This divine cake is a firm family favourite and serving here at Castle Farm guarantees a brief half an hour of adoration from my boys.
It’s horribly cold here at Castle Farm, deep in the depths of Somerset. The wind is battering the house and however many pairs of socks I put on and however close I snuggle to the AGA I am still freezing. One might argue that this is just the time to turn up the thermostat but I am blessed with oil central heating.
Back when I lived in civilisation and had gas gushing into the house I would happily switch the boiler onto constant and revel in the warmth not thinking for one moment about the bill coming my way. Now I have an oil tank that I have to refill I can see the levels dropping day after day as we literally burn through the cash. This motivates you to hardiness, to eating your lunch in your coat and sleeping in two jumpers.
As energy prices rise I am rather thankful for my oil tank. Not only are you more cautious about using energy but each time you fill the tank you can haggle and barter yourself to a good deal by playing the local suppliers off against each other. If only it were this easy to drive a deal with the Big 6 we would all have a lot more money in our pockets. The Blonde and I have quite heated debates about the rights and wrongs of privatisation of the energy supply market but rather than bore you all with that here, can I offer another suggestion of how to keep warm as toast as we march into winter?
Cassoulet is rich and warming comfort food at it’s very best. Originating in Southern France this delicious sausage delight is named after the pan it was traditionally cooked in. After a long hard day beating off the cold in the garden this is the perfect treat for all the family. It’s best eaten with chunks of home-made bread, perfect to dip into the steaming sauce.
- 250g of mixed beans
- 800g of tinned chopped tomatoes
- 2 onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 4 bay leaves
- 400g of sausages
- a good squeeze of tomato purée
- 1/4 pint of stock
- 2 teaspoons of Herbes de Provence
- salt (to taste)
- pepper (to taste)
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- splash of vegetable oil
- Soak the beans in water overnight. Drain and then boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Chop the onions and garlic
- Melt the butter with a splash of oil in a medium sized casserole dish on the hob.
- Fry off the onions and brown the sausages in the casserole.
- Add the garlic and fry off but don’t let it burn.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients.
- Bring the Cassoulet to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a medium oven and cook for at least 75 minutes.
PS – I nicked this photo from Delia as I’d eaten ours before I remembered to take a picture!
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.
I simply adore beetroot. I love their earthy sweetness and the fact that you can almost taste the soil they’ve been raised in. I love their rich Burgundian colour and the Lady Macbethian stains they leave all over your hands and kitchen. I love that they’re really good for you, rich in folic acid, potassium, magnesium and iron as well as vitamins A, B6 and C.
I also love chutney and here is where two of my passions collide most joyfully. Beetroot chutney – perfect with pies, divine at dinner time and simply super in a sandwich.
We’ve managed to amass quite a glut of beetroot in our Somerset garden this year and after serving a variety of beetroot inspired dishes at virtually every opportunity we’ve only made a mere dent in the harvest. So, I’ve turned to chutney! There’s a wonderful recipe that’s been adapted from my apple chutney recipe, you can increase the quantity as required.
If you fancy an experiment you can also cook up the beetroot leaves as you would spinach. They’re best fried off with a little butter and very yummy with pork.
Simply place all of the ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan bring to the boil and then simmer for approximately 40 – 50 minutes or until the chutney is thick and the beetroot tender. Ladle into sterilized jars and store for a month before eating. This chutney should keep very happily for up to 6 months in a cool dark place.
3lb beetroot, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 cooking apple, peeled cored and diced
Zest and juice of 1 orange
12 oz of golden or brown sugar
1 pint of malt vinegar
4 tsp ground ginger
4 tsp of grated nutmed
2 tsp salt
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!