Summer time and the livin’ is easy

We are enjoying a wonderful warm summer here in Southern England: as soon as the sun comes out we head out to make the most of it. The beaches are busy, but the garden is quiet the balmy sun warming and browning my pale skin while a lazy breeze rustles the Roses in full bloom their delicate sent drifting along in waves while the dog rolls blissfully in the grass. 
The riper the tomatoes the deeper the colour

There is so much to treasure at this time of the year but in particular the appearance of seasonal fruits and vegetables; their freshness and piquancy is at its height.  I received some delicious vine ripened tomatoes and a flavoursome cucumber this week – just perfect for gazpacho soup.

To enjoy your own all you need is:

6 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 cucumber peeled
I large red pepper
1 large red onion
1 clove of garlic 
100ml olive oil
A splash of Red wine vinegar
A couple of teaspoons of sun dried tomato puree
A large handful of mint fresh from the garden 
(I have some sensual lemon mint that just adds a delicate note to the soup)
Just blitz it all up in a liquidiser or blender until you have a smooth consistency
Pass through the sieve to remove the seeds and skin of the peppers and tomatoes
Leave to cool in the fridge for at least an hour or if you don’t want to wait add ice and blitz again
Best enjoyed out in the garden – relaxing with a good book or the Sunday papers, 
 a nice cool glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a pitcher of Pimms at your side.
Oh yes….summer time and the living is easy!  

Lovely lazy Saturday

Saturday mornings are a pleasure all of their own, it is waking up with that feeling you don’t have to rush anywhere. Weekend breakfasts are lengthy, tea in a tea pot, tea cups and the Guardian Quiz. (Only three correct this week!) I love scotch pancakes (or dropped scones if you prefer), these are extra good for you because they are from my low GI cookbook, I also make them with a little fruit sugar rather than normal sugar. They are filling and mean I can often last out to lunch. 
You simply put two heaped tablespoons of SR flour, Wholemeal Flour and one table spoon of porridge oats and Fruit sugar into a bowl. Add half a teaspoon of baking powder and mix well. Then add two large eggs to the centre, gradually bringing in the dry ingredients, add milk gradually until you have a thick batter. 
Heat a griddle or frying pan, and brush with  a mixture of oil and butter. (Butter creates a lovely buttery flavour to the pancakes, but you have to turn the heat down a little otherwise it smokes). Put a tablespoons of the mixture on the griddle – keeping them slightly apart. Watch the mixture turn from glossy to dull, then turn over to cook the other side. Leave on a kitchen towel to soak any excess oil, delicious to eat while warm. 

I have almost finished curtain wrestling, – I can’t call it sewing there was simply too much material! Double width, 90″ drop and lined with black out lining! I had to sew on the dining room table in order to have support for all the fabric! I shall let them hang for a while and then finish the bottoms. As you can see my beloved Bernina is back in action! 

One tip I learned from Maria from Clothkits is that she keeps a little pin cushion on her machine, it is an ideal place! This little lovely was bought at a craft fair quite a few years ago, it sits perfectly on that spot! It might be my imagination but I did not have quite so many pins on the floor afterwards! 

Cake is also the perfect pick me up – the rain might have been pounding on the windows, but you can’t beat a nice home made Victoria Sponge, cuddled up on the sofa, yet another pot of tea close at hand, watching a good film. 
I used cocktail sticks to create a little design on the top. 

It looks like a firework! I used the plum jam I made a few weeks ago, it was nice and tart and a great contrast to the sweet icing. 
The weather outside might be frightful, but home is so delightful! 
Happy Autumn

Rosemary Moon – Bread making evening with the Belles

Last night we had another wonderful cookery demonstration from the fabulous Rosemary Moon – the subject was bread making! 
Rosemary is the author of several cookery books, and runs a fantastic foodie blog  as well as having local links with West Dean College and Transition Chichester
Rosemary soon had us all giggling, her self deprecating humour combined wisdom and experience made a very inspiring evening – it has given me the enthusiasm to try my hand at sourdough bread. (it is Scott’s favourite!)
Rosemary introduced us to the mysteries of bread making, taking us through each stage – she brought some ready prepared bread in true blue Peter style, although we had to battle to use the stove from the lady who was trying to run a slimming club in the other room! (Freshly baked bread might have led her slimmers into temptation!) 
Rosemary covered the following- 
The importance of the Ingredients – what type of flour to use, and how to combine flours – using a mixture of wholemeal and white flour. In addition the importance of good quality food – quality ingredients give a better result – if you are putting in all the effort – you want something that is superior to shop bought bread. By making your own you can have a choice to support local farmers by using British flour. You can also decide what flavourings to add, herbs, nuts or fruit which have to be added before the final proving. 
weighing (critical for sourdough but not so much for other types). We were able to see how the dough should look – giving us the confidence to add more flour or more liquid because we saw how the dough should be. 
Yeast – the varieties an differences between fast acting, dried yeast, fresh yeast and sour dough starters. 
The process, the importance of patience and time – really the hardest element of bread making is having the patience to allow it to develop and rise. As well as giving the dough a proper knead for 6 to 8 minutes. 
One of the many valuable tips she gave was to put the bread into a cold oven, which was a new idea to me, it prevents the loaf splitting during the cooking process. She also suggested that some loaves need to return to the oven to brown the bottoms when they have come out of the tin. I also picked up a tip about gas oven temperatures – it seems the middle is the right temperature, the top a little higher and the bottom lower. Common sense but sometimes these things pass me by! 
By the end of the evening, when everyone had tasted both loaves warm from the oven, we all went away likely to try out the recipes clasped in our hands. Thank you Rosemary!  

Using my loaf!

The lovely sunny weather is perfect for bread making, it is wonderful to leave the dough on a sunny windowsill and see it growing. These foccacia breads to the left a roasted red pepper and paprika while the other is a plain white. I am amazed at how easy it is, very therapeutic kneading the dough. 

this is a seeded pumpkin loaf, I use my slow cooker when it is not so sunny, it maintains a lovely warm steamy atmosphere for the bread to rise. There is nothing quite like a loaf hot from the oven. 

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.