Asparagus and Poached Egg Risotto

Bath Asparagus (racheldemuth.co.uk)

Asparagus seems to be one of the last remaining seasonal treats. I know you can buy it in November but the spears that arrive from Chile, or where-ever the out of season stuff comes from, are fairly slim and rather like drinking cold red wine, somewhat tasteless. Talking of red wine, we are also home, in this neck of the woods, to Bath Asparagus a throw back to the Roman Era when the local area was populated with colonisers from Rome bringing with them colonisers of their own. Bath Asparagus (above) looks like a pretty, if slender, version of the hearty native plant and is only found north of Italy in the immediate Bath locality! We are not allowed to pick it let along eat it, but one can see it growing quite abundantly in the lanes around us as Roman villa remains are dug up periodically…..

IMG_0880Anyway, we’ve just eaten the British stuff, grown in Evesham I dare say,  for dinner this evening and I have to say it’s a very cost-effective way to stretch a bunch of asparagus around four people. The kids are a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing but as they like risotto with poached eggs they’re willing to overlook the presence of the asparagus. One could easily substitute the asparagus for peas the rest of the time.

So for 4 people you will need: 2 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 small Onion, diced, 1 stick of Celery, diced, 1 clove of Garlic, crushed, or a squirt of garlic puree, 400g Risotto Rice, 1.2 litres of Vegetable Stock, 1 bunch Asparagus (however much you want really) tips cut off as shown in the photo and the rest of the usable stem (not the woody end part) chopped, zest of half a Lemon, Parmesan Cheese, grated, a knob of unsalted Butter, 4 Eggs, Salt and Black Pepper.

So in a large heavy based saucepan, heat the oil over a moderate heat and add the onion, cook until transparent.

Meanwhile pour the stock into a smaller saucepan and heat until simmering point. Turn the heat under the stock right down once simmering. Add the asparagus tips to the stock to cook for 5-7 minutes until tender then remove and set aside.

Once the onions are transparent add the celery and garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes stirring from time to time. Add the risotto rice and stir around so that the rice is coated with the olive oil, then start adding the stock. As with all risotto, you can add a glassful of white wine or preferably Vermouth at the start of the absorption process if you wish, or just stick with stock which of course you add, ladelled in from the saucepan at regular intervals, stirring all the time as you go. The whole absorption process takes about 15-20 minutes over a moderate heat. After about 5 minutes from the point where you start adding stock add the chopped asparagus so it has a chance to cook and then about 5 minutes from the end, as the rice seems to be almost tender add the lemon zest, a little finely grated Parmesan cheese, the butter and seasoning as required.

Whilst all this is going on fill a large saucepan or frying pan (this is a hob heavy meal) with boiling water from the kettle and allow it to reach simmering point over a medium heat, add a pinch of salt, then, when the risotto is done, crack the eggs carefully into the water, depending on the size of your saucepan you may have to cook the eggs in 2 batches. Cook the eggs for 2-4 minutes depending how soft you like them, and, remove to a wad of kitchen paper using a slotted spoon. The kitchen roll will soak up excess water from the egg. Dish up the risotto, add the asparagus tips and the poached egg, a little more Parmesan and black pepper if desired.

What else is there to say? I love Spring……

 

 

 

 

 

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Beach Hut Food (or almost half a dozen things to do with Tortilla Chips)

Despite the distinctly mediocre weather we have been experiencing this week, we have found our collective stiff upper lip and pressed on with our half term/Jubilee plans regardless. We like to book a beach hut on Studland beach for a week each year and this week has been the appointed one. The weather on the Isle of Purbeck can frequently render national forecasts useless and certainly for part of the time I think we have managed to suffer far less rain than some. Sunday tea time we returned from a very pleasant afternoon at the beach, switched on the TV, to find the National Anthem in full flow on the River Thames and a bedraggled choir trying to look cheerful notwithstanding the driving rain. Nightmare.

Kitchen for the week

So during a typical week, we like to cook at the beach as much as possible and over the years we have developed Beach Hut Food. This can easily be regarded as camping food and so with the camping/glamping/festival season upon us some might find the following useful. I’m not really suggesting anything very revelatory just jogging memories I suspect.

The return of the 5 layer dip; the original recipe is here but an easier or possibly more child friendly version would be as follows:

Small tin of refried beans spread on the bottom of  the bowl/saucepan/suitable receptacle.

A layer of sweetcorn from a small tin to cover the beans or a layer of guacamole from a ‘ready to eat’ tub

A layer of tomato salsa, strength to your taste

A layer of half fat soured cream

A layer of grated cheese

Arrange the tortilla chips around the bowl as illustrated. This is really good as an accompaniment to a barbecue. N.B. Doritos are not very strong and therefore not good for scooping. Sainsburys Basics Tortilla Chips are much much better in this regard.

Tortilla Soup; British summers being what they are, soup is still a must even in July at times. Cuppa soup Cream of Tomato or a tin of Heinz Tomato can be pepped up with a few drops of Tabasco sauce and tortilla chips to dip with.

Camp style Caesar Salad; this is adapted from a Nigella recipe so she deserves all the credit. Arrange some salad leaves (Little Gem are good here) in a bowl and dress with Caesar salad dressing (we like the Pizza Express Light variety). Add to that handfuls of tortilla chips and grated Parmesan or any grated cheese.

Tortilla chip sandwiches; if you are at the beach, the ‘do I have sand in my sandwich’ concern can be offset by adding tortilla chips to the filling. The crunchy sensation they provide will mask any actual sand. Again grated cheese, a drop of Tabasco and chips work well and should you have these ingredients around because you made the 5 layer dip, will help with using stuff up.

As it was Jubilee weekend, we really pushed the boat out however and had my favourite sandwich of all, baguette with smoked salmon, lots of dill, lemon juice and black pepper and whilst barbecuing constructed this user-friendly arrangement.

Frozen raw King Prawns can defrost throughout the day in a cool box. Thread onto the skewers as the barbecue is lit to finish defrosting if necessary. Fill a fish holder with the skewers and cherry tomatoes for ease of handling.

The fish holder is often filled with Bream stuffed with dill. If you have sea air up your nostrils, this barbecue dish has to be one of life’s great pleasures.

Warming up for Wimbledon

Rubbing Shoulders with Mary Berry

So I have had clearance to use some images of my exciting meeting with Mary Berry recently, and therefore whilst everyone is really distracted with all things Jubilee, I will pop up a few pictures.

The event: Age UK (formerly Age Concern) rebranding launch.

The Place: Brasserie Blanc, Bath (very lovely and very very lovely staff)

The Photographer: kerrywho, fellow blogger (thanks for the gorgeous pics)

The Supplier: Waitrose who kindly donated all the ingredients I needed. Many thanks to them.

The Logo cake was a 12″ vanilla sponge, split and filled with jam and buttercream. The Logo was achieved using run outs. The cupcakes were the old favourite Hummingbird Bakery vanilla recipe and the toppings were vanilla buttercream with sugarpaste details and a small amount of royal icing piping. The colour scheme was carried through from the Age UK Logo. The designs were designed to show a range of skills.

Mary was very intriguing to meet and it was hard to resist pumping her for endless advice (the new Great British Bake Off series begins in July). She appeared to approve of the work however. A very memorable morning and as Kerry (the photographer) pointed out, possibly the pinicle of one’s career. This could be very true.

 The Bath Chronicle picked up the story and also the social events magazine, Bath Life. Excellent publicity. Thank you to Age UK for arranging that.

Finally, these lovely ladies from the local Waitrose Branch allowed me to take a picture for the blog and asked me to pass on a message: the store is currently undergoing a major refit and they ask all the customers to bear with, the pain will be worth the gain. Can’t wait.

Gold is on the birthday brain and a few Cutest Cakes explained.

It’s Child 2’s birthday tomorrow – Happy Birthday Darling Boy.

What a week for a birthday. The town is decked out with flags and bunting as the Olympic flame passed through this afternoon. Truly momentous. I have been desperately teaching myself to use a Christmas present I haven’t really had time to play with – a video recorder, to provide footage of this historic event, I don’t think I shall be posting the results, a normal jpg will have to do.

Child 2’s party has already been held. With a mid-week birthday, this is inevitable. In fact he shared his party with a friend as many in his class have May birthdays. I supplied them with one or two birthday cake books for inspiration a couple of weeks ago and suggested they choose something together to avoid arguments over the nature of the party cake and they plumped for this:

Gold mining Goblins! what more could you want in this year of Olympic excitement.

This is copied from the phenomenon that is Debbie Brown’s Cakes. The modelling guru who has turning cake decorating into an art form, like no-one else in my view. If you read the blurb on the back of one of her cake books she started out making cakes for her children’s birthdays and her talents and business grew from there. I adore her work and often use her cakes as a starting point for other designs. She is fearless with shape, carving cakes into every imaginable form and manages to get modelling paste, used to make figures and features, to defy gravity. My favourite of her books are Magical Cakes and Enchanting Cakes for Children. The cake above is from the former.

This idea of using something in print as a launch pad for a cake design is as fairly common one. I have been ruthless in this regard. For example, if you need a ski piste then Debbie’s enchanted castle atop a mountain can be converted into a ski hut up a mountain instead:

or if you ditch the hut/castle you can have an alpine scene:

The trick with carving cake into shapes is to use a stiff madeira cake recipe. Essentially if you use the recipe I give for making a sponge, add half as much again of plain flour, to the quantity of self raising, and bake in a deep tin to produce a cake which can be sculpted into a variety of shapes, in Pyrex bowls for round or egg shapes (stick 2 together) or even cooked in the ‘shaped’ cake tins one can hire to look like footballs, giant cupcakes, books, Mickey Mouse, that sort of thing. A sharp serrated knife, buttercream, a sugarpaste coat and your imagination will do the rest!

I will provide a few hints and tips on modelling paste on the ‘Baking and What not page’ very soon…..

B is for Bristol, Bridges, Balloons and The Boston Tea Party’s Basiled Eggs

I adore Bristol. I love the Georgian and Victorian architecture, the sprawl, the vibrant, urbane youth culture, the coffee houses, the energy, the creative forces that flow there, the accent, the organic food hotbed it has become and of course all my lovely friends that still live there. I don’t live there anymore but many of the significant moments in my life happened there: moved away from home (to Bristol), met my better half, graduated from the University and the children were born there. The city itself is famous for Brunel’s Suspension Bridge spanning the Gorge, the annual Hot Air Balloon festival, brightly painted houses, rain, Banksy graffiti, the docks, the University, the longest Georgian Crescent of townhouses in the country and much more. But I always feel it is a place to live rather than visit, to get under the skin of and absorb it’s energy and atmosphere.

Brunel’s masterpiece: Clifton Suspension Bridge

Interestingly though very little cooking-wise can be associated with the city as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong there are hundreds of fantastic restaurants, cafés, bars, deli’s and the like and the city also hosts an organic food festival every year, but very little influences me now apart from the veg box routine and a tale I can tell about trying to transport an extremely hot, freshly roasted turkey across town as a student as no-one had an oven big enough to cook the turkey and all the trimmings for our Christmas meal.

Lift off at the annual Balloon Fiesta, however a common site at any time

One dish I ate there amongst all the hundreds was in a coffee lounge called The Boston Tea Party. This establishment was a bit of a trail blazer in its time. Housed in a large rambling Georgian Town House in ‘downtown’ Bristol very close to the University, the interior was painted cobalt blues and stately reds. The chairs, tables and sofas were mismatched and second-hand. The original shabby chic, in fact the shabbiest of chic. There was a courtyard garden for the rare moments of dry weather and it served the new wave of coffees: latte, Americano, flat white, double espresso together with deep filled hearty sandwiches, curiously forgettable cakes but fabulous breakfasts.

It was the place to go to nurse a hangover and take visiting friends to show how ‘hip’ Bristol was/is. Having breakfast out, and not in a transport-style cafe, was a new idea in the early nineties and new style fry-ups were definitely the thing to have. I was never much of one for bacon, sausages, black pudding and fried bread, but could be tempted with scrambled eggs. So this recipe is really just that but with an Italian twist which drew me in at the time and inevitably has stuck with me.

Another easy, peasy one. Serves 1.

Split a panini or thickly cut a slice of bread and toast. Meanwhile, crack two eggs into a smallish bowl and add 2 tbsp of milk, a pinch of salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Cut 4/5 cherry tomatoes in half and very roughly chop about 8 basil leaves.

Melt a knob of butter in a non-stick pan and add the eggs, stir around over a moderate heat with a wooden spoon until lumps start to form. Then add the tomatoes and basil and continue to cook until the egg sets to your preference. Spoon over buttered toast.

Despite the juiciness of the tomatoes the eggs continue to set as normal and the basil gives off a fantastic aroma which I think it works well for breakfast. Wakes you up a bit, but also works at any other time of day…

‘Gert Lush’ as the Bristolians would say. ‘Yummy’ for the rest of us.

Many thanks MW for the bridge and balloon photos. For those of you who think you may know MW, but need a clue, the W stands for a wellknown purveyor of cake ingredients, spookily enough.

Cutest Cakes loose in London: Food, Furries, Pharoahs, Falafel and Feathers.

We have had a Bank Holiday here in England and unusually we managed to get away for a few nights. Child 2’s school has an annual May Fayre on the Bank Holiday Monday and typically this precludes time away as cakes must be baked and bunting must be hung etc. etc.

London and it’s environs was the destination and so I think a round-up of pictures is the most amusing way to illustrate a lovely weekend with the fam.

We began with Friday night is Pizza night,

a Child 2 special:

½ Margherita, ½ Pepperoni,                                whereas I’m more into rustic style

I found this printed across my napkin and I think it sums up my world view:

The following morning we set off for Whipsnade Zoo, which is part of London Zoo despite its location north of the M25! We had a ball and due to freezing conditions the crowds were kept to a minimum and the wildlife was up and about:

European Bears

Melman and Co.

A family favourite: RED PANDA on the move!!!!

Lightening quick picnic lunch due to the temperatures – cheese sandwiches with homemade bread, strawberries and left over volcano cake (don’t ask: a long story)

Then the highlight – Macaws and Timbo the bonkers African Grey Parrot (flew so fast couldn’t get a pic)

Sea Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Pod camping WITH Rhinos, Linx, Lions – it was all going on.

Next day we were in London proper – oh yeah, London baby! I just love it: the energy, the scale of it all, the food, the brick colour. I adore the place.

Coffee is always high on my list of priorities: this was a good one

We had mini croissant style confections filled with a kind of butter icing or Nutella!

On to The British Museum

Rameses II?

These are actual Gold Medals that will actually be handed out in August!

and then on to a Cake Shop via Tube, Taxi and muggle magic….

At this point I shall pause as cake is involved. For anyone who is following The Cutest Cakes on Facebook, you may have noticed that I ‘like’ Violet Cakes. The owner is an American and used to be a pastry chef in the US. She now has a shop and café and although she was not around I was thrilled to have made it to her glorious bakery.

We had salted caramel cupcakes, rhubarb crumble, almond polenta muffins, cheese toasties and take-out Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Goats Cheese Tart. Divine and much food for thought as well as tummies. A few pics…

The place was simple, nostalgic and inspirational. On the way back to our hotel we picked up some gigantic falafel in Camden – these formed the local street food – awesome.

Enough Flavour to Keep it Simple

A good friend of mine has just returned from her first trip to Italy. First trip to Italy. It’s like some adolescent awakening a first trip to Italy. You will never be the same again.

My Mother will probably disagree here but I regard my time spend working as an au pair in Milan, at the age of 19, as my culinary awakening and the way I think about food now is defined by lingering memories and habits formed at that time. I saw a great quote on another blog site where the author remarked ‘well I’m off to make more food from food’. I think the author is American, but that sentiment would apply to the British too. Sufficient flavour in some foods can be an issue and the contrast if you are lucky enough to be eating in Italy is marked.

Now I know that the situation here has improved a lot over the last 10-15 years say but the Italian fruit, vegetables, cheese, cured meats and wine, all those deli items which can make a delicious lunch, have a depth of flavour which is hard to match except possibly by the French. One of the reasons for this is I suspect is the ambient temperature. Fruit and vegetables ripening on the plants, the intensity of the sun, storage methods, coupled with better collective culinary know-how, it all makes a difference. Before the restrictions on transporting liquids a few bottles of red wine would be heaved onto the plane as carry-on, you remember? In our case it was cases of the red in the car as we drove the 1,500 miles back up through France to the ferry at breakneck speed. Once home the wine would be presented as a rarefied object at some special event and it was supposed to transport us all back to our holiday. It didn’t really work though, England is too cold. It’s even worse with Languedoc Rosé, what was fruity and thirst quenching down in the South-West of France, seemed more like paint stripper in Blighty. It was always very disappointing.

Cheeses, salad ingredients and cured meats also travel about as well as the French Rugby Team. We in the UK tend to keep everything in the fridge and don’t let the food even warm up to our ambient temperatures before we consume it. Tomatoes are a case in point. Virtually tasteless straight from the fridge, yet given a couple of hours at room temperature, sliced and drizzled with Olive Oil and the merest pinch of salt they are transformed.

So when you catch those moments when you achieve a flash of those heady delicious Mediterranean lunches it’s always a surprise as much as a treat. Believe it or not a trip to Tesco recently produced such a lunch. Bread, cheese and tomato was about the size of it. However due to the fact that I had been shopping, the deliciously ripe looking beef tomatoes weren’t fridged anyway, the Spanish Manchego cheese out of the chiller for long enough and my new basil plant emitting the most pungent aroma, I felt compelled to assemble the following:

The tomatoes were sliced and oil, from a long since eaten jar of artichokes, drizzled over them (I do store such remnants in the fridge for such moments). A few torn basil leaves topped the dish off. The Manchego (ewe’s milk cheese, nutty and delicious) was in slices too and the Panini, Tesco own brand which I toasted, released a faint smell of Olive Oil. Pear, from the veg box and just ripe, has an affinity with sheep’s milk cheese, something understood by the Italians of Pienza, the home of Pecorino and some pear based jelly like condiment I can’t remember the name of……

Child 2 was with me and chose a grilled ham and cheese Panini. It is mildly irritating to me that he hates tomatoes.

‘Vintage’ Sofa prompts Granola Update

So the last couple of days have been rather manic, with any spare time devoted to the acquisition of this:

with this :

Not a lot of time for blogging then.

However I have been sitting on a granola update, as well as my new Chesterfield, for a couple of weeks so I am going to share that.

The original granola recipe is quite a free-form idea using rolled oats, desiccated coconut, nuts, seeds and dried fruit toasted in a slight honey/butter glaze. Commercially, of course, there are variations of these sorts of things and maple and pecan is quite a common combination. I accidentally bought some maple syrup flavoured Golden Syrup recently and an idea formed that the said syrup could replace the honey component. Therefore if you are bored with the original version, fancy a change or are not keen on dried fruit, try this:

250g Rolled Oats, 50g Desiccated Coconut, 60-80g Pecans, 60g Almonds (still with the skins on for preference) and 30g hazelnuts all roughly chopped, 75ml Maple Syrup flavoured Golden Syrup and 50g Butter.

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/Fan 155°C.

Measure out the dry ingredients into a large bowl and the syrup and butter into a saucepan and heat gently until the butter is melted. Stir to blend completely with the syrup.

Pour the wet into the dry and stir round until the dry is properly coated with the wet.

Spread out on a baking sheet and bake/toast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so to brown evenly.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before transferring to an air-tight container.

Good with other cereals as a garnish, on its own or with yoghurt and fruit. Yummy.

I’m sure this could be made substituting actual maple syrup for the flavoured golden syrup but in the UK, unlike Canada, it doesn’t grow on trees and really is quite expensive.

Sea-Change in the Veg Box fuels Low-Carb Lunches

So we have been having a quiet time of it this Easter Holiday. The manic last week in March (two significant birthdays and the Help for Heroes Cake Sale) left us all feeling a little worn out in this house and completely distracted me from planning a vast amount of holiday excitement. Judging by Facebook this is not true for everyone. There has been much sharing of Disney Resort visits, ski-ing trips, Floridian escapades, family get togethers, camping or not as the temperatures plummeted, for one set of ex-pats (living in Australia) visiting other bits of Australia and finally counting the locally nesting swan’s egg collection (OK we could have done that last one too!).  I ♥ Facebook.

We did go ski-ing in the Tamworth Snowdome – that was good fun – surreal and invigorating, visited Studland beach for a day, made the best ever scones, tested some more chocolate salted caramel cupcakes (recipe coming end of the week), have caught up on lost sleep from the Child 1’s Camp In, went to see the Hunger Games and watched Child 2’s latest drama workshop performance:

Absolutely Fabulous Darling!

All perfectly exciting enough you might say, well yes it was and rather nerdishly from my point of view an additional highlight for me was the arrival of the veg box as (apart from the perpetual carrots and potatoes) there was not a root vegetable in sight.

Here are a few of the said highlights:

It’s all looking a bit green you might think and that would be true and at the time of year when we should be experiencing the ‘hungry gap’ –  very lush.

Now, I might be generalising here, but usually, when friends return from holidays, there are complaints about weight gained. Coupled with that my better half informed me that the largest upsurge in gym memberships is actually post-Easter not post-Christmas (how does he know this stuff – he regularly comes across as being the oracle). So I am thinking a low-carb recipe might be in order.

I am not going to get into a big discussion here on healthy eating and weight loss. I’m not qualified and currently fall within the ‘normal’ BMI range. I have dieted in my time, and get a lot of comments running along the lines of ‘surely you should be fatter as you are surrounded by cakes and buttercream’. I try to keep on top of weight gain by owning a pair of scales and using them regularly (monitoring really does make a difference I think), running (essential for me), and over the course of a week eating several low carb meals. As you get older this tactic seems to make the job of maintaining a steady weight much easier. If I see the weight creep up, so do the number of low carb meals.

However I don’t worry too much about essential fatty acids. These are the fats which are necessary to keep you healthy and are found in oily fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados that sort of thing. Animal fats: butter, cream, cheese and the fat on the meat have a different molecular structure and are the more ‘problematic’ ones. I don’t eat much in that department and try to keep my sugar consumption down. This last rule seems to be trickier the older I get! The other trick I have learnt is to stop eating when I start to feel full, and a need to feel properly hungry before I eat again. I understand that particularly for some eating food is wrapped up with issues such as stress and therefore this robotic approach won’t work for all, but over time some small shifts in behaviour can make a big difference. There was a weight-related motivational quote on Pinterest the other day ‘you will notice the difference after 4 weeks, your family after 8 and the rest of the world after 12’. 12 weeks is the beginning of the school summer holidays.

About perfect then.

So a salad recipe. In the bottom right hand corner of the picture is a Portobello mushroom and I believe these beauties are too interesting in their own right to be chopped up and put in Spaghetti Bolognese, let’s make a feature of them instead.

This can be made out of whatever you have knocking about really, or if you want to use half fat cheese (like those Mozzarella balls, grated Edam or even low-fat soft cheese) then do, but some easy melting cheese is essential.

  • Preheat the grill on a moderately hot setting.
  • Remove the skins from 2 Portobello mushrooms and place them gill-side down in a small roasting tin. Brush with a little olive oil. Pop under the grill for 3-4 minutes.
  • Meanwhile in a bowl mix together some chopped or grated cheese, I like Dolcelatte or Stilton mixed with a small amount of grated Jarlsberg or alternatively crumbled goat’s cheese, some chopped walnuts and some chopped parsley if available. In the picture above I also added some chopped avocado. (A lot of chopping).
  • Once the mushrooms are looking like they have softened and mushroom ‘juice’ is starting to run, remove from the heat, turn them over and pile on the cheese-y nutty topping. Return to the grill and continue to cook until the cheese has melted and is bubbling.
  • Prepare some salad leaves and maybe some tomato and cucumber on a plate and drizzle no more than ½ a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil over. Once cooked, transfer the mushrooms to the bed of lettuce and pour over the juices which will be running around the bottom of the tin. Squirt a little lemon juice over or, if you have used avocado particularly, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar and tuck in.

Other types of nuts or chopped tomato can be substituted for walnuts. This is actually substantial enough for an evening meal.

It’s That Time Again: Easter, Tea and The NT.

The NT for the Brits needs no explanation. The National Trust. We just love it and Easter sees this glorious and beloved organisation throw open it’s stately doors up and down the country. For anyone who is still struggling to comprehend, the National Trust is one of the country’s largest and most successful charitable institutions. I won’t bore you with statistics, as I will only have plagiarised them from the official website, but the basic deal is that quite a number of the country’s stately homes have been and continue to be bequeathed to the NT to be maintained, for a variety of reasons but mainly financial, which are then opened to the paying public, from Easter to October. The said public look around the houses, picnic in the gardens and take tea in the obligatory NT tea shop, run by very capable NT staff, usually located in a recently converted stable block. The Charity is also bequeathed coastal paths, other chunks of beautiful land, gardens, small islands, light houses in fact all manner of historic or picturesque property and I’ll mention it again, the one thing they invariably have in common is a tea shop (car parks and toilets aside). Arguably this IS the major attraction for most people as the catering is fantastic on the whole and something I shall return to very shortly.

We visited one of our favourites, in fact, our overall favourite NT spot over the weekend, The Banks Estate, which takes in Studland Beach. We adore this strip of coastline, hire a beach hut on it every year for a week, BBQ in their designated areas, sign up for nature trails, avert our eyes if we pass through the naturist section (we don’t ‘pass through’ much), play cricket after everyone has gone home, try to keep off the sand dunes, pedal furiously in their hire-out pedalos and dig gigantic holes in the endless golden sand. The weather this time was verging on miserable, but we don’t care. Here are some pics taken at various times including this weekend:

Taken in 2008, one of the beach huts we have rented with sand dunes and Ballard Down Ridge in the distance

off the end of Ballard Down are Old Harry’s Rocks which can be seen in the second to last image. Above, too much sea air it seems?

Seeing as it is Easter, a time for treats, I thought I would treat everyone to a tiny round-up of some of the NT properties we have visited in the ‘West Country’ (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and probably Wiltshire) since I have owned a digital camera….

Palladian Bridge, Prior Park Grounds, Bath

Montecute House, Somerset, Cute door

Utterly beautiful Stourhead

More from Stourhead

Stunning Great Chalfield Manor

St Michael's Mount, Cornwall

Picnic at Avebury, Wiltshire. Should we be sitting on these 5,000 year old stones?

So back to the tea shops. The NT have in their time published recipe books detailing the range, breath and local variations of cakes and other baked goods sold by them, but I suspect the confection that features without much regional variation throughout the entire country is the Scone. Scones are typically a component of ‘West Country Cream Teas’ (pot of tea, scone, jam and clotted cream) but the Nation has taken them to their hearts and they have wide appeal.

However scones are actually quite tricky to make. I’ve never really had much success despite being the item of choice for me if available. The following recipe seems to have turned all that around. These are so wonderful I cannot find the words, so if you are struggling with the sickly sweet of cake, chocolate, marzipan and the like this Easter, give these a try, they should be warm from the oven and really only require a smear of butter and jam in such circumstances. But you could go the whole clotted creamy hog if you wish….

The Best Scones Ever at bbcgoodfood.com, write this down somewhere, you’ll be heartbroken if it vanishes.

Previous Older Entries

The Cutest Cakes: Classic Cakes

Lilies and Pearls

The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

Rosebud Vanilla Cupcake

The Cutest Cakes: Individual Iced Cakes

Miniature Fruit Cake

Details for The Cutest Cakes can be found at www.cutestcakes.co.uk or if you click the image on the side bar you will be transported there.