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I am visiting my family in the Cotswolds for the weekend. I have left N with his dissertation research, two naughty bunnies, and the rugby to keep him occupied. After having a rather blonde moment and ending up four junctions down the motorway too far and nearly in Bristol (I have done this trip a million times so there’s no excuses) I finally made it down on Friday for lunch with my parents.
Visiting my family in the Cotswolds always feels like I’m coming home, I just feel so relaxed and at ease here. By the time I was 18 I had lived in over twelve houses, been to about four or five different schools, and lived in the USA, but this is my home, the place I will always come back to.
This morning I dragged my mom and little sister (not so little anymore, nearly 16 as she likes to keep reminding us) to Stroud Farmer’s Market. I visited this renown farmer’s market for the first time last summer and it was fantastic. It is in the heart of Stroud, set throughout the small ancient streets and offers a huge variety of goods. I was struck by the choice, which is often so limited at farmer’s market, especially by the stalls selling vegetables.
Despite being a rather chilly and blustering early Spring day, we had a lovely morning and came home with a basket of goodies. We weren’t there to do our weekly shop, although I wish I lived close enough to do my weekly shop here, so just bought some ‘treats’. We also tried some scrumptious olive oil and cheese. The little sister tried a lot of cheese.
My basket contained: Monmouthshire air dried ham from Trealy Farm…
…a Jammie (like a jammy dodger but made with shortcrust biscuits and homemade blackcurrant jam – I will be trying to recreate these at home) from Hobbs House Bakery…
…a piece of Morn Dew (cow) cheese and a Little Rachel (goat) cheese made by a man in Shepton Mallet (this is the best cheese I have tasted in a long time); a bottle of organic whole milk from Jess’s Ladies Organic Farm Milk (I dream about this milk when I’m at home in Cheshire – it is to die for and how all milk should be)…
and a Mixed Berry Doughnut (yes I said doughnut) made by Pippin Doughnuts.
Mom’s contained: a bunch of locally grown purple tulips…
…two Mixed Berry Doughnuts and a Cinnamon and Brown Sugar doughnut from Pippin Doughnuts…
a loaf of bread from a lovely bakers whose name I can’t remember…
…an Organic Cotswold Brie from Simon Weaver (check out their website for some delicious sounding recipes); a Black Nancy (rolled in charcoal) and a Trickle both from the Shepton Mallet cheese man. The little sister also polished off a vegetable samosa.
The afternoon was spent at the local garden centre where I picked up a couple of small trays of lettuce (oakleaf and red little gem) and some purple sprouting broccoli plug plants. I will plant them down at the allotment and cross my fingers that the wild bunnies don’t annihilate them.
All in all I have had a pretty perfect day – food and gardens – and my family thrown in for good measure.
This is how I made my Spring Chicken Pie that I created especially for Mother’s Day. The recipe can be found at the bottom of the post.
To start with I softened a couple of onions.
Sliced the baby leeks lengthways and sauteed them very briefly in a little oil and butter until their yellowy-green colour started to pop – you just know it when you see it.
Next I finely sliced the spring greens and savoy cabbage (the bunnies were SO pleased with the leftovers of this meal) and gently cooked them in oil, butter and a splash of boiling water to give a sort of steaming effect. Again, these were very briefly cooked, as they would go into the pie which would spend 30 minutes in the oven anyway.
We stuffed her – affectionately named Bertha – with onions and lemon and a big handful of fresh thyme. She was roasted for about 3 hours until the meat was falling off the bone. N was already imagining his roast chicken sandwiches made from the leftovers.
To compile the pie, I placed the gently cooked veg into my pie dish (I used a large terracotta dish) as I fryed it. So softened onions first, then the leeks, then half the springs greens and cabbage.
Next I flaked large chunks of roast chicken over, and covered it with the remaining greens. A big handful of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley and it was almost ready to be encrusted in its pastry lid.
The final ingredient for the pie was a white sauce with a subtle hint of cheese. I’m not going to post a recipe for white sauce here, because I just make it up, cross my fingers and hope for the best. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s one of those things I just don’t have the patience to measure out properly and follow a recipe. I know the basics of how to make a white sauce – melt butter, add flour, which makes a roux, stir for a minute or so to cook out the floury taste, add milk (I have started adding warm milk in a bid to reduce the risk of the dreaded lumps!) and stir vigorously until thickened. I remember my mother telling my to continuously stir her white sauce until it had thickened to prevent lumps, and hers always turned out nicely. To my white sauce I add a grating of fresh nutmeg, some salt and pepper, and a little bit of strong cheddar – this I adjust until the sauce has just a slightly cheesy hint.
Pour this over the pie. All that was left was to roll out the puff pastry, cut out a lid, place it securely over the pie, cut a few air holes, and then create a few unnecessary but satisfying details – namely pastry leaves. Just before I put my pie in the oven (at about 180°C) for 30 minutes I glazed it with an egg yolk. Sadly, I was in such a rush to get the damn thing onto the table, along with the new potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli (which wasn’t co-operating) that I didn’t take any pictures. It was truly beautiful, a flaky, golden delight, its pastry leaves glowing. You shall have to imagine it, although I’m sure you have all made/or seen such a pie.
Spring Chicken Pie
Makes 1 large pie, enough to feed 4-6 people
To roast the chicken:
1 large organic chicken
3 lemons, quartered
2 onions, quartered
Bundle of fresh thyme
For the pie:
2 onions, finely sliced
6-8 baby leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced lengthways
1 medium savoy cabbage, sliced
Couple of handfuls of spring greens, sliced
Bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Packet of good quality puff pastry
1 egg yolk
Rub your chicken inside and out with butter. Stuff your chicken with the chunks of onion and lemon, and the big bundle of thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken (approximately 45 minutes a kilo, plus 20 minutes) – we cover ours in foil until the last 20-30 minutes when we remove it to crisp up the chicken. When the chicken has cooled, you can get your handy boyfriend/husband to remove all the tender chicken.
In a large frying pan, soften the onions in a little oil. Transfer them to your prepared pie dish and spread out over the bottom. Next, add a knob of butter and the sliced leeks. Cook for a couple of minutes until they just start to soften. Season with salt and pepper then spread over the onion. Next, add a small knob of butter and a splash of boiling water to the pan and add half the sliced spring greens and savoy cabbage. Heat through until this also just starts to soften. Spread over the leeks. Add the remaining springs greens and cabbage and cook as before. Turn off the heat. Spread a good layer of roast chicken pieces over the veg, and top with a final layer of greens and cabbage.
Make your white sauce. Add some grated cheddar and a grating of nutmeg and mix well before pouring it over the pie. I let my pie cool a bit before covering in the pastry topping because I wasn’t going to bake it straight away and I didn’t want the heat from the veggies and sauce to make the pastry soggy.
When you’re ready to bake your pie, preheat the oven to 180°C.
Roll out your puff pastry. Cut out a lid that is slightly wider than your pie dish. I wet the rim of my pie dish, and using some off-cuts of pastry I created a pastry rim to which I could attach my lid. Next, carefully lay your pastry lid over the pie and pinch the edges to secure it. Use a sharp knife to cut a couple of air vents to let out the steam as it cooks. For a final flourish you can use any spare bits of pastry to decorate your pie with leaves or some other finishing detail.
Just before you put the pie in the oven, beat an egg yolk and brush it all over the pastry top. This will give your pie a beautiful golden glaze. Bake your pie for about 30 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden, and the sauce bubbling out from under the pastry lid. You are only really cooking the pastry and warming all the ingredients through as they are pretty much pre-cooked anyway.
We served our chicken pie with new potatoes gently tossed in a knob of goat’s butter and a pile of steamed purple sprouting broccoli. Serve the pie at the table to make sure everyone appreciates your pastry leaves!
Sandwich…burger…I’m not quite sure what this creation is, but it definitely tastes scrumptious. This sandwich was devised to get us through Saturday – a dawn til way-past-dusk frenzy of furniture moving, hoovering, dusting, sorting, chucking, and reorganisation. I must say our house positively gleams now, and looks beautiful. However, this sandwich was needed to get us through that day.
It is most definitely worth sharing and I hope you all try it – equally delicious without the sausages for a yummy vegetarian alternative. The only thing I’d do different next time (there will be a next time I make this sandwich…I’m still thinking about it) is add a smear of sundried tomato paste to the bun before ladling in the other ingredients.
The bread baps and halloumi came from Barkbakan in Chorlton, the sausages from Little Heath Farm, and the roasted red peppers from a jar. The mayonnaise wasn’t homemade, I’m not sure it’s necessary for a dollop in a sandwich like this, but it was good quality organic mayo. I think this recipe would work equally nicely in the summer with a good handful of fresh basil.
Sausage, Halloumi & Roasted Red Pepper Sandwich
Makes two large sandwiches
2 large baps/buns/bread rolls/slices of bread
6 slices of halloumi
1-2 large roasted red peppers from a jar
3 tbsp semolina flour
salt and pepper
couple of dollops of mayonnaise
smear of sundried tomato paste
Firstly, turn the grill on and cook the sausages until golden brown and sizzling.
Meanwhile, combine the semolina flour, salt and ground pepper in a bowl. Take the slices of halloumi and coat in the semolina flour – this creates a nice crispy coating when they cook. If the halloumi is quite dry, smear over a little oil to mak the flour stick.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan with a glug of oil – use a piece of kitchen towel to wipe it evenly around the pan to ensure the cheese doesn’t stick. When the oil it nice and hot, carefully lay the halloumi into the oil and let it cook for a couple of minutes – without moving it – until it is golden. Then flip the halloumi over and fry on the other side until golden.
Slice your baps or bread rolls in half. Roughly slice the roasted red peppers. Smear over some sundried tomato paste and lay the cooked sausages on top (three on each). Next add the golden halloumi and a good handful of roasted peppers. Top with a dollop of mayonnaise and a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves.
This past weekend has been largely spent outside in the garden. The weather has gone unusually warm for this small wet island, not that I’m complaining, so I welcomed the opportunity to get outside and into my garden.
Last spring N built me four raised beds at the end of our garden for growing vegetables. Because they were built so soon before the growing season, we literally built them and that was it. All the grass between the beds got really long and difficult to cut during the summer and was a haven for slugs and snails! Then over the winter it just got patchy and muddy from us walking on it.
So over the winter we decided that this year we would lay some anti-weed membrane and cover it with bark chippings to tidy it up a bit. The weekend before last we managed to dig over all the grass around the raised beds, and this past weekend we successfully laid the membrane and covered it with bark chippings. The layer of bark chippings is pretty thin due to our funds drying up, but soon we should be able to buy a couple more bags and finish the job off. It looks so smart and completely changes the shape of how our garden feels – wider rather than long and narrow.
Just before Christmas I saw a beautiful picture in a book of a weathered picket fence covered in purple flowers and small orange pumpkins and knew that it would be a perfect way to keep my naughty bunnies out of the vegetable bed. It was fine last summer once everything had got going and the plants were abundant because the bunnies could chomp their way through the parsley or hide in the pea plants and no one would notice a few bits missing here and there.
But at the moment when there are tiny seedlings and shoots are starting to emerge they are a nuisance! They just decimate everything. The poor chives – these vibrant green juicy blades that are poking out of the rich brown soil – they just get mown down leaving only an inch or so remaining. I’m sure it’s very good for my bunnies digestion but not for my tiny plants. So now I am saving for a picket fence, have saved in my Ebay list seeds for the Cup & Saucer plant which was the one in the picture with the large purple flowers and am armed with a packet of ‘Jack Be Little’ pumpkin seeds.
The other success from the weekend was sowing lots more seeds. I feel so much happier now that I have planted another set of seeds, just knowing that with a little bit of water and tender loving care tiny shoots will soon appear. In the garden I put straight into the ground a row of rainbow carrots (yellow it turns out are even sweeter than orange carrots), a row of ‘Guardsman’ spring onion, a row of ‘Paris Market Baron’ carrots (round and stumpy), and a row of ‘Paris Silverskin’ onions (perfect for pickling).
At the back of our house we have what can only be described as a sort of lean-to, badly constructed conservatory type boot room. The previous owner had his washing machine plumbed in which took up most of the space, but we use it to store anything and everything, and during the spring and summer it becomes Seedling Central. One-third is brick, and two-thirds is windows, a back door and a plastic roof. It’s perfect for starting off seeds as it gets so warm, much like a greenhouse.
So in an assortment of trays and pots, I have planted from seed peas, broad beans, leeks, and a selection of lettuces. I have also started off some dwarf sunflowers, borage, cosmos, and some special blue sweetpeas called ‘Charlie’s Angel’ from N’s mom.
I am so excited to see the tiny seedlings from my sowing session a couple of weeks ago springing up, and the broad bean plants are doing incredibly well – there is something so satisfying about their sturdy green leaves unfolding. More updates to follow on how my seeds do. Happy planting!
As part of celebrating our five years of being together, N and I went to an organic cafe in Altrincham for lunch on Saturday. I’ve known about this cafe for a while, tried their delicious Victoria Sponge cake at the Trafford Food Festival, even been to the Italian restaurant opposite it a number of times, but I hadn’t ever been to into the cafe itself. We wanted a simple lunch of sandwiches, but good sandwiches – not dodgy pub sandwiches or any that would leave us wishing we’d made them ourselves at home. Hullabaloo claims that all its food is homemade using organic and seasonal produce, so it seemed like our best bet – as you can see, the more we cook at home, the more difficult we find it to eat out.
Hullabaloo is set in a pretty little courtyard in Altrincham, and when we arrived we thought it was closed – it looks very dark inside and until you’re up close you can’t tell whether there’s anyone inside, that and the sign in the door read ‘closed’. It must have just swung the wrong way round, because the cafe was open and there were a couple of people inside enjoying their lunch.
The cafe is one small room, which although has dark tiles floors and a wall of black shelves filled with organic wines and cookery books feels very light inside. At the back is a counter with a selection of homemade cakes atop it, behind it is a small kitchen where Suzi, the owner, cooks the food. The menu’s are written on brown paper bags, as are the drinks list.
N went for a brie, bacon and cranberry open sandwich, and I went for one of the specials – grilled Portebello mushrooms topped with brie, bacon and caramelised onions. Both we served on soft organic bread, with watercress and mixed salad leaves. They were in a word – divine. The brie was room temperature (a delight as so often brie sandwiches use it straight from the fridge), and in my case had oozed slightly from the warmth of the mushrooms. The bacon was flavoursome and N’s cranberry sauce a deep ruby colour. Our plates were licked clean.
After we finished our naughty desserts – N chose the homemade frosted carrot cake and I had a moreish orange and almond bun filled with chocolate frosting – we had a lovely chat with Suzi who told us about her monthly seasonal evening meals. It’s a mystery menu, devised using whatever’s at the seasons best. It sounds great fun and we are planning to go in the next couple of months.
Hullabaloo was a refreshing experiencing for us in the world of eating out. There’s nothing worse than going out and spending money on food only to come away thinking ‘I could have made this better at home.’ Suzi’s food was thoroughly enjoyable and the perfect way to spend out anniversary lunch.
N rolled his eyes when I brought out my camera, so there are only a few pictures of my delicious cake – blame the boyfriend.
Recently I have taken on an allotment. It’s in the small town next to us, about a five minute drive away – I put my name down on for all the allotments in our town, and the next, because I was told it would be about a three year wait (!!!) for allotments here. Back in February, when I’d given up all hope on the allotment front, I received an email from the council and went to visit a couple of allotments that had become available. For a start, the plots were a lot larger than I imagined the would be – a full plot is 250 square metres!! The first plot I was shown was overgrown and had been unloved for over a year – this one filled me with fear, I just didn’t have the time to sort it out. The next looked more manageable, so I signed up and I now have an additional 125 square metres in which to grow.
There are a lot of raspberry canes at the bottom of the plot, in amongst the rubbish.
And quite a lot of rubarb. It’s quite exciting to be given a plot that already has things growing on it.
A couple of weeks after I’d taken it on and still hadn’t been down to do any digging, I was beginning to think I’d taken on too much. I finally managed to spend a couple of hours there on Monday last week and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I dug over a number of the raised beds that were left by the previous owner, and put in all my garlic and shallots, and half the onions I’d bought.
N dropped in on his way home from work on Friday afternoon to check that they hadn’t been decimated by some naughty bunnies (wild ones, not the cheeky pets this time), birds or mice. They were fine – thank goodness! – and still sat neatly in their lines. I’ve never grown shallots or onions before, so I shall keep you posted with how they go. I adore all things onion-ey and couldn’t live without them in my kitchen, so I am looking forward to the day in autumn when I can (hopefully!) cook some of them. Garlic I haven’t had much luck with in the past, so fingers-crossed I’ll do better this year. If anybody has any garlic growing tips – please leave me a message in the comments as I would love any help I can get!
Tonight N and I are celebrating five years since we started going out. We are celebrating with homemade pizza and a glass of our favourite bubbly – Cuvee Flamme by Gratien & Meyer from the Loire (http://www.gratienmeyer.com). Who could think of a better way to see in such an important day?
I am always on the trail of great local food, and some of the best places to explore are the areas where our families live. N’s family live in a gorgeous North Yorkshire village, and last year I sent off to the local tourist board for their ‘local produce guide’. It was actually a lot better than I was expecting, with more than just the standard tourist trail.
We spent a day travelling about, took a ride on a steam train, and visited a number of local food retailers. There was a large farm shop selling the touristy deli items, a fantastic farm making their own jam and the best strawberry jam that I’ve ever tasted, and then we discovered The Wall at Coulton.
The Wall is…well…a wall. It’s an old wall that runs around a lovely old farmhouse with a stunning cottage garden when in bloom. On the wall are a good variety of the vegetables that they sell. They have a simple, but honest sign that reads ‘We grow ALL we sell.’
In addition to homegrown vegetables, they also sell pork and lamb, and cut flowers in summer. Every time we’ve visited since it’s been raining, so the pictures look a bit dismal. But this place is fantastic, a real gem, with real seriously local food.
It works on a simple honesty tin system where you pop the money you owe in the tin on the wall.
Soggy looking carrots – God bless the British summer.
Bags of calabrese and romanesco cauliflower.
For more information visit their website http://www.thewall-coulton.co.uk.