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Apologies for not having posted for a few days, I have been busy cooking for my parents who came to visit for a day, eating great food, and being a bit stunned by the fantastic hot weather we have been blessed with.
My pea plants seem to have doubled in size since last week, stretching skywards. We have so much lettuce and salad leaves I don’t know what to do with it all! I really want to tell you about some lovely salads that I have been creating over the past week, and to show you pictures of a gorgeous French style strawberry tart that my lovely friend Natalie made.
For now I am tired so I shall leave you with a picture of burgers from tonight’s barbecue – homemade burgers from Little Heath Farm and homegrown lettuce leaves:
The second asparagus recipe of the season, but one that doesn’t feature asparagus in its naked glory. Usually I only eat asparagus on its own, with delicious extras that enhance its earthy flavours, so putting it into pasta was a first. It was delicious, and I would definitely do it again.
Asparagus and mushroom pasta
Pasta (enough for two)
Bundle of asparagus
200g chestnut mushrooms
Spoonful of mascarpone cheese
Handful of grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 180-200°C.
Cook the pasta as you normally would or according to the packet.
Prepare the asparagus by gently bending the stems until they naturally snap – discard the woody stem. Pour a little olive oil into a roasting dish and add the asparagus. Add a little salt and pepper and mix well before shoving in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the asparagus is tender.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the mushrooms and heat a knob of butter in a frying pan. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook on a high heat until they start to crisp and turn golden.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pan. Stir in a spoonful of mascarpone cheese, some salt and pepper, and a little extra virgin olive. Tip in the cooked mushrooms. Spoon the pasta onto your warm plates.
Cut the roasted asparagus into pieces – I used a pair of tongs and scissors. Add the asparagus to the pasta, and top with some grated Parmesan and a drizzle of oil.
The asparagus season has started here in England and I have been so looking forward to it. For that reason, we are feasting on the stuff at any opportunity, and will probably be sick of it by the end of its short season.
This is a simple meal of asparagus, topped with a couple of crispy slices of streaky bacon, accompanied by some toast smothered in butter and a soft boiled egg to dunk the asparagus spears in. You may see that I slightly over-cooked the egg so there was no dunking for us – not a mistake I will make again!
The asparagus came from Kenyon Hall Farm (also the people who run our box scheme Northern Harvest). The eggs were from Abbey Leys Farm – I follow Delia’s method for boiling eggs. The streaky bacon was care of Sue at Little Heath Farm, and the bread from Barbakan. So all in all a pretty local meal – and a tasty one at that!
Asparagus with crispy bacon and a soft boiled egg
Bundle of asparagus spears
4 slices streaky bacon
4 pieces of bread
Prepare the asparagus by gently bending the stems until they naturally snap – discard the woody stem. My preferred method of cooking asparagus is as follows (but feel free to cook them however you choose): Heat a narrow pan of water about half full until simmering. Use an elastic band to gently fasten the bundle of prepared asparagus together and place in the simmering water – the water should come at least half way up the stems. I use another pan of equal size, placed upside down on top of the first pan. This method enables the stems to cook in the water, and the delicate tops to gently steam.
Meanwhile, put your eggs on to boil – I follow Delia’s method for soft boiled eggs.
Cook the streaky bacon in a frying pan until nice and crisp.
When the asparagus is cooked, turn of the heat. Pop the slices of bread into the toaster and lightly toast. Take the cooked eggs out of the water and pop into your favourite egg cup – gently cut the top off to reveal the golden yolk. Butter your toast and pop it on the plate, along with a pile of steaming asparagus and top with the crispy bacon.
N and I are very excited on our newest garden wildlife discovery – two little mice! It was such a lovely evening yesterday that with Lovage under one arm, and Borage hopping round the new run, N and I went for a wander round our garden. This is something we like to do on warm sunny evenings, just to see what’s growing, what’s popped up, and how things have changed. Our garden isn’t very big, but it’s still nice to slowly wander round.
We were stood looking at some foxgloves when I saw what I thought was a bird under the bird table…but no, it was a little brown mouse! He was busy nibbling on bird seed and seemed quite unfussed by us watching him. N has named him Ernie, although he gets upset when I say this and said he was only joking. But it’s kind of stuck.
Ernie ran off under the geraniums, so we carried on round the garden. When we go back round to the same spot we quietly watched under the bird table to see if he would reappear. He did. And then another mouse appeared too! She’s called Minnie (very originally, I know). So anyway, we have two very cute little brown mice living somewhere under the geraniums, or perhaps in shed.
I called up my good friend Maria (or Maria’s Marmalade Gingerbread) to tell her about the mice – by coincidence, we went to there’s for dinner on Sunday and she was telling us about Dennis – her mouse who lives in the garden wall! Dennis is rather acrobatic, and likes to hang from the peanut feeder. However, Dennis was feeling shy on Sunday and we didn’t see him.
One of these days I will attempt to take a (most likely out of focus) photo of Ernie and/or Minnie, but it might be one of those ‘spot the mice’ pictures…
My little brother, who is 13, loves fishing. He is lucky that we have friends with riverside houses who let him sit on their banks and fish for trout for free. The weekend before last when N and I went home to visit them, the little brother went out fishing and brought me back a handsome trout for my birthday present. What a treat!
And what a beauty he caught! I accepted the gift on the premise that the little brother would gut it and clean it for me. He did so willingly. I must add in here that only a year ago he was too squeamish to even touch raw chicken, so he has come a long way.
So the following day, having returned to our little house in Cheshire, N and I decided to cook the trout for my birthday tea. The weather was scorching, so N prepared the barbeque and I faffed around trying to decide what to do to my trout. In the end, we just bunged a couple of thin slices of lemon in its belly along with a handful of garden herbs. We scored deep gashes into the flesh and poked in some slices of garlic, finishing it off with a drizzle of oil and salt and pepper.
The trout was then wrapped in foil and popped straight onto the hot coals and took hardly any time at all to cook.
In addition to the trout, we boiled up some Jersey Royals and tossed them with lots of butter and mint. We picked a bowl of salad leaves from the garden and dried them off in our new kitchen toy – a salad spinner!
I was so pleased with the way we cooked the trout, it was absolutely perfect, just cooked, still moist and a beautiful blush of coral pink. If in doubt, just keep checking it.
Next I painstakingly removed all the succulent flesh from the bones, which took a while, but as the kind of person who can easily be put off by chomping on a bone, I felt it was worthwhile. This was all that was left of the fishy when I was done with it (avert your eyes or quickly scroll down if you’re squeamish – I must say I think there’s something rather beautiful about it):
We were left with a big pile of gorgeous pink trout flecked with thyme leaves (we devoured the whole lot!):
So there you have it – an incredibly simple, incredibly delicious and in fact incredibly cheap meal: baked trout, new potato salad and a pile of salad leaves.
We realised that ignoring the minor ingredients such a lemon, oil, salt and pepper that our meal had only cost the price of the potatoes. The rest was free - a fish from a beautiful Cotswold river (the one below in fact), and homegrown salad and herbs from our garden.
A big thanks to the little brother for catching us such a tasty tea!
As I am still suffering from a cold I am off to wrap up in a blanket and watch some trashy TV. I will leave you with a post I drafted a while ago for chip butty sandwiches and hope to be back tomorrow to tell you about the fabulous trout my little brother caught for my birthday present.
This is a complete cheats dinner. One to be eaten when everyone is tired and can’t be bothered to cook or wash up. It should also probably only be eaten once in a while, and to make myself feel better about eating this carb-laden meal I remind myself that the night before we ate a very healthy meal of noodles, stir-fried with lots of greens, and topped with seared tuna steak.
My perfect chip butty:
- thin slices of fresh, soft white bread
- spread thickly on both sides with farmhouse butter
- crispy chips laid across one slice of bread
- a sprinkle of rock crystal salt
- and finished off with a grinding of black pepper
- before being topped with another slice of bread
The bread if thinly sliced moulds around the chips as you grasp it, and the butter (if enough is added) provides this extra silky salty flavour that seems to bind bread and chip together.
N prefers his perfect chip butty with no pepper and a drizzle of ketchup instead. I would also like to point out that we don’t usually buy chips, and that these were free chips that N brought home from work. But sometimes you just need to spoil yourself, and eat a meal that provides you with no goodness but that wraps you up in great comforting hugs.
Feeling that a cold might be creeping up on me gets me planning all the ways I can try to fight it off. These ‘ways’ usually involve food. We have been eating lots of garlic, onion, lemons, herbs, chicken stock, and drinking orange juice and hot honey and lemon. If my throat gets stratchy and sore, I head for the cupboard, grab a teaspoon, scoop out a spoonful of ‘spring flower’ honey brought back from our travels in the Loire, and slowly suck on it. It coats your throat and tastes delicious, plus I’m sure I’ve read that honey has antibacterial properties. It certainly does the trick.
So when N woke up on Saturday morning with a sore throat too, it was essential to fill our bellies with something healing for lunch. We opted for a firm favourite in our house, a pasta broth. Its part soup, part broth, part bowl of pasta. At its most basic you cook some teeny pasta in stock rather than water and add any combination of tiny diced vegetables. Every time we make cook this dish it is slightly different, a different combination of vegetables, herbs and seasonings.
This time we cracked open a tub of frozen homemade chicken stock, to ensure the best possible healing powers, no stock cubes today. I used the vegetables that we had lying around in the fridge – a lonesome carrot that had got forgotten at the bottom of the salad draw, a small white onion, a chunk of celery, some sunblushed tomatoes, a few oyster mushrooms, and a bulb of fresh garlic.
Firstly, I finely diced everything – except the mushrooms and sunblushed tomatoes, which were roughly chopped. The onion, celery and fresh garlic were sweated in a little oil. Next the carrot was added, stirred a little, then the mushrooms added. The mini pasta was added (we used a small pasta shaped like rice) and stirred in, then the chicken stock added and the whole lot simmered.
With a couple of minutes to go before the pasta is cooked, the sunblushed tomatoes are added. I also added a sprinkle of dried herbs. Once the pasta is cooked, I added a handful of chopped parsley and the juice of a lemon – the lemon juice just lifts the whole dish and transforms it – for me it wouldn’t be the same without it. Taste and season with salt and pepper. You will find that most of the liquid gets absorbed by the pasta, so it’s more like a sloppy pasta dish.
Serve it up with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and an extra grinding of black pepper if you’re me. You could also add some grated Parmesan or a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves. Bread or toast with a smear of butter is also a must to mop up any remaining broth.
As I mentioned in a previous post we recently spent the weekend with my family. My family (myself included) have notoriously different diets: my little sister is a vegetarian (but eats marshmallows…naughty naughty), my dad is gluten intolerant, my mom eats fish but not meat, and my little brother is, well quite fussy, but likes his bacon, ham and sausage.
So finding a meal that everyone can enjoy is quite a challenge. Risotto is often a good bet (the little brother still struggles with this a bit). But as it was my birthday weekend, so it was about everyone enjoying their food, so we decided to make our own pizzas and let everyone choose their own toppings. My dad was supposed to buy himself some gluten free pizza bases, but he rebelled saying they taste like cardboard (I don’t doubt they do) and that some things were worth it – homemade pizza base being one of them.
We use Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough recipe from his Jamie’s Italy book. You can find the recipe together with my simple tomato sauce recipe here. We put together a whole range of toppings and laid them out on the counter top for people to help themselves to. These are the resulting pizzas:
The little brother’s ‘meat feast’ pizza: German salami and roast ham
Notice the token piece of greenery…
The little sister’s ‘veggie delight’: grilled peppers, aubergine and courgettes
The little sister decided the little brother had more cheese, so after it came out of the oven she grated lots more cheese over it.
Dad’s ‘absolutely everything’ pizza: grilled peppers, aubergine and courgettes, German salami, and Parma ham
But he wasn’t finished there, no, once cooked he then added…rocket, basil, Parmesan shavings AND truffle oil!
Mom’s pizza was the same as the little sister’s but she added a smattering of rocket leaves and basil oil just before eating:
My ‘classic’ pizza (classic in that it’s what I always make): a basic margherita topped once cooked with ribbons of Parma ham and a scattering of rocket
N was the last to make his pizza, so by this point I was tucking into my pizza and had no time to take pictures. The little brother said he thought it was the best pizza he’d ever had, better even than Pizza Express (from him that’s saying something). So if you haven’t made this pizza dough yet, do – it has the little brother’s seal of approval.
We are ill. Or getting ill, it seems. It started yesterday with a sore throat, then this morning N had one too accompanied by a headache. So we are busily feeding ourselves up on cold-fighting food. For tea last night we prepared this simple but tasty pasta dish, full of ingredients to help ward off illness.
Baked Lemon Pasta
185g pasta (we used small penne)
2 spoonfuls of creme fraiche
1 small onion
small stalk of fresh garlic (or 1 garlic clove)
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
handful of parsley, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 200°C.
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water.
Meanwhile, thinly slice the onion and garlic stalk (or glove) and sauté in oil and a knob of butter until soft. Season with a little salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan. Mix in the creme fraiche, the onion mixture, lemon zest and juice, and the parsley. Make sure you taste the mixture and adjust until it pops with flavour.
Spoon into an ovenproof dish and sprinkle over the Parmesan. Drizzle over a little olive oil and cook for 7-10 minutes until the cheese has melted and started to tinge golden.
The Organic Farm Shop near Cirencester in Gloucestershire was one of my first experiences of a farm shop. It is my ‘local’ farm shop when visiting my family, and stopping off here on the journey is a sign that we’re nearly there.
As you turn off the road and down the long tree-lined drive to the farm shop, you pass piggies in a field and a market garden sized field of fruit buses and pollytunnels, before you reach the farm shop nestled amongst a grove of trees. There is something lovely about seeing the produce growing in the fields before you enter the farm shop, something reassuring – and a great reminder about where a lot of the produce you buy in the shop comes from.
In addition to the farm shop (which is stocked with fantastic goodies) there is a cafe serving delicious, home-cooked vegetarian food. Meat-eaters do not be detered by the veggie menu, it is scrumptious food and you won’t sit there wondering where you steak is. If N can cope, anyone can.
As it was my birthday weekend, we decided to treat ourselves to lunch in the cafe. It serves daily specials and have a standard menu which comprises of a variety of baked potatoes and omelettes. Most meals are served with a selection of salads, which are displayed on the counter.
You can pick and choose which salads you want – N and I turned down the mung bean, red cabbage and cauliflower salad, but were really surprised by salad of celery, cucumber, fennel and sunflower seeds. I was also converted to the true potential of polenta – an ingredient that I have had disastrous-throw-in-the-bin results with – these were crisp, cheesy ‘croutons’ that topped off our salad. Yum yum.
So N opted for a selection of salads topped with melt-in-the-mouth goats cheese (he had eaten his before I had a chance to take a snap). I chose from the specials board and tasted my first asparagus of the season – an asparagus and cheese tart with salads. This tart was so good and would really like to recreate, or at least try to!
As you can see it didn’t take us long to finish it all off. I am also coming to the realisation that I am a bit obsessed by taking photographs of empty plates (those that are empty because the food that previously was on them has all been gobbled up). I was so tempted to take a photo of the table next to us after the family had left, there was something fascinating about the empty plates, cutlery, cups and crumpled napkins strewn across the table. N gave me such a look at the suggestion that I quickly put the camera away.