Tag Archives: recipes

Preserving Autumn

Autumn is here, dear Reader.  My favourite of all the seasons.  I could wax lyrical about tumbling shades of orange, brown and russet reds, the earthy smell of bonfires, rotund little pumpkins swollen with the last drops of sunshine and the woolly embrace of cardigans and cosy tights.  Somehow I feel so much more at home with autumn.  Perhaps it’s being a redhead and being able to blend in with my surroundings or perhaps it’s simply because autumn gives me an excuse to slow down and appreciate the seasonal changes in the landscape?  Maybe both or neither.  Whatever it is, dear Reader, Keats’ marvellous daydreams of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ resonate with me and cling like little bits of everyday countryside magic.  It’s then that I remember to slow down, take it in and appreciate my lot, a lot more.

Things are beginning to take shape on the house front, although we’ve had our fair share of renovation sagas.  Dramas over the chimney, fireplaces being condemned, dodgy roof tiles, leaky guttering and don’t even get me started on the boiler situation.  Two months after work started, we are still without heating.  Oh and the kitchen isn’t a kitchen anymore either.  Let’s just say it’s rather minimalist, shall we?  Cooking on a camping stove does have some benefits though.  You get to feel like you’re on a camping holiday every day of the week, dear Reader.  Insert the crying emoji here.  Joking aside, it is surprising how much we have managed when it’s been too wet to venture outside to cook on the barbecue.  Those of you who remember the last time I was left with just a camping stove will be pleased to hear that menus have branched out since then.  A little nod of appreciation to the amazing Genevieve Taylor‘s How To Eat Outside: Fabulous Al Fresco Food for BBQs, Bonfires, Camping and More which has been my bible over the last few months.  I am so grateful for her fount of outdoor cookery knowledge.  Who knew you could cook a calzone or make bread on the barbecue?

Still now the house has chimney pots once more after decades without and work starts on the kitchen in a week or two, we are finally moving in the right direction.  The oak floor has been laid in the hallway and the plasterers have skimmed for the next phase.  My very brilliant electrician has had the patience of a saint especially as he isn’t being paid (he’s my Daddy) and I take my hat off to the kitchen cabinet makers who turned up for a last measure up and ended up redesigning the whole kitchen to fit in my new fridge!  I promise I’m not the renovation equivalent of Bridezilla – it’s just that this whole project managing thing is hard work and making decisions on the turn of a sixpence is starting to take its toll.  Each little step forward Jerry and I take, has been about trying to faithfully preserve the past whilst bringing the farmhouse back into the 21st century.  Replumbing, rewiring, rebuilding – there isn’t a ‘re’ we haven’t had to sort out.  So you’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader, if I sound a teensy weensy bit of a nightmare renovator but I simply can’t wait for the woodburners to go in and for the boiler to be fired up for the first time.  The house is in desperate need of drying out and we are definitely in need of something cosy on our little building site, rather than relying on vast quantities of wine and gin to warm us in the evenings when the girls are tucked up in bed with the oil filled radiators on.

With visions of cosiness in mind, I thought it was high time I was rescued from the drudgery of endless tea runs and placating of builders to try out a rather lovely bit of book post which landed on the mat – The Kilner Cookbook.

Kilner has long been synonymous with storing, pickling and preserving seasonal bounty.  Around since 1842, Kilner jars have adorned pantries, larders and kitchen cupboards in almost every household I’ll be bound, dear Reader.  Not just for bottling up pickles, chutneys, preserves and jams, Kilner’s classic clip top pressure sealed jars can be used to cook and store any kind of food or drink.  I’ll bet that you have at least one or two of these glorious jars lurking in your own kitchen, dear Reader.  Such is Kilner’s success.

Marking their 175th anniversary, I found Kilner’s new cookbook to be jam-packed (you’ll excuse the pun I’m sure dear Reader) with recipes to create, make and store so picking out one recipe to share with you was rather a difficult task.  Soups and bircher muesli, cordials and cocktails, layered salads and slaws – honestly, you’d be surprised at how many different ways you can put the humble Kilner to work, dear Reader.  However, misty autumn mornings require sunshine in the kitchen especially if you are cooking on a camping stove and nothing promises that more than a spot of homemade lemon curd.

The recipe in The Kilner Cookbook is simple enough even for the beginner cook and takes next to no time at all.  The only thing you have to watch is the heat under the bowl, otherwise you’ll end up with lemony scrambled egg rather than unctuous lemon curd.  Whisk away and you’ll witness the marvellous alchemy in the bowl as the curd thickens.  Mouthwatering zinginess – perfect for hot buttered toast, scones or crumpets, spooned over Greek yoghurt with hedgerow blackberries before the birds take them all, added to a lemon meringue pie or spread generously in the middle of a Victorian sponge.  The possibilities are endless and it will keep for up to 2 weeks in a Kilner jar in the fridge.

Whilst waiting for the toaster to ping, I set about perusing the book for other gems within its 100 recipes which aim to help us preserve more and reduce food waste.  Imagine my delight when I realised that Kilner have added a spiralizer jar, cocktail shaker, coffee grinder and a butter churner to their vast range too.  175 years on and this Yorkshire born brand with its patented vacuum seal system is still going strong, with plenty more innovative products to boot.  The thought of homemade butter whisked up in a jiffy has already sent me rushing out to add to my Kilner collection.  There’s even a whole host of suggestions for using Kilner jars to make snow globes, lanterns, terrariums and much more on the Kilner website.

With autumn mornings sorted with luscious lemon curd, it was time to turn my attentions to bottling up something for colder, darker evenings.  The garden awash with blackthorn trees doubling over with inky skinned sloes just begging to be picked, I couldn’t resist steeping them for a batch of sloe gin in my new measuring Kilner jar.  Now with some patience, that preserved little tipple will be rather a nice accompaniment reading my book on the sofa by the fire.  That’s once we have a fire, of course.  Well I’ve sorted the gin bit at least, dear Reader….

A big thank you to Ebury Publishing and The Happy Foodie for the lovely book post and Kilner jar.

Back to school

IMG_1539With the festive train fast approaching and looking for some foodie inspiration, I jumped at the chance to trot off back to school, dear Reader.  Cookery school to be exact – following a wonderful invitation from Season Cookery School at Lainston House, part of the Exclusive Hotels group.  Considering that this was the first time in goodness knows how long that I have been allowed out without my 7 and 3 year old chaperones, you can imagine I was more than a bit excited.

Lesson of the day – bread making.

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Season Cookery School runs a variety of cookery courses to suit all skills, levels and interests.  From courses to help you impress your dinner guests to knife skills and something perfect for this time of year – Christmas cooking for the day itself or festive feasts over the course of the week of Christmas.  Bread making was a perfect choice for me though, dear Reader as I have been keen to brush up on my dough skills for some time.  A great opportunity to learn some more tips and tricks to have me baking with success every time at home.

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The school kitchen has a wonderful layout and setup and all in the grounds of the stunning Lainston House Hotel – ooh it was like walking into Masterchef kitchen itself, dear Reader!

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Harriet Mitchell, our chef and teacher for the morning (much less scary than Monica Galetti), made sure that we got cracking with our prep and was exceptionally good at taking the recipes step by step, demonstrating each process and explaining the theory behind using particular techniques.  Fresh yeast was a new one for me but the results were far better than my attempts with dried yeast at home – definitely a top tip and much easier to find in the shops than you think!  Simply ask your local bakery or supermarket instore bakers.

From focaccia

to bloomers

scones

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to pizza

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A wonderful selection of recipes to work on, plenty of time to ask questions and for good measure, a bit of time sitting by the oven door with everything crossed GBBO style!  Amazing how competitive all of us on the course became with each other!

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Afterwards, lunch and a chance to taste our efforts.  A fabulous morning with plenty of laughs that has left me armed with ‘cheffy’ knowledge to go home and experiment with in my own kitchen.  Thanks so much to Sylvain Gachot, Cookery school manager and Harriet Mitchell, Chef de Partie at Pennyhill Park.  I shall certainly be popping in a request to Father Christmas for another day at Season Cookery School.  I do hope I have been good enough, dear Reader!

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

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!

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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

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

Getting in the mood…

panettone

Delicious Christmas goodies…we wanted to buy them all!

I have to say, dear Reader, that I have been really suffering from Christmas malaise this year.  Our first countryside Christmas and I am not quite ready to be Christmassy just yet!  I AM excited but there just seems so much to get through before the 25th that pretty soon, I shall be ready to flop by the fire with a bottle of sloe gin and not surface until New Year’s eve!

Desperately trying to be organised, I did manage to get to our local farm shop’s ‘Christmas Fayre’ and it didn’t disappoint!  Hung turkeys, oodles of Christmas gifts, mulled wine and mince pies…..Christmas on a platter!  Newlyns Farm Shop did a jolly good job of twisting my Christmas arm and I stocked up on the essentials: meat, wine, panettone and Gentleman’s Relish!  There were gifts a plenty to buy too so no family member will be without something foodie in their stocking this year.   A wonderful way to start the festive season.  Jerry and I enjoyed being plied with mulled wine and mince pies immensely!  The Christmas feast on the day itself has its festive centrepiece as Jerry and I finally persuaded Primrose that Christmas goose is much like ‘posh chicken’.  (She stills remembers me tricking her into eating Jemima Puddleduck).  Rather nonchalantly, she did ask if we would be slaughtering one of our own chickens for lunch – frightening how she has become more ‘countrified’ than the rest of us so quickly!  So with Primrose’s help, I shall trek over to the farm shop on Christmas Eve to pick up our bird and try to hide it from Monty’s ravenous jaws when I get home.

No turkey for us this year!

AMAZING to see all these oven ready birdies on show!

Don’t worry, Monty certainly won’t be going without – thanks to the lovely farm shop butchers!  He will have his own Christmas gnawfest with this little number…

Fit for a Great Dane!

Fit for a Great Dane!

With festive fayre in the bag so to speak, I could turn my attentions to the buying of presents.  Don’t tell anyone, dear Reader but I am afraid that I might not be able to give some of the presents I have bought to their intended recipients as they are simply too fabulous to give away.  I know, I know……Christmas is ALL about the giving of presents and not the receiving part.  However, I might have to sneak this little kindling set at the very back under the tree and hope that no one notices it.  I would so dearly like to keep it!

Might just forget to wrap this one!

Ever so tempting to forget to wrap this one! (Garden Trading)

With a huge dent made into the long list of preparations, surely dear Reader, it wouldn’t be amiss to treat myself to an early festive tipple or two?!  I have been a good Margot after all…..promise.

A little Christmas punch, anyone?

A little Christmas punch, anyone?

(The lovely Countrywives have very kindly invited me into their country coven and I shall be adding my favourite Christmas recipes over on their website each week – do come over and take a look if you have a mo)