Winter bake with goats curd

 

Rain slashing down, wind howling. But the woodburner’s burbling away to itself and the warmth is seeping into the kitchen.  In the basket I have potatoes, parsnip, carrot, beetroot, onion, squash, spinach.  And in the fridge I have some wonderful goat’s curd from our friends at Fielding Cottage which I bought at Wymondham Farmers Market on Saturday.  Although I noticed today that a gorgeous new deli has opened in Wymondham and they sell Fielding Cottage Cheese too. And other wonderful cheeses like Mrs Lambert’s, Chorizo all the way from Spain, hand raised pork pies, preserves and apparently some gorgeous Serrano ham coming in next week. I also bought some chilli oil whilst I was in there and some golden rapeseed oil.  It’s so good to see a proper artisan shop like Disney’s open in Wymondham.  Good luck to them – I’ll be a regular for sure.

Anyway, back to the winter warmer.   Chop the vegetables into chunks, season and then steam them till just done. Wilt a medium sized pan full of spinach in a little butter with the lid on but no water.  Remove from the pan before totally wilted and leave the lid on. Put about 25g butter in the bottom of a dish (I use a terracotta one) and grate some garlic into it.  Put in  microwave for about 30 seconds to melt the butter and just sizzle the garlic.  The add the vegetables and mix round a bit. Add the drained spinach.  Season again  but only with black pepper and stir in a handful of chopped flatleaf parsley and dill.

Pour 200ml sour cream (or  I’ve used natural yogurt before now) into a bowl. Stir in 100g goat’s curd, 1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard and 50g grated gruyere cheese and two eggs.  You won’t need any more salt because the curd is salty enough, but you could add a twist of black pepper and a litte grating of nutmeg.  Then pour over the vegetables and put into a hot oven.  Five minutes before it’s cooked and bubbling  – about 40 minutes – sprinkle some more parmesan on the top and return to the oven for another five minutes till golden brown.

I suggest taking it out of the oven and leaving it to stand for a good ten minutes. You need to eat this hot but not so hot as to lose the wonderful savoury edge which the topping gives to the sweet vegetables.

Johanssen’s surprise with smoked bacon

Urgent need for comfort food. Running late on everything. Need warmth, ease, flavour, just a fork. In a bowl. On the sofa.

Thinly slice 750g potatoes and a large onion (use the slicer on your food processor if you have one, it’s done in a trice). Put them in a deep saucepan with salt, chopped garlic, a tin of anchovies and the oil (yes, I know, but trust me) and enough full cream milk to just cover. The add about 2 tablespoons of dried dill. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are just soft.

Turn into a wide shallow dish. Let me rephrase that.  Pour the contents of the saucepan into a wide shallow dish and without further ado put it into the oven with no further fuss – at 180C for about 40 minutes.  By then the potatoes will have absorbed the milk and the top will be crispy.  Then take out of the oven and leave for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile put some butter and oil in a good sized pan. Add chopped smoky bacon offcuts and fry gently for five minutes. Then add lots of sliced savoy cabbage and grated rind of half a lemon.  Stir round a bit.  Slap on the lid and steam away for about 5 minutes.  Depending on how crunchy you like your cabbage either leave the lid on and add no more water, or add a little water – by this I mean probably 100ml tops – and steam away for another couple of minutes.  Add some black pepper and you are done.

Now, take a bowl.  Serve yourself some potatoes, cabbage and bacon and enjoy some simple culinary heaven.

Winter solstice and ham hocks

Tomorrow is the start of the winter solstice.  The shortest day. The longest night. The official start of winter. It might really have been the shortest day given the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world today. But the fact I am writing this is testimony to the fact that it didn’t.

I am way behind with my food planning for Christmas but it will all come together,a s it does every year.  Guests start arriving tomorrow and keep trickling in until Monday.  Sunday night there will be chicken and ham pie, Monday is a moveable feast as everyone has different plans – but will probably be fish. Christmas day will be goose stuffed with mashed potato and apple – far more scrummy than it sounds I can assure you; Boxing day is ham cooked with star anise and molasses (start cooking it on Monday, finish on Wednesday!), Thursday is a North African table. Vegetarians will be eating chestnut and cashew pie with red wine gravy, hazelnut and tomato roast, parsnip and stilton roulade and aubergines stuffed with tomato, quinoa and mushrooms. Puddings include lemon curd icecream, chocolate and prune parfait, roasted plums with soft almond crust, sloe gin jellies with pomegranate, raspberry sorbet with roasted raspberries and mint crisps, caramel pears with walnuts and gorgonzola.  Not a Christmas pudding in sight.

Remember those ham hocks I bought for a song a couple or months ago? One is currently defrosting – two remain in the freezer so watch this space.  Tomorrow I shall marinade it in stout with a cinnamon  stick and some cloves, then dry it thoroughly and roast it quickly in a small pan and leave it to cool completely in the pan when it’s done.  Then I’m going to shred the meat from the bone and mix some of it with poached chicken, and leeks which have been sautee’d in lots of butter and a bayleaf then helped on their way with black pepper, salt, a sprinkle of flour then more than a good splash of cream and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Mix it round in the pan and the juices will thicken. As soon as it starts to thicken take it off the pan before the cream splits.  When cool grate a little nutmeg onto.  Check the seasoning again and then pile onto a dinner-plate sized base of good puff pastry which you have already rolled out and placed on a heavy baking tray.  Level off the filling slightly and brush the edges of the pastry with egg, and top it off with a pastry hat, sealing and crimping the edges as you go.  Brush all over with beaten egg, snip two slits in the top and put into the pre-heated oven at 180C for 30 minutes.  When it is done it will be ‘singing’, the filling will be piping hot if you put a sharp knife into the centre and feel the heat of the blade.  My granny used to test the heat on her top lip.  She often looked as if she had a moustache for this reason!  The pastry will look golden brown. Just like your top lip if you’re not careful with that knife.

Don’t be tempted to try and remove it from the baking tray too soon.  Leave it to rest for five minutes and then ease a pallette knife underneath to loosen it and then slide off onto a serving plate.

Those hocks go a long way when they are bulked out with other meats and chicken and ham is a classic combination.  You could use some of the leftover hock to make little rillettes in ramekins and eat with hot toast.  Simply shred the hock and mix with chopped capers, season and pour some butter over it.  Instant supper with a glass of wine.  Or you could pile onto think slices of pumpernickel spread with hot hoseradish and garnish with radish – or if you don’t want the pumpernickel the sweet meat will taste gorgeous if you moisten it with a little fresh  tomato relish perked up with some chilli and put into chicory leaves – maybe alternating with cold salmon mixed with chopped tomato, chopped gherkin and some fresh coriander and serve as canapes. Oh there are 1001 things to do with a ham hock!!

Anyway, hope you enjoy the ham whatever way you choose to prepare it.  I shall be eating mine  as a pie, with a large green salad, watching Strictly Come Dancing and cheering on Danni Harmer and Vincent Simone.

Warm winter stew with herby dumplings

Well here’s Charlie’s veg box in week 4. Week 3, sadly, disappeared in a haze of paracetamol, lemon and honey. No matter – let’s get on with the show. And stop coughing!
The sight of this wonderful mixture steered me toward comfort eating. Now it’s true that the cold I’ve had makes me want to eat one handed. You know, the sort of food you can only eat with a spoon, from a warm bowl of steaming goodness which is comfortably nestled against the chest whilst curled up on the sofa….. the other hand ready with the tissues etc….. but there really is little to match the rich earthiness of root vegetables cooked in a rich broth and topped off with little dumplings, all light and herby. It just tastes so damned nourishing.

I realise of course that you might not keep home made vegetable stock in your freezer. Elsewhere on this blog you will find a recipe if you are so inclined. Thus you can always use my standby. A Knorr vegetable stock pot (those little plastic ones that come in packs of four), zhooshed up a bit with one tablespoon light soy sauce, one tablespoon of that good old standby Burgess’ mushroom ketchup and one clove of garlic (crushed) and all added to 750ml boiling water.

Prepare your vegetables. One chopped onion, one sliced leek, two chopped carrots, two chopped potatoes, and any other root vegetables you have to hand (turnip, celeriac, kohl rabi). The key is to have a mixture and to ensure a balance of flavours. Remember that vegetables such as parsnip have a strong flavour which tends to dominate whatever it is cooked with, so you will need fewer of them). Start by gently frying off the onion and leek in some butter. Then add two large mushrooms, sliced into about 8 pieces, add a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of rosemary, and stir until coated in the butter. Then add the rest of the vegetables. Put the lid on and sweat them for about 5 minutes on a medium heat. Then add the stock, bring to the boil, turn the heat down and cook with the lid off for about 25 minutes. Check the seasoning. You are aiming for rich, deep, earthiness – not thin, watery and insipid! If it’s not quite there, continue cooking until the stock has reduced a bit more.

While this is cooking, measure 100g self raising flour, pinch of salt, a good handful of finely chopped herbs such as parsley, thyme and sage, 50g suet (vegetarian or otherwise – you can also use butter. But not margarine!). Blend the fats into the flour, then bind together with about 75ml cold water. Be gentle, just bring it together into a ball. Then divide into about 10 small balls. For the wheat intolerant, I have successfully made dumplings with a 50/50 mixture of chestnut flour and gram (chick pea) flour.

Whenee!n you think your vegetable stew is nearly ready (and you will only know by tasting it), drop the dumplings onto the vegetables and stock and let them simmer gently – probably no more than 10 minutes. The knack is to judge how much stock is left in the pan, and remember that the dumplings will absorb some of the stock. After all, you will want gravy won’t you? When done, take off the heat and leave for 5 minutes and just before serving, sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top.

Now. Prepare the following. Sofa and cushions. Maybe a blanket. Turn off the phone. Box of tissues. Radio – preferably lunch time edition of The Archers. Logs piled up beside woodburner. Kitchen towel. Large bowl. Spoon. Imagine………. a cold windy day with rain lashing on the window. You on the sofa. Artfully drape kitchen towel on chest. Bring bowl up to just under your chin and spoon the warm vegetable stew and light herby dumplings in. Comfort food, or what? Bring on the black and white matinee.

Johansen’s surprise with smoky bacon cabbage

Johannsen’s surprise with smoky bacon cabbage

Urgent need for comfort food. Running late on everything. Need warmth, ease, flavour, just a fork. In a bowl. On the sofa.

Thinly slice 750g potatoes and a large onion (use the slicer on your food processor if you have one, it’s done in a trice). Put them in a deep saucepan with salt, chopped garlic, a tin of anchovies and the oil (yes, I know, but trust me) and enough full cream milk to just cover. The add about 2 tablespoons of dried dill. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are just soft.

Turn into a wide shallow dish. Let me rephrase that.  Pour the contents of the saucepan into a wide shallow dish and without further ado put it into the oven with no further fuss – at 180C for about 40 minutes.  By then the potatoes will have absorbed the milk and the top will be crispy.  Then take out of the oven and leave for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile put some butter and oil in a good sized pan. Add chopped smoky bacon offcuts and fry gently for five minutes. Then add lots of sliced savoy cabbage and grated rind of half a lemon.  Stir round a bit.  Slap on the lid and steam away for about 5 minutes.  Depending on how crunchy you like your cabbage either leave the lid on and add no more water, or add a little water – by this I mean probably 100ml tops – and steam away for another couple of minutes.  Add some black pepper and you are done.

Now, take a bowl.  Serve yourself some potatoes, cabbage and bacon and enjoy some simple culinary heaven.

Winter fruits

1-photo-006Winter fruits are what I love to eat.  Warm and syrupy, fragrant with spices. And in non-vegan months, with a large dollop of thick cream. Quince are my favourite – with hints of rose petal and dense apple and geranium.  Who needs air freshener (yes – who does need air freshener?) when there’s a bowl of quince in the kitchen.

Mine came from Bungay, spotted by Shirley, handed over to Su who delivered them to me round about Su’s birthday in November. The friendships along the Waveney valley are hard to beat – and 35 years on, the way hawk-eye Shirl can conjour up a quince when my cries de couer goes out on Facebook, and is testament to that consistent friendship and regard. It is important to me. As is the deliciousness of warm mellow winter fruits.

Things to do with winter fruit………….  roast quince alongside lamb. You won’t believe the magic they can add.  Add one quince to a few bramley apples stewed in a little water with light brown sugar and just one star anise and then make a crumble or a pie.  Or roast sweet potatoes and quince in soft golden rapeseed oil and a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkling of nigella seed at the end.  Or make quince marmelade – just chop the quinces into chunks. I don’t bother peeling them and coring them – they are as hard as bullets and it kills your hands! –  and put in a preserving pan with a vanilla pod and a couple of strips of lemon peel.

Or keep back some cooked quince and apple and have it for breakfast with nutty home-made granola.

Who needs summer strawberries?

If only we had scratch-and-sniff blogs!
If only we had scratch-and-sniff blogs!

Then bring gently to the boil until very soft.  You will notice the colour changes to a dusky pink. Heavenly in silk! When soft, remove the vanilla pod and push all the pulp through a seive, removing all the rough husks and skin.  Return to the pan.  For every cup of pulp, add half a cup of preserving sugar. Then bring back to the boil stirring all the time and keep on a gentle boil for about an hour until the whole thing becomes deep pink/orange.  Then pour carefully into clean hot jars. Add a rose scented geranium leaf if you wish!

After the feast……..

P1020654 P1020655 P1020656No reckoning to be had. Not a reckon in sight. Christmas was the best we’ve had in ages in spite of one or two hiccups.  The aged and infirm relatives rescue service was still going strong alongside normal life right up to Christmas eve. Or is that what our ‘normal life’ has become? Clearly there is a stage of life thing going on here, sandwiched neatly between parents, aunts and uncles in need of more support and grandchildren filling our lives with laughter and reminding us that yes, we can still do fun.

So the run up to Christmas was full-on (sorry, work was fitted in somewhere, also) but at the same time strangely calm. I found myself clambering around in ditches and hedges the morning before everyone arrived, madly spray painting branches and ivy and stuffing them into  large vessels adding green and bronze baubles that were skidding round the bottom of the decorations box.  Said box had been retrieved from the loft in full view of 2 year old grandson ‘wotyoudouptherenamma’? ‘Getting something out of the loft darling’.  ‘Monty elp’. ‘ No darling, dont come up the ladder……………..’  Just like his uncle who copied his father all those years ago, poking his head through the upper bathroom window, smiling ‘hello mummy, me up a big top ladder’. Aged 3. Heart attack avoided, grandson only reached rung three by the time Namma descended from the loft.

Made mince pies with mincemeat heavy with apple, walnuts and brandy. My favourite mix.  But there is something in me that, when life could be simple, I always choose at the last minute to make it complicated.  David had already left the house to collect my mother and the mountain of extraneous and inconsequential baggage that accompanies her with every visit, when I decided we needed more mince pies.  Believe me when I say that I rarely make pastry. Life is just too short and all butter puff and sweet shortcrust or filo are all there in the supermarket just waiting to be used.  My first mistake was taking puff pastry out of the freezer instead of sweet shortcrust.  The second was deciding to make not just ordinary sized ones but also dinky little bite sized ones with meringue on top. Just showing off I suppose. Now the latter was not a bad decision (dinky mice pies, not showing off) but next time I would probably make the dinky ones as one would a jam tart and pop a tiny meringue on top afterwards.  I put the meringue on top of the mincemeat and to be honest. It didn’t work.  Too much heat and steam going on I think.  Mother came in and the first thing she said was what’s that horrible smell…….  by the way I bought you some Mr Kipling mince pies darling.

Christmas lunch was a fine affair but a good hour and a half late.  Said grandson has a penchant for pressing buttons on electronic items – TV, DVD, Wi, oven.  Yes bless him he had set the automatic timer so although the goose went into the oven fine (well, after Katie bravely cleaved off the ends of its plump legs in a classic ‘the goose wont fit in the oven’ sketch, at which point everyone in the house piled into the kitchen and offered an opinion.  And the only answer was drastic amputation).  However, once it finally went into the oven, the oven then turned itself off without telling me, half an hour later.  And went unnoticed for another hour.

After much twiddling and fiddling, and finding the oven instructions tucked in the back of a filing cabinet somewhere, David reinstated the settings and we were off.  Again.  In the race to get the bird cooked this century I whacked up the oven to full blast but then had another glass of fizz.  Then the smoke alarm went off.  Goosey, in getting hot, had stretched her already shortened legs out and they hung over the edge of the roasting pan dripping molten fat onto the bottom of the oven. Flashpoint!  Dense blue smoke filled the kitchen, the hall, the sitting room.  William and I attended to the bird with damp cloths knotted over our mouths, then escaped to the drive followed by billowing smoke where we collapsed helpless with laughter, alcohol and smoke inhalation against the garage door.  Venturing back in the kitchen we turned the oven off again and had to clean it.  Oven back on we had a third attempt to cook the blessed bird which, of course, needed constant attention because geese naturally give off a lot of gorgeous fat.  For those roast potatoes and parsnips.

Suffice it to say that eventually it all turned out ok. In fact my mother didn’t even notice anything had happened. But then she’d had three glasses of sweet sherry and was engaging everyone in the Daily Mail crossword from the previous day. ‘Five letters, christmas bird, and guardian of the farmyard, begins with G’.  ‘Goose, mother!’

A little tale about stuffing – I ought to confess now that I had never cooked a goose until this Christmas.  I was going to do Laughton stuffing but then consulted Nigella, who had consulted Simon Hodgkinson who had consulted an Irish chef.  And recommended stuffing the bird with mashed potato and apple.  Mashed potato and apple? I went for further consultation to Darina Allen and she said the same.  Mashed potato and apple.  Oh ye of little faith! Believe me it was divine.  I made it the day before so it was stone cold before I stuffed the bird Christmas morning.

So the roast bird and its sumptuous velvety stuffing was consumed with along with all you would expect, roast potatoes and parsnips, red cabbage (made the day before), dark green cabbage, carrots with caraway and lemon, superb gravy a very tart apple sauce.

Pudding was a take on Nigel Slater’s lemon parfait, or raspberry vodka jellies.  A complete success.

Boxing Day was a simple affair with no disasters.  Never can go wrong with my ham in Coca Cola with cinammon, orange and molasses.

Winter soup

How come winter set in before Autumn? Woke this morning to hard hail then flutterings of snow.  Hot soup. Winter soup.

I’d already boiled a ham hock a couple of days ago (cheap, cheap cheap, under £4 and enough meat on it for 6 generous helpings).  Boiled the hock in plenty of water, black peppercorns, a whole onion, celery stick and a carrot. And a few juniper berries and a bay leaf or two for good measure, skimming off the fat occasionally, then left in the water overnight.  In the morning took out the hock and skimmed the broth again and cooked dried green peas in the broth and left in the pan overnight.  I left the meat on the bone.

This morning I’ve just been pottering quietly, sweating off some chopped onion, celery, garlic, carrot and potato in butter and olive oil with a fresh bay leaf and some thyme leaves.  Then ladled in the peas and broth over the vegetables and boned the hock, chopping some of the ham hock meat into the soup, seasoned with salt and ground white peppercorns and set on a low heat to gently bubble.  It’s not ready to eat yet but when it’s lunch time I will check the seasoning again. And then eat it with fresh brown bread.

The rest of the hock meat will go into a creamy chicken and ham with tarragon pie.  Or in the freezer for another day.