Lemon Scented Butter Bean Dip

Anyone who has been following this blog for longer than a couple of posts will probably be aware that I am a sucker for all things Italian. This apparently now extends to the persuasive powers of Italian men.

What can she mean? I hear you cry.

Well it took a good friend of mine to point this out but the evidence appears to speak for itself. A few months ago Federico, the Italian Ski Instructor, persuaded me down half a dozen red runs which, until that point, I refused point-blank to attempt. Then last month Luciano, the Italian Dentist, cut through all the prevarication of the last 15 years and convinced me to have a front tooth bleached. This piece of dental work was scheduled for last week and I have been coping with a temporary filling ever since whilst he finesses his bleaching skills and attempts to brighten the offending tooth to skimmed milk colour like the tooth next door. (I think we are currently at whole milk colour).

The upshot of all this: mush to eat. Well not entirely but certainly not too much of a chewy quality to my food. So pea puree last week and a delicious dip today. It’s a good one though and refreshing in more ways than one if you are a little houmous-ed out.

You will need (serves 6-8): 1 Garlic clove, 1 420g can Butter Beans, drained, 3 tbsp smooth Peanut Butter (25% less fat varieties work here), juice and rind of a small Lemon, 5 tbsp Olive Oil plus a teaspoon more for drizzling, salt and pepper, a pinch of Paprika.

  • Place the peeled garlic clove in a saucepan and cover with 1-2 cms of recently boiled water and return to and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain.
  • Place the garlic, butter beans, peanut butter, lemon juice and rind and seasoning in a blender or food processor and blend until almost smooth.
  • Gradually add the 5 tbsp of olive oil with the motor running, and continue blending until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill.
  • Serve drizzled with Olive Oil, a few strands of lemon rind and a pinch of Paprika.

Good with breadsticks, vegetable crudities, pitta bread, all the usual suspects.

Grazie ragazzi!

N.B. Names changed to protect the innocent.

Ratatouille Style Prawn Curry

Well by now I was definitely banking on warm days, asparagus in the veg box and an opportunity to embark on a few salad recipes. What is going on with the weather? Particularly, as just two hours away by plane, Spain is experiencing some of the hottest temperatures for May on record. However, as I didn’t have the oven on today, I was considering a quick blast of central heating. (I didn’t succumb in the end – promise). So what are we eating instead with the seasonal veg shifting towards salads, courgettes and peppers, that sort of thing. I could have made a ratatouille, but you know what, it didn’t really seem ‘warming’ enough.

Curry. I think that will do it. As I have mentioned before I don’t really worry too much about authenticity with curries. I like a sharp, hot kick, usually mid-week which precludes too much genuine, subcontinental finessing. I appreciate that I should try harder and explore the cuisine with a little more diligence, but when the chilli/spicy craving strikes there simply isn’t the time. I do think though that with a good jar of curry paste and a plan, it is possible to make simple curries with distinctive punch.

Aubergines are excellent curried, one of the most delicious curry dishes I ever tried was curried baby aubergines. Spicy and creamy with some bite to the skins….Heavenly. So it wasn’t too much of a leap to get to this, serves 2:

2/3 Spring Onions, sliced, 1 cm Ginger, finely chopped, 1 clove of Garlic, crushed, 1 Courgette, roughly chopped, ½ Aubergine, roughly chopped, ½ Green or Red Pepper, sliced, 1 tin of Chopped Tomatoes, 2 tbsp Rogan Gosh Curry paste, 250g Frozen Raw Prawns, a good handful of roughly chopped Spinach (optional), Salt, Pepper, Oil and a squeeze of Lemon Juice.

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of oil and add the spring onions and ginger, stir round for a couple of minutes and add the garlic, give it another minute and then add the courgette, pepper and aubergine. Stir round and allow to sweat gently for 10 minutes or so. Stir from time to time and add a little more oil if necessary (the aubergine can really soak it up). Add the tomatoes and the curry paste and about ½ a tins worth of water from the kettle, stir to combine and allow to simmer for 15 minutes minimum, or longer if you wish, whilst you cook some rice. Keep an eye on the sauce, stir occasionally and add a little more water if required. About 5 minutes from the end of the rice cooking time tip in the frozen prawns and the spinach if using and turn the heat up slightly to bring the sauce back to a simmer. Stir frequently at this point, add some seasoning and lemon juice. Once the rice is cooked, the prawns have turned pink and the spinach is wilted, serve sauce on rice in the usual manner.

Spring fresh curry, just what we need it seems.

Sorry I don’t have an image of the final dish, but it looks like tomato sauce on rice; not particularly enlightening!

‘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.

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.

Spring Risotto to Warm the Toes

I promised a risotto recipe about a month ago I think when the temperatures were barmy and there were thoughts that Summer must be just around the corner. Well that all changed about 48 hours ago when an arctic front swept across the country just in time for Child 1’s birthday Camp Out. I am typing today in a sleep deprived state, (so apologies if I lose my train of thought or this piece is peppered with worse than usual spelling) as the Camp Out turned into a Camp In. We live in a cottage and consequently ceilings are low, noise travels well and despite the ripe old age my elder son has reached it appears that if you administer food there is still a requirement to ‘let off steam’ immediately afterwards else furniture and/or breakables will be broken. Thankfully I spotted the cabin fever early, sent everyone to bounce on the trampoline and my meager collection of knick-knacks lives on. So with all that out the way, the cake pops issued as take home gifts and guitar cake consumed (not my finest creation for some reason), I have the Easter Weekend to look forward to.

Generally leg of Lamb is popular at such moments and, as I have mentioned before, Greek cooking springs (!) to mind at this time. One of my favourite roasts would be Lamb with Orzo pasta. This pasta is rice shaped, so the dish comprises of a kind of tomato-y risotto with caramelised onions, carrots and slices of delicious garlic studded roast lamb on top. Fantastic. The Orzo pasta can be a little tricky to get hold of and I have no idea how the origins of this Greek dish has pasta at the heart of it, but the Venetians invaded Crete at some point so maybe that fact is relevant. I’ve had a surf about and can’t find the exact recipe (I need to have a search through my Mother’s recipe book shelves to offer something here) but greek lamb with orzo from the bbc/food website will provide something similar.

So authentic risotto it is instead. The whole point of this dish is to use up leftovers. I love this type of cooking. The Italians have lots of dishes which have origins addressing this domestic issue. Salads, pasta sauces, pizza and risottos merely scratch the surface. I am assuming you have some left over roast lamb lying around for this.

  • Pick off some of the meat, to be honest you don’t need loads as the flavour is strong, and shred/chop into bite size pieces or smaller.
  • If you have any lamb gravy left over, pour/spoon into a saucepan and top up with water to give 600ml or 1 pint of stock. A vegetable stock cube will work here too. Get the stock simmering gently on the back of the hob.
  • In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, fry a chopped onion in a slug of olive oil. Cook gently to the transparent stage and then add a finely chopped stick of celery and included some chopped leafy parts too, cook that for a minute or two and add a crushed clove of garlic.
  • Then add 200g of risotto rice, Arborio or Carnaroli and stir continuously until the rice is coated well with the oil. Now you can add a slug of white wine or Vermouth at this stage or just start adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladles full at a time. Stir continuously and once the liquid has been absorbed, add a couple more, stir continuously and continue in this fashion for about 10 minutes or so.
  • Add your lamb, a good handful of frozen peas or so and a grating of parmesan, continue cooking in the gently simmering state for another 5 minutes or so until the rice, when sampled still has a little bite but appears to be almost done, the lamb is piping hot and the peas are tender.
  • At this point check for seasoning and add salt and pepper  to taste, a knob of unsalted butter, a good grating of parmesan if you wish, and a good tablespoon of fresh and finely chopped mint. Stir all that round for a minute or two and then ladle into bowls. This serves 2 adults.
  • Present the bowls with a little more grated parmesan and black pepper.

If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked just continue with recently boiled water from the kettle. This would also be good with ham from the Ham up and try it post! I will post more risotto recipes soon as I still haven’t brought you ‘Running Buddy 2 s’ ‘ yet.

Thatcher inspires Cottage Loaf

There has been a thatcher at work in Town for at least a couple of weeks now and as the Kids and I tend to drive by at least once a day, monitoring of his progress has become part of the daily routine. He is fascinating to watch; progress appears to be very slow and, as you are building a roof, is clearly very precise. He doesn’t seem entirely dressed for the job, often wearing something you might throw on for Saturday lunch at the pub if you are male and in your mid fifties. Naturally it’s not a particularly messy business, a bit dusty at best, and on the whole he has been blessed with reasonable weather so doesn’t need sou’westers on, but his attire has, quite frankly, been the most surprising facet. As I understand it the crop used to produce the straw lengths used by thatchers is a different variety to that used to produce grains of corn for consumption. The stems are a lot longer and grown as a rule only in East Anglia, (an area in the East of Britain).

I have been pondering how to work this excitement into a post about food almost from the word go, and of course I have already given away a big clue. Wheat/Corn/Barley, whatever it is the thatcher is using is essentially the ingredient in Bread.

I am very late to the making bread party, bearing in mind the general level of baking which goes on here. It’s my Father who is the expert bread maker, but as with many of his recipes (where’s the Cornish Chicken Curry one Papa, eh?) he likes to maintain an air of mystery and won’t divulge much. I will have to extract some of his signature dishes eventually (if you get my drift) but for the time being I suspect committing recipes to paper is the issue. I cook in a ‘pinch of this and a handful of that’ kind of way too and formalising the process can be a little tedious.

Anyway, bread making on the surface appears to be a bit of an art form. Gadgets to do the job for you are popular, and, whilst they haven’t demystified the process completely they have induced some having-a-go. Perhaps having made that leap, some might fancy this too. Lorraine Pascal finally persuaded me into action. Something about her mesmerising, siren call persona convinced me all would be well. She also has the sort of equipment in her kitchen that I have in mine which is helpful! A Kitchen Aid or a Kenwood Mixer would definitely be a BIG asset here as I wouldn’t really fancy kneading by hand, and food processors rarely produce good results.

Lorraine has a there-really-isn’t-much-to-it air about her and a lot of her tips have been really on the nail. That being said if you have watched or come across her smoothing a cake, IGNORE HER. DISASTER. I will post a video at some point of how to do it properly, or come on a cake decorating course, I’ll post some details soon but certainly don’t copy her. However on the subject of baking bread she is first rate and I have been happily baking it ever since.

First you need to decide what sort of loaf you want to eat.

For the type of loaf I make and by which we are talking a bloomer/cottage-y thing,

looking like this →

the recipe is the same regardless of the flour types you use. And therein lies the charm: completely adaptable, coping with allergies (up to a point), preferences and cravings.

As I tap, I have one in the oven and the flour combination is:

200g strong white, 100g wholemeal spelt and 200g of Allison’s Country Grain (malted wheat flakes, rye flour, malted wheat and barley flour apparently).

What all this means is if you are intolerant to wheat gluten you can substitute spelt or rye or a mixture to suit or if you find wholemeal heavy going and house-brick like you can blending regular white with wholemeal to lighten it. However if regular strong white is not a dietary issue I would recommend starting off with around 200g to give a reasonable chewiness and then experiment with the remaining 300g to find your perfect loaf. All Spelt (the original wheat) gives a loaf with a ‘crumbly texture’ once baked and therefore whilst making good toast can be a bit frustrating if you like to overfill your sandwich, like I do.

So, into the bowl you will need to put 500g bread flour, (all white if you wish or we like the proportions above, or 50/50 white/wholemeal), 8g easy blend dried yeast, 1 tsp salt (don’t skip it!), 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp Olive Oil, and 320 ml warm water. Switch on the mixer with the dough hook attachment and off you go. Watch whilst all the ingredients combine and the end point here is a ball of dough attached to the hook whizzing round and the sides of the bowl are clean, if it doesn’t all combine add a little more water (anything up to 20-30ml), if you have added too much water, don’t panic, although the dough will be sticking to the sides of the bowl and the mixer motor will appear to be labouring, just add a little flour and all should be well. Once you are happy with consistency, let it knead for 5 minutes. Then prove for 2 hours with a tea towl over the bowl. This can be in the kitchen on the work surface, doesn’t have to be in the airing cupboard or any of that nonsense and if it does rise too fast because it’s somewhere too hot, there’ll be trouble.

Then, knock back, which means sprinkle a little flour on the work surface and knead by hand for about 20 seconds, shape into an oval sort of shape, sprinkle a little flour on the top and make a couple of small slash marks with a knife. Plonk onto an oiled baking sheet. Preheat main oven to 220°C/200°C and if you have a top oven leave in there towards the bottom for 25 minutes. If no top oven, on the hob or next to will be fine with the tea towel over. After 25 minutes is up pop in the centre of the oven (minus the tea towel) and if you can, put some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven to create some steam and produce a crusty crust. This is a Pascal-ism and is a great tip. Bake for about 30-35 minutes. Then remove and after a minute or two and using a tea towel pick up the bread and knock the bottom. It should sound hollow or so the legends go. I have no idea what I’m listening for, but if it looks cooked, it probably is.

The only problem with this is that it is so tasty and the house smells so great, it’s all gone before it’s cold and you are back to square one.

The day I took the photos I asked the Thatcher’s permission and how long he had left. To my surprise, and despite the fact it looks almost finished, he still had a months worth of work to go!

Barely got your hat off Chicken Noodle Soup

I always remember a wise member of my family quoting an expression her mother used to use regarding those occasions where you come bursting through the front door, and for whatever reason, a meal should have been on the table 10 minutes beforehand. She described it as ‘being in such a rush to get started on the cooking that she had barely got her hat off’. I know the feeling, chopping in your coat, frequently in fact and today was such a day.

We had been travelling home from our weekend away and despite having left plenty of time (and thank goodness we had), we were starting to run late. It was a lengthier trip than usual due to downpours, copious roadworks, heaps of traffic, the gods conspiring to send every traffic light we approached red and some extremely dawdle-y type individuals. Child 1 needed to be at cricket practice (yes that’s right, cricket) more or less upon arrival home and guess what – needed some tea before he went.

What do you cook at such a moment – barely got your hat off, practically store cupboard Chicken Noodle Soup.

I had had the foresight to buy the cooked chicken you need, those packets of ready roasted chicken (breast or legs) or even thickly sliced chargrilled chicken are perfect for this, but as it’s Monday you might have left over Roast Chicken knocking about.

So for 2 medium sized children:

to a saucepan add a chicken stock cube, about 800mls to 1 litre of boiling water, 2 tbsp each of mirin and soy sauce (reduced salt is fine), 2 layers of Sharwoods medium egg noodles, broken up a fair bit, a good handful of frozen peas and/or sweetcorn (or whatever you think you can get away with) and an amount of cooked shredded chicken equivalent to a chicken breast or so. Allow the whole lot to come to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes or so until the noodles are cooked and the chicken is piping hot. Check the broth for seasoning, you can always add a little more soy sauce if necessary. Ladle into bowls and supply those conjoined chopsticks or a fork and also a spoon. Perfect.

Mine love this and not just because it is quick.

Adults may eat it too, but you might need to get a bit more creative, assuming time and scope. One might add a little chilli, flakes or fresh, mushrooms, fresh coriander etc.

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