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I so desperately want to have the time to write here again – I have a camera full of photos and lots I would love to share, I just don’t have the time. I think I might pop!
We have, however, managed to plant some seeds last weekend – carrots, salad leaves, beetroot, radish, parsley, and peas…and today we spotted the first green pea shoots poking through! So exciting!
I’ve made chopped salads before and love the simplicity of the concept – chop a whole load of salad ingredients together with a splash of dressing. Yup, that’s it. It appeals to me when I’m working at home and want a quick but healthy sort of lunch.
It may seem daft to sort of mush up all those lovely ingredients into one pile of finely chopped salad, but I think it actually does something to the flavour. By chopping things together the flavours begin to mingle to create something new and wonderful.
For this green salad, I started by chopping together lettuce (a crisp crunchy lettuce like cos or baby gem work best – soft leaved lettuce will just disappear into nothing), cucumber, spring onions, and parsley (but you could use herbs and a mixture would be lovely).
Then I chopped up an avocado and mixed everything together in a bowl. Next, I made a hollow in the salad and added my dressing ingredients – a place of mustard (I used Dijon), vinegar (I used red wine vinegar), extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
Then give everything a really good mix together so that all the ingredients and flavours can start to mingle.
At this point taste it and adjust the dressing flavourings to taste. You can also add in other bits and pieces – I crumbled in some Cheddar cheese.
Finally, I mounded it into my bowl and topped with a generous sprinkle of crumbled Cheddar. A fantastic way to eat a lot of vegetables – in this case a lot of green ones – and a different take on the salad.
What do you put into your chopped salad? Pieces of crispy bacon appeal to me.
Perhaps an unconventional Christmas meal, but with only two of us to feed a turkey or goose would be too much, and with some exquisite stewing venison in the freezer from Dunham Massey it seemed only natural to have venison stew.
We bought our venison from Little Heath Farm a few weeks ago when they received a delivery from the National Trust property just down the road. It is nice to know that the main ingredient in our Christmas meal came from within 5 miles and most likely had a lovely life roaming the parkland at Dunham Massey.
With a large part of my University days spent studying Native Americans both in the UK and Canada, it seemed only apt to follow the recipe for venison stew from Jamie’s America book. Based on a Navajo stew, this recipe is incredibly delicious and is the second time we’ve made it.
My only addition was to make some parsley and suet dumpling, which I popped into the stew towards the end of cooking. There is something very moreish about dumplings – I think I could eat a plateful drenched in a couple of spoonfuls of stew liqueur.
Mash potato was made with our allotment grown potatoes, which must be said have been a bit disastrous. Whether it’s the variety, how we’ve grown them, or how we cook them, but the potatoes just disintegrate into soupy glue if not watched carefully.
I have learnt that the trick with them is to watch them carefully in the water, looking for the moment when the outside starts to break down, but leaving them long enough to make sure they are almost cooked through.
This time I put it through my wonderful French mouli that I picked up at the carboot – it was fantastic! With the help of a little cream (maybe a lot…) and butter, and some seasoning, the mash turned out all right.
What did you eat for Christmas dinner?
I’m set on making this meal one of my winter staples. It was so delicious, and not difficult at all to make.
Somewhere between mushrooms in a cream and wine sauce and a Stroganoff, this is a vegetarian meal full of flavour – I could have quite happily eaten it straight from the pan.
Clean and cook the mushrooms in a knob of butter – I used a mixture of tiny button mushrooms (from the market) kept whole, and sliced white and chestnut mushrooms. Cook them until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender and starting to go golden. Season with salt and pepper.
The cream and wine sauce
In a separate pan, melt another knob of butter and soften a finely chopped small onion. Add about 200ml dry white wine to the pan and let it bubble until it’s reduced by about half. Then add in about 150ml double cream and stir until the mixture begins to thicken.
Creating the creamy mushrooms
At this point, simply add the cooked mushrooms to the cream sauce and stir in. I added a glug of milk to loosen my sauce up a bit and give us more of it. Once the milk was added, I just allowed it to heat through a thicken a little. Finally, taste and season, and stir through some chopped parsley if you want.
What to eat it with
We ate our creamy mushrooms with a pile of steaming rice and a crisp seasonal leaf salad, but it would also be delicious on toast. We also added a naughty sprinkling of grated Raclette cheese – not essentially but delicious.
If ever there was a winter dish this was it. I’m pretty sure it must be quite healthy, all those lentils and greens, plus a good dose of garlic. Anyway…what matters was it tasted fantastic.
This is one of those meals where the quality of the ingredients really makes the difference. I used Puy Lentils, organic cavolo nero, and incredible coiled Italian sausages (that I picked up here).
These incredible Italian sausages were simply popped under a hot grilled for about 5-6 minutes on each side until they were golden. I even drained the little amount of amber coloured fat that pooled in the coils into the lentils – waste not want not!
The lentils (about 200g for 2) were covered with water, with a bunch of tied parsley stalks, a peeled garlic clove and a bay leaf. Simmered for about 15-20 minutes until soft, then drained. I mixed in a splash of sherry vinegar to taste, seasoned well with salt and pepper, and stirred through chopped parsley. Finally mash the garlic clove and stir in.
The cavolo nero
I’m not a huge cabbage and kale lover, but cavolo nero I have a bit of thing for. First I chopped it up, popped it into a large pan of salted boiling water and let it cook for 3 minutes before draining. Cool it immediately with cold water, then squeeze as much liquid out of it as you can. When you’re ready to eat, gently fry some sliced garlic in oil then add the cavolo nero and stir to warm through.
Tonight we tried one of Hugh’s latest recipes – his version of pot noodle with spicy chorizo, spring onions and fennel seeds.
It’s really simple. In a bowl you pop dried egg noodles, chopped chorizo, sliced spring onions and crushed fennel seeds. To make this less pot noodle lunchtime snack and more dinner for two, I lightly fried the chorizo and crushed fennel seeds, and half the spring onions. Just to soften them a little.
The recipe then tells you to pour enough boiling water over the noodles, and stir in tomato passata that has been well seasoned with salt and pepper. Then you leave it for 5-6 minutes. We did this, but found that the noodles didn’t quite cook enough and the sauce was lukewarm by the time we came to eat it.
So we transferred everything to a pan and heated it up. I added a good-sized spoonful of sundried tomato paste which gave a depth of flavour. Lastly we stirred through some chopped flat leaf parsley from the garden.
All in all it was a pretty tasty and good dinner with a few little tweaks – really a delicious bowl of soupy noodles, spicy with chorizo and fragrant with fennel.
Spanish style chorizo and spring onion noodles
2 nests of egg noodles
8 spring onions
200ml tomato passata
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste
salt and pepper
handful of parsley or basil
Chop up the chorizo and spring onions, and crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar.
Heat up a small frying pan and gently fry the chorizo, spring onions and fennel seeds for a few minutes.
Mix together the tomato passata, sundried tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste.
In a pan, place the egg noodles, chorizo, spring onions, fennel seeds and tomato passata. Pour over just enough boiling water to cover. Put over a medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes or until the sauce is hot and the noodles are cooked.
Stir through some chopped parsley or basil and eat.
Last night we had the first fire of the season in our wood burning stove. It was such a treat to bring the logs in and curl up on the sofa by the fire.
We also made a delicious dinner from one of my favourite recipe books (it must seem like I have a lot of favourites!) - the Complete Traditional Recipe Book from the National Trust.
It was a Hobbler’s Seafood Pie – a so simple fish pie with rich creamy sauce and mash potato topping. Many of you readers will know that my camera’s broken, so I have included a photo of what it looks like in the recipe book – ours wasn’t far off!
Here’s my version with a couple of tweaks to the original recipe…
Hobbler’s Seafood Pie
Feeds 2 with enough leftovers for a light lunch
6 oz white fish (we used Coley)
2 oz prawns
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 oz butter
1 oz plain flour
150ml fish stock
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
mashed potato to cover (add grated cheese for added luxury!)
*Note: use the best fish stock you can – obviously the best would be homemade, but we used ready-made fish stock from Waitrose (not the stuff in the fridge, but in the cooking ingredients section) and it made a great rich tasting sauce.
Put your potatoes onto boil – once tender drain, mash and add some grated cheddar.
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Into your pie dish, cut the fish into largeish chunks. Scatter over the prawns and parsley.
Now make your white sauce: heat the milk and fish stock until warm. In a separate pan melt the butter, then stir in the flour. Cook for about 3 minutes stirring all the time. Stir in the warm milk mixture a little at a time, stirring all the while. Beat your sauce and bring to the boil – I read that the harder you beat your sauce the smoother it will be.
Once your sauce has come to the boil, turn it down and cook it a little longer whilst beating it. Turn off the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and grate in some nutmeg.
Pour the sauce over your fish and prawns, then top with the mashed potato – fluff up with a fork and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes until golden on top.
Dinner last night – scrambled eggs my way with a generous amount of garden grown herbs (chives, mint, parsley, oregano, and chive flowers) on a fresh bagel with lettuce, homegrown rainbow radishes and a mustard vinaigrette.
Lunch today was made up from what was found in the fridge, and as always these turn out to be the best meals. A delicious lunch of capers, parsley, ham and new potato salad…
Peeled, boiled and cooled new potatoes. Chopped into chunks. A couple of teaspoons of mayonnaise, a spoonful of capers chopped, and another spoonful of whole grain mustard.
A handful of torn flat leaf parsley and some shredded ham (my favourite kind – Focolare Italian herb ham from Barbakan). Mix in some salt and pepper to taste.
This is simply divine – if you love fish and chips this is a beautiful alternative. Get cooking!
Hot ‘fish and chip’ salad
Serves 2 hungry mouths
For the ‘fish and chips’
100g white fish (Coley was my choice)
Fine bread crumbs
200g waxy new potatoes
For the dressing
Couple of teaspoons of capers
Big bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 generous tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Slice the new potatoes in half lengthways and parboil for 5 minutes. Allow to steam dry for a couple of minutes.
In a large frying pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the base of the pan. Add the parboiled new potatoes, cut-side down and fry gently – turn when are golden underneath – this should take about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut your fish into fingers. I chose Coley from my local fishmongers – this piece of 100g cost less than £1.50 – what a bargain! As the fish monger said, “Cheaper than Mr Birdseye!”
Blitz up your breadcrumbs so they are fine and delicate – I used up some focaccia from last week. Season the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper. Toss the fingers of fish in the breadcrumbs to coat.
Before frying your fish – prepare the dressing. Blitz up all the dressing ingredients adding enough oil to make a loose dressing and enough lemon juice to give it a nice acidic tang.
In a non-stick frying pan heat enough groundnut oil to cover the fish fingers. When hot, carefully add the fish fingers – they should bubble and crackle as they enter the oil. The oil might spit so watch out!
The fish fingers should take a couple of minutes to cook through and start to turn golden. Drain on paper towel when cooked.
Add a good handful of watercress to your plates. Add the fried potatoes and the fish fingers. Finely drizzle with generous amounts of the dressing. Serve additional dressing in a bowl for people to add as they like. Eat straight away!
This recipe is inspired and slightly adapted from Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Food’.