Saturday, 25 September 2010

Scottish Highlands

We’ve just come back from what was my first visit to the Scottish Highlands, flying from Bristol to Edinburgh and then a series of trips by rail and coach. It’s hard to believe that this beautiful country is at the ‘top end’ of the UK. The weather was anything but perfect and the top of the Cairn Gorm was totally enveloped in low cloud, the view from the top is reputed to be awesome! However the Ptarmigan Restaurant there provided a little consolation with a dish of salmon in a creamy leek sauce, even if we didn't see it's namesake.

I came back with a very nasty cold and to cheer myself up made a lovely spicy tomato soup on the day after we got back, just what the doctor ordered, eaten with Scottish Oatcakes.
I used a can of tomatoes, a squirt of Heinz tomato ketchup, a red chilli from the greenhouse, 3 cloves of garlic, and a spoonful of Maggi dried coconut powder,( I recently discovered this very useful product). I first cooked the garlic and chilli, with most of it’s seeds in a little olive oil, added the canned tomatoes with a good squirt of ketchup then whizzed it up with enough water to make it souplike, adding a tablespoon of dried coconut powder.

The big white mug came with a bottle of whisky last Christmas, but ‘Famous Grouse’ was a pretty good description of me until I began to feel better!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Social Housing for Tiny Workers

Now I have actually given Imogen the birthday card I made especially for her I want to show it off! I'm quite pleased with it, the photo was taken in the kitchen garden of Arlington Court, North Devon this Summer, and with the help of Photoshop I turned it into a lovely card. The National Trust had made 'Insect Towers' for all their tiniest visitors.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hats for Smoothies

I read this post on  the lovely GiddyStuff blog at the beginning of the month and was inspired to knit a few of these little hats myself, here are the first few I have made!

I remember reading last year about the Innocent Smoothie idea  for raising money for AgeUK, but had completely forgotten about it in the meantime. Each little hat should raise 25p for the charity, and although my little hats don't look as smart or clever as other people's I'm enjoying making them and do hope someone will like them enough to pay a little bit extra for their smoothie.
You can download patterns from this link if you would also like to join in. The deadline for sending your hats in is October 10th.

A Gift of Apples

A couple of weeks ago one of the branches of an apple tree in Orchard Street allotments fractured and Sandra one of the allotment holders very kindly asked if we would like some of the apples as they were going to have to cut off the branch before it ripped the tree more severely. As we have a very long ladder Chris offered to carry it round and help out if needed. He came back with a box of apples which were rather under ripe but in excellent condition, and at the same time Imogen gave us a large bag of windfalls from the tree in her garden. I love these kinds of gifts and set to, to use them up.

As we were at the end of the school summer holiday period and we were having lots of family visits or visiting them the windfalls went into delicious apple pies for puddings here or as contributions to family meals away. Another family favourite is chopped up apples with sultanas and crystallised ginger in a spicy apple fruit cake, if you haven’t tried it you’ve missed a treat. Don’t forget that the apples can be quite wet so not too sloppy a cake mixture. I usually soften the apples a little in the microwave first, and use a basic plain cake recipe i.e 1lb self raising flour, 8oz margarine, 6oz dark brown sugar (but that’s a matter of taste, white or brown, or a bit more if you like things sweeter) and 3 large eggs with approx. ¼pint milk, baked in an 8½” cake tin.

With the picked apples I made a big batch of apple chutney, mostly because our older son likes this one above all others and then some jars of blackberry and apple jelly. We have still got a few of the larger apples left. I’m not sure if they will last well because of their early picking, but our quinces should be ready in a couple of weeks and I’ve found a lovely recipe for Paradise Jelly which I’d like to try this year.

Our favourite Apple Chutney Recipe

5lbs apples,peeled, cored, chopped                 1 pint vinegar
1lb brown sugar                                              1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger                              3-4 dried chillies
8oz chopped, stoned dates                                                                  
8oz chopped onions                                            
8oz sultanas

Bring the vinegar to the boil with the sugar, salt and spices. The chillies are up to you, if you leave them whole you can fish them out at the end. Add the rest of the ingredients and boil until thick. Put into hot jars while the chutney is still very hot and use vinegar proof lids.

Using these apples this year the chutney was very thick before it had properly cooked so I had to add some water and a little more vinegar. Some of the apples being quite small and all them under ripe I think they are not so juicy. The taste is still excellent, even though it has had no chance to mature yet.

Apple and Blackberry Jelly.

The quantities of fruit for this preserve can be pretty elastic.

I had picked 5lbs of blackberries, and used 3lbs of green cooking apples. If you want to use a larger proportion of blackberries you might want to add some lemon juice to aid the setting.

First of all wash and cut up your apples, no need to peel or core, just make sure you remove any blemishes and bruised bits, put the fruit into a large pan with enough water to cover it and cook until the apple is beginning to soften, add the blackberries and cook until it is all soft and mushy, squash with a potato masher or wooden spoon if needed, but don’t let it catch on the bottom of the pan, there should be enough liquid in the blackberries, but add more water if the liquid is not still covering the fruit. I didn’t bother with jelly bags this time, I just ladled the fruit into sieves over deep large bowls and let it drip through, turning it with spatulas once or twice. This will take several hours, cover the sieves with clingfilm if there are wasps about.

( I have a translucent but slightly cloudy jelly, but for the first time I questioned why I go to such lengths to achieve such a perfect finish when it will taste just the same. I’m getting much more canny in my old age.)

Measure the extracted juice and put into a large clean pan. You can divide up the liquid if you have too much for your pan. For each 1 pint juice add 1lb of sugar. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring now and again, until the sugar has dissolved and then a full rolling boil until you reach setting point, test it after 15 minutes, it should be about there, if not give it another few minutes and test it again. A teaspoonful on a cold plate left in the fridge for a few minutes should wrinkle when you push it with your finger, and also when you lift up a wooden spoonful of jelly from the preserving pan and pour it back slowly into the pan it should form drops on the edge of the spoon and a leave a coating on the back of the spoon that you can leave a trail across with your finger.

Pour into clean, hot jars and seal with lids or cellophane jam pot covers

Although I keep a large handwritten notebook for preserving recipes that I’ve used time and time again I cannot recommend too highly the Basic Basics Jams, Preserves and Chutneys Handbook by Marguerite Patten. So many recipes and easy to understand methods.

In one of my many folders of clipped out recipes I have one for Paradise Jelly, the cutting says that this is ‘a beautiful jelly, very good with turkey, chicken and pork, and was found in the Old Yankee Cookbook’. We have a good crop of quinces this year, if rather smaller fruit than other years, but I am going to give this a go. I will strain this one carefully, with a name like this how could I not!

Paradise Jelly

4 large quinces
1.5kg (3lb 5oz) cooking apples
750g (1lb 10oz) cranberries
Approx. 2 kg (4lbs 8oz) granulated sugar.

Wash the apples and quinces (get rid of the fluff on the quinces) and chop them into chunks (no need to peel or core). Put them into a large pan, cover with water, turn down the heat and cook until soft, about an hour, adding the cranberries after half an hour. Suspend in a jelly bag overnight. To each 500ml of juice add 500g sugar (1lb to a pint) Bring slowly to the boil to allow sugar to dissolve, boil until setting point is reached. I’m really looking forward to getting round to trying this one.

Beautiful Squash from the allotment

Bought down from our allotment this week because the weather forecast wasn't too good.  Wall to wall sunshine since they were harvested!  But aren't they beautiful.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Somerset Levels

Yesterday being such a glorious day we took time out from garden and kitchen to visit one of our favourite places, The Somerset Levels. (The link leads you to the Ham Wall area, where we were yesterday)

 In the past peat extraction was a major industry in this part of Somerset but now the area has been allowed to flood and is habititat for large numbers of birds, water and woodland. There is a large network of lakes and rhynes, the name particular to this area for the drainage ditches which cross the Levels.

One of the rhynes

 Yesterday there were dozens of brilliant dragonflies, we managed to indentify the Four Spotted Chaser, and the colourful Emperor, but watch as I might there was no chance to get a photgraph.

One of the ditches was being dredged, and we were lucky enough to be able to talk to the operator as he was walking back along the silt he had pulled out to rescue any creatures that had been bought up to the bank.  We did see one small dead fish on our side of the bank, and a few fresh water mussels.  We didn't even know until we were talking to him then that there was a fresh water mussel. I took a photo of Chris holding a shell just to show how big they are.

A grey heron was working his way along the bank, and from the hole in the mussel shell I imagine this one provided a snack earlier.  Plenty of swans in evidence and the ever present resting cormorants that you see on some of the lakes but nothing more unusual about at this time of the year.

It is here about that the starlings roost in the late autumn and early winter months, a magical sight and sound, the thousands of wing beats coming in over your head. Winter also brings large numbers of waders,  spoonbill last winter, and lapwings move into the fields if they start to flood.  Where there are large flocks of birds there are always the raptors, and we've seen Hen Harriers and Peregrines in some parts of the Levels.

Looked like a group of volunteers busy yesterday.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Courgette and Feta Bake

I  recently twice made this recipe from the cookbook New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant. Called Zucchini-Feta Casserole, it’s a bit more like a bake.

I think I should have used a tin, rather than a pottery dish and then the base may have been crisp. The first time I made it I mis-read the recipe and mixed the egg mixture in with the bulgur wheat, so I put it all on top of the courgettes, before topping with tomatoes and cheese. It did actually taste just as good that way.

These quantities are for 2-3 people.

Sauté a cup of sliced onions and two cloves of chopped garlic in a little oil until the onions are translucent, add 3 cups thinly sliced courgettes, and cook until they are just tender, add a sprinkling of herbs, basil and marjoram, and some black pepper.

Place a scant half cup of bulgur in a bowl with the same volume of boiling water, and leave until the grain is tender and edible. Add ½cup chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon tomato paste and a good half a tablespoon of soy sauce to the bulgur. Mix well and put into the pie dish, firming it up a bit.

On top of the bulgur put the cooked vegetables.

Mix together an egg, ½cup of cottage cheese, and 3 ounces chopped feta cheese. Pour on top of the courgettes.

Slice a tomato or two over the egg mixture, and scatter with a little grated cheese.

Bake for about 45 minutes, at about 175°C uncovered for the last 15 minutes to brown the top.

Delicious! Serve with a crisp salad.