Tea’s on the table

It’s not often that I get so engrossed in a new cookbook that I end up pretty much cooking every recipe from cover to cover.  However, the latest offering from Ebury Publishing to land on the doormat was something rather special.  If you are a mother (or father – let’s not have any gender stereotyping here, dear Reader) and you love cooking, this is the book for you.  It’s a wonderful example of how family cookbooks should be – completely unpatronising and all about cooking dishes that the whole family can enjoy together.  Dear Reader, I give you The 5 o’clock Apron: Proper Food for Modern Families by Claire Thomson, mother of 3, chef, restaurant owner and all round fab foodie (in no particular order).

The 5 o'clock Apron2

With poor old Poppy ill for the last month with tonsillitis and then various mystery bugs, the book could not have been more timely.  Tempting her to eat has been pretty tricky so I was exceptionally grateful for some new culinary delights to cajole her back into nosh.  Easy Peasy Rose ice cream was a godsend and easily whipped up in minutes for a little one who could not eat much.  I tested it out on some grown ups too at a dinner party and they’ve been clamouring for the recipe ever since.  Just for the record, I am NOT sharing this one – it’s too good to share.

Trying new things is what this book is all about.  With that in mind, I had a go at making some Labneh – a recipe that was completely new on me.  This yoghurt based soft cheese is so easy to do and tastes wonderful in both savoury and sweet variations – it has been a revelation to be honest.  Who would have thought that with almost no kit and just some salt and yoghurt, that you could knock up a delicious cheese overnight?  Genius.  I shall be making this with the girls over and over again.

Labneh

Perhaps the reason I loved Claire’s book so much is that I could really relate to the reasons she decided to pen these recipes.  I often find myself cooking meals for the children and then something else for Jerry and me and the time it takes to cook more than just one meal is time I could be doing other things…….(daily mantra: get that piece of writing finished, Margot).  I think that we all make the mistake of thinking that children can’t cope with gutsy flavours or aren’t interested in trying new things.  Well with most, that simply couldn’t be further from the truth.  Certainly when it came to testing out Claire’s new recipes on Poppy and Primrose, moving away from our boring midweek staples of lasagne and chicken risotto made the food much more exciting!  As Claire writes in her book, “Make food interesting”.

Delicious Chard Borek - a great handheld after school supper.

Delicious Chard Borek – great handheld after school fodder.

Honestly dear  Reader, there is not a dud recipe in this cookbook.  So I urge you to step away from Wednesday night’s spag bol rut and liven up the supper table with recipes such as Chicken Shawarma and hummus, Cassoulet or Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings with ‘slaw.  Why not have Snail bread for breakfast or Ginger Beer scones for afternoon tea?  It’s not about making mealtimes more time-consuming or complicated.  Believe me – this book will SAVE you time!  Make The 5 O’clock Apron the family cookbook you buy this year.  You won’t regret it.

chicken wingsHave a look at some of Claire’s fab recipes from The 5 O’clock Apron on The Happy Foodie site too.

Take Five

Getting enough fruit and veg into my lovely lot is never far from my thoughts at mealtimes here at Margot and Jerry HQ, not least because now we have begun to grow our own in the kitchen garden too.  I say, kitchen garden, dear Reader…..  I think that a more adequate description at present would be – 1 raised bed with a handful of rather battered seedlings which have been gobbled at by fat pigeons with a voracious appetite for brassicas.  It would be safe to say that the kitchen garden definitely needs work.  However, just in the nick of time, a rather lovely box of gleamingly healthy vegetables appeared by the back door, courtesy of Abel and Cole, – something to save us from the great kitchen garden famine of 2015.  Abel and Cole

With it, came the arrival of a new cookbook from Ebury Publishing – Rachel de Thample’s Five: 150 effortless ways to eat 5+ fruit and veg a day.  The perfect combination for my latest #Happyfoodie challenge, dear Reader – 5 new recipes in 5 days.FIVE cookbook

Rachel’s book is not just for vegetarians (there’s something for meat eaters too) but there is an emphasis on eating ‘less meat, more veg’.  With plenty of portable snacks, quick lunches and feast menus on offer, there’s certainly food for thought between the pages with a large helping of fruit and veg!  Some lovely ideas for foraging for ingredients too.  Changing habits is never easy and although I am known for my ninja style hidden vegetables in dishes, the book armed me with plenty of new ideas of how to introduce more fruit and veg into our diets without any extra fuss or each meal becoming completely vegetarian.

Espresso mushrooms with tagliatelle (3 portions of veg per serving) – an odd pairing of coffee and mushrooms you might think but surprisingly delicious.  The coffee takes a backseat on the tastebuds but it really makes the mushroom sing with its earthy flavours.  I had spaghetti to hand in the larder rather than tagliatelle but Rachel’s little notes that accompany the recipe give plenty of alternatives if you don’t have the exact ingredients to hand or need to swap them for any reason.  This dish won Jerry over straight away so definitely one to commit to culinary memory.  A delicious Monday meat free supper which can be whipped up in 20 minutes.

Espresso mushroom tagliatelle

Tuesday and Chloe Chickpeas with Spiced Lamb Skewers and Herb Yogurt (4 portions of veg per serving).  With snow on the ground at home, this was a wonderfully  warming North African number with a gentle chilli and cinnamon spicing in the chickpeas.  The best bit of the dish has to have been the  lamb and aubergine skewers marinated in yoghurt and Rachel’s recipe for homemade garam marsala.  I had no idea garam marsala was so easy to make so I will adding this to my list of homemade ingredients from now on.

Chloe chickpeas and lamb skewers

Wednesday’s #fivechallenge saw the most delicious recipe so far.  A cosy supper for Jerry and I of French Puy and Green Beans with Chicken and Mustard Crème Fraiche (3 portions per serving).  Heaven on a plate and lots of healthy veggies to boot!

French puy and green bean

Time for a change to my normal coffee fuelled Thursday morning.  Rachel’s recipe for Grapefruit and Ginger teaa sheer delight and so simple to make.  Zingy, cosy, a great way to detox or swap your usual caffeine and with 1 portion of fruit in the pot, another easy way to get that #fiveaday.

Grapefruit and ginger tea

The last of the five?  Rosy Pomegranate Panna Cotta (1 portion per serving)a great dinner party pud made in 10 minutes and set in just an hour.  Dusky pink and pillow soft set in a little coffee cup, served with some poached rhubarb in rose water.

Rosy pomegranate panna cotta

Achieving 5 a day have never seemed so easy and Rachel’s book is filled with recipes for breakfast, fruit shakes, lunch, supper, health giving stews (Greek Penicillin) and tea time treats such as Apple Peanut Butter muffins.  Think my Saturday might have to include the Spanakopita Toastie.  If getting your five a day is as tasty as this, then I think that I could get used to more of it, dear Reader!

Do pop over to The Happy Foodie to take a look at all the #FIVEchallenges

Marvellous marmalade

 

snowOn a cold and frosty morning with a touch of the white stuff just kissing the ground, there is nothing better than a large pot of tea on the kitchen table and the delicate fragrance of oranges wafting through the house.  Cold days were meant for making marmalade.  The end of January and the appearance of Seville oranges simply cannot be a mere coincidence (there seems to be no reasonable logic as to why we don’t have them in the summer but somehow we don’t).  Those beautiful sunshine orbs of culinary delight were designed to bring joy to even the gloomiest of January days.  After an awful week of writer’s malaise and then being struck down with the worst case of tonsillitis I think I’ve ever had, I certainly needed their orangey cheeriness to tempt me back into the kitchen.

marmaladeWe are huge fans of marmalade at Margot and Jerry HQ.  Marmalade on toast, marmalade in cakes, marmalade on ham……  I think that perhaps we have smeared it on almost everything, hence we are down to the last pot from last year’s marmalade marathon.

It would seem that we are not alone either with our love of dear old Paddington’s preferred preserve either.  Did you know dear Reader, that each year in Cumbria, the World Marmalade Awards are held, with entries flying in from all over the place?  Staggering, isn’t it?  One day, I may even be brave enough to bubble wrap one of my attempts and enter the Amateur categories just for a bit of fun!  I can only imagine that it is every bit as fierce as our annual village show where the judging is tighter than a sprinter’s jock strap and entries receive short and to the point critiques, next to their tiny tasting spoons.

With so many marmalade recipes out there (believe me half the village swear that their family recipe is the best), the key is to find one that works for you.  Something tried and tested and easy in my case!  I use the wonderful Pam Corbin’s (River Cottage preserving queen) ‘whole fruit’ method – so simple to follow and has marmalade made in an afternoon.  Always keen to turn my hand to a bit of a kitchen experiment though, this year I thought I might tamper with the recipe a bit and add some ‘alternative’ flavours of my own to enhance the zestiness of the Seville oranges.

Marmalade2

First up, a lavender marmalade using culinary lavender from Hampshire lavender farm, Long Barn in Alresford.  Adding the lavender at the end of the marmalade cooking stage is the key – too much and the results will end up tasting rather like a zingy pot pourri!  You have been warned, dear Reader!  A teaspoon of culinary lavender between 3 small jars of marmalade is plenty –  tiny flecks of purply blue peeking out between the shreds when you look at the jar.  A good spoonful of the lavender marmalade added to a simple madeira loaf cake recipe or classic Victoria sponge mix is pure afternoon magic with a cup of Lady Grey.

marmalade cake

Running out of Sevilles, I thought that I might try ‘marmalading’ some of Jerry’s other seasonal favourites, blood oranges.  Using the same ‘whole fruit method’ and simply swapping the Sevilles for blood oranges, I then added a little something special when the marmalade had completed its unctuous molten lava simmering stage.   GIN!  Well, if you can have whisky marmalade, dear Reader, then why not gin marmalade….?  As you know, gin is never too far from my thoughts.

Twisted noseChoosing a local favourite (lovely Twisted Nose gin who I’ve told you about before, dear Reader), I added 3 tsp of gin for each medium sized jar and stirred through before popping into jars.  The gorgeous pink grapefruit notes of the gin really went well with the blood orange overall flavour of this batch of marmalade.  Not a buttery toast sort of marmalade (gin at the breakfast table being frowned upon by most, dear Reader…) but a brilliant little number for using as a glaze.  Something I tested out with my latest recipe.

Sticky marmalade pork

Sticky marmalade pork (Serves 4)

6 thick cut pork belly slices

2 tbsp. blood orange gin marmalade

3 tbsp. dark muscovado sugar

a small pinch of mustard powder

juice of half a lemon

4 star anise

salt and pepper

Begin by preheating the oven to 220 degrees Centigrade/ gas mark 7/ 425F.

Pat the pork slices dry and place them in a large ovenproof dish – season with salt and pepper.  In a bowl, mix the marmalade, sugar, mustard powder and lemon together.

Spoon the mixture over the pork belly and coat the slices on both sides before sliding the star anise between the slices.

Place in the oven for around 40 minutes.  Keep checking the pork and basting with the sauce regularly.  After 40 minutes, the pork should have crispy edges and a slightly charred, barbecue look.

Sticky, messy, sweet and savoury – something a little different from the usual marmalade on toast.  Served with a red cabbage and carrot coleslaw with a mustard and cider vinegar dressing, it’s the perfect supper to drive away any wintry blues and any lingering tonsillitis….

Before I sign off dear Reader, just to say that I shall be talking all things marmalade with the lovely Georgie on BBC Radio Solent’s programme The Good Life on Sunday 1st February just after 1pm – do tune in.  Pretty please.

Seeing through the blue

keyboardApologies for the interruption to transmission dear Reader, but I have been enjoying a little break from all things writing over Christmas and New Year.  I was in danger of being renamed “Mummy’s on the computer” by Poppy and Primrose (although this would make a change from “Mummy’s in the kitchen”) and felt that it was high time for a little sojourn from all things scribbly.

Settling back into the daily routine has proved shockingly difficult after such a lovely Christmas and mine and Jerry’s first real few days off since the summer hols.  I must remember that I’m only supposed to be cooking for 4 and not preparing the gargantuan feasts a la festive period and that I can no longer stay up until an ungodly hour trying to finish my latest good read (Jerry bought me a TON of fabulous books for Christmas) or the end of Mad Men, Season 6.  Trickier than I thought it would be….. Continue reading

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.