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.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Mix and match pie and a lost camera

My camera has gone missing. How can I post anything without pictures? It's like beans on toast, but without the beans. We have two wonderful kittens, who are just 10 weeks old and I'm blaming them for 'moving' the camera. Or at least knocking it off a shelf or behind a rickety bookcase as they rocket round the house chasing each other.

I've been dining alone the last few days, so I've taken this opportunity to try to use up some of the mysterious packages of food in the freezer. When they originally went in to the freezer I was certain that they didn't need labels. Clearly, I would remember exactly what was where. Or not as the case may be. I've since learnt my lesson, and now everything that goes in to the freezer is labelled with: the date, exactly what it is and how many it will feed.

But the bag of brown splodge that came out of the freezer yesterday morning was from the pre-labelling days.
Tonight's dish was the second half of a wonderful stew. But having had the same last night, I wanted to do somehting different with it. I decided to wrap it in some short-crust pastry that was left-over (in the fridge this time) and make an impromptu pie. Served with some stir-fried kale from my friend's allotment and leeks it was a great supper and really quick!

'Left-over stew pie' will definitetely be on the menu again, maybe for two next time, especially now that I've started labelling the freezer food.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Roasted pumpkin with macaroni goat’s cheese - Orange food part one

I love autumn. There’s something about kicking crisp honey-coloured leaves on a sunny morning, the smell of damp leaves on a rainy day and curling up with hot spiced apple juice by a log fire that means autumn is here. I also start to crave orange food: pumpkins, squash, carrots, oranges etc.

PA200022The sweetness of squash is something that goes wonderfully well the saltiness of goat’s cheese, which gave me the idea for this recipe. Also, I was inspired by 5 Star Foodie’s challenge to make macaroni cheese with a twist. Until now, I’ve only ever made a pretty straightforward macaroni cheese, so I was a bit sceptical setting-out on this!

During an action-packed afternoon off from work, in between trying to speed-read a book for our book group meeting, taking the kittens to the vets and rescuing various bits of furniture from the exploring kittens, I also made this:

Roasted pumpkin with macaroni goat’s cheese recipe

  • 300gr of squash, peeled, cored and cubed. (I used pumpkin, but I think it would be better with butternut squash)
  • 1 tbls olive oil
  • A pinch of paprika
  • A pinch of chilli flakes
  • A pinch of cumin
  • 1 cup of macaroni
  • 25gr butter
  • 25gr plain flour
  • 1/2 pint milk, warmed slightly
  • A grate of nutmeg
  • 80gr hard goat’s cheese (this was all I had, it would be better with more!), grated PA200030
  1. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius and put a oven tray in to warm-up. Put the pumpkin in a pan of boiling water. Boil the pumpkin until it starts to soften slightly, about 5 minutes.
  2. Drain the pumpkin and put the oven tray with the olive oil, the chilli, cumin, paprika and a good grind of black pepper. Roast for about 15mins, or until the edges are crisp.
  3. Meanwhile, boil a pan of water and add the macaroni, cook according the instructions.
  4. In another pan, melt the butter, add the flour and cook for a minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in the milk.
  5. Return the heat and gradually bring to a simmer, you will need to stir frequently. When it has thickened, remove from the heat and add the cheese and nutmeg.
  6. Put the sauce and macaroni in a dish and stir to make sure they are combined well. Add the pumpkin and stir lightly so as not to turn the pumpkin pieces to mash.
  7. Turn the oven down to 180 degrees Celsius and place in the oven for 10 mins.

This a great dish to, but I would definitely use butternut squash in future and more cheese, just to really bring out the flavours.

This recipe is also being submitted to 5 Star Makeover: Macaroni and Cheese.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

How to skin a pheasant

I never thought I'd be writing on this topic, let alone doing it myself!

I enjoy eating meat, so given an opportunity to prepare our own I was determined not to bottle it. Vegetarianism would have been next if I'd found I couldn't stomach it. But, I did it! I'm so chuffed I managed to do this that I can't resist writing a small piece about it! If you think you'll find this offensive, please look away now.

I was slightly apprehensive before we started this morning, the pheasants had hung for three days so this morning's job was skinning and gutting. I'd been assured by a friend (who has prepared pheasants, ducks and geese before) that pheasants were easiest. I wasn't convinced.

PA180011Nick found a video on the internet (the obvious place to look!) about how to skin a pheasant, it was excellent. I would thoroughly recommend Mark Hinge's video to anyone else who has never done this before.
Feeling slightly strange about handling a dead animal for the first time (not counting the mice that the cats have brought in) we started by removing the wings, feathers, tendons and head. Amazingly, I was OK until this point. Next came removing the skin and innards. I hadn't expected the smell at this stage. It was awful. Having said that, I did get used to it and turning on the extractor fan helped!

The first one was completed as a joint effort between both of us; I tackled the next three by myself. We now have four pheasants sitting in the freezer, I can't quite believe it!

This probably sounds quite dippy to anyone who has done this before , but I was surprised at how different each bird was. Young, old, male, female, etc, all seemed to affect the colour and texture of the flesh as well as the weight of the animal. Why it shouldn’t, I’m not quite sure. I think I was just more aware it because of the close contact with the birds.

Now I'm not quite sure what to do with them, I'm thinking of a pie...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Tail and pheasants

Tail between my legs. I feel rather sheepish.

I can’t believe I haven’t written a post for nigh-on six months. Shame on me. I’d love to use the excuse that I’ve been too busy, but isn’t everyone?

More honestly, the problem has been in my head. The blog was so enmeshed with my PhD that when it was over I reacted quite strongly against anything to do with the thesis. Even things which I loved, namely reading books (even novels) and writing Springtime. There was no real reason, other than I needed a break. However, the letter arrived on the mat last week saying that it has all been officially accepted (corrections as well)! That flimsy piece of paper with the University’s hologram shimmering in the corner actually means, ‘Life may now continue’!

I won’t give a long and tedious update on what I’ve been doing, but needless to say, it’s been foodie related. I have a whole host of posts that need to be written, starting with the plastic sack containing 4 recently dead pheasants that I came home to yesterday…

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Blog Event – English Wine Week

English wine is something that I was introduced to a few years ago, ever since then, you can almost always guarantee that if we’re invited to dinner we’ll arrive with a bottle of English wine. This may seem rather monotonous, but this is definitely a product that needs to be known about far and wide! An astonishing number of people have never come across it, let alone tried it.

P5060152My favourite is Parsons Leap from the Three Choirs vineyard  (I buy mine at Morrisons), although I know very little about wine – I know I love this! It’s dry and tastes of elderflowers. Of course, a sommelier may wish to disagree with me!

Just taking a quick peak at the news page on the English Wine Producers website shows how successful English vineyards are across the world, after all, they are producing a world-class product. If this is the case, why, when I went in to my local Sainsbury’s store was I told, ‘We don’t have the demand for it’? This is a real shame. With the drive for locally-produced food sweeping across the country, why aren’t we demanding more English wine? Not only does it taste just as good, or in my opinion, better than, other wines, it saves ‘wine miles’.

EWWiiTo help raise awareness of this wonderful wine, I thought it would be fun to host my first blogging event around it. English Wine Week is held in the last week of May (23rd – 31st May), providing a perfect deadline for entries!


Here’s the challenge:

1) Find some English wine (take a look at for your local supplier). Three Choirs can be found at Tesco and Morrisons for around £6.99 I believe.

2) Blog about a recipe that a) uses English wine, or b) goes extremely well with English wine, before the 30th May 2009.

If you don’t live in the UK, I would love to know if you have come across English wine in your local wine store (I know, this goes against the ‘less wine miles’ idea – but interesting nonetheless!). If not, and you would like to enter the event, just submit a recipe using a wine from your local vineyard, I’ll collate these separately.

3) Send an email to with:

  • a link to your blog post
  • the wine you used and where you bought it
  • a photo.

I will collate all the entries on the last day of English Wine Week (31st May).

4) Have fun!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


P5020109 It’s been a while since I’ve written a post, life has been a bit hectic! Despite the constant bustle, we managed to get out-and-about over the bank holiday weekend - in between the occasional downpours on Saturday and the constant heavy drizzle on Monday.


Driving home this evening, I started to mentally analyse the contents of the fridge. What needed using up? Various scrummy cheeses, a little bit of gnocchi, some salad and not much else! Remembering an old recipe of a goat’s cheese and spinach gnocchi bake, I tried a slight twist on the recipe (in the absence of any spinach).

Wrapping-up in my long wax jacket and wellies I went out into the the lane in absolutely-bucketing-down-rain and picked some nettles. After washing and blanching the leaves in boiling water I mixed these with the cooked gnocchi and a basic white sauce, with tons of P5050146grated cheese and a little nutmeg added to it. The mixture was split into  individual casserole dishes with a little more grated cheese sprinkled on top along with a few walnut pieces. These dishes were put in a hot oven for 25 mins and then served with a small salad and grilled pesto bread spread with a little wild garlic pesto.

This was good mid-week supper for using up leftovers and free food. However, I would definitely recommend using a strong cheese, like a goat’s cheese or a good blue cheese.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Victoria Sponge – how hard can it possibly be?

Sometimes there are days when everything works out, and occasionally there are days when everything goes wrong. This was one of those days – the later sort.

A box of duck eggs had been sitting on the counter for a couple of days, just asking to be used. Then I remember a comment by neighbour’s husband, ‘they make a wonderful Victoria Sponge’. After a quick phone call to my mum to get her recipe, I set about making my sponge. First problem – how many duck eggs are equal to 4 hen eggs?

P4190057 Visiting my neighbour to ask her opinion resulted in me leaving with a fresh goose egg to use instead (and apparently 3 duck eggs = 4 hen eggs). Goose eggs were even more unfamiliar to me, but the prospect of cooking with one was quite exciting! Armed with the knowledge that a goose egg is equal to 3 hen eggs and the advice that I would really need to whack the shell to get it to break, I hurried back to the kitchen.

P4190059 If 1 goose egg = 3 hen eggs, then by my calculations I would need a hen egg too. In my haste to get started, I mixed the beaten egg with the butter. This was the source of my second problem. I should have creamed the butter and sugar, not the egg, I must have written it down wrongly. Luckily, I saw the magimix at this stage so the egg, butter and sugar, were duly blitzed. The third problem, was slightly more serious: an absence of self-raising flour. OK, this should have been easily remedied, I just needed some plain flour and baking powder, easy when you’ve got plain flour (how could I possibly be this disorganised?). A root-around in the cupboard and I found some local stone-ground flour - great! After sifting the flour to remove some of the coarse bits and adding the baking powder, I was back on-track. Making a cake really shouldn’t have been this difficult. The mixture rose wonderfully, but then I couldn’t get the sponge out of the tins, why had I even started baking this morning? I’d greased them thoroughly, but next time I’ll use greaseproof paper in the bottom.

P4190064 The stone-ground flour gave the sponge a coarser texture than usual and I felt the sponge was a little too dry and crumbly (I think I may have cooked it for a few minutes too long). The result was certainly not the prettiest of cakes I’ve ever made, but it tasted good. With the number of things which wrong, I couldn’t really have ask for anything more – especially as most of my problems were brought on by me, and me alone! (You’ll be glad to know I’ve now stocked-up on both plain and self-raising flour).

Apart from the sugar, all of the ingredients turned out to be Cumbrian: the butter and the damson cheese were bought from local producers at Damson Day, the eggs were from the hens and geese behind the house and the flour was from a local mill. This wasn’t the original aim of making the cake, but it was a wonderful side-product of my comedy of errors!


8oz butter (at room temperature)

8oz sugar

8oz self-raising flour

4 hen eggs (or one goose egg + one hen egg)

2oz butter (at room temperature)

4oz icing sugar

a few tbsp of jam

Method (this is what I should have done – thanks mum!)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, add half the egg and a tablespoon of flour.
  3. Then fold in the flour, this is important as it keeps the sponge fluffy.
  4. Split the mixture between two sponge tins (lined with greaseproof paper) and put in the oven until risen and firm to touch, about 20-25 mins.
  5. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool.
  6. Make the butter icing by mixing the remaining butter and the icing sugar.
  7. Smooth the butter icing onto one half of the sponge, spread the jam on top of the icing, and then place the second half of the sponge on top. Dust with a pinch of icing sugar.
  8. Enjoy with a cup of tea.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Garlic Day – Wild garlic pesto recipe

P4180041 Following on from Damson Day, today marked Garlic Day. Wild garlic is just starting to come into flower, and like Damson Day, Garlic Day seems to celebrate the beginning of the season. We have many pockets of wild garlic, in slightly damp, wooded areas in the lanes around us. One, which is just off of the route I drive through each day, is ideal for stopping at on my way home to grab some leaves to add to a salad.

Using the wild garlic l gathered yesterday, and some from closer to home, I made a super-quick wild garlic pesto. I made this pesto into a creamy sauce, added some left-over chicken and served it between homemade sheets of pasta with the wild garlic flowers pressed in dough. A very ‘garlicky’ meal to celebrate the day!

Pesto recipe


15gr wild garlic leaves

5gr fresh basil leaves

15gr parmesan, chopped into small cubes,

P419007715gr pine nuts

70ml olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Roughly chop, or rip, the garlic and basil leaves.
  2. Put the cheese and nuts in a magimix for a few seconds until both are chopped.
  3. P4190080Add the leaves and blitz until all the ingredients are combined.
  4. Add the olive oil and the salt and pepper and blitz for a few seconds.
  5. Using a spatula, transfer the pesto into a jar and top up with more oil so that mixture is covered.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Damson Day and Almond Ice Cream

P4180018 Today was Damson Day in the Lyth valley. We found out about the day earlier in the week and thought it would be fun to go along. Admittedly, I was a little unsure as to why Damson Day was being held in April, surely it should be when the fruit is harvested in late summer? My neighbour then pointed out that it was to celebrate the blossom on the trees.

In years gone by, people used to gather in the Lyth Valley each spring to see the blanket of white blossom in valley from the damson orchards. In recent years, Damson Day has been held by the Westmorland Damson Association to help promote the resurrection of the damson orchards and raise awareness of the small deep purple fruit, which resembles a small dark plum. Damsons are commonly used to make all sorts of jams, cheeses, jellies, gins, syrups and wines. They are also used in meat dishes, especially alongside game, duck and pork. But one of the best things about them is that the trees are extremely hardy and survive the strong cumbrian winds without a problem!

P4180015 We set out this morning to the farm which hosts Damson Day, expecting a small affair, only to find it was packed with people! A small farm, with it’s buildings and associated fields, was filled with stalls selling all sorts of damson produce, other locally produced goods, various crafts stalls and demonstrations including spinning, rope making, basket making and you could even make your own besom broom (like a witch’s broomstick!).

P4180003 The only food and drink stalls were: a local brewery, a soup and sandwich stall organised by the local school and beef stew stall. All of which looked wonderful! We opted for sandwich and cake, with the sandwich filling being local cheese and damson chutney, it was delicious. It was also refreshing to only have good quality, wholesome food available.

P4180011 After finding a quiet spot on which to sit down and munch our sandwiches, I found a solitary seat in the marquee for the cookery demonstration. This was a total surprise. The demonstration was about black pudding and scrambled eggs! Black pudding is something I’ve always avoided because I don’t like the idea P4180009of it, but, after being told about the ingredients (onion, herbs, spices, barley, salt, etc), the history of it and the nutritional qualities I plucked-up the courage to try some. It’s not something I’ll be eating all the time, but it was not as bad as I thought it would be!  


P4180022Desperate to escape the crowds, we set-off down the narrow lanes to explore the surrounding area and the damson orchards. The blossom really is blissfully beautiful, especially against the spindly damson trees.

(I also found some wild garlic ready for Garlic Day tomorrow!)


P4180012Although there were no damsons for sale (wrong time of year - I’ll have to wait until later in the summer for those) I did buy some damson syrup. As soon as we got home I set about making almond ice cream for after supper. We had this drizzled with a little bit of the syrup. A perfect end to a really special day.

Almond Ice cream


1 pint of double cream

250ml semi-skimmed milk

1 tsp of vanilla extract

6 egg yolks

40 gr caster sugar

2 tsp of almond extract



  1. P4180049 Put the cream, milk and vanilla in a heavy based saucepan and warm gently.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the egg yolks and the sugar together. When the cream is hot, but just below the boil, add this to the eggs, whisking continuously. Then, using a spatula return all of the mixture to the pan and continue to heat.
  3. Stir the mixture until it begins to thicken. However, you only want it to just coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Once it has reached this point, tip the mixture into a clean bowl and place this bowl in a sink of cold water which reaches about half-way up the bowl.
  5. P4180050 Leave the bowl in the sink for about 30 mins, then transfer it to the fridge to finish cooling completely (about another hour).
  6. Add the almond extract and stir well. Tip the mixture into the ice cream maker.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Apple and cinnamon hot cross buns - recipe

P4120192 Life still seems like it is a bit of a rollercoaster, I’m desperately trying to catch-up with everything which has been put to one side over the last few months like bills (oops!), cleaning, work, seeing friends and trying to spend a bit of time relaxing. Things are slowly coming together and beginning to settle again.

Despite the busyness, I couldn’t possibly let Easter pass without some baking, so what better to make than hot cross buns!

This recipe is a slight variation on the Richard Bertinet’s recipe in last month’s Sainbury’s magazine. I really like M&S apple and cinnamon hot cross buns, so I thought I’d try to make my own using this recipe as the base. The result was good!

Don’t expect these for breakfast (unless you get up at 4am). I started at about 8.30 am and we ate the first one about 3pm.


500gr strong bread flour

60gr butter, cut into small cubes

7gr dried yeast

80gr caster sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbs mixed spice

2 tbs ground cinnamon

175gr sultanas

75gr dried apple rings, chopped

3 eggs

250ml milk

50gr plain flour


  1. Rub the butter into the bread flour in a mixing bowl until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Warm the milk so that you can hold your little finger in it.
  3. Stir in the yeast, 40gr sugar and salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the dried fruit with the spices so that they become completely coated. Add this to the flour mixture.
  5. Add the milk and 2 eggs and mix them with your finger tips. When they are completely combined you should end up with a really sticky dough. Turn this out onto a lightly-floured surface (but don’t add any more flour until I tell to you to!).
  6. Knead the dough for about 15 mins by pulling, stretching, pushing the heel of your hand into the dough and slamming the dough onto the surface. (The slamming part I found quite therapeutic – especially as I had some bad dreams last and was in a strange mood this morning).
  7. You’ll know when the dough is ready as it will no longer be sticky, but smooth. It shouldn’t stick to the board/work surface. You can now add a little bit of flour, shape the dough into a ball, place this back in the mixing bowl, cover with a clean tea-towel and place in a warm place to rest for a couple of hours.
  8. When the dough has risen, split it into 16 pieces and make each one into ball. Place these close together on a baking tray. Take the last eggs (beaten) and brush on to the balls of dough (keep any remaining egg, we’ll use it later!). Cover. Leave to rest again somewhere warm (I took them outside in the sunshine)for at least an hour and half, or until the balls start to squish into one another on the tray.
  9. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.P4120173
  10. Mix the plain flour with 2 tbls of water, adding the water slowly, until a paste is formed. Transfer the paste to a piping bag (or a plastic food bag with the end snipped off) and pipe crosses on the tops.
  11. Place in the oven for 15 mins.
  12. Lastly, you need to make the glaze. Place the remaining 40gr sugar with 40ml of water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Don’t let it boil for too long, just a minute or two (mine turned to caramel because I let it boil too long…)
  13. When the buns are cooked, brush the sugar glaze on top, then remove to a wire rack to cool.
  14. Serve warm, cut in half with butter!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

In the bag…Bacon, Leek and Cheese Tart

This is a very, very late entry to the ‘In the Bag’ event hosted by ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ and ‘A Real Epicurean’, but when I made this tart this morning, I couldn’t resist!!

My partner got back yesterday from a week skiing in France (lucky thing!), and returned with a ton of cheese in his suitcase! So, combining some of the cheese with the bacon and leeks I picked up from the farmer’s market P4050148-1yesterday, I  made one of my favourite lunchtime tarts…

We took this to the beach and had a wonderful picnic in the sunshine. It feels very strange, but very nice, to actually have my weekends back!

Bacon, Leek and Cheese Tart


250gr puff pastry

120gr leeks (cut into sticks)

60gr butter

130gr bacon (chopped into 1cm squares)

60gr cheese (grated), I used Beaufort, but Gruyere or anything else that needs using-up is fine!

2 eggs

100ml double cream

A pinch of dried thyme


  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.P4050137
  2. Spray or wipe a loose-bottomed flan tin with oil.
  3. Roll out the pastry and place in the tin. Put some greaseproof paper on top, followed by some baking beans. Place in the oven for 20 mins.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for about 15 mins.
  5. P4050135When the leeks are soft, remove from the pan and drain on kitchen-paper. Add the bacon to the same pan, turn-up the heat and fry for about 5 mins until crispy.
  6. Mix the eggs with the cream, thyme and some salt and pepper.
  7. After removing the greaseproof pastry and beans from the pastry case add the leeks and bacon.
  8. Pour over the egg mixture and top with the cheese.
  9. Place in the oven for 20 mins, or until the tart is set.


Friday, 3 April 2009


Hello! I feel awful that it’s taken me so long to get round to writing this – I’ve not really wanted to go near my computer…

The thesis was finally submitted on Tuesday morning after some last-minute hiccups! Hurrah! I’ve been a walking zombie since then, and I was straight back to work on Wednesday morning.

I want to say a huge ‘thank you’ for all the supportive messages I have received over the last few weeks, I’ve really appreciated them. So, here’s a list of everyone I want to say a special ‘thank you’ to, it’s in no particular order. I’m pretty sure I’ve included everyone, but if you’ve been missed off, just let me know!

5 Star Foodie

Oyster Food and Culture

Laura at The Spiced Life 

The Cottage Small Holder

Giz and Pyschgrad at Equal Opportunity Kitchen

Julia at A Slice of Cherry Pie

Suzie at Essentially Healthy Food

Lucy at Teen Baker

Jules at Domestic Goddess in Training

Claire at Purely Food


Mr and Mrs Dirty Boots at A Self Sufficient Life


Holler at Tinned Tomatoes

Femin Susan at Vegetable Art

Louise at A View from Carmine Superiore (you won’t believe how many time I looked at your picture of ‘the devil’s in the detail’!)


Christelle at Easy Does It

Ivy at Kopiaste and BloggerAid (thank you for your patience concerning the recipe!)


Talking (or writing) of BloggerAid, most of my time since submitting the thesis (between sleeping and working) has been spent finalising my recipe for the BloggerAid Recipe Book, admittedly submitted somewhat belatedly!        

Mint Chocolate Rice Pudding


Here’s a picture to whet your appetite, but if you want to know the secret of the recipe you’ll have to buy the recipe book!!! All the profits from the sale of the recipe book go to the World Food Programme’s project, School Meals:

Among the poor, there is often not enough food at home, and most schools in developing countries lack canteens or cafeterias. School meals are a good way to channel vital nourishment to poor children. Having a full stomach also helps them to concentrate better on their lessons. In countries where school attendance is low, the promise of at least one nutritious meal each day boosts enrolment and promotes regular attendance. Parents are motivated to send their children to school instead of keeping them at home to work or care for siblings. In the poorest parts of the world, a school feeding programme can double primary school enrolment in one year. Among the key beneficiaries are girls, who otherwise may never be given the opportunity to learn” (

It’s a great project to support, and from some of the other photo’s posted on other people’s blogs, it promises to hold some wonderful recipes. So, if anyone’s thinking of Christmas presents already… I think the aim is to have it available Nov/Dec-time. Watch this space, or take a peek at the BloggerAid website for further updates.

I’m off now to go and start catching-up on all of your recent blog posts, get some sleep and then heading to the farmers’ market in the morning. I can’t wait!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

‘Smoke flavoured reformed ham with added water’

Number of days until submission of PhD: 3

Stress levels: ‘Hard crack’ and rising to ‘caramel’.

I need to write my conclusion. It shouldn’t be a particularly hard piece to write, but writer’s block has hit. Of all the times…

So, as a tactic to get my writing flowing again, I thought that I would spend 15 minutes writing a quick post. I’ve missed writing my blog the last couple of days, in a strange way it has really helped me with writing the thesis.

Since the weekend I’ve effectively been banned from the kitchen. I miss it. However, it is nice having someone to provide every meal for me at the moment, I really appreciate it.

P3240126Before I was banned from the kitchen, in need of a quick lunch last week and with me having forgotten to make any bread, I rummaged through the freezer and pulled out a pizza. Great! Then I read the label. How can a description of ‘Smoke flavoured reformed ham with added water’, sound appetising to anyone? I suppose it saves having to check the ingredients on the back of the box.

Why on earth had we bought the pizza? We obviously didn’t read the label, but then I’m not sure how long it had been in the freezer for!

Faced with this pizza for lunch, with no other quick alternative, I set about chiselling off the the ham, adding some local bacon from the fridge and a few scraps of Cumbrian cheese. It was lovely. But this will be our last shop-bought pizza. From now on (once I’ve finished the PhD and I’m allowed back in the kitchen) we’ll be making our own.

The next time I write a post, the PhD will be handed in and I will have my life back (hopefully). I can’t quite imagine what that will feel like!

…back to the conclusion.

Friday, 20 March 2009

An addition to the family…

Number of days until submission of PhD: 7

Stress levels: On a sugar thermometer, about, ‘hard ball’ and rising. I think my posts may well begin to dry-up over the next week.

But anyway,P3190120 we’ve been looking after a cat who belongs/ed to the sister of a friend. In theory it was just supposed to be for January while she was away. But time has gone on and we’ve become quite attached to him.

She has since decided that her circumstances at the moment are not ideal for a cat. As we live in open countryside where he can come and go as he pleases, she’s asked if we would keep him. Of course we will!

The only problem throughout his whole stay with us has been his name.

Apparently he was originally called ‘Madame Butterfly’ – then they found out he was a boy.

He came to us being called Noodle. But this has been changed, shortened (and lengthened) numerous times to: apple strudel, poodle, pooh (this is what I call him), knoodle, noo, even google, smut (this is what our neighbour calls him because of his ‘dirty’ black nose), doodle, chicken noodle, Mr P. Noodle (as in Pot) and Casper. Casper was the name of our cat who went missing and was sadly found dead last year. Sometimes old habits linger. Noodle will never replace Casper, but he has certainly made a place for himself in our hearts already.

Welcome Pooh! I hope you enjoy your life with us! 

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Local beer – from 50m away (literally)

Number of days until submission of PhD: Still 9

Stress levels: well, chilled (this is a temporary state I can assure you).

P3180112 Mmmmm. Sitting outside in the courtyard basking in the spring sun, editing part of a chapter, glorious. Then our neighbours peered over the gate and after chatting for a bit they told us to ‘grab a jug, and we’ll get some beer’. We came out with two jugs.

Our neighbours rent their barn (which is literally behind our ‘barn’) to a micro-brewery, and well, I have to say it’s rather good beer!

Perhaps it’s not the best thing to be drinking right now, with the rest of a chapter still to finish this evening, but maybe it will help the creative juices flow!

Vegetable growing on a small scale – update 1

Number of days until submission of PhD: 9

Stress levels: Variable. Calm when in the kitchen, the ‘garden’ or writing on my blog. Other times, simmering, with boiling-point reached occasionally.

P3180107New growth:

Yippee! Some of my seeds have started to germinate! The tomatoes and aubergines need a bit more time, but the rocket (see the picture) and my leeks have started to sprout!


Fullscreen capture 18032009 145259 Google gardening calendar: My attempt to organise my growing

With limited space and a need to produce vegetables throughout the growing season I really need to be able to keep track of when I planted certain pots and trays and when I need to re-sow.

Despite constant nagging, I still use a paper diary to track my movements and work patterns. It feels right doing it that way. But, I have to admit, for my vegetable growing I’ve turned to Google Calendars. Not only can I record (and easily check) when I planted things, but I can set myself reminders for when I need to plant again! Being optimistic, it will also mean that I can build-up a record of what works and what doesn’t all in one place, over many years.

I know - I could do this in a paper diary too. Although somehow if I’m actually reminded to do something, I have more chance of getting it done…


diginFree seeds:

Blagger’s recent post alerted me to the fact that the BBC are running a ‘grow your own grub’ project, called Dig In. The idea is that they give away five varieties of seeds for people to grow, but there will be slots on Gardener’s World and info on the web about exactly how to grow the seeds, ensuring support throughout the season. In the autumn the scheme will end with cooking advice given by Nigel Slater on what to do with all the vegetables that have been grown. A great way to encourage people to grow their own food!

Seeds will be available from from the 10th April. The website is not up yet, or it wasn’t when I last checked.

Another date to add to my Google calendar!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Organic, free range or local?

veg shopping-1 Is this really a dilemma? I didn’t think so – but now I’m not quite so sure. A few instances recently have made me begun to think about the difference and importance of: organic, local and free range produce.


Where possible I try to buy local produce that is organic, and in the case of meat and eggs, free range. Recently I came across a website for an organic farm in Devon who do mail-order meat. My initial reaction to it was: ‘Imagine the food miles!’. But after thinking about it the idea might not be as bad as it seems.

OK – here are the arguments against buying local meat (I can’t really believe I’m saying this!) and buying mail-order meat instead:

  1. Purely selfishly, it is an hour round-trip to the ‘local’ butchers. If I want meat that is guaranteed local and free-range, make that two-hours to a different butchers. Mail-order meat arrives at the door.
  2. Therefore there’s also rather a lot of petrol involved too. If I bought mail-order meat, it would be delivered by a courier company who deliver to other people in the area too, meaning that although a lot of petrol may be used, it’s not just for one person. Is the principle really any different from Amazon?
  3. At the local butchers I’m not always entirely sure where the meat came from, what type of life the animal had, what it was feed, how it was killed, how far it has already ‘travelled’. I can know all of that from the farm in Devon. (Although admittedly the butcher is usually helpful when 1) he’s serving and 2) I ask!).


  1. Our local town is lucky enough to have a lot of small independent retailers and I enjoy supporting them. The local fishmongers closed-down when Sainsbury’s moved in.
  2. Convenience, I can just pop to the butchers to pick up the meat that I need, especially if I’m at work that day.
  3. The food miles still seem ridiculous for mail-order meat!

OK, the best thing is perhaps a monthly trip to the second butchers who are further away, but where I know I can be guaranteed local and free-range meat. I can always get the occasional extras from the more local butcher in order to continue to support him. If I lived in Devon, I would definitely opt for their mail-order meat, but luckily Cumbrian meat is pretty darned good, it’s just getting to the butchers when the fells are in the way!


The next problem was vegetables. I’m trying to grow our main vegetable supply this year, but I still need to buy our vegetables at the moment. Also, I will probably still need to supplement what I will be able to grow in pots during the rest of the year too.

The greengrocers are usually excellent, selling a range of great seasonal produce (including Seville oranges, damsons, quinces, chestnuts and wild mushrooms). I needed onions the other day, so after grabbing some rhubarb and purple-sprouting broccoli I went to get the onions. I was surprised to see that they weren’t local, they weren’t even British - and I needed onions! Feeling like a traitor, I went of the Sainsbury’s and brought British onions from there instead.

I know seasonal and local are not synonymous, and I’m the first person to herald the joys of produce from around the world, like Seville oranges. But, if something can (and does) grow well here, why is it imported?

The next question that this shopping trip raised (and it certainly raised many!) was: are the supermarkets so bad after all? If I can be guaranteed that I will be able to find British produce in them, then should I give the greengrocers a miss?


I don’t think that there are necessarily clear answers to any of these questions. Inevitably, I think my continual shopping around between different places will produce the best results. But it certainly got me thinking.

I felt a bit like a child in an old-fashioned sweet shop with all the jars of shiny sweets in front of me and I had to choose which ones I wanted. Rather than choosing just one sort, I think I need to pick and choose small quantities from each jar.

If you have any trouble finding your best local ‘sweets’, then I’ve found the search engine on is a pretty useful starting point for all things foody and local in Britain.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Rhubarb 3: Rhubarb Crumble Recipe

P3140104-1 I promise that this will be my last post about rhubarb!

To me this is the first sweet vegetable of the year and really shows that spring has arrived. There is just something so irresistible about the colour of it that I keep succumbing to its charm.

With all the talk of rhubarb, while I was in the greengrocers on Thursday I thought I’d treat us to some. Especially with ours being only about 6 inches high and ‘out of bounds’.

This evening I made the long ruby-red sticks into my favourite rhubarb and orange crumble recipe. It has made enough for 4 people, but it’s flavour is so intense you really do not need a huge portion. The other advantage is it’s really quick and easy to make!


  • 100 gr butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
  • 200 gr of a mixture of oats and flour (I used about 50gr oats and 150gr flour)
  • 25gr of caster sugar
  • 4 long sticks of forced rhubarb
  • Juice and zest from half a large orange (or 1 small)
  • 5 tbls of dark muscovado sugar

P3140102Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (Celcius).

Put the flour, oats and caster sugar in a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Cut the rhubarb into chunks about 4cm long. Add the orange zest, juice and brown sugar.

Top with the crumble mix and put in the oven for about 40 mins.

It couldn’t be easier!

Where do ideas come from?

Do you ever find yourself writing something which you never realised that you thought?

I’ve just had a really productive 16 or 17 hours (admittedly with a night’s sleep in between) where not only have I upped my word count considerably, but new ideas came to the fore. Suddenly parts which were unclear and slightly unfocused, are now structured and peppered with new and fresh insights (or a least I think so).

If only every day could be like that…

Friday, 13 March 2009

The joys of homemade stock – beef stock recipe

I take back any reservations I had about my chicken stock, particularly the part about reducing it too much.

I used it last weekend to make risotto and it was the best risotto I’ve ever made (thanks to the stock!). My stock has never tasted that good before, I think perhaps I’ve not reduced it enough in the past.

‘It tastes like it has bits of real meat in it’, was the surprised comment that I received. We both agreed that the intensity of the flavour of the chicken meant that we could have quite happily eaten just the risotto without any other ingredients, in this instance: roasted peppers and feta, and sun-dried tomatoes. Inspired by the success of the chicken stock, I decided to try making beef stock. I’ve not attempted this before because we rarely have a joint of beef, let-alone one with bones in!

While I was in the butchers yesterday I plucked up the courage and asked the lady serving me if they had any beef bones for stock. I still can’t quite get used to the idea that what you see on display in a butchers is often just the tip of the iceberg. To me it seems rude to ask for something that means them having to go ‘through to the back’ to get it. But I think this is just my hyper-sensitive mindset – they seem quite used to it.

My confidence crumbled slightly when the lady who had originally served me said, ‘He’s just gone to look. We do sell our own stock you know’.

Where was that big hole in the ground when I needed it?

I managed to reply “Ooohh, I’ll remember that for the future. I like to make my own though, thanks”, with a big smile on my face.

I was very glad I had asked, because not only did the butcher return with a big bag of bones – but they were free!

Beef Stock Recipe:

  • Beef bones (I had about 1.3 kg)
  • 3 small carrots (bendy)
  • 2 parsnips (bendy)
  • 1 stick of celery (although I’ve just found it on the counter so I must have forgotten to put it in!)
  • the top of a leek from the other day
  • 2 onions
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 250 ml of red wine
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of dried thyme or a sprig of fresh thyme
  • water

P3130055 Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (Celsius).

Cut the veg into 2cm chunks and the onions in half (or quarters if large). (I used vegetable I had lying around, I don’t think the quantities really matter hugely as long as there are at least carrots and onions in there somewhere.)

Put the meat, veg and peppercorns in the a roasting tin.

Pop this in the oven for 30 mins. P3130057

When the veg and the meat have started to go crispy around the edges, remove the tray from the oven.

Put the meat and veg in a large pot. Add the salt and thyme. 

Add the wine to the baking tray, and whilst it is still warm use the liquid to release any bits that have stuck to the bottom or sides. Then pour the liquid and bits into the pan. 

P3130062 P3130071

Bring to the boil, remove and scum that may have developed (I found that very little had formed), reduce the temperature so that it barely simmers and cover the pot. My largest pot is without a lid at the moment, it must have been packed away in the move by mistake, so I just covered mine with a double layer of tin foil.

(Be prepared for the whole house to take on the aroma of akin to a rich gravy for most of the day!)

After about 7 hours (I got a bit carried-away with writing!), strain the liquid and then boil for about 20 mins. This allows it to reduce and therefore intensifies the flavour. Also, it goes a really nice caramel colour.P3140087

Allow it to cool completely. Remove the solidified fat from the top and discard it. Put the stock into containers and store in the fridge or freezer.

This made just under a 1 3/4 pints (about 800ml) of stock.