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We British are always talking about the weather, it seems we are unable to have a conversation with anyone without mentioning it. So here I am, talking about the weather – but what incredible weather it has been this past week!
Mr Rigg is convinced this is our summer, last year March was stonking hot, this year maybe it’s May. I do hope this isn’t the end of hot, sunny weather for the rest of the year, just a few more occasional weeks like this would satisfy me.
Like everyone I’m sure, we’ve been out in the garden, down on the allotment, cooking and eating outside, and quickly getting in a tan in case this really is our one and only week of warm, cloudless skies.
Some of our many meals eaten outside (and some even cooked outside!) have included this new favourite pasta dish of prawns, rocket and sundried tomato paste…
A rather scrummy and also new favourite omelette with colourful cherry tomatoes from our local farmer’s market, crispy Serrano ham, shavings of sheep’s cheese and snipped chives from the garden…
Today we made bagels – our first attempt and after the results they won’t be our last. They were fun and easy to make, beautiful with their caramel sheen, and utterly scrumptious. I followed this bagel recipe and have included my thoughts on it below.
We started by making the dough – the recipe called for putting all the dry ingredients (bread flour, yeast, sugar and salt) into a food processor and briefly mixing, followed by the hot water. I used my lovely new Christmas present (the L’Equip 428 Mill Blender) and that worked ok enough, but I’m sure you could do it by hand if you don’t have a mixer.
Instead of covering in clingfilm, we used one of our trusty hotel shower caps (they work brilliantly!) and left it to rise for an hour – this is what it looked like 60 minutes later…
You turn the dough out onto your floured worktop and press it down ‘to expel any gases’. Next you cut the dough into 10 equal pieces – these will shortly become your bagels.
I have recently discovered a fantastic food shop a few junctions down the motorway into Cheshire called The Real Food Company, run by husband and wife Nick and Carol and their daughter Silvie. They are knowledge and friendly and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them, and spending hours chatting whenever I pop down to stock up on great food.
Through them I have got interested in fermented vegetables, the one that I could most easily identify with when I approached this unknown new world was sauerkraut, not because I’d ever tried it before, but because I’ve heard of it. Followed by kimchi, primarily because it’s mentioned quite a lot on US street food programmes on the Food Network channel.
I’ve recently discovered that nuts comes with pesky enzyme inhibitors inside them, that can put a strain on your digestive system and makes it more difficult for your body to absorb all the good nutrients in them. You can overcome this by soaking the nuts overnight before slowly drying them out in an oven, then eating them as you wish.
This is something traditional cultures did and I’m all for learning from our ancestors and the knowledge they gleaned over many many generations.
After enjoying bowlfuls of Greek yoghurt topped with honey and a mixture of crumbled nuts on holiday, I thought I’d give it a go as I really wanted to recreate the mixed nuts ‘crumb’ for my own breakfasts.
Here’s said holiday breakfast…
I am ever-so thankful for the beautiful sunny (if rather chilly!) autumn days we’ve had over the weekend and at the start of the week here in Cheshire – particularly so, because less than a week ago I was still soaking up the heat and basking under spotless blue skies in Greece. I’ve got so many lovely things to share from our holiday but before that I wanted to just enjoy a few snaps of all that I love about an English autumn.
There are pumpkins at the farm shop, I can’t help but fall in love with all those shades of orange – I just wish the little punks in our neighbourhood wouldn’t see a pile of them by my front door as a good excuse for some street football. B*%!@^#s.
This morning I made some chicken stock with a leftover roast chicken carcass, I am trying harder to find time to do this and it is so satisfying to have your own homemade stock. The best I’ve made so far went solid like jelly, which is a sure sign of its tastiness.
For the past couple of months I have been avoiding sugar for health reasons, even natural sugars (honey, fruit juices, maple syrup) as best as possible. I am now able to eat smaller amount and I’m enjoying the adventure of trying out alternatives to previously enjoyed sweet treats.
One of my absolute favourite things is hot chocolate – I have long enjoyed a mug of Green’s & Black hot chocolate, and at the start of the year the luxurious treat of Montezuma’s hot chocolate, which is made with real shavings of chocolate. But both of these, despite being great options to conventional hot chocolate mixtures, still contain sugar.
What do you do when your fish cakes go wrong? Reinvent them as a fish cake bake, that’s what! We had planned on making fish cakes with some very nice Wild Alaskan salmon I’d got my mitts on, but the potato ended up too wet and there was a minor crisis over what to do. I figured there’s not much difference to popping the fish cake mixture into a stoneware dish and baking it, rather than frying them in a pan.
So that’s what we did. Mr Rigg was on fish cake duty, I was in charge of homemade mayonnaise (so so delicious!). It turned out pretty nicely, with lovely crispy bits on top and plenty of rich mayonnaise to accompany it. We tried making this again the other night – turns out, it’s not easy to recreate gone-wrong fish cakes. Oh well.
Have you heard of kefir? I hadn’t until a couple of months ago and now here I am attempting to make my own. That makes it sound like there’s a lot of hard work on my behalf, but there isn’t really – the kefir grains work their magic without a lot of intervention from me.
I ordered my kefir grains online from Kefir Heaven, this is what they say about kefir if you’re not sure what it is: “In a nutshell, a kefir grain is a gelatinous, convoluted particle obtained from fermented milk.”
And why am I making my own kefir? Well, it makes a very good for you kind of yoghurt (I’m sure kefir experts might say that’s not quite right), but somehow these little glue-like grains do something magical to milk to produce a thick yoghurt like mixture that’s full of beneficial probiotic bacteria.
So this morning my kefir grains arrived from Kefir Heaven, carefully packaged up and with instructions for me to follow to ensure my grains get the best start in life. All I needed was a clean jar with a lid and 200ml milk (I used some of my raw Jersey milk).
To start with, all I have to do is carefully remove the grains and the tiny bit of milk they’re in from their plastic pouch, pop them into a clean jar, pour over the milk and seal the lid.
This afternoon I decided to attempt my first homemade soda bread. I am not the bread baker in our little family, it is usually left to Mr Rigg, but with the simplicity of a soda bread recipe (I used Darina Allen’s from her Forgotten Skills of Cooking – perhaps one of my absolute favourite recipe books) I decided I should give it a go.
I was prompted to try it out having defrosted a bottle of buttermilk, purchased previously from our local farmer’s market, which I used a tiny amount of in a coleslaw we had earlier in the week. I still had lots left over, so thought soda bread would be a good way to use it all up. The recipe called for a mixture of white and wholegrain flour, I used a mixture of white and wholegrain spelt flour.
This is what it looked like before it went into the oven…
I had no idea what consistency the dough was supposed to be, but just went with how mine turned out – I used Mr Rigg’s new wooden pizza paddle to get it onto my preheated baking stone and followed the recipe which required it to be cooked for 15 minutes at 230°C, 15 minutes at 200°C and then a further 5 minutes upside down.
Straight from the oven…
It looked pretty good when it came out of the oven, and later when it had cooled and I cut into it I was delighted to find the texture soft and springy. We cut it into slices and had it for dinner spread with cream cheese and smoked trout – but first I had to try a small wedge with farm butter and honey from our allotment (not produced by us). It was scrummy and I’m really pleased with my first attempts.
My homemade soda bread with cream cheese, smoked trout and lemon juice…
Life is running along quickly and already I’m begining to feel like I’m behind with sharing what we’ve been up to lately and more details on our trip to France. I spent last night at Aspen B&B in Herefordshire and ate what can only be described as the best breakfast ever – Rob and Sally who run the B&B and passionate about ‘real food’ and so the breakfast is exquisitely sourced and prepared, plus if you want to talk food then this is somewhere you should book a stay.
What I wanted to share is a delicious meal we cooked last week, a simple vegetable minestrone with ricotta filled ravioli. We have followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe from his Jamies Does… book which was lovely, but I had spotted this fancy sounding smoky minestrone with tortellini and basil pesto.
My way of cooking is often looking at an image of a plate of food, or reading a recipe, then making my version of it how I would like to make it. So I never follow recipes like this very strictly. We didn’t have bacon or pancetta in the house so I just skipped that, so really ours wasn’t a smoky minestrone, but it was damn delicious.
I softened chopped onion and garlic, then added finely chopped celery, carrots and potato and let it cook a few minutes. I also added some finely chopped red pepper that we had lying around in the fridge. Next I added about a litre of stock (half homemade chicken stock we had left over and half organic Kallo veg stock), and about 5 or 6 vine tomatoes that I’d roughly chopped and a glug of passatta – this was instead of the tinned tomatoes. I also omitted the chickpeas because I didn’t have any.
I brought this to the boil then let it simmer until the veg was pretty much tender. I added two small finely chopped courgettes and gave it a few minutes, before adding the ricotta and spinach ravioli (bought I’m afraid, one day I’ll be able to claim I made it myself…oneday…) and some podded broad beans. The final vegetable I added was finely sliced rainbow chard (rather than kale).
I seasoned with some salt (we are still using up a delicious pot of greyish salt brought back from France) to taste and ate mine with a large dollop of my favourite raw basil pesto. Mr Rigg had his as it was. The simplicity of ingredients seemed to create this incredibly delicate but flavourful taste – one of the best things I’ve made and eaten for a while.