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.

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.

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.

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.

Little Balls of Wonder

Healthy Cocoa Truffles

These little balls of wonder are to die for.  And what’s more they don’t have a grain of sugar in them.  Not one iota.

Now this is the thing.  Whenever I have a go at making balls of things, they never look as they should, in my opinion.  I’m not the world’s best circle roller.  Actually, I have no idea how those people on the telly do it, but it always looks so simple. Anyway, that doesn’t detract from the fact that they are delicious, and, I’m sure much more healthy than other round sweet things you could make.

Why? Because the only ingredients they have in them are dates, cashew nuts, raisins or sultanas, cocoa powder, ground rice and water.

Now I know all dried fruit has natural sugars, in fact some are as high as 70%, but what they also have is fibre which, in my book, makes them good for you and I have decided I am an expert on the matter since I once gave up sugar for six weeks, four hours and thirty seven minutes.

*moves swiftly on*

The trick, I think, is to make sure you get the proportions right.  45% or so of the mixture needs to be dates, 25% cashew nuts, 15% raisins or sultanas and 5% cocoa. The more observant of you will, by now, have realised that my ingredients add up to 100% and there is, as yet, no mention of the ground rice.  That is because it is an optional added extra that I literally just sprinkle a little of over everything else before setting to, and pulping.  It adds a little texture and fortitude, but they would be just as scrumptious without it.

As a slight diversion away from the subject in hand, but a necessary discussion to have, I have realised that to get any further on my culinary journey, I really must think about investing in a food processor.  I used to have one, but a combination of age and not paying attention when it was on meant that, gradually, all that was left was the motor.

For a while I convinced myself that I would replace the parts that had worn or broken, but one day, in a moment of enlightenment, I made the executive decision to ditch it.

Since then I have relied upon my trusty steed, otherwise known as a hand blender, to see me through the ‘make into a pulp’ or ‘liquidising’ phases.  However, even the trusty steed has it’s limits, and today we reached one of them.  You really do need a food processor for these little balls of wonder.  I managed with a combination of using the mezaluna to cut the big pieces down to size, and the trusty steed to completely blend together, but it wasn’t without hazard and not the most enjoyable process, whereas with a food processor it’s bish bash bosh done.

Once the mixture is all pulped, you may need to add a little water to bring it all together.  Then roll into balls and roll these balls in some cocoa powder.  The size of the ball is up to you, but there is a certain satisfaction about just popping something whole into your mouth and savouring, so I would recommend a small teaspoon size or less.

The only down side to this taste sensation is that it is very difficult to not scoff the lot in one day.  Consequently, I have absolutely no idea how well they last.

So if any of you do decide to give them a go and get past the 24 hour mark, do let me know what happens next.

Goats Cheese Flan

Goats cheese flan

I very rarely make any kind of flan or quiche.  Not because I don’t enjoy it, but because, actually, I love the taste of the shop bought ones so much I just don’t see the point.  Why have a dog and bark yourself?

However, with the glut of vegetables that have come to us via the ‘veg box’ I am very quickly running out of innovative ideas as to how best utilise said veg.  And by that I mean how to utilise them where all my boys will eat them.  There is a subtle difference.

Making pastry is even lower down on the agenda than making a flan.  But that is where the similarity ends.  I am probably one of the worst pastry makers in the history of the artform – or at least up there.  Apparently you need to have cold hands to make good pastry, but it’s a sublty lost on me.  Thankfully I must not be alone, and as a consequence the niche has been filled by ready rolled wonderment.

*breathes a sigh of relief*

You may now be looking at the title of this post and beginning to suspect that as the goats cheese would not have come in the veg box, the reference to ‘the box’ may be irrelevant.  And you would be right-ish.  However, the flan does have a larger stash of items in it, but it doesn’t make for a catchy title.

So, here we go.  Unravel a short crust pastry roll into a tin and blind bake.  Now here’s a thing.  I’m also very rubbish at blind baking pastry properly.  I have the clay bean things and greaseproof paper, and actually do manage to combine the two in the proper manner these days, but somehow it falls short of what it should look like. That said, I shall continue to persevere as I think that when I eventually master it, I will probably have a disproportionately smug sensation that I will continue to carry around with me ad infinitum.

Caramelise an onion.  Now then, the proper way to do this is to slowly cook, in oil, a sliced onion sprinkled with salt for 15 – 20 minutes and then add sugar and balsamic vinegar.  However, as we are on the homeward stretch of giving up sugar (barring the odd relapse) I just slow fried my onion in oil and butter with a sprinkling of salt.

Spread the caramelised onion on the base of the cooked pastry.  Sprinkle over some purple sprouting broccoli, covering the onion.  Slice up a tube of goats cheese, so that the slices cover the broccoli.  Whisk up four eggs, add a little milk, salt and pepper.  Pour over the goats cheese and return to the oven, gas mark 6 for around 40 minutes.  Maybe more, maybe less.  You really just need to keep an eye on the flan after 30 minutes.  As soon as it’s stopped wobbling, job’s done, so whip it out and let it stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, it’s not everyday you find yourself experiencing two rainbows in two different places, within two minutes of each other.  Even more rare, in my limited experience, is actually seeing where the rainbow beings.

Today both these things happened which has left me with a very small tingle inside, and a reinvigorated suspicion that days full of rainbows, are magical.

Courgette Cake

Courgette Cake

Having sampled this cake a coupe of years ago, made by one of my many talented and lovely friends, the memory of how wonderful it tasted has stayed with me, although I have never, until now, managed to rustle one up.

Turns out it is the simplest thing to make, and although I am still not eating sugar so therefore won’t be able to sample my goods, it will be going to the wee boy’s Kindergarten Spring Fayre, which is happening on Saturday so hopefully will all be eaten.  Actually, there is enough mixture to make two of then which, in my book, is a result.

This is what you will need:

3 eggs, 275ml sunflower oil – I used vegetable oil as I didn’t have any sunflower oil and I figured there can’t be that much difference – 350g caster sugar, 350g courgettes grated, 165g plain flour, 165g buckwheat flour – once again, I didn’t have any so I used wholemeal plain flour – 1tsp baking powder, 2 tspns bicarbonate of soda, 1tsp cinnamon, 175g raisins – I used sultanas, see previous excuse – 150g walnuts chopped.

Now then, here’s a thing with putting nuts into a cake.  I absolutely love them but the wee boy and his friends are going through a phase of ‘being allergic’ to things, which roughly translates as not liking them, so I have left the nuts out of this recipe as it has the ‘I’m allergic to nuts’ foray written all over it.  Instead I replaced them with a handful of chia seeds, for texture.

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4. Then, either grease and line the base of two 900g/2lb loaf tins or, if you’re like me, you will have purchased, for absolutely no other reason than the thought that they might come in handy one day, a packet of paper loaf tin liners.  I was beginning to think they may have to be used for something to paint onto, but now I am completely absolved from buying ‘just in case stuff’, as they fit the tins perfectly.

Put all the ingredients together and mix to make a thick batter.  Pour into the cake tins.  Bake in the pre heated over for about an hour until the loaves are firm and a skewer comes out clean.  Sadly, I couldn’t remember what time I put the cakes in as I was ‘multi-tasking’.  However, I went by the smell of the oven and actually, although when I first tested them they weren’t quite done, I left them in a little longer, turning up the heat ever so slightly, and there was no dip at all.  Which has given me a completely disproportionate belief that I know what I’m doing.

Cool the cakes a little before turning out on a wire rack.

I have left one of the cakes without anything on top but the other now has a glaze made up of lime juice and granulated sugar. Of course I am unable to tell you what that will taste like but I reckon it should compliment the cake well.  I will be able to tell though, because when you sell cake at a Fayre, people never come back for a second slice if it’s not palatable.

I’ll let you know what happens.