July 15th, Summer fruits are ripening quicker than we can pick them. Then unexpectedly, a kind person brings you some more fruit to eat! ………what can I do with these plums? I More »
This bank holiday weekend, the forecast is not looking as warm and sunny as the last. Sadly, I think most of us will be dodging showers. The unpredictable sky won’t stop me from More »
Summer fruits are ripening quicker than we can pick them.
Then unexpectedly, a kind person brings you some more fruit to eat!
………what can I do with these plums?
I can’t throw them away, I hate waste. We can’t eat them all there’s just too many!
The freezer is filling fast and, I have enough jam already to take us through two winters.
It will have to be fruit jelly for a change. Last year I made apple and mint jelly and it was a great hit with friends and family. I love eating fruit jelly with roast chicken, lamb or spicy sausages and ribs cooked on the BBQ.
Fruit jelly it is, I need to use up the fresh sweet plums as soon as possible.
Plum and lavender is a taste of the country and summer. This jelly is easy to make and, the lavender flavour is subtle. It would be nice with pancakes and ice cream! I can’t stop thinking of all things I could eat it with……
It is delicious served with roast chicken, turkey or lamb, or add a spoonful to your gravy. Just like redcurrant jelly it will add a touch of sweetness. Or simply spread it on homemade bread and butter, or scones, with thick cream or crème fraiche…..
Delicious and yummy, a great store cupboard ingredient and homemade. I made 4 jars and, all this jelly cost me was a bag of sugar and ½ a lemon. The plums and lavender were free. Each jar cost about 54p, a bargain!
Recipe: approx 4 jars
1kg jam sugar
Juice from ½ lemon
4 sprigs lavender, plus extra sprigs to put in the jelly for setting (optional)
4 table spoons water
Put plums and water in to a heavy bottom pan.
Bring to the boil. Allow the plums to cook on a medium heat without boiling over for about 20 mins. Add the jam sugar, lemon juice and sprigs of lavender, stir. Turn to high heat and boil for 5 mins. Cool for 5 mins.
Now pour into a muslin cloth lined inside a colander, over another large pan or bowl. Be very careful, this mixture will be very hot.
Now gather up the cloth and tie with string and hang over the second pan. Leave to drain until all the juices have passed through the cloth. You don’t have to worry about the skins, stones or lavender; everything is captured in the muslin cloth.
Pour the clear juice into sterilized jars, add a small sprig of lavender (optional, it looks pretty) and leave to set.
Store in a cool larder and enjoy at your leisure.
A little treat made for a few pennies ……….
I know this is a controversial subject, but I still wonder why we don’t eat more veal.
Veal is not a popular meat in the UK, unlike most of Europe, where is it readily available and eaten the same way as pork.
The on going debate surrounding this product I will leave to those in the farming and meat industry.
My stand point is; as long as I use milk and dairy products I will buy veal from my local independent butcher. We all need to understand that Veal is a consequence of us wanting milk, cream, cheese and many other dairy products. I do feel sad that the young males are surplus to the milk farmers needs, but I also feel responsible if I don’t use the meat that our milking cows produce. That’s why I ask the question, why don’t we eat more veal? Maybe people don’t realise the connection to the milk industry? I don’t feel bad that I like it and, from time to time I will continue to buy and eat veal.
Veal sticky ribs; one way I enjoy this meat is cooked on the BBQ. Or if you want to spend 2 hours in the garden or pop to the shops while dinner is cooking, the ribs can be slow cooked in the oven. Either way they taste delicious.
You can easily find veal short ribs in France and Italy. In the UK you will probably have to ask your local butcher. Don’t bother to try and find them in the supermarkets, they won’t have them. Alternatively, you can use pork or beef.
I can honestly say, everyone I have cooked these for, has really enjoyed them. I always tell my guests it’s a veal dish. I would not want anyone to eat something they’re not comfortable with. Several have never eaten veal before and were happy to try them. They didn’t realise how nice veal is and I’m happy to say, they also plan to cook veal themselves.
3-4 short ribs per person
Marinade Sauce for 2 people – 8 short ribs; just double up everything for more.
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp wine vinegar
1 crushed clove garlic
1 tbsp oil
½ tsp chilli flakes
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp salt
For the BBQ;
Place the ribs into a pan of water and bring to a slow simmer. Half cover the pan and simmer for 1 hour. This helps to keep them moist.
Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl.
Take the ribs of the heat and drain. Allow the ribs to cool for 5 mins.
Pour over the marinade and leave for a least an hour but, they will be better if you can chill them over night.
These are now ready for the BBQ. Place on the hot grill for 10-12 mins turning two or three times, basting with the surplus sauce.
For slow cooking in the oven;
If you want to slow cook these ribs.
Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a finely chopped red onion to the marinade and cook on a med heat – 150C in the over for 2-2 ½ hours. They will be delicious with a bowl of buttered new potatoes.
I made a brown rice and vegetable salad, served on a bed of green salad and baby beetroot leaves.
It is always really exciting for me, to get back to our garden In France.
The sun has been blazing and it hasn’t stopped shining yet…….I’ve probably spoken too soon!
We planted out as much as we could before we left, hoping we would have some produce during the summer. Kind neighbours have regularly watered and, kept everything going until our return. The vegetables look amazing. A big thank you to them all!
Everything has doubled in size and looks very healthy.
Early summer is a wonderful time in the garden. The first of the summer salads and herbs are at their best. The potatoes are flowering, almost ready to give up their delicious white gems. At this time of year, there’s really nothing better than a bowl of cooked, home grown new potatoes with a knob of butter,. We just need to be patient for a few more days, my mouth is watering just thinking about them.
The simple things in life can be the most rewarding!
Today I dug up some ‘Chioggia’, an Italian beetroot, they are ready for eating. Beetroots are very versatile; they can be enjoyed raw, roasted and pickled. And don’t forget to use the young baby leaves, put them in with your mixed salad leaves.
I love it grated raw, with fresh grated carrot and a little grated ginger.
It is fresh tasting and delicious when you just add a little soy sauce, oil and a dash of vinegar.
If you prefer, grate cooked beets and make it the same way.
Leave it to chill a little before serving.
Roast beets are simple to cook. Wash beetroots before roasting, leave skins on. Cut in halves or quarters (keep them the same size). Put in foil with some oil, garlic and thyme. Wrap the foil up tightly.
Roast on a medium heat of 40-45 mins or pop on the BBQ and keep turning every 10 mins. These roasted beets are a simple vegetable dish and taste wonderful with roast lamb or BBQ fish.
You can use any variety of beetroot but, sometimes it’s nice to try something different!
There seems to be a bit of a baby boom at the moment in Oxfordshire.
A few of my friends are becoming Grandparents for the first time and it is a very exciting time for them. I think 5 new babies are expected between now and August!
All this baby news has inspired me to make a simple quilt for one of the new borns, due this month.
I thought it would make a lovely cot cover or play mat.
I’m pleased it is very popular to have homemade things in the home. Crafts like sewing and knitting are back in ‘trend’ or is it ‘on trend’?? must be my age, we used to say things were ‘trendy’ back in 1970s….yes I guess it is my age, God I’m sounding like my Mother!
Personally, I didn’t think home crafts had died. I have always made things. I’m one of the lucky ones, I had a Grandma and Mother who taught me how to sew, knit, crochet and cook. We had to make things as we couldn’t afford to go out and buy things as cheaply as you can today. I can even remember one time, crocheting a clutch bag because I couldn’t afford to buy one!
I think giving a handmade gift, which is unique, is always special, especially for a new born baby. Call me ‘old fashioned’ but, I still love to receive a homemade gift. I think, how wonderful someone has put their time and love into making that for me. It makes me feel very special!
Easy Quilt for Baby;
If you have access to a sewing machine this quilt can be made very quickly.
Materials: 2 x pieces of fabric (equal sizes) example; 600cm x 600cm
1 x piece light wadding (same size as fabric).
Cotton & binding.
Cut out fabric to equal sizes, cut wadding to fit between fabric pieces.
Tack wadding inside fabric.
Tack a straight line from one corner, diagonally across to opposite corner. Use this line to guide your first machine top stitching line. Now move the line left of the first centre line, about 2 inches. Stitch the next diagonal machine top stitching line. Continue to machine stitch each line equally (2ins apart) across the fabric. Now repeat on the right side of the centre line.
Now turn the fabric around and machine stitch in the opposite direction, in the same way as above. This final stitching will make the quilted diamond pattern.
Finish the edging with bias binding or a contrasting fabric.
Machine stitch or hand stitch the contrast edging for a neat finish.
I hope I may have inspred you to make something special too?!
This bank holiday weekend, the forecast is not looking as warm and sunny as the last.
Sadly, I think most of us will be dodging showers. The unpredictable sky won’t stop me from getting outside. This is still a good time to get out and plant some seeds.
I will spend just 10 minutes putting some pumpkin and butternut squash seeds in pots. It won’t be long before they are ready for planting out, in about 4-5 weeks. The pumpkin seeds have been given to us from a neighbour (he saves them every year). The Butternut Squah seeds we bought and are a new variety we have not planted before, I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out.
These seeds will grown into small plants that will be planted out when the weather is warmer. Hopefully the plants will give me wonderful squash to look forward to cooking in autumn. They are not difficult to grow, one seed planted in one small pot of compost and water. Keep them somewhere warm, in a greenhouse, under some glass or on your windowsill.
Today I have also been checking on seeds that were planted back in April. I’m very pleased to see the Aubergines are ready to be potted on. In fact more seedlings came up than I expected and, I will be able to share them with my neighbours and pot some up for the family to enjoy. Wonderful home grown Aubergines are a great vegetable to cook in the summer. I’m looking forward to sharing some recipe ideas in a few weeks.
The healthy tomato plants have been transferred into hanging baskets, 3 plants in each. This is a bit of an experiment. This year we thought we’d see how they’d grow on our sunny decked area. It will be great to have a colourful display of ruby red fruits throughout the summer.
The variety we have planted from seed is; Ferline – chosen as they are blight tolerant. Watch this space, I will report on how successful they are during the summer months.
Fresh herbs in the garden are very important for me, especially in my kitchen. I use fresh herbs nearly every day. I’m lucky, I can just step outside my door and pick whatever is in season and fresh to use from my herb garden.
The great thing about herbs, even if you don’t have loads of space, they can be grown in pots. They don’t need loads of attention. Keep them watered in warm weather and cut them back in autumn and spring. Most herbs are quite hardy, and will just keep growing. The easy care ones are; Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Bay and Mint.
One of my favourites is Coriander. I love to use it freshly cut from the garden in the summer. It livens up any salad and is delicious in marinades. The secret is, don’t overdo it, use it as a background flavour, most people hate it because it is used too overpoweringly!
If you like spice in dishes, use the seeds freshly ground in Indian curry dishes, Moroccan style Tagines and marinades.
Sunday, 18th May……………
Wall to wall sunshine for most of us this weekend and perfect BBQ weather. I know many families, like mine, have been busy dusting off the garden furniture and BBQ, ready to spend time outside eating and drinking. And why not, we have to take advantage of this warm spell…. none of us knows how long it will last.
I’m not the biggest fan of BBQ food; I just don’t like black crunchy dried up meat or anything that tastes burnt.
It can be a very difficult time of year, suddenly the men in our lives turn into a ‘Malegella’. The sun comes out and without warning they can confidently cook for 20 guests, outside on an open fire….. ‘no problem!’
Other strange and unusual behaviours begin, for some reason many of our men folk happily put on a piny before the cooking even begins?! Not that I want to discourage anyone who loves to cook outside but, we need to help them cook delicious BBQ food we can look forward to eating and not burnt offerings. I want to be delighted and give thanks for a job well done, witha delicious plate of food placed in front of me. Not as I have done in the past, giving thanks through gritted teeth, not sure if the stomach will hold out for the next 24 hours………or is that just me?
There is a simple way to get the best out of BBQ food without cremating it and knowing that all will be well, with no tummy upsets to deal with.
This method has worked well for me and luckily my ‘Malegella’ was more than happy to try it out. Our BBQ food is no longer crispy or over cooked, which often ended up scraped into the bin.
If you’re going to cook on the BBQ, use foil, it is your friend and I use it all the time.
Anything your planning to eat can be prepared in advance. Prepared then wrapped in foil, it’s ready to go straight to the BBQ. It’s as easy and simple as that. You may be cooking for 4 or 14. Cooking meat or fish, potatoes or sweet corn; it’s the same method for everything. Use foil parcels to begin the cooking process. Add a little oil and seasoning, or marinade, it will help keep everything moist and juicy. Just before the end of cooking time, take whatever your cooking out of the foil and finish it on the hot BBQ grill for a minute or two. You will achieve perfectly cooked food, which tastes great, finished with a little BBQ flavour just before serving.
If like me your nervous about BBQ food, try this method, I promise it works.
For our BBQ lunch on Sunday, I prepared a whole trout with garden herbs and lemon. This was followed by simple chicken tikka kebabs. All very simple, delicious and healthy!
As I’ve already said you can prepare anything in advance and wrap it in foil.
I prepared the trout and the chicken a couple of hours before cooking. The foil parcels cook straight on the hot BBQ and only take about 20mins (turning once after 10mins). It was all perfectly cooked by my man and it was delicious.
Trout with Herbs & Lemon
1 whole trout washed & cleaned – serves 4 as a starter.
Fresh herbs – your choice (any mix from the garden like: marjoram, tarragon, chives, sage, mint)
1 lemon, sliced
½ glass white wine
Olive oil or sunflower oil
Wash and clean the trout. Fill cavity with some fresh herbs and slices of lemon. On a large sheet of foil, place the fish on a bed of fresh herbs and some slices of lemon. Season the fish with salt and pepper, drizzle with oil.
Wrap the foil like a parcel; pour wine into the top before sealing the foil. This is now ready for cooking.
Cook for 20 minutes – turn over after 10 mins.
Let the fish rest on a plate for 5 mins before opening the foil. The smells are wonderful when you open the foil.
Serve with green salad leaves and honey & Dijon mustard dressing.
Chicken Tikka Kebabs
1 x chicken breast per person
1 small pot natural yogurt (will be enough for 6 breasts)
1 small jar tikka paste
1 lemon sliced
Chop the chicken breasts into small chunks. Mix yogurt with the tikka paste (use equal quantities) pour mixture over chicken and leave to marinate for 1 hour in the fridge. Thread chicken onto skewers, oil a large piece of foil, place the chicken kebabs onto the foil and cover. These are now ready for the BBQ.
Cook on the BBQ in the foil for 10-15 mins. Take the skewers out of the foil and place directly on the BBQ to brown lightly, turn 2-3 times, after about 3-4 mins, they will be perfect. Squeeze a little lemon juice over each one before serving. These will taste delicious and still be moist.
Serve with a simple tomato salad and a Mint & Crème Fraiche dressing.
I’m confident you will enjoy BBQ food far more when you cook with foil parcels.
Thursday 1st May – Bank Holiday weekend and a little break.
May 1st is a bank holiday in France. Regardless of which day it falls on, it is ‘Labour Day’ (this year a Thursday) and everything is closed. French friends invited us to stay with them over the long bank holiday weekend. They live just outside Cognac. Cognac is in Charente region of south west France. Obviously we had to do a little tasting while we were there!
This area is very familiar to us, my parents had a property in a nearby village some 20 years ago and, we have visited south west France many times. Our weekend was extended by a few days to revisit some favourite places we have not seen for more than 10 years. On Monday morning, we said our goodbyes and headed across to the west coast. Just an hour away from Cognac, is the pretty coastal town of La Rochelle. The charming old port and cobbled street town still retains a sense of style, it has changed little.
Our next port of call was an hour north of La Rochelle. This area is the Vendee; we stopped in the small town of La Tranche-sur-Mer. It is a very family friendly seaside town, with unspoilt fabulously wide beaches. We found plenty of choice for eating and drinking. Market days are twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays. If you enjoy taking your bikes on holiday, this is the perfect place for cycling families, with plenty of cycle paths marked everywhere and it is flat!
One of our most enjoyable meals was lunch, by the beach. Beautifully presented seafood, and salmon prepared four ways. It all tasted delicious and was great value. I loved the presentation and I will be doing my best to replicate this style of food for my next visitors.
I also enjoyed a ‘Cafe Gourmand’, this is a delicious way to end any meal. An expresso coffee is served with a selection of mini deserts. This platter had mini versions of; creme brulee, caramel rice pudding, chocolate brownie, walnut and honey sponge with lemon cream and chocolate mouse……. all very yummy!
Thursday, 8th May…..
Holiday time is over and we are back to normal life, doing the holiday washing, ironing and the weekly shop. (You all know how it is, when you get home after time way enjoying yourself……reality soon kicks in!)
Having said that, I’m not complaining, we are lucky to have lovely friends who live in a beautiful place and invite us to share it with them. We really enjoyed our break in south west France. Visiting old familiar places, eating fabulous food, drinking excellent Cognac and I hope very much we will be back there again sometime next year, if not sooner.
Tuesday, 22nd April….
This morning began with a miserable blanket outside. No gardening for me today.
I began my day with my regular 45 minute exercise DVD (although I was a day late!) better a day late than to miss it. My exercise routine is; 3 times a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday, first thing in the morning before I do anything else.
The weekend had been full on and to be honest Monday is just a blur!
Tuesday was a better day to get myself into action. Looking out at the gloomy weather, I immediately felt I wanted to get baking some wholesome bread.
I made easy wholemeal bread. It can be shaped into rolls, a loaf of any shape or baked in a tin, basket or flower pot. I split the dough into two portions. One portion I baked in a flower pot, just for a change and I thought it would look nice. The second portion, I baked a simple round loaf and slit the top with three cuts, which also makes it look pretty.
BASIC RECIPE – WHOLEMEAL BREAD
225g strong white bread flour, 225g strong wholemeal bread flour, 2 tsp dried yeast, 150ml warm milk, 1 egg beaten, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp caster sugar, 1tbsp olive oil, 100-150 water.
In a large bowl mix all flour with yeast. Add sugar and salt. Make a well in the flour, pour in beaten egg, warm milk and olive oil. Mix together with a wooden spoon and, begin to form dough. Add water bit by bit, until the flour is fully incorporated into sticky dough but not too wet (you may not need all the water).
Now flour your work surface and knead the dough with the heel of your hand, stretch it out away from you, then roll it back towards you, move the dough around as you go. Keep sprinkling a little flour over the dough if needed. The dough will loose its stickness and, it will become smoother and smoother. Keep kneading for 8-10 mins.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to prove. It will take 1 hour and will double in size.
Now you can shape your dough. Knock it back, this will knock the air out. Knead 2-3 times and shape it. Put it in the baking tin, basket or flower pot. If you use a tin or flower pot, grease it and line it with baking paper, fill it half way. If you shape it, put it on baking paper on a baking tray, cover it again and leave it for a further 40-50 minutes in a warm place, it will rise again.
It is now ready to bake. You can egg wash the dough if you like and sprinkle the dough with flour or seeds. Heat your oven to 220C / 200Cfan / gas7. Bake for 25-30 mins for half sized portions until golden brown, 30-40 mins for one large loaf. If you tap the base of the bread it should be firm and sound hollow. Baking your own bread is very comforting and satisfying.
Serve this bread with homemade soup, or jams and marmalade. The family will love it.
Thursday 17th April,
Our neighbours are very generous. Today Joel called in; he had a bucket with him.
Joel had been to the nearby coast and spent the morning gathering fresh shell fish. He had some fresh mussels for us. We love fresh mussels and I was very pleased to cook them for supper.
I prepared two dishes;
Starter – Mussels in Cider.
Main course – Spaghetti with smoked bacon and mussels.
Fresh Mussels in Cider is quick and easy.
Ingredients: 2-4 servings.
Mussels approx 1-2 kg, 1 shallot chopped finely, glass of Cider, fresh chopped parsley.
Clean the mussels and rinse in cold water.
Heat a casserole pan. Add cider and chopped shallot.
As soon as the cider bubbles, add the mussels and put the lid on.
Leave for 2 minutes. The mussels are cooked as soon as they open. Drain the cooked mussels into a serving dish. Put the cider juices back into the pan, add 2 table spoons of crème fraiche or double cream and bring to the boil. Add fresh chopped parsley.
Serve, pour the sauce over the mussels. Enjoy the mussels and creamy sauce with crusty bread.
It must seem very greedy but, when mussels are so fresh I think they sould be eaten ASAP!
I made a second dish and we enjoyed the remaining mussels with spaghetti and smoked bacon lardons.
Spaghetti with Smoked Lardons & Mussels.
Ingredients: 2-4 servings.
2-3 table spoons cooked mussels (I kept some back from the mussels cooked in Cider).
Spaghetti for 2-4 servings about, (I use brown pasta). 2-3 table spoons chopped smoked bacon lardons, 1 shallot chopped, 2 cloves garlic grated, fresh chopped parsley, pinch of chilli flakes (optional), parmesan cheese grated, 20cl white wine, olive oil.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water.
Heat olive oil in a large pan.
Add lardons to the oil and brown a little. Add chopped shallot and garlic, just soften. Add a pinch of chilli flakes for a little heat. Add wine and allow it to bubble for a minute. Add the mussels, and take the cooked spaghetti from the water, put it straight into the pan with all the sauce ingredients.
The slightly wet pasta helps to make the sauce. Now turn and coat the pasta with all the wine, bacon sauce. Add freshly chopped parsley.
Serve and finish with a little fresh chopped parsley, freshly grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Very simple and very delicious…………….
Sunday 13th April……
Our neighbours gave us a gift, two fresh trout. It was a very kind thought and, I was looking forward to cooking them. I don’t do anything fancy with any whole fish, when I cook whole fish I keep it simple.
After cleaning, removing the heads and washing them (any fish monger would prepare them for you). I slash the flesh three times on each side of the fish. Then I arrange some fresh herbs on a sheet of foil, I used chives and flat leaf parsley from the garden. In a dish I mix 2 table spoons of green Thai curry paste with the zest and juice of ½ a lime. Rub the Thai mix all over each fish inside and out. Season with salt and pepper and place the fish on top of the fresh herbs.
Tightly wrap the fish in the foil.
Cook in a medium oven for 20-25 mins (for a 400-500gm fish) a little longer for a bigger sized fish.
Quick and easy stir fried veg is really nice served with the fish. Use some carrot sticks, blanched French beans and chopped shallots. Heat a little oil in your wok or pan and fry the chopped shallots with 1 tea spoon of black onion seeds, add the carrots and beans, stir quickly. If you like a little heat, add a chopped red chilli, stir fry for 2-3 minutes and season.
If you’re not very confident about cooking fish but, you love to eat fish, give this oven baked fish a try.
It is one of the easiest ways to keep the fish moist and a good way to cook a whole fish for the first time.
You’ll be surprised how simple it is!