Tomato Tart

August 25th… How lucky we were to have a nice Bank Holiday weekend.  A BBQ on Saturday evening was not the wash-out we had all been dreading.  The sun shone until later More »

PESTO or PISTOU……..both delicious!

August 8th……   Even I have days when I don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen preparing a meal.  Today is one of those days.  There are also days when you More »

Bruschetta – summer deliciousness!

July 31st….. Bruschetta, a delicious summer lunch or starter. Don’t waste your leftover bread!  Toast it, then rib it lightly with a little garlic.  Chop fresh tomatoes and  fresh basil leaves, mix More »

Quick no fuss …..’BIRTHDAY’ cake

July 28th, You may have noticed it’s been a little quiet on my blog for a couple of weeks. No I’m not away on holiday, although to be honest, most days feel More »

PLUM & LAVENDER JELLY………… a taste of the country, in summer!

  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 »

 

Tomato Tart

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imageAugust 25th…

How lucky we were to have a nice Bank Holiday weekend.  A BBQ on Saturday evening was not the wash-out we had all been dreading.  The sun shone until later than expected and, we all ended up sat around an improvised camp fire.  It was the perfect way to keep any late evening shivers at bay.

When I have visitors I try to be organised.  It doesn’t always go to plan, especially when a little wine tasting is involved.  I do however keep things  simple.  A freshly made Tomato Tart is the perfect quick starter or appetiser.  It can be on your table in 25 minutes straight from the oven or, prepare it in advance and serve when you fancy it.

Hot or cold it is delicious and tastes of sunshine!

You will need:

1 x sheet puff pastry

3-4 fresh tomatoes

1-2 cloves garlic crushed

large bunch fresh basil leaves chopped

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Roll out puff pastry and place it on baking paper and a baking tray. Mark the pastry with a knife line, 1cm in from the edges all the way around.  Do not cut right through the pastry, it just needs an indent.  The helps the edge to puff up and gives the tart a nice finish.

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Mix the crushed garlic and chopped basil leaves with a little oil.  Spread this mixture over the pastry, keeping inside the knife line.  Slice the tomatoes and arrange neatly on top of the basil.  Season the top with a little salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

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Bake for 20 mins, med oven 170-180C until golden brown with crisp puff pastry edges.

I like to serve this tart on a board, so guests can help themselves.

 

 

 

PESTO or PISTOU……..both delicious!

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August 8th……

 

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Even I have days when I don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen preparing a meal.  Today is one of those days.  There are also days when you don’t know what you really want to eat.  Today is exactly like that.   When I want to cook something quickly pasta always springs to mind and, that’s what happened today.  Something with pasta?

With loads of basil growing in the greenhouse and it needed using, I thought I’d make fresh pesto.  Quick, fresh and tasty for supper.

I knew I had olive oil, Parmesan and pine nuts to make the pesto.  I tend to use brown pasta at home as it’s the healthy option. Before I get cooking, I like to have everything to hand.  Frustratingly, I couldn’t find the pine nuts, I knew I’d bought some, I just couldn’t find them. I emptied cupboards, storage boxes, drawers and shopping bags……no where to be found!

Ok, no problem.  Change to plan ‘B’…… Pistou instead of Pesto.  Pistou is still a great tasting sauce for pasta, it’s the French version, leaving out the Parmesan and pine nuts.

I don’t  know about you but, at the end of the day, especially a Friday and when I’m cooking, I enjoy a glass of wine.  That said, I grabbed a glass went to the fridge to get the chilling wine.  There they were, the pine nuts!! In the fridge, don’t ask me why and it doesn’t matter why.  I really did think I was going bonkers……. I was smiling to myself, thinking in a ‘hello, hello’ frenchy accent, ‘you stupid women, why did you put those in the fridge’!  And poured myself a large white wine!

I returned to plan ‘A’… Pesto, with brown spaghetti.

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PESTO; for 2-4 pasta portions

Large bunch fresh basil

1 clove garlic

30g pine nuts

30g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper

All the above need to be blended, either with a pestle and mortar or in a mini blender.  Leave the grated cheese out, add this in at the end and stir it in.  Season with a little salt and pepper. If it’s a bit thick, just add a little water to loosen it.

Cook your pasta, take the hot pasta to the sauce and mix in a large bowl while it is still warm.  Finish with a little more Parmesan and black pepper.

 

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Pesto will keep in a jar in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. Keep the top of the sauce covered with some olive oil.

PISTOU;

The French version is very similar, without pine nuts and Parmesan.  It’s a very Provençal sauce from the south of France.  Served with grilled meats and fish.  They also add it to soups to add another layer of flavour.  There are many different versions using different herbs and fresh lemon zest or juice.

I think this is one of those sauces you can easily experiment with and, make it your own.  Use any herbs or rocket, watercress any aromatic herbs you have growing in your garden or use what’s in your fridge.

If you want to dish up a quick tasty supper with no fuss, this is it!  The fresh flavour is a party  in your mouth.

 

 

Bruschetta – summer deliciousness!

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July 31st…..

Bruschetta, a delicious summer lunch or starter.

Don’t waste your leftover bread!  Toast it, then rib it lightly with a little garlic.  Chop fresh tomatoes and  fresh basil leaves, mix them together in a bowl.  Add a little salt and pepper and some olive oil.

spoon over the toasted bread.  Finish with a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Deliciousness for a light lunch!

 

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Quick no fuss …..’BIRTHDAY’ cake

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July 28th,

You may have noticed it’s been a little quiet on my blog for a couple of weeks.

No I’m not away on holiday, although to be honest, most days feel like a holiday. I have however, had some problems with my computer! And, even now they are not resolved.  With some help from my computer guru, I can still post without my well worn computer for the time being.

Today is a good day to write on my blog.  I wanted to send Birthday wishes to my good friend Juli, who I know is having a wonderful birthday in Italy.

I also want to say a massive ‘Happy Birthday’ to our neighbour Bernard, 80 today!

Bernard is amazing, I call him Peter Pan due to his youthful looks and his activity levels.  He rides his bike several miles most days, he dances 3 times a week and is always helping others with their gardens.  Bernard is our mole catcher, if he didn’t keep them under control we would be over run with them.  He has told us that he never married, doesn’t have children and his sister is in a home and doesn’t know him anymore.

We couldn’t let his 80 birthday pass without a small celebration.  We invited him to come to us for cake and fizz.  Along with his other neighbours, they’ve know each other since they were at school in 1940s, we organised a small English style tea party.

I can’t wait to see Bernard’s face when we serve up his English style birthday cake.

 

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This is my recipe for a quick no fuss Victoria Sponge cake:-

4 large eggs

220g SR flour

220g caster sugar

220g soft butter

1 tsp baking power

1 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, add all the ingredients.  Beat everything together with a hand mixer, until you have a smooth, dropping  mixture. This takes 2-3 mins.  Divide the mixture between 2 x 8inch cake tins, lined and greased.

Bake in a med oven 180C/170C fan.  For 20-25 mins. Press the top of the sponge  lightly with your finger, if it springs back and is golden in colour, it is cooked.

 

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Cool completely on a wire rack.  Fill with jam or fruit and a butter cream or fresh cream.

Finish with a sprinkle of caster or icing sugar and, enjoy this lovely light cake with a nice cup of tea or a chilled glass of fizz!

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PLUM & LAVENDER JELLY………… a taste of the country, in summer!

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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 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.

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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 plums

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

Method:

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.

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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 ……….

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JUICY STICKY RIBS………why don’t we eat more veal?

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June 29th,

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.

Ingredients

3-4 short ribs per person

Ribs

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

½ tsp pepperribs 3

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.

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Back in the garden……….Pretty Beetroot.

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June 25th,

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!

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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!

Chioggia

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.

Beetroots

 

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.

 

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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!

 

 

Easy Quilt………

Baby quilt

JUNE 5th

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.

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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.

Baby quilt

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?!

 

Happy Spring Bank Holiday!…….seeds turning into plants.

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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.

Butternut squash pumpkin seeds

 

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.

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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.

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aubergine

 

 

Aubergines potted 2

 

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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.

Hanging tomatoes       tomatoes

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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.

coriander plant
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!

coriander seeds
Advice:
Collect the seeds from the plants, at the end of the season.
Allow them to dry out. Store them in a jam jar.

If you like spice in dishes, use the seeds freshly ground in Indian curry dishes, Moroccan style Tagines and marinades.

For new plants:
Around late May-June, plant the seeds directly into the soil.
Every year new coriander plants will grow in your garden (or in a pot) for free!
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BBQ Food – Quick & Healthy!

Chicken Tikka Kebabs

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.

 

STARTER;

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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

Seasoning

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.

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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.

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Serve with green salad leaves and honey & Dijon mustard dressing.

 

MAIN COURSE:

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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

Seasoning

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.

                                       Chicken 1              Chicken 2

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.

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Serve with a simple tomato salad and a Mint & Crème Fraiche dressing.

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I’m confident you will enjoy BBQ food far more when you cook with foil parcels.

Happy BBQing!!