It’s beginning to look….

a lot like Christmas!  With our little mini Margot, Poppy, turning 3 last week and birthday party shenanigans over for another year, we could finally settle into the Christmas spirit.  Where has the time gone, dear Reader?  Our second country Christmas is a mere whisker of Father Christmas’ beard away and I couldn’t be more unprepared to be honest.  Not a Christmas wreath or a cake steeped in ginger wine in sight this year.  At this rate, our guests on Christmas Day will be tucking into cream crackers and cheese.  Still, with our priorities well and truly organised, the girls and I headed out to immerse ourselves in a bit of Christmas cheer.

Mottisfont1Dear Reader, I give you the most humongous tree (Primrose’s description…) at the wonderfully Christmassy Mottisfont, one of our favourite National Trust haunts.  Christmas with the National Trust never disappoints and Mottisfont is a veritable feast for the eyes this year.  The magic of the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy is alive and well and we bounded round the house and gardens, eyes agog.  Even the grinchiest adult couldn’t fail to be transformed by the sheer delight of the largest Christmas tree  I’ve ever seen, a trail through the Land of Sweets and Winter Garden, finishing with meeting the Sugar Plum Fairy herself.  I found myself mesmerised by that beautiful tree.  Maybe, just maybe, I could squish it into my country cottage?  I’m  not sure even the man in the red suit could sort that logistical conundrum for me, even if he can shimmy down all those snug chimneys!

Mottisfont2

Perhaps one of the loveliest bits of our trip to Mottisfont, was the room of automata.  My girls love puppets and puppets there were in abundance.  Shadow puppets, automata of almost every description from the fabulously talented Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and more buttons to press than you could shake a stick at.  Heaven for two small children.  Poppy and Primrose are still talking about the flying machine, man in a spaghetti bath and running dog a week later.  Glorious entertainment.

Mottisfont4

Mottisfont3

Feeling suitably Christmassy, we headed for a hot chocolate and large slice of cake!

Mottisfont5Now if someone could just have Christmas all set up and ready to go at the old cottage before Christmas Eve without me having to lift a finger, that would be truly MAGICAL!  Oh and I wouldn’t mind Mottisfont’s lovely tree either!  I’m still waiting for that delivery……

 

 

A blast from the past

Venice1Ah la Serenissima………romantic, serene and effortlessly chic.  Venice, my dear Reader.  Venice.  This week I have allowed myself just a little time to reminisce about times past before Poppy’s birthday and then finally Christmas descends.  A life before being woken at the crack of dawn to two sets of huge blue eyes leaning over me asking for breakfast or a wee.  A time when Jerry and I could jet off for the weekend with only our passports and a small overnight bag.

When Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s beautiful Venice – Recipes Lost and Found cookbook landed on my doorstep (thanks to publishers Hardie Grant), I was allowed a brief travel back in time to a past life to indulge in some very happy memories of Jerry whisking me off to Venice, with a teeny wee Primrose in my tummy, for a ‘babymoon’ before she arrived.  I adored Venice from the moment we set foot on the vaporetti and although we didn’t manage a gondola ride and I couldn’t indulge in any sumptuous seafood, it was bliss for a few days.  As most poor pregnant ladies are, I was awfully ill with morning sickness with Primrose and at 20 weeks, I had hoped that it would pass.  Jerry had a cunning plan.  A few days in Venice would be the perfect tonic and he told me emphatically that I would stop being sick as soon as I had spent my first night there.  At the time, in truth I thought that he was a bit of a nutter.  What could be worse for a sicky lady with a bun in the oven than the sound of sloshing water at every turn and numerous journeys by water taxi…..?  However, by some miracle and much to my horror of Jerry ALWAYS being right, I did stop being sick on my first morning in Venice!

Venice cookbookDiving into the pages of Katie and Giancarlo’s beautiful book, I remembered the delicious Venetian cichetti (fabulous little bitesize bar snacks served in most bacari) – certainly some of the best food we had on our little trip.  Polpettine, tiny squares of fried polenta topped with olives, fritto misto…..heaven in tiny morsels.  The cookbook delivers a wonderful assortment of quintessential Venetian recipes from cichetti to glorious ragus and stews as well as the classic saor (a sweet and sour recipe used with fish), with some divine puddings thrown in too.  Perhaps one of the loveliest parts of the book are the stories behind the recipes and inspiration drawn from some truly vintage and historical Venetian cookery books including a 14th century work, Libro per Cuoco, a rare delight dedicated to the richness of Venice at a time when the air would have been heady with spices and it was an important trading post from East to West.  For me, Katie and Giancarlo’s book celebrates the diversity of flavours to be found in this floating city.

Polpette de melanzane

Polpette de melanzane…and half empty glass..

Knocking up a batch of Polpette de melanzane from Katie and Giancarlo’s cookbook as a pre-dinner nibble, I was reminded of how these breadcrumbed balls of aubergine delicately flavoured with mint, garlic and chilli make the perfect canapé.  They can be made quickly in advance and reheated in a warm oven – giving you enough time to chat before heading out to the kitchen again.  I love that the book also offers a variety of classic polpette options: polpettine di carne and polpettine di tonno – ideal with a glass of Prosecco or in our case, a large glass of Barolo.

The cichetti I remember in Venice were to die for and I would happily have lived off those rather than having a proper meal.  Especially as Jerry and I had a hilariously bad supper one evening when we decided to try a Time Out recommendation.  Dear Reader, it was truly vile.  I am not sure we have ever laughed so much though.  We left hastily after the primi piatti and Jerry still describes his meal as looking rather like cuckoo spit!  It could explain why the restaurant was practically empty at 8:30pm on a Friday night….  Top tip, dear Reader – if you are planning a trip to Venice, do take a look at Katie and Giancarlo’s recommendations at the back of the book to avoid any culinary catastrophes!

Venice2

So with a belly full of homemade cichetti this time (instead of baby) and obligatory glass of Italian red, I thank you Kate and Giancarlo for transporting me back to a time before I had to referee two small children intent on bashing each other round the head with Lego.  Thank you for whisking me away to one of my favourite places in the world, the glorious Venezia, reminding me that it may be a plane journey away but I can still shut the doors on a cold evening, make myself a bellini or two (thank you Harry’s Bar), knock up a batch of polpette and imagine I am sitting listening to the water and watching a floating world go by.  Your cookbook is a Venetian triumph!

Venice by Giancarlo & Katie Caldesi (Hardie Grant, £25.00) Photography: Helen Cathcart

Get your game on

Great_British_Game_Week_Logo_918Oh dear Reader, this week has had its ups and its downs to say the least.  It started with the car breaking down on the school run (homeward bound thank goodness, otherwise Primrose would have been stranded at school).  The three of us ended up being towed away in the end after the breakdown chap decided that our car was indeed dead.  Arriving home from the school run 4 hours after Poppy and I set off was not as planned but Primrose was thrilled as it gave her something to talk about for her ‘show and tell’!  Never let a 6 year old tell you a joke about a car breaking down at a petrol station on the way home from school……it just might come true.  This incident was quickly followed by losing my watch – something which wasn’t hugely expensive but was irreplaceable sentimentally as Jerry gave me the watch for my 21st birthday.  I’ve spent the last few days searching everywhere for it to no avail so shall mourn its loss.  The last in the series of my Margot disasters happened on my way to talk about all things game on BBC Radio Solent with Blackmoor Game when I had a tonk in Jerry’s Lanny at a set of traffic lights.  They say things come in threes….let’s hope that I am covered now for any further mishap.  Not sure my nerves could take anything else this week, dear Reader.

Still, onwards, and there’s nothing like Great British Game Week to warm the cockles and wet one’s appetite for some gamey goodness.  So I thought I might bring you my week in game, dear Reader:

Roast Wild Mallard, marinated in sloe gin (of course!) and Plum Chazwinkle’s

Wild Mallard

Raised game pie – pie but something very traditional.  Think pork pie only more gamey.  This is a labour of love to cook but so worth it – a perfect Boxing Day feast, cut into thick slices and served with a deliciously spiced pickle or preserve.  Great with a little snifter of something….

Raised game pie

Pheasant terrine –  a quick and easy pâté that can be whizzed up in minutes (literally) and cooked in a bain marie in the oven for an hour and a quarter.  Made the day before, all it needs is some warm bread or melba toast.  Two lovely additions could come in the form of quince jelly or another delicious pot from Chazwinkle’s, this time Rhubarb.

Pheasant terrinePigeon with red wine jus – something a little special for the weekend

Pigeon

Game pie – smoked garlic, chunky smoked bacon lardons, a teaspoon of anchovy essence and a good couple of dollops of Beetroot Chazwinkle’s added to the pot before slow cooking really make this recipe like a huge hug and a kiss.  Just the right thing for bringing cheer to someone who has given the front end of their husband’s car a bashing…..

Venison pie

2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

2 carrots, diced

1 leek, finely chopped

2 cloves of smoked garlic, finely chopped

150g smoked bacon lardons

500g mixed game

150ml port

250ml game stock

1 tbsp of plain flour

1 tsp anchovy essence

2 tbsp of passata

2 tbsp Beetroot Chazwinkle’s

ready made puff pastry

beaten egg

a handful of chopped winter savoury (you could use a mixture of thyme and rosemary instead)

Add a drizzle of oil to the pan and fry leek, carrots, celery, garlic and bacon until the vegetables have softened.  In a bowl, season the game with salt and pepper and add the flour, coating the game in the flour.  Add the game to the pan and fry for five minutes or so, stirring to avoid too much sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Spoon in the Beetroot Chazwinkle’s – this adds an earthy note and touch of sweetness to the pie.  Pour in the port and cook on a high heat for a couple of minutes before adding the stock, passata and anchovy essence.  Stir in the winter savoury, before popping into the slow oven.  Cook at 100 degrees Centigrade for at least six hours before either turning up the heat to 180 degrees for 30 minutes or placing in the top oven for the last part of the cooking.  The sauce should look rich and unctuous and the meat should be falling apart as soon as a fork touches it.

Spoon the stewy mix into a large pie dish and cover with the puff pastry top, rolled to the size of the dish leaving a little overhang to allow for shrinkage.  Paint the pastry with the beaten egg and bake the pie in a hot oven (200 degrees) until the puff pastry is golden and feels crisp to the touch.

Go on dear Reader – get your game on too!  I’d love to hear about your game numbers and if you fancy tuning into my little game stint on BBC Radio Solent, then do go over and listen here from 01:32.

Pass the pigs

Sam Bomb SaphhLately it seems that I have been all over the place meeting, talking to and tasting some truly beautiful produce all made in Hampshire.  Pop up supper clubs with the fabulous and utterly delicious food of Savage Kitchen, tasting Hampshire made Twisted Nose gin from Winchester Distillery (local watercress and lavender feature heavily in this little number), standing in the loo queue with some serious international journos of luxury mags at the new Bombay Sapphire Distillery launch at Laverstoke Mill, incognito visits to farm shops as a judge for Hampshire Life Food and Drink awards…..honestly I’ve been starting to think I should be pinching myself a bit harder to check that I haven’t metamorphosed into Xanthe Clay.  Perhaps not quite yet?!  Her job is safe….for now.

Jumping in the Lanny with Jerry and the girls on a misty Saturday morning and trekking across country a bit to the Bourne Valley, I felt like I was one of the producer’s on Rick Stein’s Food Heroes programme.  The food heroes in question: John and Sarah Mills from Parsonage FarmContinue reading

Slow Cooked

The cold has finally set in here at the cottage.  With a couple of radiators refusing to do their job properly, we’ve taken to living in the kitchen again until the plumber can fit us in.  To be honest, I love the warmth of the kitchen and couldn’t live without our Everhot – its glow of soothing, hospitable snugness the perfect antidote to November wind and rain.  Everyone in the countryside needs something to warm bottoms, damp socks and trousers after long muddy walks yelling after a purposefully deaf spaniel who has strayed into the next county.  Time to rustle up some central heating of my own.

The perfect culinary cosiness arrived in the form of a lovely parcel from The Happy Foodie and Ebury Publishing, a new cookbook entitled Slow Cooked.  Written by Miss South, the girlie half of North South Food and presented with fresh and bright photography from her equally talented and foodie brother, Mister North, this is a cookbook determined to reinvent the slow cooker for a new generation of cooks.  A self-taught cook who hails from Belfast but now lives in SW London (Mister North is unsurprisingly living….up North), Miss South has featured in Observer Food Monthly, BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme and was a winner of the Young British Foodies Fresh Voices in Food Writing Award 2013.

Slow Cooked Flat book

Continue reading

Pumpkins and bonfires

pumpkins Halloween and fireworks are upon us already – where is this year skipping off to in such a hurry, dear Reader?  We’ve had weeks of watching the village next door preparing for the annual Bonfire and fireworks’ night, wood piling up and strange straw-stuffed people cropping up all over the place.  Primrose and I are always caught unawares by the extremely creepy looking ‘guys’ which pop up round the village this time of year.  One in particular terrified the life out of me in the dark the other night, causing me to slam on the brakes and utter some rather unrepeatable words.  Continue reading

Autumn rolling in

NYC

Never have I felt the juxtaposition of town and country more acutely than a recent weekend dash to New York and back for a dear family member’s wedding.  Saying goodbye to straw bales on the school run and green fields (plus two small girls) to be greeted by cabs honking, neon lights flashing and the whoosh of urban living was a far more epic contrast from our every day life than I could ever have imagined.  Continue reading