I don’t understand why we need January. Christmas is over and you have to wait all the way to Valentine’s Day to celebrate again. Everyone’s quitting alcohol & I’m surrounded … Continue reading The Snowdrops arrived & kicked the January blues away
If you’re lucky enough to live in Wandsworth then you’re in for a treat courtesy of my lovely friends Guy and Ilona who’ve just launched a wonderful new sustainable food … Continue reading Our friends at Faircatch
I can’t believe it’s been such a very long time since I blogged. Work, small boys and the house have all been grabbing my time and attention but with … Continue reading Back to life
I’m a girl raised on the Somerset Levels. Even though I now live up in the hills, the timeless beauty of this part of England never fails to grip me and I will forever be inspired by it’s dramatic landscape. It’s thought that the county of Somerset derives it’s name from this low lying area that was too wet to farm in winter but rich and fertile in the summer – hence Summerlands.
Farming and food remains an important part of the economy here and there are some amazing local producers and retailers dotted around the towns and villages that rise from the wetlands. One of these is Kitchen Artisan Bakeshop in Langport. Founded by Peter Ridley a former royal butler to William and Harry, this bijoux but exquisitely presented bakery uses local produce to create the most scrumptious of goodies. When I visited this week there was a pile of perfect macaroons in shades of silver of gold, mince-pies that stood tall and thin, scones both sweet and savoury, panettone and all manner of breads. I went for the scone with roasted red peppers and black olives. The oiliness of the red peppers was a great match for the crumble of the scone and even though I’d promised to save a bit for my little boy I’m ashamed to say I wolfed the lot!
When I got home I decided that bread was my “thing” for the day and that what I needed was a roast chicken with sweet and sticky stuffing. I’m a big believer that the gravy and stuffing are the best part of a roast and I always make an effort with this part of the meal- but more of that another time.
This Balsamic and Prune stuffing for the chicken can work equally well with turkey on Christmas Day just double the quantities. The stickiness of the reduced balsamic and the prune is, I think, the perfect accompaniment for the chicken. Make sure you’re using a well raised, free range, medium chicken (the non free range taste like cardboard so you’re doing yourself a favour by spending a few extra ££s as well as being kind to chicken-kind ) .
- 1 medium free range chicken
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 3 rashers of streaky bacon
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- 3 oz of prunes
- 1 oz of roughly chopped hazelnuts
- 1 egg
- 5 oz of breadcrumbs
- salt and pepper
- Dice the bacon and fry off in the butter on a medium heat with the chopped onion until the onion is soft
- Add the balsamic vinegar and keep on the heat for 1 minute to reduce the liquid.
- Finely chop the prunes and add to the pan with the hazelnuts.
- Add the breadcrumbs.
- Combine over the heat and add the seasoning.
- Take off the heat and when cool add the beaten egg.
- You’ll now need to stuff the chicken with the mixture. My method is to gently loosen the skin from the breast meat with my fingers to create a space for the stuffing. Very carefully push the stuffing into this space again with your fingers. Do not tear the skin! You can then secure the neck skin together with a cocktail stick to keep the stuffing in place.
- Place the chicken on a rack cover the breast with a little duck fat or butter and season well with salt and pepper.
- Place the chicken on the rack in a roasting pan and cook according to instructions or until the juices run clear.
I served the chicken with confit tomatoes, cauliflower with a mustard cream and smashed potatoes. YUMMY!
If you’d like to visit the Kitchen Bakeshop then you can find their website with directions here http://www.kitchenlangport.co.uk/
I’m not normally one to name and shame but sometimes I feel the need to warn the world (and by the world I am in fact referring to my small but perfect Somerset existence) about a truly disastrous eatery. This place is The Enmore Inn on the outskirts of the divine little village that I call home.
From the outside the pub looks like a broken down miners welfare club and inside does no better. I was greeted by the new landlord who was smoking by the entrance in a dirty chef’s coat illustrating last night’s service in streaks reminiscent of a poor man’s version of the dessert trolley.
What really upset me though was the smell when I walked through the door. It made me gag and wish for rescue, I couldn’t breathe and was momentarily struck dumb by the waves of vile odour. It was I fear, my own version of the stench of Elizabethan London and put me off time travel for good. If Peter Capaldi ever comes calling I know now what answer I’ll be giving. Cigarette smoke mixed with stale beer, bad food, deep fat frying and dirt was all around me clinging to my skin, clothes and coating the inside of my throat. What ever food they were serving I was not eating and will never be going back.
This little trip did however get me thinking about smells and how they invade our memories and drive our desire to eat (or not!). I once had a bad bout of flu that started while I was making slow cooked lamb which has put me off sheep for life while the smell of garlic butter transports me to The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport where we ate lobster till we popped, drank, swam and swayed all summer in this perfect All American paradise.
As Christmas approaches we’re bombarded with the scents of pine, cinnamon, clove, ginger and orange. Richly warm and intensely evocative, to me these are the memories of my childhood. This made me decide to share with you all my Grandmother’s Christmas Cake recipe that we’ve been making here as a family for many many years and is as famous to us as all of the other traditions we hold dear as a family. We affectionately called her Muffin hence the title of this post.
- 14oz of self raising flour
- 8 oz of rich Somerset butter
- 10oz of soft brown sugar
- 1 pound of mixed fruit and cherries
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 a pint of milk. This can be substituted for Somerset Royal Cider Brandy, freshly squeezed orange juice or a mixture of all three.
- 4/5 teaspoons of mixed spice
- Soak the fruit in the liquid over night or for 12 hours in a cool dark place and keep well covered.
- Melt the butter and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan.
- Add the fruit with it’s liquid and the spice.
- Simmer on a very low heat for 15-20 mins.
- Allow to cool
- Beat the eggs
- Add the eggs and the flour and stir in well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is combined.
- Poor into a deep cake tin (size will depend on how you want your cake to look – either short and fat or tall and graceful!).
- Bake on a low heat (150 degrees) or in the bottom of the AGA for 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Half way through the cooking place a piece of baking parchment over the top to prevent burning.
When the cake is cool place in a cake tin and feed with your cider brandy once a week until Christmas Eve. You can follow your own traditions either by covering in marzipan and icing and a jaunty little Christmas scene or by studding with more fruit and nuts. The Blonde is a huge fan of marzipan and I’m an ever bigger fan of jaunty little scenes (and brandy) so you know which way we’ll be jumping!
Thank you to http://www.haahandbook.co.uk for the scrumptious image.
To buy Somerset Royal Cider Brandy go to http://www.ciderbrandy.co.uk/
We’ve had 15 house guests here at Castle Farm over the course of the last week and I don’t think I’ve done so much washing up since my time at Brownie Camp. That particular incident and my objection to Fairy Liquid led to a telling off from Brown Owl and my untimely departure from this hallowed organisation.
The Brownies today appear to be just the kind of club I’d have loved. These fearless tank-girls are all in pursuit of wild adventures and are feminist to the core but back in the day it was all about learning how to be a good mothers-help, getting your knitting badge and learning how to cover a book in sticky-back plastic. I wanted to learn how to light fires using a magnifying glass, make money from selling lemonade and how to rule the world – sadly these vital life skills where deemed suitable only for the boys. Now I’m all grown up I still shudder at the thought of dancing round a toad-stools but my love of entertaining means I’m happy to live with the washing up.
One thing the Brownies did teach me was to be prepared when it came to domestic planning. So, with many mouths to feed this week I’ve embraced Aga cooking and have been perfecting my one pot wonders. These are the staple of any house party when the hostess would rather be tucking into champagne with her guests than cooking at 8 o’clock as they can be prepared the day before they’re needed. My Somerset Beef recipe is a rather tasty take on boeuf-bourguignon, drawing inspiration from the French classic while using the very best of Somerset produce.
- 1.5kg/3lb5oz of braising steak (preferably raised in Somerset!) cut into pieces
- 3 tbsp of Somerset rape seed oil (vegetable oil if you can’t get it)
- 4 large onions cut into chunks
- 2 sticks of celery cut up
- 1 litre of Scrumpy Cider (normal cider will do if you can’t get hold of the good stuff)
- 5 cloves of garlic finely cut
- 5 bay leaves
- 50g/2oz unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp of plain flour
- 375g/12oz of mushrooms (what ever you can find or forage)
- 450ml or a pint of stock
- 5 tbsp of Apple Brandy
How to Cook
- Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan. Add one of the onions, the garlic (both cut up) and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the cider and the bay leaves. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Place the beef in a large bowl and pour over the cold cider marinade. Cover and keep somewhere cool (and away from your greedy dogs) overnight.
- Drain the beef from the marinade. Keep the marinade safe.
- In a frying pan heat of some of the butter and a little oil and fry off the rest of the onions. Then add and brown the beef in the pan. Tip all of this into a casserole dish.
- Deglaze the pan with some of the marinade and tip this liquid into the dish.
- Stir in the plain flour, the remaining marinade and stock into the casserole dish.
- Bring to the boil, cover and place in the bottom oven of the Aga (or a low heated normal oven) for 4-5 hours or until the beef is very tender.
- Halfway through cooking, heat the remaining oil and butter in your frying pan brown off the mushrooms – finish off with the brandy and cook down for a couple of minutes.
- Add the mushrooms to the casserole.
- You can either eat this straight away or keep safe and cool for 24/48 hours when it can be re-heated.
If you’d like some suggestions for producers and suppliers of Somerset meat I can happily point you in the direction of Pynes the Butcher and his amazing farm shop.
In our house there aren’t many arguments, some might say that’s because the Blonde knows better than to disagree with “practically perfect” me, but there are a couple of topics that will send us both into mild strops and sulky faces across the kitchen table. The first is the perennial tea versus milk debate (obviously tea first then the milk) and the second and by far more controversial is the order in which you load the cream and jam onto your scones.
Although I adore Cornish and would give my eye-teeth for a just-baked pasty at most times of the day I can’t agree with them when it comes to a cream tea. On this thorny topic I have my feet firmly in the Devonshire camp with big dollops of clotted cream going on first topped with a teaspoon full (or two) of jam. The Blonde maintains that the jam provides a grip for the cream but he’s just plain wrong. You’d never put jam on a piece of bread and then put the butter on the top – think about it.
The one thing we don’t disagree on though is the jam. Forget strawberry, you need to get with the raspberry. The punchy hit of a good raspberry jam makes strawberry look like it’s poor relation both in terms of taste and looks.
With a garden full of raspberries this year I just had to turn my hand to making our very own Castle Farm variety, something that’s sure to delight the Blonde on his early morning toast (butter on second of course). In amongst my old recipe books I stumbled upon a version called Three Day Raspberry Jam. The results were amazing; an incredibly intense flavour and a deep ruby red colour. This recipe comes from Thane Prince.
- 1.5kg raspberries
- 1.5kg white granulated sugar
- Freshly squeezed juice of 4 lemons
(i) In a large non metallic bowl, layer the raspberries with sugar, then sprinkle with the juice. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.
(ii) Scrape the contents of the bowl into a preserving pan and bring slowly to the boil – without stirring. Allow the mixture to bubble over a low heat for five minutes.
(iii) Remove from the heat, cover and allow to stand for another 48 hours in the fridge.
(iv) Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture back to the boil. Skim thoroughly, then boil until a setting point is reached. The jam will always be quite soft, so boil it gently until it seems to have the right consistency.
Now, off you go and enjoy this with your cream tea and remember to always specify a china tea with the milk poured second!