Elderflower

Elderflower#2

We have been busy.  Very busy.

As some of you may be aware, the elderflower season is upon is.  I absolutely love the fact that this prolific bush produces the most divine flowers for a couple of weeks at the beginning of summer which you can use in so many ways, but then, if you missed that window of opportunity, it creates another one in autumn when the flowers have turned into berries.

And the best thing about this bonkers bush?  It is almost indestructible, and everywhere.

This week we have been making both Elderflower Cordial and Elderflower Champagne.

The cordial takes absolutely no time at all – approximately 24 hours  – and is an absolute doddle to make.  Take the biggest pan you have and put in 1.5 litres of water.  Adder 2.5kg of sugar and bring to the boil.  Take off the heat and add 20 elderflower heads, the peel of two lemons and the lemons, sliced.  Finally add 85g citric acid.  Stir, pop the lid on the pan and leave.

The next day sieve the Elderflower and Lemon pieces out of the liquid.  Pour the rest of the liquid through a piece of muslin to catch any of the wee bits and pieces which may be lingering around.

Bottle.

Beautifully refreshing with sparkling or still water.  As long as you can get over the fact that, neat, it looks like a very large urine sample…

Meanwhile we have also started making Elderflower Champagne which is proving to be a little more complex at this experimental stage.  However, we have the bottles and the corks all ready for each stage in the hope that, eventually, we will hit on an absolutely corker, if you’ll forgive the pun.

As with so many other things, only time will tell whether we have made something undrinkable, or indeed, a small piece of perfection.  Either way, it’s really good fun, and not at all expensive.

The Elderflower window of opportunity lasts two weeks, or thereabouts, so there is still time to pop out and forage.  Just a little tip, pick them in the morning sun for the sweetest flavour and make sure you use them that day.

Let me know how you get on.

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Cinnamon & Sultana Loaf

Cinnamon and Sultana Loaf

I have been slightly remiss on keeping up with the blog at the latter end of this week.  Partly because we haven’t solved our oven conundrum yet, a situation which lends itself to less innovative meals, and partly because the bat mobile is still out of action thanks to the clutch slave* breaking which has meant we’ve had to rework our travel timings to include buses or walking.  But mainly because we have a new addition to our family who we picked up on Thursday evening.

So, in honour of both my first birthday as a blogger, and the excitement of it all, I am going to break my usual pattern of behaviour and insert another photo

Billie2

May I introduce you to Billie, our beautiful eight week old chocolate labrador puppy, who is heart-meltingly gorgeous in every way.  Her full name, for those who may be interested, is Billie Jo Bob, (chosen by the wee boy), although we are just using Billie for everyday wear.

Now who amongst you didn’t go ‘ahhh’?  Not many, I imagine.

Beautiful distractions aside, we still need to eat and although our oven may have gone on a permanent holiday, we do have other gadgets, such as the bread maker, that can cook.  So today, at the request of the wee one, I made some cinnamon and sultana loaf.

I tend to use a basic bread recipe and add stuff to it, then call the bread whatever I may have added.

So, my basic bread recipe (apologies, it is in ‘old money’) is 14floz lukewarm water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 20lb 10oz good strong white bread flour – I always get my flour from Bradshaws – 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 generous teaspoons dried yeast.

To make this particular loaf I added another 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and a bowlful of sultanas.  I like my fruit loafs to have a lot of fruit in them, you may feel less inclined to pack in the fruit.  It is, once again, your own personal taste.

Now this is the thing.  The nutmeg is a rough guess really as I have been using whole nutmegs and grating them.  So in this bread recipe, I grated some nutmeg into the flour mixture until I got a little weary.  But I’m guessing it was about half a teaspoonful.

Put the bread machine onto a sweet bread setting and start.  I have one of those machines which is not as meticulous as I at getting into the corners, so I tend to give it a starting hand with a spatula.  At some point, about 10 – 15 minutes in, the machine beeps like a very annoyed alarm clock for approximately one minute.  This is when I add the sultanas. Then leave the whole thing to bake, which in my case, takes 3 hours and 25 minutes.

I never find bread maker bread tastes as good as bread cooked in an oven but it does the job.  The top of the loaf always looks as though it’s just recovering from a debilitating bout of influenza, and the bread maker ‘paddle’ as it’s called, has to be pulled out which leaves a slight gap in the bread half way through the loaf, but none of these slight irritations are insurmountable and, quite frankly, we are very lucky to have the bread maker at all.

Finally, whilst the bread top is still warm, melt a dessertspoonful of castor sugar in a drop of boiled water and brush on the top of the loaf.

Delicious warm or cold, with or without butter.  Perfect with a cup of tea.

*Whoever named car parts should take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves where they left their soul when they named the inner workings of a car.

Semolina

semolina and strawberries

When I was a child, milk based puddings popped up regularly on the menu at home. Rice pudding, angel delight, custard and of course, semolina.

I haven’t eaten semolina pudding for decades, but always have a bag of the stuff in, as I add a little to shortbread biscuits.  More recently though I have joined the terribly fashionable crowd, and started buying semolina to shake onto my par boiled potatoes before popping them in the oven to roast.  I know, marvellous.  To be fair it does give the potato an amazing crunch if the fat is hot enough.  Goose fat, naturally.

Today, as we were shopping for a few bits and pieces, the wee boy asked if we could buy a block of jelly cubes.  As we hovered in the puddings section of the supermarket, I looked up and saw a box of semolina, so, out of curiosity, had a look to see how it was made.

During my childhood, semolina was always made on the hob, then put into a buttered dish with a few extra knobs of butter and nutmeg grated on top.  But did you know it tastes as delicious just cooked on the hob?  In fact, hot or cold, it’s quite the pudding.  It takes just three ingredients to make, 100g semolina, 1 litre of milk and only 25g castor sugar.

When I look at all the prepared puddings, such as low fat yoghurts, ready made jellies, etc. and how much sugar they contain, I am flabbergasted that more people aren’t substituting them for more home made milk puddings.  They are absolutely delicious.

Anyway, the wee boy and I have spent the afternoon in our pretend cooksTV kitchen, experimenting with semolina.  We have tried it both hot and cold, with and without fruit, with and without vanilla (much better without), with and without nutmeg (lovely either way) and with and without jam mixed in ( which most definitely reminded me of school dinners).

It’s been a fun afternoon, with more than a hint of nostalgia and a taste of home thrown in.  Perfect.

Quick Tomato Sauce

Quick Tomato Sauce #2

There are some days when it is almost impossible to really function properly.  I find these days usually follow a rather exciting evening where a couple of sweet sherries have been drunk and the long term committed relationship I have with my bed, has been tested.

We have had just one of those weekends thanks to one of our glorious nieces having her prom night and, as a consequence, my sister in law having a ‘bit of a do’.

These gatherings are always a huge amount of fun, and now that the boys are a little older, not so stressful in terms of getting everyone to bed at an appropriate time.  In fact, the wee one insisted that he curl up on the sofa without us even suggesting it, (with his beloved best friend blanket, obviously) and, as son #1 is 11, we allowed him, with guidance, to make his own decision about when he would retire.

It’s a funny old thing, staying up.  When you’re a child you think it will be so much fun, and, to an extent, it is.  But what is not fun is the next day when you experience your body clock battling with time itself.  However, I am a great believer in trying to understand the various effects lack of sleep can have on you before alcohol is added to the mix.  Therefore, it makes sense to me to equip the boys, whilst in our very protective arms, to get a feel for these things, in the hope that they learn, over time, not only what the lack of sleep does, but how best to look after yourself.

Being gentle with each other and catching up on sleep are two of the three main components to the morning after the night before.  The third one being food.

Ah yes, good old comfort food.

Now here’s the thing.  When you are the one that needs to make the food for the gang who need the food in order to feel comforted, you need something that is nourishing, fulfilling, and quick.

Pasta always fills this role for me, and in recent years I have begun to not just add grated cheese, tomato ketchup and a sprinkling of ground black pepper, but have actually started making my own tomato sauce.

Chop an onion and fry on a low heat in a little olive oil.  I used a red onion, but you can use whichever colour you fancy.

‘That’s not a red onion, it’s purple’, the wee boy said to me.  And he has a point.

Cracking on.  Add two cloves of finely chopped garlic and some salt.  Chop as many different types of fresh tomatoes as you have in the house.  I used cherry tomatoes and salad tomatoes.  Basically the riper they are, the better they will taste.

Add the tomatoes to the onion.  Then add a sprinkling of sugar and black pepper. Pop a lid on and leave on a very low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cook some pasta, make some toast, boil some rice.  Whatever takes your fancy.

Add the two together.  Enjoy.

Fresh Apricots

fresh apricots

Look what popped up in our fruit box this week – gorgeous little fresh apricots.  You know summer is just around the corner when the fresh fruits on offer not only look as though they belong in your home, but taste as though they’ve been given time to ripen in actual sunshine.

Apricots are funny little things.  When I was growing up there were two versions of apricot.  The jam used for spreading on top of a Christmas cake before putting on the layer of marzipan, and the packet of dried apricots which my friend used to call ‘little girls ears’.  Funnily enough, they do bear a striking resemblance.

I have absolutely no recollection of when it was that I first tasted a fresh apricot but still always think they are going to taste like small peaches.  Which they don’t.

Similarly the doughnut peach has ‘appeared’ on the shelves recently, looking, for all intense and purpose, like it has been there forever.  And yet I don’t recall their presence as a staple summer fruit until a couple of years ago.

What I do remember was the first time I had a nectarine.  I can still recall with absolutely clarity, that juicy, sweet, soft pulp sensation in my mouth which, to me, was a perfect marriage between an apple, often too crunchy, and a peach, invariably too fluffy.  My tastebuds always sizzle with anticipation at the thought of the perfect nectarine.  Although holding a fruit in such high esteem does mean that the disappointment is exponentially hard hitting as a result.

Meanwhile we have had a few days of sunshine and warmth recently, which has not come a moment too soon.  I always think people look so beautiful on a sunny day.  The world seems to hold a lot more possibilities.  Which is a good thing as yesterday our bat-mobile decided that it had just had enough of driving us all around and stopped, quite abruptly.  Not only did it stop, but it had obviously made a secret pledge with itself that under no circumstances whatsoever, was it going to make any attempt to start.

Thankfully it had the decency to stop right in front of a house belonging to one of our lovely friends which gave myself and the wee boy chance to have a quick cuppa and a catch up before the man with his lorry came to take us home.

It also allowed the wee one to explain in detail to the twins, aged 8, whilst bouncing on a trampoline, that we were moving to Spain.  Which we’re not.

As a consequence of the bat-mobile’s unilateral decision making, we have all walked everywhere today which, thanks to the sunshine, has been a very pleasant experience.  I say that because it has been glorious weather and our timeframe has had enough leeway to indulge us in the pleasure.  For the record, I am not becoming a ‘walk everywhere’ convert.  I enjoyed the romance of walking in the sunshine eating strawberries and chatting idly about not much in particular because we don’t have to do it often.

*gives car the look*

Just so we’re clear.

Pilchard and Parmesan on Toast

pilchard and parmesan on toast

Pilchard are, in my experience, one of those love ’em or loath ’em foods.  I’m in the category of loving them.  Although I am also very swayed by the fabulous design of most pilchard tins.  Especially the small round ones.

What’s that you say, style over content?  Yep, that’s me.  Although in this particular instance I would argue that pilchards are stylish and full of goodness.  Hmmmm, not sure anyone’s ever described pilchards as stylish.  Of course, I mean the tin…

Anyway, my favourite pilchards are the ones in tomato sauce which always look so colourful.  However, I completely understand those who are a little averse to these gems of health.  They do contain quite a few small bones, and the smell when you first open the tin can be overwhelming.

To overcome the mini bones, I always mash the pilchards up in a bowl before spreading them onto the toast.  I often pop a little crushed black pepper in there as well, but never salt as, for me, it makes them taste too salty and I end up drinking even more copious mugs of tea than usual, for the rest of the day.

I overcome the smell by opening the tin at a distance.

Toast one side of the bread, turn and smooth the mashed pilchard mix over the top of the non toasted side.  Place back under the grill.  Once the pilchards have been warmed I grate a little parmesan cheese on top.  You could, if you prefer, grate cheddar cheese on top, although for me, it can become a little too greasy.

Meanwhile June is turning out to be quite the busy month.  Birthdays, parties, fairs, duck races, picnics… busy, busy, busy.

I love June.

Caramelised Onions

Caramelised Onions

So often in life there seem to be things which elude us.  Circumstances, opportunities, events.  Invariably we can now hear about, through social media and other sources, where people are going, what they are doing, what is on, where, and how wonderful it will be.

But it is worth remembering that not everyone will go to everything, and that to live life vicariously through another is to miss what is right in front of your nose.  It may also be said that, with the plethora of food commentary, delightfully innovative recipes and ideas that flood our lives through all different types of media, we often miss the simple pleasures.  Such as conquering how to cook the perfect caramelised onions.

I would like to announce at this point, that I think I may have cracked it.

It’s a small step I know, but for me, one that has taken many failed attempts.  And what, you may ask, brought about this ‘eureka’ moment?  Sugar.

You may remember a while back, that we did a little experiment, and, for a short period of time, resisted as many forms of the sweet substance as we possibly could.  Which in itself was pretty successful.  But if you enjoy cooking, as I most certainly do, there comes a point where you have to search you soul and question whether something so fundamental to your being is worth rejecting.  For me it is a definite ‘no’.

That in no way means that I wish to advocate a sugar indulgence, but I have come to the conclusion that I want sugar in my life.  It’s a choice.  I am not, I realise, interested in it’s alternative.  And believe me, I have researched the many possibilities.  But no, sugar is here to stay.

So, having acknowledged that sugar is a lifetime commitment, I have begun looking into ways it can actually enhance simple foodstuffs without an overindulgent attitude to it. And it is to this end that I have found out how to make the most wonderful caramelised onions.

Firstly, pop a little oil and a knob of butter into a frying pan. Warm on a low heat until the butter has melted then add the sliced onions.  And here’s the piece of wonderment and joy.  Add a sprinkling of salt and sugar to the onions and fry, slowly, turning regularly, until the whole pan of onions begin to go a beautiful, shiny golden brown, allowing some of the onions to crisp up ever so slightly.

Turn off the heat and let them have a rest.

If you’re going to put them into something like a flan, make sure they’re cold.  If you’re putting them in hot dogs, reheat for thirty seconds or so.

Either way, these little beauties will do you proud and enhance your day like nothing else.  Perhaps a slight exaggeration there, but truly, they are magnificent and will give your day that extra sparkle when perhaps you may have, up to this point, not felt that it’s quite lived up to expectation.

To be honest there are very few days that go by where I don’t feel extraordinarily happy to be alive.  Not just because of the wonderful family and friends I have around me, but because, through circumstance of birth, I have been given opportunities which so many people on this amazing planet of ours, just don’t have.

It is to this end that I encourage you all to fully enjoy each day.  Whatever the dish you serve.