Sunday, 16 May 2010

A walk in the woods - bilberry, bleaberry, blaeberry, etc

We headed out for a stomp around the lake this afternoon, I think we were both in need of stretching our legs after a morning at the computer.

P5050123Although it was slightly overcast, it didn’t dampen the wonderful colour springing forth from every nook and cranny. It may have felt like an age for spring to arrive – but it’s now here with a vengeance. Everything is tinged green.

The one find that made my heart leap, was the little red bleaberries forming. They won’t be ripe until July/August, but it’s good to see they are on their way…

P5050119 I’ve never quite worked out what they are actually called locally. I thought they were called blaeberries, but I’ve been told that blae is a Scottish term. I didn't like to say that ‘blae’ commonly occurs in places names around here!

Anyway, I digress. Bilberry is apparently too generic. The name I should apparently be using is: bleaberry.

Whatever they are called, they are wonderful to eat and pick either as a refreshing snack while walking, or to pick basketfuls for taking home.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Maids of honour

P4210109It feels like spring has taken a long time to arrive in Cumbria this year. With May Day last weekend it was time to cut some blossoming branches, fill a large le Parfait jar with water and pop the branches in, bringing a little bit of spring in to the house.

With spring arriving again it feels like its the right time to start-up Springtime again. And what better way than with a traditional May Day recipe.

Maids of honour are often associated with stories of Tudor courts, Henry VIII and of course, maids. I do not doubt that these stories may be based on grains of truth, but similar versions of this recipe were common during medieval and post-medieval times. The reason being that maids of honour are a seasonal, springtime recipe often associated with May Day. But why May Day? The obvious link is the term ‘maids’ being associated with young women and May Queens, etc. But looking at the actual recipe, the tart makes the most of new sweet milk from cows that had recently been let-out to pasture, giving another reason for their popularity on May Day.

May would have been a lean time of the year in terms of fresh fruit for cakes and puddings. Although one ingredient which was plentiful, and at its best, was milk. Many sweet  dishes were made from milk or curd cheese at this time of year in the past, so it is no surprise to find that the filling of a maid of honour is mainly curd cheese and jam (or lemon curd from fresh eggs). The combination of cheese when it’s at its best and jam from the store cupboard is not only wonderful, but also firmly rooted in the agricultural calendar of the past.

Recipemaid of honour (NTE)


  • 1/4 pack of puff pastry
  • 120gr cottage or curd cheese
  • 20gr caster sugar
  • zest from 1/2 a lemon
  • 15gr ground almonds
  • 1 medium egg
  • a little bit of jam or lemon curd (I’ve used homemade lemon curd, blackcurrant jam and apricot jam –they all taste good!).


  1. Take your pastry out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  3. In a bowl mix the cheese, sugar, zest, almonds and egg. Don’t worry about the lumps if you use cottage cheese, this melt when the tray goes in the oven.
  4. Roll out the pastry, then using a cutter, cut out circles about 9cm. Don’t twist the cutter, just press down sharply.
  5. Put the rounds in to the holes of a muffin tin.
  6. Put barely half of teaspoon of jam or curd into the base of the case, followed by the cheese mixture. Do not over fill the cases.
  7. Put in the oven for about 20 mins.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Marrons à la crème de noix de coco

This was one of those dishes that made you think ‘how can something so simple, taste so good?’

I first discovered my love of chestnuts a few Christmases ago, after biting into a slightly strange looking, slightly crumbly, marron glacé. After that taste I was truly hooked on chestnuts.

You can imagine my delight, when I spent the best part of a year in the south of France and discovered that chestnut food products were everywhere! Chestnut puree (sweet, unsweetened, cans, tubes, jars, etc), chestnut spread, chestnut bread, and even a chestnut ice cream by Clément Faugier. Equally, you probably have a fair idea of my disappointment to return to England to find chestnuts in very expensive tins or vaccum-packs. 

The advantage of the expense of chestnuts in my local supermarket (and not having so many chestnut products to choose from all year round) is that December is a real treat. Fresh chestnuts are back on the shelves again. And, I can make whatever I choose from them!

This recipe is a twist on a classic: marrons à la crème. You can buy unsweetened chestnut puree, but, equally you can make your own. I followed instructions from Closet Cooking on how to boil and puree the chestnuts._MG_1750 Unfortunately, I only thought to blog-this recipe after we’d eaten it all…


This makes two very generous portions. It would easily serve three. This dish can also be made in advance, ideal for a dinner party.

  • 125gr unsweetened chestnut puree
  • 125gr caster sugar
  • 175ml coconut cream (either straight from the cartoon, or of you like the consistency slightly thicker, whisk it slightly)
  • Dark chocolate to grate over for decoration (optional)
  1. Put the coconut cream in the fridge for an hour to cool.
  2. Put the puree in a pan over a medium heat.
  3. Add the sugar and stir until it’s melted.
  4. Continue to cook gently for a couple of minutes and the mixture will darken slightly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  5. When both the cream and chestnut puree have cooled, take two glasses and put a dessert spoon of puree in to each glass. Follow with a dessert of the coconut cream. Continue layering until you have used all the ingredients.
  6. Place in the fridge again, to cool. Decorate with grated chocolate.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Local smoked duck

I never thought that I would write this, but it is possible to have too much comfort food. I’ve spent the week serving and making food for those who have been clearing-up the flood damage at work in Cockermouth. Hot and filling comfort food has been pouring forth, but now I’ve had enough of chilli, stews and casseroles!!!

PB290081 I picked up a fresh cabbage and some oak smoked duck breast at a local farmers’ market. Along with some of my homemade plum and damson sauce, this shopping formed the basis for supper this evening. Smoked duck on a bed of cabbage and rice noodles.

Riverside Smoked Foods, in Frizington, make the most wonderful smoked food. The duck breast had been marinated in damson juice, before being smoked. Delicious. Unfortunately, they don’t have a website at the moment, but I believe one will be online soon. I’ll put a link up here when one is available.

This dish is quick and easy to make, and can be made partly in advance, making it ideal as a starter for a dinner party or for an informal supper.


Chop the cabbage finely, and steam for 5 minutes. Soak the rice noodles for 5 minutes, then drain. Cut up some ginger and garlic and thinly slice the duck breast. These steps can all be done in advance.

Heat some oil in wok, add the garlic and ginger. Fry for a minute or two. Add the cabbage and noodles, along with a splash of soy sauce. Place in a warmed bowl, with the duck on top and drizzle with plum sauce.PB290080

Friday, 20 November 2009

Lamb, Rosemary and Leek Pie

Well, what a day. The floods in Cockermouth (10 miles away) have been making headline news all day. It’s strange to think that where we were standing yesterday afternoon is still under 4ft of water and is likely to be inundated for some time to come. My heart goes out to the people who live in and around Main Street, I can not even imagine what they must be feeling.

PB200070 With the winds and rain set to continue tomorrow, it’s a night for comfort food (I don’t need much of an excuse for comfort food!). We had a wonderful joint of local lamb the other night for Nick’s birthday, so the leftovers now need using up. I’ve set about making a lamb pie, loosely based around my steak pie recipe. The filling is currently simmering away, or trying to simmer on our useless hob!

I’ve not yet attempted wheat-free (gluten-free in this case) pastry. My wheat free bread, made in our bread machine was a disaster, although I’ve since been told to try using chestnut flour. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the pastry.


Pie filing

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs gluten-free plain flour
  • A good pinch of herbs de Provence
  • Any left-over cooked lamb, or 300-400gr of fresh lamb, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of pasata
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • 1/2 cup of good stock, I used chicken stock as I had some in the fridge.
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp (heaped) of dried rosemary
  • 6 mushrooms chopped in half
  • 2 tsp of redcurrant jelly
  • 1 leek, chopped into 1cm circle
  1. Heat the oil, add the onion and fry for a couple of minutes in an oven-safe dish until the onion is soft.
  2. Toss the lamb in the flour and herbs, add a good grind of black pepper and a little salt. Add to the onion.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for about 3/4 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, make the pastry.
  5. After the meat has simmer for 45 mins, remove the lid, add the leek and allow the sauce/gravy to reduce for 15 mins. At this stage you can also fish out the rosemary stems and the cinnamon stick.



The pastry recipe is from Stephen Howarth. I’m expecting great things Stephen!

  • 8oz gluten-free plain flour
  • 2oz butter, I used goat’s, but I’m going to try using Pure next time to make it totally dairy-free, cubed
  • 2oz lard, cubed
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  1. PB200066Rub the butter into the flour.
  2. Stir in the egg and a couple of tablespoons of cold water.
  3. Turn out the crumbly dough and knead it. Or, like I did, knead it in the bowl. Unlike normal pastry, apparently ‘gluten-free pastry likes to be handled’.
  4. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 mins.


  1. Roll-out 2/3 and line the base of a pie dish. This is easier said than done. You will use a lot more flour to keep the surface dusted, and it’s best to use short strokes of the rolling pin. As there is no gluten, there is not much elasticity in the pastry, so it splits easily as you roll it. When you turn the pastry, or need to handle it, use the rolling pin and the plate knife. You’ll quickly come unstuck if you use your hands!
  2. Fill the base with the lamb.
  3. Roll out the other piece of pastry, as above.
  4. Use a fork to press down the edges of the pie. Pierce the top and place in a preheated oven (180 degrees celcius) for 45 mins.


Result: It was good! The pastry was extremely short, which meant it cracked on top in the oven, but that didn’t matter. Also, the gluten-free flour tasty made the pastry taste quite floury. Having said that, I would definitely make it again!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Homemade hot chocolate

Driving home this afternoon, we got caught in a hail storm. Amazingly, the hail completely covered the road with ice. It was suddenly like being plunged into mid-winter and I quickly had to remember how to drive on frozen roads, not something I’ve had to do since February. 

On such a wet and cold afternoon hot chocolate was needed.

PB070042Green & Black’s website says that their cocoa has been made in a factory that handles dairy and wheat, but they are not direct ingredients. In fact, their cocoa is one of the few things that doesn’t contain any diary products. I think that’s good enough for us!

 Homemade hot chocolate recipe

  • 25gr good quality cocoa powder (I used Green & Black’s Organic Cocoa)
  • 50 gr caster sugar
  • Milk

PB070045 Mix the cocoa and sugar in the ratio above (2 sugar: 1 cocoa). I used 125gr cocoa powder and 250gr sugar to make a large batch for using over the next few weeks. I put these ingedients into a Kilner jar, closed the lid and gave it a good shake. This jar will also provide the hot chocolate’s home until is made into a drink.  

To make up the hot chocolate, simply put 1.5 tbls of the dry mix in the bottom of a mug, add a little milk (normal, soya or goat’s) and mix to form a paste. Then, top up with hot milk, stir well and enjoy!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Wheat and dairy free peanut butter and chocolate biscuits

We’ve adopted a wheat and dairy free diet. I think this might be quite a challenge.

Nick used to be on a diet of no dairy, no yeast and no-lots-of-other things for health reasons. Then, medication was prescribed and for the last five years he has eaten more-or-less whatever he chooses to. However, over the last couple of years he has been battling with depression (it’s ok – he’s given me permission to mention this!). 

With the news earlier in the week that there appears to be a link between depression and diet, and with my slight intolerance of wheat and diary, we decided to go back to restricting what we eat. My addiction to all things bad, pastry (especially pies), cakes and cream (particularly homemade ice cream) is not to help…

On my last visit to our local Sainsbury's I was surprised by how much 'free-from' food was available. Certainly, there were far more products than 5 years ago. My best find so far has been goat's milk. Yesterday, I gingerly sipped at my first cup of tea with goat's milk, I have to say that I could not taste any difference. Amazing. St Helens’ Farm also produce cream, so maybe I'll be able to survive after all!

This afternoon I tried to make some cookies, this recipe is just a slight variation of one from the back of a packet of PB050038 Dove's Farm rice flour. They turn out very crisp (unless you eat them straight from the oven), a bit like the texture of a gingernut. So I think ‘biscuits’ is a better name for these little bundles of yumminess, rather than ‘cookies’.

Wheat and dairy free peanut butter and chocolate biscuits

  • 125gr goat’s butter
  • 90gr light brown sugar
  • 90gr dark brown sugar
  • 125gr crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp wheat-free baking powder
  • 175gr rice flour
  • 50gr dairy and wheat free chocolatePB050036
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade and  grease two baking sheets with a little butter or olive oil.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar.
  3. Add the peanut butter and egg and mix thoroughly.
  4. Mix in the flour, chocolate and baking powder.
  5. Take a teaspoon of the mixture and make it in to a ball. Place on the baking tray and push down slightly to squash it flat. I put 8 on one tray, 9 on another and froze the rest of the dough.
  6. Place the trays in the oven for 15 mins.
  7. When they are cooked, place on a rack to cool.