Friday, 31 December 2010

Another Hogmanay

New Year's Eve quickly the months go by!  And an eventful year for us at Holly Grove: a new roof on the Goat House destined to become a garden studio...

New windows for the house to keep out the winter chill...

Then all the garden produce through the summer and autumn...

Memories of sunny days and meals with friends...


And two little people very special to me...

Farewell 2010 and forward on to 2011...wishing you health, wealth and happiness (and lots more cooking) in the coming 12 months!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Ooh, Another Sweet Treat

'Tis the season of cakes and sweet things...well, it is here at Holly Grove and today's treat makes use of some raspberries frozen from our summer harvest. This makes a lovely fresh, zesty and moist cake..delicious and possibly one of your 5-a-day!

Raspberry and Blueberry Lime Drizzle Cake
For the cake
225g softened butter
225g caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 limes, zest and juice
250g SR flour
25g ground almonds
100g each raspberries and blueberries

For the drizzle
1.5 tbsp lime juice
70g caster sugar

Line the base and sides of a 20cm/8in square cake tin (not loose-based) with greaseproof paper. Set oven to 180C.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light. Gradually beat in the eggs. Beat in the lime zest, then fold in the flour and almonds. Fold in enough lime juice - about 3 tablespoons - to give you a good dropping consistency (the mixture should drop easily from the spoon when tapped). 

Fold in three quarters of the blueberries and raspberries and turn into the prepared tin. Smooth the surface, then scatter the remaining fruit on top - it will sink as the cake rises. 
Bake for about 1 hour, a skewer pushed into the centre should be clean when removed.  

To make the syrup: put the lime juice, zest and sugar in a small saucepan. Put over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, prick all over with a skewer then spoon the syrup over it. To store, cool before wrapping in paper and/or foil.

Friday, 24 December 2010

December Freeze and Christmas Fare

The weather outside remains frozen and white but it's cosy and warm in HG's kitchen and the thought of spending Christmas with loved ones makes it warmer still - so safe journey to those travelling and MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL!

Holly Grove at Christmas time doesn't mean a traditional Christmas lunch; what it does mean is a Christmas table of home baked and cooked delights - all being well.  I moved away from the traditional raost turkey and all the trimmings some years ago when my boys and the Handyman's children were teenagers and we couldn't guarantee who would turn up when.  Add to that mix my sister and her vegetarian brood and the result is my, now much anticipated, Christmas buffet.

The core of the feast remains the same most years - people seem to like a bit of  predictability - so a capon and a gammon joint, mince pies and Christmas cake, the remainder of the food varies each year.  This year I'm adding two new dips - a white bean dip and an avocado and cumin dip - and some homemade parmesan biscuits.

The rest of the menu looks like this:

Avocado and Cumin Dip
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and then ground
2 cloves garlic, pressed and ground with 1/2tsp salt
2 avocados
3tbs tahini paste
juice of 2 lemons
2 tbs olive oil

Scoop out the flesh from the avocados, clean out the skins and rinse and dry them - reserve for later. Place the avocado flesh and all the remaining ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Serve the dip in the avocado skins garnished with strips of red pepper - very fast and very festive!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Festive Frost

At first I wasn't sure that this month's NCR challenge from Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes belonged on my kitchen blog - a festive photo challenge - it seemed more suitable for Holly Grove Garden.  Anyway after wrapping up like an eskimo and venturing out into the garden to take some winter wonderland photos I came back to a white onion soup and suddenly the challenge seemed most appropriate. There's nothing like an onion soup to warm the cockles of your heart and beat a nasty cold...except perhaps a delicious mug of hot chocolate!

Anyway the temperature here in the Shropshire countryside remains around minus 7 degrees and the hoar frost on the shrubs and trees makes a lovely picture...I hope you'll agree?

Winter Blue
And now here's the recipe for the white onion soup to warm us up after venturing out with the camera, yum!

Winter White
White Onion Soup
Serves 4
1 oz butter
4 large onions, thinly sliced
1 small leek, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
250ml white wine
500ml vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
small bunch parsley, chopped 

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the leek, onion and garlic and cook slowly with the lid on for about 10 minutes until softened but not browned.

Add the wine and bring to a fast boil.  Boil until the wine has reduced by about a third.  Add the stock, bay leaves and parsley and bring back to the boil, then turn the heat down.  Simmer for about 2 hours and then blend using a hand blender.  Seve with good brown bread.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Mushroom Magic

It's the season for mushrooms and I've bought another mountain of them, so having made soups and put them in almost all of my cooking I thought I'd try a mushroom pate...a trial run for an addition to our Christmas table.  The result was delicious, which is just as well as the recipe makes mountains of the stuff, fine for Christmas with lots of vegetarian visitors though!

Yummy Mushroom Pate
Serves 8
500g mushrooms, chopped
2 tbsp butter,
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
250g cream cheese
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
2 tsp brandy (optional)
4 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp mushroom ketchup

Melt the butter in a large frying pan.  Add the mushrooms and onions and cook gently with the lid off for about 10 minutes until soft.  Allow to cool.

Meanwhile put the cheese and parsley in a food processor and combine.  Add the mushroom mixture and all the remaining ingredients and pulse until the texture is fine but not completely smooth.  Put the mixture into serving dishes and chill for at least 2 hours.  Serve with toast or crackers or add to a baked potato for a tasty supper.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Slice of Delight

The Handyman and I love tray baked cakes, they are easy to pick up with a cup of coffee (for me) and tea (for him) without it being too obvious that slices are disappearing. So we can keep our greedy secret at least for a while until the cake tin is empty. 

I don't know why we feel guilty for eating lovely home baked cakes that contain no unnatural additives and we certainly work hard enough in the garden and around the house to use up the calories; probably just our culture that seems to say that if you enjoy something it must be naughty!

Recently I've discovered a couple of new tray bakes that have disappeared from the tin with alarming swiftness.  One was a chocolate bake from Jacqueline over at Tinned Tomatoes, Chocolate Tiffin, a no bake slice, very easy to make and to eat.  I used 70% cocoa chocolate for mine, a very adult taste; if I was making for children I'd probably use a milk chocolate...a good excuse to make another batch to try out the milk choc version, oh, and what about a white chocolate version with apricots instead of the raisins!

The second bake that we've had recently is an apricot and macaroon slice.  I made a half quantity in a 7" square shallow cake tin and it came out beautifully after a few anxious moments when the first layer of sponge was baked - it looked too thin but actually turned out really well in the finished cake.  Sweet,coconutty and generally yummy!

Apricot and Macaroon Slice
Makes about16 pieces

100g unsalted butter, softened
80g caster sugar
1 egg
185g plain flour
half tsp baking powder 

250g dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 tbsp Amaretto
2 tbsp caster sugar 

100g unsalted butter, softened
80g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
270g dessicated coconut
40g plain flour
half tsp baking powder


Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease and line an 8"x12" shallow baking tin.

To make the base put all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat with an electric beater until smooth.  Press into the baking tin and bake for about 25 minutes until golden.

Meanwhile make the filling by combining the apricots, Amaretto and sugar in a bowl with 4 fl ozs boiling water. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes then puree in a food processor.  When the base has cooled slightly cover it with the apricot mixture.

Make the topping by creaming together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat in the eggs and then fold in the flour and baking powder followed by the coconut.  Spoon on top of the apricot mixture then return to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden.

Note: Next time I make this I'm going to replace the apricot mixture with some Holly Grove jam in a thick layer.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Slàinte Mhath!

Unless you speak Gaelic or have a Scot in the family you may be confused by the title of this's an old Scottish toast: 'slainte mhath' (pronounced slanj uh va) meaning good health. And the reason for toasting you all is that I've been busy making drinks, soft and otherwise, in the Holly Grove kitchen recently.

First off the bench is an update on the cider front; the first demijohn is now bottled. It has retained its deep pink colour and, if I can work out how the hydrometer works, I'll let you know the alcohol level.  I bottled the cider in 2 litre plastic bottles that had previously held sparkling spring water. They were sterilised with Milton sterilising fluid and then rinsed out with cooled previously boiled water. So approximately 5 litres of pink cider awaiting next summer.

The water bottles came in useful again for my first attempt at ginger beer. I love this spicy, refreshing drink and was tempted to try and make my own when I read of all the ingredients in the commercial brands compared to the simple ingredients in a homemade version, and it's made in a bottle, so no special equipment required! The result is a lightly sparkling, gingery, not too sweet, moreish drink; perfect for hot summer days and cosy winter evenings by the fire. I'll definitely be making lots more of this one and will slightly increase the ginger content next time.

Clockwise from the top - cider, ginger beer, apple liqueur, lemonade

Now on the shelf and ready for Christmas is my apple liqueur; two versions: one made with the rosy red dessert apples from one of the old apple trees and one made with Cox's from one of the newer fruit trees in the garden.  Some of this liqueur went into our Christmas puddings this year.  Both are a lovely amber colour, though more colour in the old apple tree version, and both taste divine. To be drunk in small quantities as they contain lots of alcohol, lovely with a festive mince pie or slice of Christmas cake. Can't wait!

And lastly for this roundup, lemonade.  This has proven very successful and like the ginger beer really easy to make. I made about 500ml of this and keep it in the fridge. We drink it diluted with sparkling water, about 50:50, so refreshing and tasty. I'm going to reduce the sugar content and increase the lemon next time as we like a sharper more lemony flavour.

Looking at this line-up I don't think I'll be buying much in the way of drinks from now on, if only I could make a decent Chablis and/or Merlot! In the meantime here are the recipes for the ginger beer and lemonade - cheers!

Ginger Beer

2-litre plastic bottle
quarter tsp champagne yeast
225g caster sugar
2 tbsp finely grated fresh root ginger
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp honey

Add the yeast to the bottle then pour in the sugar. In a jug, mix the grated ginger, lemon juice and honey together. Pour this mixture into the bottle and fill to three quarters full with cold water. Put the top on the bottle and shake until the sugar is dissolved. Top up the bottle with water, leaving a 2.5cm gap at the top.

Cap the bottle tightly, then put it somewhere warm. Leave it for about 2-3 days. Once the bottle feels very hard place the bottle in the fridge for several hours to stop the yeast working. Pass the ginger beer through a fine sieve and re bottle.Your ginger beer is now ready to enjoy.

Lemony Lemonade
Makes about 500ml
half a cup caster sugar
1 tbsp honey
half a cup water
1 lemon, zest and juice
450ml cold water

Put the caster sugar, honey and cup of water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil, simmer for 2 minutes, until sugar has dissolved. Put the lemon zest and juice in a large jug and pour over the syrup. Allow to cool slightly then put the lemon mixture into a bottle. Add enough of the 450ml of cold water to fill the bottle.. Cap and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. To serve, dilute the lemonade about 50:50 with chilled sparkling water.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bags of Pears

To my mind there is nothing sweeter than a really ripe pear, just the thought of all those natural sugars and soft melting flesh makes me dream of cake.  So when I saw a large bag of slightly under ripe pears in the supermarket I was tempted to buy...and then the price confirmed it...only £1!

On my way home in the car I dreamt of what I might make with my bargain pears...cake, pudding, jam - all three?  So once the shopping was unpacked and stored; not a chore that I enjoy having just loaded it into the trolley, loaded it into bags and then loaded it into the car; I made myself a coffee and sat down with a couple of cookbooks.

One of my favourites at the moment is Hugh FW's Everyday, and I wasn't disappointed as in there I found a recipe for an Apple and Almond Pudding cake which looked delicious.  As it says in the title Hugh uses apples and adds cinnamon as his spice. 

I changed the recipe to use my lovely pears with ginger as the spice and where Hugh uses almond essence for extra flavouring I added Amaretto liqueur.  Served with custard this cake proved a real hit. I'm looking forward to trying a slice with my morning coffee and/or afternoon tea!

Pear, Ginger and Amaretto Cake 
4 firm pears, peeled, cored and thickly sliced
25g unsalted butter
1 tbsp unrefined granulated sugar (I might try honey next time)

150g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
75g self raising flour
75g ground almonds
half a tsp ground ginger
1 tsp (or a bit more) Amaretto  

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease and line an 8" round cake tin. Melt 25g butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the granulated sugar and stir gently until it has dissolved. Add the pears and cook gently, turning once or twice, until they have softened and are starting to colour, this takes about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and leave to cool. 

In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter with the caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Slowly beat in the eggs, adding a spoonful of the flour if required to stop the mix curdling. Fold in the remaining flour, ground almonds and ginger. Gently stir in the Amaretto and then put the mixture into the prepared tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour over any juices from the frying pan.  

Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow the cake to cool slightly in the tin before taking out.  Serve the cake warm with luscious custard.

Note: Look out for more pear recipes in the next day or so. I've a pear and lemon jam recipe to try...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Ingredient Challenge

Following my early success in the No Croutons Required monthly challenge last month I thought I'd risk it again and make a dish for the November challenge.  This one is more tricky as it's using an ingredient selected by Lisa that I've never cooked with before - quinoa.

From the reading that I've done on this grain, I understand that it can be used in place of couscous or rice in most recipes.  With this in mind, and given that I submitted a soup recipe for the October challenge, I've decided to try a salad this time.  The resulting dish was lighter than a couscous version and less grainy than a rice version; I'll be trying quinoa again perhaps in a soup next time.

Quinoa, Courgette and Dolcelatte Salad
75g quinoa
1 small courgette, sliced into ribbons using a vegetable peeler
quarter of a red onion, finely diced
75g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red chilli, finely diced
75g dolcelatte, cut into small cubes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cook the quinoa following the packet instructions.  Drain and refresh under cold running water.  Leave to drain and cool.

When cool, add the courgette ribbons, chopped onion, chilli, cherry tomatoes and dolcelatte cubes and toss together well.  Whisk the olive oil and red wine vinegar together and pour over the salad.  Toss together and there you have it!

Note: I didn't add any salt to this salad as the salty flavour of the cheese added enough flavour for me.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Two for One

Last week we had some rosemary and walnut bread from the market and it was delicious, I wasn't able to get there this week but we craved the delicious sweet nuttiness, so I thought I'd try to make some.  Bread making takes rather a long time and with the kitchen in some disarray I needed a quicker solution.  Soda bread is at the forefront of my mind as there seem to have been a number of TV cooks making it recently: Hugh FW and Nigella to name a couple.

I thought I'd try a rosemary and walnut version.  I was so pleased with the result, the walnut pieces were nicely distributed through the bread and the rosemary flavour was strong enough without being overpowering.

A good bread needs a good soup so two recipes for the price of one today!

Rosemary and Walnut Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf
450g plain white flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp salt
1 oz finely chopped walnuts
1 oz coarsely chopped walnuts
2 good sprigs rosemary, finely chopped plus a few rosemary needles for decoration
350ml plain yoghurt

Heat the oven to 220C and lightly flour a large baking tray.

Sieve the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl.  Add the salt and the finely chopped walnuts and rosemary, mix together well.  Now add the coarsely chopped walnuts and mix again. Finally add the yoghurt and mix together to form a sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and bring together into a ball.  Flatten the ball to about 4cm deep then place on the floured baking tray.  Cut a cross into the top of the loaf, use a floured knife to do this to stop it sticking in the dough, then sprinkle a few rosemary needles over the top.

Place in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes.  The bread is ready when you tap it on the bottom and it sounds hollow. Place on a wire rack to cool slightly, then serve warm with the soup. 

With the current range and availability of mushrooms in the greengrocers and the supermarket I had to make a creamy mushroom soup. Mushroom soup doesn't end up a very pretty colour but the flavour is immense, if you don't believe me give it a try and I'm sure you'll be addicted.

Creamy Mushrooms Soup
Serves 6
1kg mushrooms, any mix you like, I used chestnut and portobellini
2tsps butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
small bunch of thyme
1ltr vegetable or chicken stock
500ml milk
100ml double cream 

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and sweat until the onion is soft but not coloured.  Add the sliced mushrooms and the thyme and cook for a couple of minutes then add the stock and milk and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Remove the bunch of thyme and blend the soup.  Pour the blended soup through a sieve and return to a clean saucepan. Add the cream, season with salt and pepper and stir well, gently reheat the soup, but do not allow it to boil.

Serve in warmed bowls with the rosemary and walnut soda bread.  Bread and soup heaven!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Kitchen Improvements

Having finished creating and tiling the roof on the Goat House the Handyman has turned his attention and skills to the changes required inside our house.  The first and most major changes will be to the kitchen.  This will have a huge impact on the way we live at HG and once we get through the disruption it will be fantastic to have the kitchen that we've always wanted.  At the moment the work has meant that cooking activities are being kept to a minimum whilst the dust settles - literally!

Handyman and Apprentice


The next stage, replacing the windows, is underway with time being spent on selection of installer, colour, shape, materials etc.  Then it will be on to changing the boiler so that we can remove the Aga Rayburn which currently provides our heating and hot water.  Yes, I did say remove the Aga! 

Romantic Notion
When we first moved here one of the attractions was the Aga, but I've found it to be a romantic notion.  It takes up a lot of space and, certainly for me working full time, takes a long time to heat up for cooking.  I have used it on about 5 occasions, Christmas and winter family gatherings and it does make fantastic pastry cases and provide a warm and welcoming spot to gather, but I'd prefer to use the space for a cooker that I can use every day.  So the plan is to replace it with a large electric range cooker - we don't have gas here only oil and electricity.  I've found one with a mix of 6 induction and ceramic heat zones and 3 ovens and I think I'm in love!  My sister cooks on induction and has found it as controllable as gas, can't wait to try it myself.
Dream Cooker
So once the heating boiler is replaced and all the plumbing completed we can move the Aga, raise the chimney breast where it currently resides, alter the positions of the cupboards and supplement with some new ones, get the electrics done - new lighting, more sockets and my dream cooker - have all the plastering done and finally...decorate, phew!

Quite a time consuming piece of home improvement and the reason for telling you all of this is that my recipe posts may be fewer and further between whilst the kitchen is decommissioned - unless I can sneak in between the Handyman and the various tradesmen to rustle up a little something...hmm!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Breakfast or Brunch

It's been ages since the Handymand and I have made time for a proper cooked breakfast, but by gaining an extra hour yesterday we decided the time was ripe.

It coincided with the last of the Holly Grove tomatoes and a recent trip to our local butcher resulting in bacon, sausage and free range eggs.  Though the kitchen is in upheaval (more of that to follow in a future post) we made a space to sit down and enjoy our brunch.

Not the healthiest of breakfasts but once in a while a real treat!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Loaves and Fishes

A second order from fishinabox has landed me some lovely hake fillets. I've wanted to try hake after seeing Hugh FW cook with it as an alternative to cod. Seemingly hake is much more sustainable than cod so worth a try.

My impression on looking at the fillets was how 'meaty' they looked and a lovely colour, more creamy coloured than cod.  I had an urge to make a fish pie, lovely comfort food to mark the changing of the clocks.  

Earlier in the day I'd bought a delicious rosemary and walnut granary loaf from the baker at our local market, so a simple supper of fish pie and rosemary and walnut bread for a late autumn evening.  The sweetness and crunch of the walnuts went beautifully with the delicate fish flavour and soft texture of the pie.

Simple Fish Pie
Serves 4
400g hake fillets or other white fish
300ml milk
half an onion, peeled and sliced
5 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
50g butter
3 tbsp plain flour
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small leek, washed and sliced
half an onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
half a glass of dry white wine
potatoes mashed with butter and yoghurt to cover the pie
grated parmesan

Dry the fish with kitchen paper and place in a frying pan.  Pour over the milk and add the peppercorns, onion slices and bay leaf. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 8-10 minutes until the fish flakes.  Remove the fish and place on a plate. Strain the cooking juices through a sieve and reserve, discard the peppercorns, onion slices and bay leaf.

Whilst the fish is cooking add the chopped carrot, onion, leek and garlic to a saucepan with a glug of oil and gently heat to soften the onion. Add the wine and the parsley and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.

Using the reserved cooking juices from the fish make a white sauce as follows. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and stir well to remove any lumps and cook gently for a minute or two. Gradually add the cooking juices, stirring constantly. Bring to the boil and then simmer for a few minutes.

Now make up the pie by adding the flaked fish and the winey vegetable mixture to the white sauce. Put the combined ingredients into a pie dish.  Cover with the creamy mashed potatoes and sprinkle over the parmesan.

Put the pie dish on a  tray and bake in the oven at 200C for about 30 minutes. Then serve in wide bowls (pasta bowls are good) with a couple of chunky slices of buttered rosemary and walnut bread...yummee!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Thinking of Apples and Christmas Cheer

Two months ago, 11th of September to be exact, I found a recipe for an Apple Liqueur and thought I'd give it a go.  I didn't blog about it at the time as I wanted to get someway towards the finished product before I mentioned it here.

So here's the story so far...I had a small number of very large apples from our Cox's Orange Pippin - they weighed between 6-8 ounces each.  With some brandy left over from last year's Wedding Cake and some vodka from my Dad's visit to Holly Grove also last year, all I needed to add was some sugar.

Giant Cox's Apples
Starting the liqueur was fairly simple.  About 1.25 pounds of apples are washed and then sliced in a food processor, or by hand with a good sharp knife - no need to peel just core and remove any damaged parts.

Pack the sliced apple into ajar and cover with 1 cup of brandy and 1 cup of vodka. I also added a cinnamon stick.  Put the lid on the jar, label with the start date and put in a cool dark place - mine went in the pantry.  Then leave for a month for the fruit to absorb the alcohol.

Ready to store for one month

When a month has gone by drain the liquor through a sieve and squeeze the fruit pulp to extract as much liquid as possible.  Then strain the liquid through very fine muslin or through a coffee filter, as I did.  Combine 3/8 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of water, bring to a boil and then cool.  Add this syrup to the liquor and stir well.  Return this liquid to the clean jar, seal and relabel with the second stage date and place in a cool, dark place for another month. 

Twice filtered juice
When another month has passed, repeat the straining and filtering process and bottle your liqueur. 
Here's one I made earlier
Leave for another month and then enjoy!  I made 500ml of apple liqueur with these quantities and am looking forward to tasting the results at Christmas time - cheers!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hubble, Bubble

Hurrah!  The cider fermentation started in the bucket evidenced by bubbles and foam.  Yesterday evening I took the next step in the process...into the demi-john with the brew.

This stage is known as racking off.  I started by sterilising the demi-john, syphon tube and airlock in a solution of Milton sterilising fluid.  Whist that was underway I went out into the garden for a few hours of general autumn border and kitchen garden tidying.  I've cut out this season's fruiting canes from the raspberries and  tied in the canes in neat rows for next summer's fruit year.  It all looks very neat and orderly.  Then I addressed the annual bedding which was looking very sorry for itself after our first real frost of the season on Sunday night.  The raised beds in the kitchen garden were next on the list for a sowing of green manure; but I ran out of daylight, so back to the kitchen and back to the cider...

The sterilised dj was placed on a small step stool on the floor and the bucket of fermenting juice on the island unit worktop.  Then the syphon tube was placed into the juice and then suck on the tube to start the juice down the tube and into the dj, without getting a mouthful of yeasty apple juice, unfortunately NOT!  But it didn't taste as bad as I expected, but then why should it? it's going to be tasty cider after all, isn't it?

Lovely Pink Juice
What struck me most was the lovely pale raspberry colour, this must be from the deep red apple skins and, thinking about it, even when I make apple pies and crumbles with this variety the flesh of the apple has a pinkish tinge.  I wonder if it will hold this colour in the finished I am getting ahead of myself.

I  successfully racked off the fermenting juice with a little help from the Handyman; though no photos of this process as there was no-one free to hold the camera! The airlock with some sterilised water in it was inserted into the neck of the dj and then we watched and waited anxiously for the first air bubble to make its way through the airlock...YES!  

Fermentation Continues!
How exciting is this - one of the highlights of life in a country cottage - some may say 'get a life' well I think I have a very good one!  So where to keep the fermenting juice, somewhere away from curious cats, in the pantry will do and I can peep in on it from time to time.  More cider news in the next couple of weeks when it will be time to rack off again into a clean dj and allow fermentation to complete.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Juicing the Fruits

Part 2 of the Holly Grove cider making experiment began with washing the apples.  We are lucky enough to have a large butler's sink in our utility room which makes the job of washing all the apples a little bit quicker and easier.  They were quite dirty as most of them were windfalls with only a handful picked straight from the tree, so this was quite a water-intensive process.  I would put the used water in our water butts, if they weren't already full to overflowing with the recent rain!

With the apples cleaned I began to cut them into quarters. A useful tip that I picked up whilst researching cider making is to cut the apple horizontally through the middle creating a star-shaped core. This will show up any little creatures burrowing their way to the centre of the apple and allow you to discard/cut out the damage. Once quartered and any damaged flesh removed, it's on to the pomace (pulp) making stage.

It is at this point that I digress from official cider-making wisdom as I'm going to make my pomace in my little food processor; a gift from my Mum about 13 years ago and still going strong; and extract the juice from my apples using my new fruit steamer...and how long will that take you? I hear cider makers around the country cry...well...

Little Mouli Processor
My Shiny New Steamer

After filling the reservoir of the steamer with boiling water I began to add the chopped apples in batches as they were processed. After about 45 minutes I had filled the fruit steamer to the brim with pomace and then it was just a case of keeping an eye on the water level to ensure the steamer didn't boil dry and running off the resulting juice into the fermentation bucket as it filled its allotted space in the steamer.

Pomace from the Processor
Whilst the juice was being generated I made our evening meal and set about a bit (huge pile) of ironing, then after about 3 hours I had my gallon of pasteurised apple juice.  As the juice is extracted using steam it pasteurises as it goes.  This means that any yeasts on the apples are destroyed, removing the need to use Camden tablets in the cider production.  Cider can be made using the naturally occurring yeasts but, by all accounts, this is a bit hit and miss, so I'm using a champagne yeast in my brew.

One Gallon of Apple Juice
Mash after Juice Extraction

So a gallon doesn't look much but my idea is to experiment this season and learn from the process.  Once this gallon is in a demi-john, hopefully within the next 2 to 3 days, then I'll go through the steps again to make a second gallon next weekend.  When the Handyman and I saw the mash that remained after the juice had been extracted it made us wish for a pig to polish it off, we settled for adding it to the compost heap.  So now our heap smells deliciously of apple!

Beginning of Fermentation?
The final step for this part of the process was to allow the lovely deep pink juice to cool down, it comes out of the steamer boiling hot. The yeast, about 1 teaspoon, was mixed with warm water and added to the cooled juice in the fermentation bucket and the lid popped on. Now all I can do is wait to see if the juice begins to ferment.

I know that my process won't do for more than a gallon of juice but it works for me as I love to be in the kitchen and can easily occupy myself with cooking and baking whilst the juice is generated.  I suppose that if we wanted to use more of our apples in cider production then we'll have to consider a cider press, but for this season and this experiment the little Mouli and the shiny fruit steamer will do.

I should also credit one of the most useful websites for simple cider making that I found whilst searching for information, refreshingly named - How to make cider.

I'll post more in the next week to update on the fermentation or not of the brew.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cider Making Beginnings

The Handyman and I have been talking about attempting cider making with some of the Holly Grove apples since we moved here just over 3 years ago.  With everything else we've been doing this has slipped down the priority list, but this year I'm going to have a stab at the process.

I've been reading a lot on-line and in books and, though an absolute novice, I'm going to try a more simple approach that doesn't require a cider press and a still room to store the huge quantities of pomace (technical jargon for pulp), demi-johns etc.  I may live to regret this approach, but at least I'll have tried.

I've purchased a fermentation bucket, a couple of demi-johns with airlocks, a hydrometer, a syphon tube and suitable yeast.  I tried to get hold of cider yeast to no avail, it seems to be sold out, probably as it's apple harvest time.  One of the sites recommended using champagne yeast as a substitute, so that's what I've got.  I'm using Milton sterilising fluid to prepare the bucket etc.

My plan is to make 2 gallons of cider which, by most accounts, requires about 48 pounds of apples!  I'm going to mix our unnamed variety of cooking apple and the lovely red eating apple on our old apple trees together with a small proportion of crab apples from our Red Sentinel tree.  So let the gathering of apples begin...

...and 45 minutes later, here's what 48 pounds of apples looks like...almost all are windfalls with little or no bruising with only about 2 pounds of crab apples - well it's a very young tree.  

Time to sterilise the fermentation bucket and then on to the juicing of the fruit...more updates to follow at each stage of the process, successful or not!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Chicken(less) Noodle Soup

First Time Lucky!

Amongst the blogs I follow is Tinned Tomatoes where Jacqueline co-hosts a monthly challenge, No Croutons Required, so this month I decided to try my luck.  The ingredient selected for the October challenge is noodles.

I have a great recipe from my Dad for chicken noodle soup, but then I noticed that the challenge is to create a vegetarian soup or salad; so what about chicken noodle soup without the chicken?  Worth a try?  And how to make it as tasty as the original?  And what seasonal produce can I incorporate?  Well, let's see what transpired...

Mushroom and Noodle Soup
1tbsp rapeseed oil or vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 small swede, peeled and diced
250g mixed portabellini and chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
half tsp chilli flakes
2.5 pts vegetable stock
2 tbsp mushroom ketchup
1 portion fine egg noodles
salt and pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Add the onion and leek and cook gently until transluscent.  Add the carrot and swede and continue to sweat gently with the lid on for about 5 minutes.  Now add the mushrooms, put the lid back on and cook until the mushrooms have reduced in volume.  Add the chilli flakes and stir well.
Pour the vegetable stock and mushroom ketchup into the vegetables and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  Break up and add the egg noodles and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes until the noodles are soft.  Add the parsley and stir.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper and serve with vegetable spring rolls.

Note: I made my own vegetable stock, though you can use vegetable stock cubes, just be careful when
seasoning the soup as the stock cubes can be salty.
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