back here instead.  I am so excited about the vanilla gift swap and I love bringing twitter and blogging into real life.  Seeing people laughing and suddenly meeting someone who they've been chatting with for months in person is just such fun and I have been busy making sweet yellow plums into french soft set jam with just a whisper of that seductive vanilla in it. 

It is my favorite time of year. There is bright September sunshine outside and the glory of summer has faded.  Occasionally I almost forget that we haven’t really had a summer. The only things that did well in my garden this year have been the herbs, the strawberries and the salad.  The rest has suffered with the whether.  Now the vegetable garden needs tending to and my house needs a good tidy after the summer holidays.  I suppose an untidy house is to be expected with three children vs one working mother. Never doubt that behind the scenes of domestic bliss I am peddling like mad to keep afloat.

Last night my husband lit the first fire. Walking across the garden wafts of pine wood smoke drifted. It is autumn and an evening indulging in new cookery books promised.  With the chickens shut away, and the days freshly laid eggs collected I curled up on the sofa to read some of the books that have landed on my doormat in the past few weeks. I have to admit that I feel a little guilty at indulging when there is so much to do, nevertheless I read on, listening to the fire crackle.  

Food writer and Telegraph journalist Xanthe Clay's new book The Contented Cook is exactly the kind of book I can just lose myself in.  The photographs are just beautiful, and the recipes are practical. For someone who has many cookbooks I find often find myself lost in deciding what to cook, but not with this one.  I wanted to cook everything.  You see the recipes in the book are practical in every sense of the word.  They are as you would expect from Xanthe well thought out and in a sensible order, but there is more than that.  It’s classily perfectly written to make me feel I can and will cook from it. I earmark the Hot and Sour Noodle Soup, the Squishy Almond cake and the Pan-fried Onglet with Fennel Seed Roast Potatoes.

As I read I am romanced.  Recipes have an almost therapeutic effect on me and I find myself  thinking that I need to remember that my children will not look back on their childhood and marvel at how clean the kitchen floor used to be… or how tidy the sitting room was.  They will remember the smells of baking, the laughter as we sit at the table and the feeling of warmth as they come home from school with their pockets full of conkers and the treats they ate whilst swapping stories about their day.  So I  shall make the  Spanish Canas for the children this evening and I’ve invited friends for supper later in the week so I’ve ordered the Onglet from my local butcher. 

As the fire glows I wonder how perfect moments happen.  They are like dreams hard to pin down and impossible  rarely but somehow whenever they do there always seems to be food about and there is contentment wherever there is food, and so the title Xanthes book rings so true.  

Here is the recipe for Xanthe’s Cañas

The Spanish chef and restaurateur José Pizarro’s parents, whom I was lucky enough to meet, are both in their seventies and still tend a smallholding of 20 hectares. Señora Pizarro fed me on her homemade cañas, crisp curls of flaky cinnamon-scented pastry, which melt richly in the mouth. Gorgeous with coffee or the hot chocolate on page 207.

Makes about 20
125ml olive oil, plus extra for deep-frying
Zest of ½ orange
375g plain flour
125ml white wine
125g caster sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oil and the orange zest gently in a small pan for 5 minutes.

Put the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour in the hot oil and stir to mix. Add the white wine and mix again. Knead the dough lightly to make a soft, silky, but not sticky dough.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 3mm. Cut it in strips 15cm long and 4cm wide.

Heat oil in a pan or wok to a depth of about 5cm (ensure the pan is no more than half full) to 185°C or until a scrap of the dough browns in about 1½ minutes.

Take a cream horn mould or a 12cm length of stainless steel tube, about 3cm in diameter and wrap a strip of dough around it in a spiral. Put the whole wrapped mould into the hot oil and allow to sizzle for 10 seconds, or until the dough has stiffened and turned pale. With tongs, carefully pull out the metal mould, allowing the spiral of dough to slide back into the oil. Cook for a further minute or so until deep golden.

Carefully lift the spiral out of the oil and drain on kitchen paper. While still warm, dust with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Please note that the both  recipe and photograph shown have been reproduced with full permission from the publisher.