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Food memories of Greece

I am on a roll with sharing our Greek holiday (just a few months late!) and by the end of the week I’ll have shared it all.  I’ve told you about our lovely hotel Kinsterna and our visit to the island of Elafonisos, today we’re off to the Mani Peninsula…

The Mani Peninsula in Greece

Sea around the Mani Peninsula

When I was doing my pre-holiday research I was already intrigued by the Mani just because of it’s name, which seemed to have an air of mystery to it.  The Mani Peninsula is a bit of the Peloponnese which is apparently distinguishable both geographically and culturally.  On doing my research prior to our Greek holiday (you can reads part 1 and part 2 here) I loved the sound of this bit of the Peloponnese because it was described as being rugged, rural, and inaccessible.

Rugged Mani landscape

Old walled city of Monemvasia

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Lemon cake with yoghurt drizzle

I have pretty much given up sugar in the past couple of months, I’d like to share more of my experience of cutting it out, but for now I wanted to share my first attempt at a sugar free sweet treat.

I found this nice sounding recipe for lemon bars and liked that it was simple and didn’t use a list of weird and wonderful ingredients.  Mr Rigg loves lemon drizzle cake and this sounded like it might make something pretty similar.  I’ve make cakes before with ground almonds and they usually come out moist – this lemon cake was no exception.

Moist lemon cake

Because there’s no raising ingredients, it’s pretty much the thickness of the batter you pour into your tin, but what it might not give in depth it provides in flavour and texture.

It’s sticky and moist and sweet, but with a lovely tangy lemon taste.  I even made a ‘drizzle’ to go over it, using raw yoghurt and maple syrup (as suggested in the original recipe) – however, the original looks more like whipped cream (I think this is because Greek yoghurt is very thick), whereas the raw yoghurt I used is much runnier.

If you’ve never experimented with natural sweeteners (like me!) then I would really recommend giving this recipe a try – you might be surprised how delicious it is.  It would make an excellent pudding served warm.

Lemon cake with no sugar

Lemon Cake

To begin with I preheated my oven to 180°C.

Firstly I placed my butter (1/2 cup) into a little saucepan on a low heat to melt it.  Once it was melted, I mixed in 1/4 cup of local honey and 1/4 cup of organic maple syrup, and a 1/4 tsp salt.

In a separate mixing bowl I beat together 2 eggs, 2 additional egg yolks, and the juice and zest from 1 lemon (our lemon was a jumbo one which made for a very lemony cake).

Then I added the melted butter and syrup into the egg mixture and gave it a good whisk.  Finally, I added 1/2 cup of organic whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of ground almonds.  Mix that together and pour it into a baking tin I’d lined with greaseproof paper.  Bake it for about 30 minutes.

Finally, I made a yoghurt drizzle by mixing in a bit of maple syrup.  I found that you don’t want this yoghurt to be really sweet as the tartness of the yoghurt is perfect against the lemony cake.  We ate ours warm with a tiny bit of lemon zest to make it look pretty.

I wanted to add that just because I’ve given up sugar (as in the white stuff, and its counterparts) I’ve not gone made on the natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, fruit juices etc.  I have been cutting it all out as far as possible, just having a tiny amount in dark chocolate, honey, and watered down apple juice.  This lemon cake was primarily to satiate Mr Rigg’s love of sweet treats and I have only eaten the tiniest of pieces.

Homemade soda bread with farm butter

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…

Homemade soda bread dough

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…

Freshly baked soda bread

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…

Soda bread with cream cheese and smoked trout

I love wandering around our allotments, mainly feeling sad that ours doesn’t quite cut the mustard!  I find it so interesting to see the different ways in which people grow things, how some plots are wild and sprawling, while others are neat with wooden boards and smart sheds.

So here’s a look around our allotments in Partington…

I love the brick path that has been set into the ground…

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So following on from yesterday’s post about my much shortened trip to London, I went to the National Trust Fine Farm Produce Awards on Thursday evening.  The awards are given to National Trust farms, orchards or gardens who produce products of the very highest standards – environmental, welfare, and taste.

The awards have been running since 2006 and this year’s panel of judges included Tom Kerridge (winner of the Great British Menu this year) and Henrietta Green (FoodLoversBritain).

There were incredible displays of the winning produce and productscider and apple juice from Barrington Court Estate, golden beetroot from Wimpole Walled Garden, late season honey from Lyveden New Bield, golden hot chilli sauce from Gringley Gringo

steak and ale pie from F Conisbee & Son Farming Partnership, flour from Clyston Mill, hogget lamb from Calke Abbey, and rhubarb jam from the Brockhampton Estate – to name just a few!

We sipped delicious drinks all of which were made from the awards winning products – Apple Bellini’s, incredible apple cocktails some with mint some with cinnamon, cider, ale and beer.  The Apple Bellini (exquisite fresh apple juice with champagne) is one for my wedding drinks list next year I think!

We ate delicious canapes til we could eat no longer – tiny beef pies, mini hamburgers, spoonfuls of golden beetroot and garlic risotto, bite-sized tarts with blue cheese and chutney, rice pudding with honey, and miniature scones with cream and rhubarb jam.

The producers were recognised with a short film and speech from the National Trust and judges, and this year’s Overall Winner – rhubarb jam from Brockhampton Estate – was awarded their prize. 

I watched Richard McGeown (the Executive Head Chef from Couch’s in Polperro, Cornwall) give a demonstration on how to cook the perfect steak.  He had been giving cooking demonstrations throughout the evening, and as I watched I snacked on my first ever piece of hogget lamb. 

Tips I picked up on how to cook the perfect steak? 

  • Make sure the pan is really hot (if you have asbestos fingers like Richard test it with your fingers…!!). 
  • Only add a tiny drop of oil to the pan before adding your steak. 
  • Season with salt but not black pepper at this point – it will burn and taste bitter. 
  • Cook for about 15-20 seconds on each side to seal. 
  • Season with black pepper then finish off in a hot oven (220°C) for about 6 1/2 minutes if you like it rare, 7 minutes for medium rare.

The evening was finished off with more networking and nibbling on delicious canapes, before heading off with a goodie bag

…included was a bag of flour from Clyston Mill, a small bottle of the incredibly fiery Gringley Gringo gold hot chilli sauce, some of the new National Trust ‘Lancashire lemon curd’ biscuits, apple chutney from the Killerton Estate, and a treasured jar of the award winning rhubarb jam.

Friday morning breakfast: a soft chewy slice of Kaiserbrot from Barbakan, spread with goat’s butter and Brockhampton Estate rhubarb jam.  Yum.

Today I drove the many miles southward to Hanbury Hall – a National Trust property near Droitwich, just south of Birmingham.  I went to interview the Head Gardener for the sustainable food bulletin I edit as part of my volunteer role for the National Trust.

Hanbury Hall is possibly one of the prettiest Trust properties I’ve ever visited.  The formal gardens are immaculate and full of colour – lots of orange and purple. 

The house is very similar to my local Dunham Massey, but a little bit fancier and with more detail. 

They have an Orangery and a Mushroom House (where mushrooms were grown for the Vernon family back in the 1860’s), and a large orchard full of ancient apple varieties. 

But I was there to see the Walled Vegetable Garden.  Down the end of long walkway, surrounded by high Yew hedges (very Alice in Wonderland!) are two old wooden gates set into a high red-bricked wall.

Inside was an idyllic scene of a beautiful working kitchen garden.  There were chickens picking happily at the grass, neat row of vegetables – cabbages, Rainbow chard and lettuces to name but a few, bee hives and polytunnels (one bursting with a stunning display of colourful pumpkins and squashes).  Sorry – I didn’t take any pictures inside the garden!

Hanbury Hall’s vegetable garden not only supplies the tea rooms with a bounty of fresh produce, eggs and honey throughout the year, but visitors can buy vegetables direct from the garden – simply ask a gardener for a celeriac, and they will go and pull one up for you right before your eyes, or maybe you’re after ruby red forced rhubarb – they can pick that for you while you watch.

How cool is that?! 

After having a tour of the kitchen garden and doing my interview, I said goodbye to Neil, the Head Gardener and went for lunch in the tearoom. 

In the tearoom you are greeted by a counter full of cakes (like most National Trust tearooms), but here at Hanbury they are quite different – perhaps you are tempted by a slice of their rich and moist Chocolate Beetroot Cake (I certainly was!), or their Parsnip and Caraway Seed Cake, maybe it’s their Honey Cake or my favourite a Victoria Sponge?

What’s special about these cakes is they feature vegetables and ingredients from the Walled Garden – beetroot, parsnip, caraway seeds, honey, eggs, and homemade jam (made with their own fruits, of course).  I was also told their made courgette cake and even potato cake!  All sweet.

In addition to my slice of Chocolate Beetroot Cake (which I didn’t eat first, I promise!), I had a bowl of vegetable soup with vegetables from the kitchen garden, and an apple and blackcurrant juice from a local producer in Worcestershire.  The cake defeated me – I couldn’t manage the last mouthful – shameful, I know!

What a lovely visit and a delicious lunch, and a big thanks to the friendly staff at Hanbury Hall. 

If you’d like to visit Hanbury Hall you can find more details here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hanburyhall.

*Photos taken with camera phone – not looking too bad!

I am feeling sorry for myself at home with a horrid cold – my eyes are running, I’m coughing and sneezing and generally feeling miserable.  It’s the summer and I’m stuck at home with a cold.  And on top of that I’ve lost my taste!

Ultimately that means I’m not dreaming too much of what I want to eat for dinner, food is chosen based on it being strong tasting so that I might be able to savour at least some flavour.

So whilst I’m sniffling and swallowing whole garlic cloves in a bid to rid my body of this cold, I will share my recipe for homemade granola.  I never used to like the idea of granola, being a bit to put off by sawdust like muesli.  But this is different, it’s baked in the oven drizzled with honey until it’s golden and crispy, and it’s full of seeds and nuts.

Our favourite way to eat our homemade granola begins with a bowl of natural yoghurt, covered in a layer of fruit purée, topped with a generous amount of granola and drizzled with an extra naughty bit of honey.  It’s also good with fresh fruit added into this mix.

I must say that this recipe is inspired but adapted from a fantastic book by Jenni Muir called A Cook’s Guide to Grains: delicious recipes, culinary advice & nutritional facts.  It is fabulous on so many different levels, both for its facts and history to the lovely recipes, and the beautifully designed cover.

Homemade Granola

This makes 1 large jarful

200g roasted hazelnuts
4 mugs of rolled oats
4 mugs of barley flakes
2 mugs of rye flakes
3 handfuls of pumpkin seeds
3 handfuls of sunflower seeds
2 handfuls of linseed seeds
1 jar of runny honey

A couple of notes before starting:

  1. If you want to roast the hazelnuts yourself, simply spread the hazelnuts in a baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes in the oven at 180°C – don’t let them burn.  Once they’ve cooled a little, rub of the skins by placing them in a tea towel and rubbing your hands over them.
  2. You could use different nuts in place of hazelnuts, I’ve previously used pecans which was equally delicious.
  3. When choosing honey I would pick a darker coloured honey – they are usually stronger in flavour and best for this.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Bash the roasted hazelnuts up – I like to wrap the hazelnuts up in a tea towel, hold securely and bash with a rolling pin.  I do this until they are crushed into various sized pieces.

Take a large roasting tray and add all of the dry ingredients.  Mix them up with a wooden spoon.

Drizzle over the jar of honey and bung in the oven.  Cook for 5 minutes then remove and mix up.  Repeat this process (cook for 5 minutes then mix) for about 20-25 minutes or until the granola is crisp and granola.

Once it’s cooled you can pop it in a jar and use when needed.  Should last for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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The fun and glitz of our past 24hrs in London was so nice, but for me I still don't think you can beat that coming home feeling. For me it was watching Tilly eat a plate of homemade scrambled eggs (with her hands of course!), a line of washing hanging in the kitchen, and just feeling relaxed in our own space again. On our way to the station, Tilly's first ride in a black cab, just wanted to play with all the fun looking switches :) London you were fab! Chalk board art installation. Before I die I want to... What would you add?

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