Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Light and Lemony

The weather here yesterday was glorious, a beautiful day for the garden but we'd run out of cake. So I wondered what I might make that was quick yet a little more unusual than a plain sponge cake. I decided to leaf through my baking books whilst enjoying my morning coffee sitting in the sunshine.

My search revealed an old favourite that I haven't made for many years and this brought memories flooding back of when my boys were boys - so feeling warm from the sunshine on the outside and the memories on the inside I went dreamily back into the kitchen to make...

Lemon Crunch Squares
Makes 12 squares
For the cake
4ozs soft margarine or butter
4ozs castor sugar
4ozs self raising flour
2 eggs
1 tbsp lemon juice

For the topping
2ozs castor sugar
1 generous tbsp lemon juice

Grease and line a square baking tin 7"x7" and preheat the oven to 180C. Put all the ingredients for the cake in a large bowl and whisk together until light and creamy. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes until the top of the cake is golden and springs back when lightly pressed.

Whilst the cake is baking, mix the topping ingredients together. As soon as the cake is out of the oven lightly prick over the top and then cover with the topping. The lemon juice will sink into the cake and the sugar will create a lightly crisp topping. Leave the cake to cool in the baking tin then when the cake is quite cold remove from the tin and cut into 12 squares. Delicious eaten with a nice cup of tea or coffee or serve as a dessert with blackberry coulis and vanilla icecream.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Tomato Fest Soup

The tomato harvest is coming in thick and fast now, even with the lack of sunshine they seem to be ripening well. This year I've grown several varieties; some old, reliable friends and others new and untried, by me anyway. The range of colours, sizes and shapes has provided a very interesting harvest.

This season I've grown cherry tomatoes in the following varieties: Tumbler, Yellow Tumbling Tom and Sun Belle - supposedly a yellow plum tomato but looking far more like an orange cherry variety. I've also grown the ever reliable Shirley and Money Maker varieties of 'standard' tomatoes and Totem, a bush variety. All of these have cropped and ripened well despite the cool, cloudy days of July and August.

The final variety in the greenhouse is Principe Borghese, a plum tomato, grown from seed. This is also cropping well but is slower to ripen, the first fruits are only just beginning to redden whilst the other varieties have been producing fruits for the table and pot for about 3 weeks.

All in all a pretty good year for tomatoes. So having made batches of tomato sauce and passata for the freezer, what to do with this latest colourful bowl? With the weather turning a little chilly how about a creamy tomato soup? Light and fresh in flavour but warm and comforting too...and so pretty to look at...

Dreamy, Creamy Tomato Soup
Serves 4-6
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 celery stick, chopped
7 ozs carrots, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig fresh thyme, tied in a bundle
1.5 lbs mixed tomatoes, roughly chopped
0.5 tsp sugar
salt and black pepper
7 fl ozs passata
17 fl ozs vegetable stock
3 fl ozs Greek yoghurt mixed with 2 tbsp milk
splash of dry sherry, optional

Heat the oil in a large pan and gently cook the onion until soft but not brown.

Add the garlic, carrots, celery, bay leaf and thyme and continue to cook gently for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chopped tomatoes and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes and then add the passata and vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer then cover and cook for 35-40 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Remove the bay leaf and thyme and blend the soup. Pour the blended soup through a sieve into a clean saucepan then stir in the yoghurt/milk mix and sherry, if using. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

Pour into bowls and, if desired, top with a teaspoon of tomato salsa and serve with bread rolls.

Note: I'm pleased to say that the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, tomatoes and thyme used in this recipe were grown at Holly Grove and the passata was homemade from Holly Grove produce.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Tomato Salsa

This summer I've used this salsa as a starter with pitta bread sliced and dribbled with olive oil and then crisped in the oven for 5 minutes, an accompaniment to barbequed chicken and sausages and added as a topping for soup...and occasionally, because I just love the fresh taste of this, on its own by the teaspoonful! It's also incredibly easy to create and requires absolutely no cooking, so here goes...

Tomato, Cucumber and Red Onion Salsa

10 cherry tomatoes, diced
half a small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and diced
half a red onion, peeled and diced
half a green chilli, deseeded and very finely diced
juice of half a lime

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together well. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least half an hour and no more than 2 hours. Remove from fridge about half an hour before serving then put into a small serving bowl and enjoy!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Someone's Two!

Another cake decorating challenge, though not on the scale of the Wedding Cake, my grandson JM's second birthday approaches and I've a birthday cake to make. My cake decorating skills are limited so I needed something simple yet effective and using ingredients and cake tins in my cupboards.

Bright colours and simple shapes seem to be the thing for 2 year olds, so out come the fondant icing, natural food colourings and shape cutters. I thought I'd make the decorations before the cake just in case I had to change plans should the decorations prove a disaster...the results can be seen below...not too bad, so then on with the cake baking...

I wanted to use an 8" cake tin and make a single sponge that I could cut into 2 sandwich sponges but all my recipes for a Victoria sponge used 7" tins and having made the mistake before of using the wrong sized tin for a recipe I wasn't keen on guessing whether this would work or not. Then my Mum's edition of Good Housekeeping Cookery Book came to the rescue again with the answer...

Fill the cake tin with water to the depth that you want your sponge and then measure the quantity of water used and for each pint of water make a multiple of the quantities below:

2ozs castor sugar
2ozs softened butter or margarine
2ozs self-raising flour
1 egg

I wanted 3 pints in my baking tin, so I used 6ozs sugar, butter and flour with 3 eggs and combined as for any Victoria sponge recipe, set the oven to 180C, the timing had to be judged (35 minutes for my 8" cake)...et voila...

Now for the most important part of the challenge, would young JM enjoy his cake? Well the blowing out of candles was a great success. I think he had at least three goes before we got to the cake cutting and finally the tasting...

And the verdict...in JM's own words...'more pease Daddy!'

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Blackberries and Tomatoes?

This time of the year I'm running to try and keep up with all the produce from the garden and hedgerows around our plot, and trying to find recipes to use up the various gluts that we benefit from, tomatoes being the current crop of the moment.

Yesterday I spent just a few minutes in the garden and came back to the kitchen with a strange concoction in my trug...huge blackberries from our thornless plant (a real boon as I can gather the fruits without getting by arms scratched to bits), lots of lovely tomatoes and a solitary courgette...now how to use these offerings...

The blackberries were easy, I'd make an apple and blackberry crumble, just needed to get a few apples from the tree in the garden, a little underripe but sharp flavoured and delicious in a crumble. Now for the tomatoes; I had already taken some chicken thighs from the freezer earlier in the day and I had a paprika sausage in the fridge crying out to be used, so Spanish Chicken it had to be...

Spanish Chicken with Tomato
Serves 2-3
2 tbsp light olive oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
1/4 tsp pimenton or smoked paprika
100g Mangalika Hungarian paprika sausage, thickly sliced
(you could use any chorizo type sausage)
4 large chicken thighs, cut into large chunks
200g cherry tomatoes or larger tomatoes halved or quartered

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the onion. Gently cook for 3 minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add the paprika sausage and the pimenton to the onion and cook together for another 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onion and sausage mixture from the pan and set aside. Add the chicken pieces to the oil in the pan and fry until browned; this should only take a few minutes.

Place the chicken in a shallow ovenproof dish, cover with the onion and sausage mix and then place the tomatoes on top. Drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and bake at 180C for about 25-30 minutes ensuring that the chicken pieces are cooked. The tomatoes should be soft but not mushy. Serve with plain boiled rice and a green salad.

Note: I don't have a photo of the finished dish as it smelt so lovely we couldn't wait to taste it.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sweet Tooth Heaven!

I'm sitting here with a guilty secret - latte and vanilla fudge for breakfast!

Decadent and delicious, this is the second batch of this fudge I've made in just over a week. The recipe comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'River Cottage everyday'; fast becoming one of my favourite cookbooks.

We love this fudge as a sweet treat and it tastes even better when eaten alongside my lemon gingerbread and ginger mascarpone cream dessert - recipe to follow in future blog.

A sugar thermometer is essential for this recipe and the use of double cream instead of the usual condensed milk of most fudge recipes makes, I think, for a lighter creamier texture and a more delicious fudge.

Vanilla Fudge
Makes 30ish squares
300g caster sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
100g unsalted butter, diced
100ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (not vanilla essence)

Put the sugar, syrup, butter and cream into a large saucepan, you need plenty of room for the mixture to bubble as it boils. Melt and combine over a low heat stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat, stop stirring and bring to the boil with the sugar thermometer in the pan. Boil until the mixture reaches soft ball stage - 116C. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the sugar thermometer and leave to stand for 10 mins.

Meanwhile lightly oil a 15cm x 22cm baking dish and get out your electric whisk. After resting the mixture for 10 mins, add the vanilla extract and beat until the mixture thickens and starts to come away from the base of the pan. (This will be obvious when you see it. The whisking took me 10 mins for my first batch and 7 mins for my second.)

Put the fudge mixture into the baking dish, smooth the top and leave to cool. When quite cold mark it into squares and leave for about 4 hours to firm up, then take out of the dish and store in an airtight tin.

Note: I don't know how long the fudge will store for; our first batch was only around for four days and there are only two of us - look out waistline!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Yet Another Savoury Tart

I think I'm addicted to savoury tart/quiche recipes at the moment. I love the crisp pastry case against the soft filling of the tarts and they are making good use of the increasing flow of ripe tomatoes, the diminishing peas and the stored red onions, amongst other veggies, from the Holly Grove kitchen garden.

Last night I tried out a recipe I had picked up on a shopping trip to Waitrose earlier in the week, modifying it to use HG produce but retaining all the main ingredients. I made a tomato, red onion and cucumber salsa and some chunks of deep fried new potatoes to go with the tart which we ate served warm from the oven - delish!

then out of the oven

More Cherry Tomatoes, Pea and Ricotta Tart

Serves 4 (or 2 very hungry gardeners with a little left for next day's lunch)
7"-8" savoury pastry case
(make your own or do as I do and buy readymade)
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 courgette, diced
glug of light olive oil
3-4 ozs freshly podded peas
(you can use frozen peas if you can't get fresh)
2 medium eggs
2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
250g tub of ricotta cheese
3 tbsp finely grated parmesan
250g ricotta cheese
8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half horizontally

Gently heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and courgette. Cook for about 5 mins until softening and beginning to colour. Meanwhile put the peas in a saucepan of boiling water and simmer for 2 mins, then drain. Add the peas to the onion mix and stir to combine. Put the mixture to one side.

Beat the eggs with the milk in a large bowl, then add the ricotta and beat together. Add the pea and onion mixture and stir to combine, then pour the mixture into the pastry base.

Place the tomatoes cut side up around the tart and push gently into the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the parmesan and place the tart on a baking tray in the oven at 200C for 30-35 mins.

Like almost all savoury tarts this can be eaten warm or cold.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Herbs by the Jar Full

The kitchen garden at Holly Grove has a now very established herb bed producing all the herbs we need in the kitchen and more! I'm going to try making herb infused oils using a variety of herbs on a range of oils, if they are successful they may find their way into Christmas stockings later in the year.

The process appears to be very simple and so I'm starting my experiment with two versions - an extra virgin olive oil flavoured with rosemary, a strongly flavoured oil with a strongly flavoured herb, and groundnut oil with fennel, I'm thinking of using this oil in fish dishes.

The process is the same regardless of the oil or herb...

Herb Infused Oil
Take a clean jar and pack it loosely with the herb of your choice. Fill the jar with the oil of your choice. Mix the herb and oil together and cover the jar with two layers of muslin secured with a rubber band.

Place the jar on a sunny windowsill (a bit tricky given the weather at the moment) for two weeks, stirring daily. After two weeks strain the oil through muslin and taste. If the flavour is to your liking then decant into clean, sterile bottles, seal and label. If you want a stronger flavour refill the jar loosely with fresh herbs and cover with the oil and repeat the process.

The oils can be used for cooking or salad dressings or simply for dipping.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Windfall Apples

Our two old apple trees continue to fruit heavily despite the vagueries of the British weather. However every year since we've been at Holly Grove we've consigned heaps of apples to the compost bins as the unripe fruit falls from the trees.

An attempt at cider is on the cards for later in the season when more fruit has matured and we have gathered together the basic equipment. In the meantime, what to do with these
under-ripe windfall apples? Whilst browsing on the web I came across a recipe for an apple jelly with ginger - I love ginger and so the scene was set to try the recipe...

Windfalls and Ginger Jelly
a bag of windfall apples, washed and cut into chunks
(remove any damaged parts of the apple but do not core or skin)
cold water
white granulated sugar
stem ginger, finely diced

Place the chopped apples in a large saucepan or preserving pan with enough cold water to just cover the apples. Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer until the apples are soft and mushy.

Put the apple pulp into a jelly bag suspended over a large bowl and leave overnight for the juice to drip through. Do not squeeze the bag or the jelly will be cloudy.

The following day measure the juice and add to a pan with 1lb of sugar for each pint of juice. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a fast boil and check for setting point (
105C) using a sugar thermometer. When setting point is reached remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes, remove any scum with a slotted spoon. Add the chopped ginger and stir through the jelly. Put into small sterilised jam jars and cover and seal when the jelly is cold.

The result a lovely pinkish amber jelly infused with the warmth of ginger and a few less apples on the compost heap.

Note: I had a few 'challenges' getting the ginger evenly distributed through the jelly. In the end I filled the jars and then waited until the jelly was just warm and beginning to set and then stirred each jar of jelly to distribute the ginger and...phew...it seemed to work! Be careful not to introduce any air bubbles into the jelly when redistributing the ginger or your jelly won't keep well.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The 2nd Annual Cherry Berry Day

My niece, V, instigated Cherry Berry Day last July after being inspired by Hugh F-W's Strawberry Day. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the inaugural day last year but did manage to get along to this year's celebration.

There were sweet treats galore including V's Strawberry Chocolate fudge - interesting! The winning entry on the day, voted for unananimously, was a very delicious Summer Fruit Pavlova - to die for, to coin a phrase! Other contributions to the event can be found on A Pot of Tea and a Biscuit - the host for this year.

I thought I'd stretch the cherry theme a little and make a savoury tart with cherry tomatoes, all grown at Holly Grove and in various shades of yellow, orange and red. To accompany the tart I made a warm cherry tomato chutney. Both were taken cooked and cold to the Cherry Berry Day venue and warmed in the oven for 15 minutes before serving.

On the sweet side my contribution was a jar of Holly Grove Raspberry and Blackcurrant jam, a pot of very thick double cream and some homemade bite-sized scones, traditional yet surprisingly popular.

It was a lovely afternoon spent sampling fine cooking and baking and the odd glass of Elderflower Champagne courtesy of the host, S and my sister, J - sparkling!

Cherry Tomato and Four Cheese Tart with Warm Cherry Tomato Chutney
Sufficient to make 2 x 6" tarts
For the Tarts

2 x 6" savoury tart cases
(Make your own or do as I did and buy readymade)
a few stalks of broccoli, broken into small pieces
10 cherry tomatoes
(mine were quite large so I cut them in half horizontally. If yours are small then you'll need about 20)
300ml double cream
3 large eggs
1 tsp whole grain mustard
25g soft blue cheese, cubed
(I used Dolcelatte)
25g feta cheese, cubed
25g parmesan, grated
25g strong English Cheddar, grated
salt and pepper

Arrange the broccoli, cherry tomatoes and the cubes of cheese in the pastry cases. Sprinkle the pamesan and cheddar over the tarts. Whisk together the cream, eggs and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the egg mixture between the tarts and then sprinkle over a little more parmesan.

Place in a hot oven, 200C for 25-30 minutes. The tarts should be well risen and golden on top. Remove from the oven and cool. Serve warm or cold with the cherry tomato chutney and perhaps a few new potatoes.

For the Chutney
Keeps for up to 2 days and can be reheated if required
a gulg of light olive oil
a handful of cherry tomatoes (about 6-8 tomatoes), sliced
a small courgette, cut into matchsticks
a large red onion, very finely sliced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar

Put the olive oil in a large frying pan and heat. Add the onion and courgette and cook gently with a lid on for about 10 minutes until the onion is beginning to soften. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking gently with the lid on for another 10 minutes, until the onions and tomatoes are very soft.

Remove the lid and turn the heat up slightly. Then add the balsamic vinegar and sugar and stir. Cook for another couple of minutes and then remove from the heat. Place in a serving bowl and leave to cool until warm and then serve with the Cherry Tomato and Four Cheese Tart.

Note: This warm chutney is also good with rustic fried saugages or even BBQ burgers.

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