Home remedy

A has been suffering from a terrible cold, and this week I have been feeling under the weather, there is nothing more comforting than comforting honey and lemon. This also has turmeric which is a very good anti-viral as well as giving this a wonderful yellow colour. Honey is a good throat soother, so with each warming cup full soothes and comforts.

Add the juice and zest of 6 lemons, making sure that you don’t add any of the white pith. Add six table spoon of golden caster sugar (one for each lemon) together with an inch of fresh ginger grated. One table spoon of honey, and 1 teaspoon of turmeric with 600ml of water. Bring to the boil so that the sugar is dissolved, and then allow to cool, strain off the zest . You can drink this warm or drink cool with some carbonated water.

Transitions Bread

I have been making bread for a while now, but I needed a little bit of hands on expertise which might give me the confidence to bake great bread, efforts up to now have been ‘all right’. 
A great friend told me about Transitions Chichester which was set up a few years ago, it is a scheme where people share their skills to help one another, so you can offer your time which can be simple tasks such as babysitting to gardening and baking. 
So I was up bright and early Saturday morning, armed with pinny, a large mason cash bowl and a jug for Julia’s bread making course held in her own kitchen. There were four of us in all and Julia quickly put us at ease – (once a teacher always a teacher!). Together we all made loaves with Julia’s gentle guidance. I ended the morning not just with a loaf, but enthusiasm and new friends. 
The transitions scheme has its own currency, the chi, which Julia earned by hosting the course, chi’s can be then exchanged for help or learning new skills. I think it is a great idea and one that had me wondering what I can offer. The great thing about sharing a skill with someone, is that you can gleefully delight in their success knowing that you were a tiny seed in their creativity. 
And here.. at last (third time lucky!) is a seeded loaf, made with honey not sugar! I am so proud! 

While out walking with the dog, I came across this lovely clump of snowdrops nestling among the shade, such a beautiful sight that I could not help but share with you. Sunday was a gloriously sunny day, A and I walked the dog along the sandy beach and I really appreciate how lucky I am to be so close to the sea, with a lovely man and the dog teaches me to enjoy each moment, as he chases his frisbee enthusiastically his face in a wide grin! 

Simply the best

It is all well and good trying new recipes but my success rate has taken a bit of a bashing recently, after all the festivities and rich food, what  I wanted at the weekend was a touch of simplicity, –  I thought I would go back to an old favourite of mine, Victoria Sponge. Named as I am sure you know, after Queen Victoria. 
This is a foolproof recipe – this cake is made from 6 eggs, simply weigh your eggs, add the same weight of sugar, self raising flour, and softened butter, (not straight from the fridge it won’t work!) a good teaspoon of vanilla essence and a teaspoon of baking powder ( for every three eggs – 6 eggs =2 teaspoons). Mix together to form a soft dropping consistency – using two lined round cake tins – place in a moderate oven for around 20 – 30 minutes. You will know it is cooked because it will shrink slightly around the rim, have a golden colour and will not leave any cake mixture on a cocktail stick that you can push through the centre to check. 
It is important to let the cake cool completely before icing. 
Victoria Sanwich relies on the combination of butter and vanilla, so I always use butter and not margarine, however Stork can be a good alternative for the cake, but I always recommend butter for icing. While I am a great fan of the cupcakes, I prefer my victoria sandwich with just a little Raspberry jam, but you can ice yours with buttercream if you wish. 
What I love about this recipe is that it works for me every time, there is nothing more disappointing than using good ingredients and spending time in the kitchen only to have a soggy or disastrous cake, but this really has stood the test of time even my daughter uses the recipe. 
I love to get out my china tea service and really push the boat out, I feel very Duchess of Bedford! (She invented the concept of Afternoon Tea so I am told!) China tea cups really do make the best cup of tea, not to mention a good full bellied pot! 

Saucery in the soup Kitchen

All packaged ready to go
My vegetable delivery comes on a Friday from Able and Cole and the fridge was still full of vegetables, two large butternut squashes, three large red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, 1kg of onions, 1kg of shallots, mushrooms and sweet red potatoes! We were only just finishing up the Christmas food so I decided the best solution was to make soup and some roasted pasta sauce.  
It is more than likely the easiest method for making soup – I chopped the butternut squash, onions,  a clove or two of garlic and sweet potatoes into a large roasting dish, covered them with some olive oil and slowly roasted them for about an hour in a low oven, (gas mark 4). 
I also chopped up the red peppers, tomatoes and some more onions in another pan, smeared basil and olive oil over putting them to slowly cook. Making use of the whole oven, I filled smaller oven bowls with mushrooms & garlic and simply shallots in oil. The only attention it needs is a mix now and then, just to even out the cooking. 
In an hour or so, the vegetables have gone beautifully soft and dense with flavour and the aroma fills the house with a lovely home cooking smell. You can leave them with the oven switched off to slowly cool – for me it intensifies the flavour as I imagine the oils being absorbed into the vegetables as they cool.  
To make soup;
Use your largest pan – sweat off some onions in olive oil, moving them slowly but not over mixing
until they are soft and translucent. 
Add your roasted vegetables ensuring you scrape every last bit of oil from your roasting dish with a spatula – every drop of oil is infused with flavour it is a shame to waste any of it. You can also pour  some of your hot stock  into the roasting tray, this will make sure every last bit of flavour goes into the soup. 
The amount of stock you might need is dependent on how many vegetables you have – you want to aim for one third vegetables two parts stock. I use Kallo organic stock cubes, they don’t contain monosodium glutamate, and they give a lovely flavour. 
Allow your soup to slowly simmer, you want to aim for the odd bubble to surface not a rolling boil, leave the lid off and let the soup condense. 
Depending on your preference, you can blend the soup or simply leave it chunky, it is just a case of waiting until you have the consistency you enjoy. Be aware that if you have used salt, the saltiness will increase as the water evaporates – I tend to leave salt out as the stock cubes often have salt in them. 
You can add some fresh chopped ginger, or turmeric, both of which have ant-bacterial qualities which are believed to help immunity.  To give it a really lovely flavour add two or three tablespoons of creme fraiche or yoghurt. 
For the pasta sauce add;
Add a tin of chopped tomatoes to the red peppers and tomato mix, a couple of tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar, a dash of worcestershire sauce, two teaspoons of brown sugar and then finally the whole mushrooms and shallots. You then slowly re-heat in a saucepan when you want it. Like all good sauces allow the flavours to develop over a day or so, but don’t leave it more than three and always ensure you warm it up properly.
You can freeze these in batches, but this must be done as soon as it has cooled.  I decided to take a couple of jars of soup to some friends, they are a great pick me up, full of organic goodness, just what we need during the winter months. 

Weekend baking

I like to make a cake at the weekends I came across this lovely recipe for Cinnamon and apple crumble cake. I have also been investigating spices and herbs as medicine; cinnamon has sugar balancing properties, which help the body deal with the highs and lows of a sugar rush. It is an all round good spice which also has anti-viral properties which is why it is an excellent cake to eat this time of year. 
 Since I am a huge fan of apple crumble this seemed to be the perfect cake for me, however the perfection in the recipe book has eluded me, if you look closely you will see that the sponge base disappears in the centre. I find recipes that don’t work really annoying, this is my third attempt to get the cake to work and I am disappointed again! It tastes ok, but still does not look like the picture promised. 
The first time I made it the sponge base was uncooked, despite lengthening the time in the oven, the crumble topping began to burn. (The method was to put the apples onto the uncooked cake batter)
The second time I made it I cooked the sponge base first, then added the apple and the topping, but the crumble did not work well. I finally realised that in order to make an effective crumble you need to use butter straight from the fridge, otherwise the flour and butter blend into a dough needing more flour which results in a dry cake. This third attempt, back to cooking all three layers together did not work, the rising cake mixture had no where to go so ended up disappearing from the middle and going up the sides. 
So now I think I have perfected the recipe, so here goes. (will post a picture at the bottom when I have made it again, but for the moment we have too much cake!) 
Apples 
Peel, core and chop two large or three small apples and place in a saucepan, cover in water, add two tablespoons brown sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a handful of cloves, bring to the boil and simmer until the apples are softened but not mush. (about 10 minutes) Drain and leave to cool, pick out the cloves as they are not tasty to chew on, but they do bring out the flavour of apples so well. 
For the sponge base
4 oz butter, 4oz soft brown sugar which you beat together until pale and creamy
Add cinnamon (to taste) and two lightly beaten eggs, gradually, add 4oz flour a spoonful at a time between each addition of egg to stop it curdling. 
Add a teaspoon of baking powder and mix together and then put into a 8inch cake tin. 
Cook at 180 GM 4 for 10 – 15 minutes until slightly firm. 
Cover the sponge with the apple and return to the oven to continue cooking. (By cooking the sponge first it gives it the room to expand before adding the apples). If you put the apple directly onto the raw cake mixture it will have no room to expand and will move round the edges. 
Crumble topping
Rub in 4oz of chilled butter into 6oz of plain flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
Add 3oz of demerera sugar and cinnamon to taste (1 – 2 teaspoons) mix together. 
Remove cake from oven and top with the crumble mixture, cook until the crumble topping is brown and golden and a knife comes out of the cake clean. You can see the cake mixture has escaped round the edges and landed all over my oven! hence the suggestion to pre-cook the sponge. 
Delicious when warm with custard. 

It’s like Christmas every week

Fridays are my Abel and Cole vegetable delivery day, it’s like like having Christmas once a week as you never know what is going to be in there; it feels satisfying supporting UK organic farmers. The veg is wonderful better even than supermarket organic and I fell in love with mash potato again after years of finding it tasteless. 
It gives an opportunity to be creative in the kitchen, not only in touch with what is seasonal, but it also fresh so cooking in order of what needs eating up fast! We have a wonderful butcher’s shop in the village  it gives me great pleasure not to be giving my money to Supermarkets who treat farmers unfairly and it is doing me good too. 
Supermarket vegetables are kept in a zero oxygen storage for up to a year, so as appetising as it looks, the fruit and veg may not really fresh at all. Often the organic food is flown into the country from the third world so it also makes sense  environmentally and all the packaging is recyclable and not those plastic containers that go in landfill. 

Mindful eating is about the connection we have with our food, we are absorbing what we eat and it becomes part of us, therefore it makes sense to eat things that enhance our health as well as nourish our spirt, so I feel I am doing something good as well as feeling the food is the best it can be. The body follows the mind, so it means my heath is improving and I am hoping that I will be able to cure my terrible two week migraine cycle. 

Stir up Sunday

I thought I would try and make a Christmas pudding this year; it needs about 6 weeks to mature so I am a little late, Stir up Sunday is usually the first Sunday in November. It is called this because of the tradition where all the family members gather round and stir the mixture and make a wish before the pudding is steamed for the first time and then put aside to mature. 
I am not sure it is something that is known outside these shores, one of my very dear Au Pairs came all the way from Hungary, and she shuddered at the thought of eating Christmas Pudding, mostly because she believed that over the year all the scraps of food would be collected and boiled up to make Christmas Pudding. Of course when she ate the real thing it was something she loved. It really is one of my favourite parts of the meal, and I have been known to stock up on puddings for the year ahead. 
I remember doing this for the first time when I was twelve I used to visit a teacher in her small cottage not far from our home. We lived in a modern house where my mother believed cooking was a necessary evil, however under the quiet guidance of this teacher I learnt the alchemy and bliss you could gain from cooking. I remember her telling me all about stir up Sunday and I helped her measure out the ingredients and making a wish. I also remember making candied peel which tasted sublime and is much better than any type shop bought. It was a completely different lifestyle from my own, she had no television and her house was tiny in comparison to ours, but I would have swapped homes anytime. 
I thought of those days of bliss in the small victorian cottage, and my pantry has large labelled jars holding herbs, jewelled cherries, jam and marmalade. I think I am happiest of all in the kitchen, cooking is the most satisfying easy nurturing activity, right now it is full of the aromas of fruit cinnamon and nutmeg and will remain a day or two as it needs to soak in. 

Place in a bowl, (110g) – 4oz shredded suet, 2oz – (50g) of self-raising flour, 4 oz – (110g) white bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon each of mixed spice, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon. 8 oz (225g) soft dark brown sugar, 4 oz (110g) each of sultanas, raisins, currants and 1oz of candied peel. 1oz (25g) of almonds, 1 small cooking apple finely chopped, Zest and juice of a lemon and an orange. In a separate bowl, put 2 large eggs, 3 fluid oz (75ml) of barley wine, 3oz (75ml) stout, 2 tablespoons rum, mix this together then add to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, this is when the family is supposed to gather, each takes a turn to stir making a wish. Leave the pudding to rest for a day. 
 Spoon the mixture into a pudding basin, and make a tin foil lid. It is important to have a pleat in the lid so the pudding has room to rise. Tie the string round the edge of the basin and create a little handle over the top which will help you to lift out the pudding from the steamer. 
 I slowly steamed my puddings in a slow cooker for around 6 to 7 hours on a low setting. Slow cookers are perfect for steaming, as you can leave them to bubble away without worrying about the water boiling dry. This is how the pudding looks after its first cooking. 
I thought I would make some simple little covers, similar to the jam pot covers. Just an elasticated edge round the circles, but the lovely bright fabric makes them look very nice and festive. It is important to feed the puddings with your favourite tipple weekly, either brandy, vodka or liqueur, the pudding will soak up the alcohol.
 All they need is to be steamed again for about an hour or two on the big day, once again the slow cooker is the best way to let it slowly bubble. 
This is how they look when they are finally cooked, serve with cream or brandy butter. (Butter whipped with a couple of tablespoons of brandy). 
Update: These were really delicious, far superior to the shop bought ones even the ‘luxury’ brands! Despite feeding two adults not fans of the traditional pud, they proclaimed the puddings ‘delicious’. I saved the second one for my birthday, (on the 4th January) and it was still tasty, you can keep one by for the following year topping with alcohol, but I could not wait that long! 
As requested, I have updated this post with the recipe if you want to make them yourself. 
Enjoy, Happy Christmas!

tea pot biscuits – domestic child’s play for grown ups

I saw this lovely teapot cookie cutter in TK Max the other week and I could not wait to try it out. It is made up of two pieces one is the teapot shape cutter and the other is a stamp you press out. There is nothing to beat the flavour of buttery biscuits hot from the oven and this recipe can be made ahead of time, stored in the freezer so that when friends drop round unexpectedly, they can be hot on the plate in under twenty minutes, definitely one of those domestic goddess moments with minimal effort. 
Pressing the stamps in the dough feels like child’s play and so much fun sheer domestic bliss! If you can’t get hold of your own teapot biscuit cutter, why not use a stamp from you craft collection, (you can use a surface sanitiser if you need to, but they will be in a hot oven to kill off any bugs!)  There are some wonderful Christmas stamps out that look beautiful stamped across a heart shaped biscuit. They would make lovely home made gifts that are sure to be appreciated. 
8 oz SR flour (If you use plain the shape might stay better) 
5 oz butter
4 oz golden caster sugar
I beaten egg (save some of the white) 
Egg white and sugar to glaze
Sift flour into the bowl and then rub in butter to make breadcrumbs
Add the sugar and mix, then add egg to make a dough
(if the dough is very soft put it in the fridge for 10 minutes to make it easier to handle) 
Roll out on a lightly floured board to about 1/2cm thick
Press the stamps into the dough and then carefully cut round each shape, transfer to a buttered baking tray, wash with egg white and then sprinkle with extra fine/caster sugar.
(or if you wish to freeze place in a plastic tub with a layer of baking parchment to divide them and freeze. When needed can cook these from the frozen, just lay out in a tin)
Let the biscuits firm up in the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes before placing in a moderate oven about gas mark 4, 180c or 350F until golden brown. 

Jamming!

I have been rather remiss of late, these lovely pots of jelly are made from L’s apples growing in her garden. We really enjoyed the mint jelly at the Apple fair at West Dean so I thought I would try and make my own. Apples are a great fruit to use in jam making as their high pectin levels set so easily. I had some scraps of this lovely blue rose vintage style fabric which I simply cannot bear to throw away, such a great use of scraps. 
The cow creamer is a burleigh design, and one of my favourites it always makes me smile when the milk comes out of the cow’s mouth! The little tea pot on the right is one of a pair my son gave me a few Christmases ago. I really do love blue and white china. 
Apple jelly is great to use with pork, but I decided to omit the mint this time. The cupboard is getting quite full now, but the supply of jars is still coming thick and fast from friends! (I think it is the hope that they will be returned full!) I am planning to start on mincemeat soon, I have never made it before but as A adores mince pies I thought it would be fun to try. 
As you can see my little dresser creates a great back drop for my jam, the little teapot on the right is a lovely gift from my son, and the chicken on the left was something I picked up in the lovely craft village in Broadwindsor a few years ago. I really must get round to painting my dresser soon; I feel it really shows off the shape of the furniture much better, but it is finding the time! Anyway, it is nice to have plans, and the sofa needs a new loose cover first. 

September

I love September it gives me a sense of connection at no other time of year, although it heralds the start of Autumn for me it is all about new beginnings.

I remember that excitement of walking to school again after the long summer holidays with a spring in my step the anticipation of a new class teacher or that sense of excitement when you step over the threshold of your senior school for the first time. I only have to close my eyes and I am walking through the piles of crunchy leaves smelling the crisp fresh air of September as I tread the path to school. September was a time when you were given new fresh exercise books and also where you were determined to ‘write neatly’ to preserve the beauty of the notebooks. I am sure the sheer delight I have in buying a vast and wide selection of notebooks harps back to this.

The other joy of this time of year is jam making and blackberry picking. We used to blackberry pick as children, enjoying the free food harvest and my mother would appreciate us bringing back plastic boxes laden with fruit to be made into blackberry and apple crumble. It was while I was out one day I came across an extraordinary woman, who I think influenced me more than any other. She took us back to her small victorian cottage where in her pieced together kitchen, a far cry from my Mother’s immaculate but hardly used fitted one, she taught us things like jam making, candid peel and cordials. Her garden was full of vegetables waiting to be picked sitting on her threadbare chaise long one afternoon after stirring the Christmas pudding, I think I decided this was how I wanted to live my life. It was a taste of domestic bliss. I knew she wasn’t as rich as we were as a family, her house was small and scruffy whereas ours was pristine and glossy, yet, I would have done anything to live in that small house with her. I think she was my inspiration and I do feel connected with her every time I make jam or bake a cake but especially when I pick blackberries because that was how we met.

I made both jam and raspberry syrup with my hoard, this jam is a pot full of memories spending a lovely warm sunny afternoon picking the raspberries chatting to my friend Trish. We were inspired by the talk by Rosemary Moon gave at the Blakes Belles the previous Monday. Rosemary made a couple of pounds of jam as well as apple curd and pickles within the space of an hour or so. She also told us about the Apple Festival coming up at West Dean I am really looking forward to going, not only do they do some wonderful courses, but they have the most beautiful grounds I have been told. Rosemary Moon’s website is a sheer delight and if you are looking for recipes that really do work well then I can recommend it. She really does know her stuff, and had us all giggling. I love it when we can be inspired by others.

The other joy of September is that I feel the excitement building for Christmas, I love planning and cooking and making things for the Celebration and it is a wonderful three months, but then that is another post.

Happy jam making!