Friday 20 August 2010

Sloe Cooking

We're coming into the most abundant time of the year...the hedgerows,trees and fields are starting to bow down under the weight of the fruit they hold. I've just come back from a wonderful walk with Alice in our favourite place. We met my parents, sister, nephew and my Mum & Dad's dogs, Jojo & Ivy. My father is the most knowledgeable person I know on all things wild...flora and fauna. He spent the time pointing out edible mushrooms, wild marjoram bushes, the best blackberry places,wild raspberries, hazelnuts...I'll be back with proper collecting bags!

On my way to meet them, I found lots of wonderful sloes, with their vivid blue bloom,all ready for picking:

luckily I had a clean plastic bag in my pocket and I quickly filled it with the gorgeous bounty!
So now, my task is to prick each one with a long pin and pile them into jars to fill with caster sugar and vodka. Then I'll leave the jars in a cool, dark place and turn them over once in a while. By Christmas at the earliest, we'll have a deep ruby red liqueur to sip on frosty nights...and the shrivelled, alcohol-soaked fruit are wonderful stoned and added to brownies (NOT for general consumption!) and served after dinner with coffee. Mother Nature gives us so much for free if we know where to look, I'll be searching out more treasures in the months to come.

The cake I was trying to think of in my last post turned out to be a Spiced Honey Cake...gorgeous. Today I've made a Fresh Lime Drizzle Cake, a Raspberry Vanilla Sponge, Toasted Pecan Brownies, Banana Blueberry Cake and Spelt, Cinnamon,Raisin Muffins. Time for tea and to look forward to the weekend.

In complete contrast, my friend Rami is in Thailand with his family and is posting the most wonderful stories of their meals there....I am enjoying reading them so much as I sit in windblown, autumnal England!

Happy Weekend! xo

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Beautiful Soup!

The days are beginning to feel a little Autumnal now. Yesterday was beautifully hot, but there was a cool edge to the wind and the garden is looking a little ragged and faded. Today is overcast and I have to stay in as the attic is being insulated...lots of crashing going on overhead!The Farmer's Market in Marylebone was wonderful on Sunday - stalls piled high with the new season's corn cobs, English plums, bunched ruby beetroot and apples, but still there were late Summer bouquets of old-fashioned deeply scented roses and wonderfully warm-greenhouse-smelling tomatoes, the best of two was hard not to buy everything!

Today I've decided to make a soup for lunch, thick with vegetables and pasta and sprinkled with pecorino cheese just before serving.

Cavolo nero cabbage is something I always buy when I see it. Trim the leaves from the tough stalks, wash & chop into thick ribbons and cook immersed in the tomatoey broth of the soup. I also love it cooked in olive oil, chili and garlic and stirred into pasta.

yellow courgettes - just because I adore their sunny cheerfulness against the red and dark green of the soup, cut into dice.
I try not to use tomato puree from a tube in this soup as I find it can be a little metallicand overbearing, but the tomatoes are so ripe and full flavoured that they need little help anyway. I stir in some orzo pasta, the kind that looks like little grains of risotto rice, to thicken the thin broth and add their unique, silky 'mouth feel'.
I have a chunk of Pecorino to grate roughly on top of each bowlful

plenty of ground black pepper, roughly chopped flat leaf parsley - and that's it! Along with the white sourdough loaf that I also bought, which I'll toast and drizzle with some grassy extra virgin oil and sprinkle with a little Maldon salt flakes....absolutely delicious.
I'm also making several batches of Triple Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies today, and then I have to think of a big cake to make for the coffee shop tomorrow....I'll let you know!

Hope you're having a gourmet day too....xo

Sunday 1 August 2010

Return to disappointment....

Today we decided to go out for lunch (as we often do on a Sunday) and we drove in beautiful sunshine back to the village I was born in.

I only lived here until I was 6, but it holds many happy memories for me, even though the village - in common with so many small English places - has changed from being the vibrant little community with shops & post office that I remember to a purely residential place...the butcher and hairdresser now estate agents, the chemist, grocers and newsagents all private homes. But my first little school still stands on the village green, the pond is the same one I used to 'fish' in with a bamboo pole & piece of useless hanging string, and if I close my eyes I can almost see 2 tiny girls, their newborn sister in a pram, running over the harebells to play on the common by the church.

Before I drowned Paul in all this nostalgia, we stopped for lunch at a gastropub we've been to before. It's part of a small chain, we know & like the others but this one has been disappointing before so we thought we'd give it another try to see if it's changed. Sadly not. It's a beautiful, ancient building that has been renovated and decorated beautifully and sympathetically....authentic low beams, flagstoned floors, mismatched chairs, tapestry rugs and muted colours on the walls. The staff are young, efficient and friendly, there are newspapers to read and dogs are welcome (they have their own jar of biscuits on the bar) What's the problem, you may ask. In short, the most important thing....the food, of course! The menu looks and reads wonderfully (almost the most frustrating thing, it promises so much!) All the right things : Local ham hock terrine with home made piccallilli, locally reared roast pork, Organic smoked salmon with caper berries and horseradish creme fraiche....mmm. But everything was slightly wrong. I ordered 2 starters (something I often do at lunchtime) homemade hummus and pumpkin seed flatbread for my first dish, poached pear, walnut & blue cheese salad with wholegrain mustard dressing to follow., with a side order of unusual beetroot fritters with horseradish.Perfect.

The flatbread was certainly homemade, looked good (chargrilled in stripes, a nice touch) but SO oversalted - and I'm someone who loves salt - that it was almost inedible. And the hummus. My friend Rami would have had a fit of apoplexy! I don't think there was much tahini in it, no garlic, minimal lemon juice and a strange, bitty texture....almost separated. I've thought long and hard about the taste and what was wrong. I honestly think that they hadn't cooked the chickpeas.....soaked, yes, but if they'd seen boiling water I'd be very surprised. So weird. I'm just hoping (3 hours on) that there will be no toxic effects - although I obviously didn't eat much.
Salad next....really just an assembly dish, no real skills involved. Pear, blue cheese & walnuts with watercress and mustard dressing. No walnuts. Anywhere. I called the waiter over. "I think they may have forgotten to add the walnuts to my salad?" "yup, highly likely" he laughed and went to the kitchen, returning with a small bowl of nuts fresh out of the packet. Somehow the magic was lost! The beetroot fritters - more tempura really - were the best bit of my meal, although the batter was chewy and slightly tough instead of being crisp and light. The beetroot quarters themselves were lovely and the horseradish went perfectly with their earthy blandness. Hardly a meal, though.

We didn't have coffee or dessert (we wouldn't usually at lunchtime anyway) but left unsatisfied and frustrated. Great looking building, good location and such a dearth of  other good eating places in this very affluent area so close to London..... but so badly let down by lack of attention to detail and poor kitchen skills. At a time when even wonderful places are having to think of new ways to attract and retain customers, it seems a big mistake to actually repel them like this. We won't be back in a hurry.