Wednesday, 24 August 2016

chilled summer salad soup

... wow, what a crazy few days of glorious sunshine.  It's like the summer ended but then thought to itself 'hang on a minute, I forgot something here...' pulled up its socks and got to work. Westminster Council, in their infinite wisdom, tells us to try to avoid going out in the sun between 11am and 3pm today - thank you... oh but here I am banging on about the great British weather when all anyone really cares about today is the start of the Great British Bake-Off which kicks off on British television this evening.  They always look like a funny bunch of folk and you never quite know who to route for but once the show kicks off you soon get to learn about their quirks and personalities.  From first glance I really like the look of Michael who has had to make-do and mend with his baking techniques whilst at University, which I can really relate too.  I think the show has the danger of slipping into too 'professional' territory if it's not careful, as people become more savvy with their techniques and cooking equipment becomes more sophisticated and I don't think this is what home-baking is about.  I love the show when things go wrong as well as when things go right.  It makes for more interesting baking... and over-coming adversity is a very British trait after all...

I guess the bakers are lucky the show was all filmed earlier in the year before this ridiculous heat came into play.  Now that would have been tricky!... maybe a cool bowl of my chilled soup would help...

chilled summer salad soup
the trick to getting this right is that you can add all the salad vegetables you like but you need to try and not let one thing dominate, so if you're adding peas and rocket like I have, don't go overboard or else they'll take over in the taste stakes and you want to avoid this and get a fine balance of salad flavour.  Fresh, green herbs are essential as are plenty of salt and pepper to bring out the flavours... it's a celebration of summer really and a great way to use up any last bits of salad items that may be going a bit limp in the salad drawer.  I'm a bit of an impulsive tomato purchaser... The Viking has a go at me every time I put tomatoes in the shopping basket but I adore them in all their various guises and I can't help buying new varieties or sad, lonely tomatoes that look like they should have been purchased weeks ago... this soup is a great way to use them up...

i've made a small little pot of soup for two but feel free to double the recipe depending on what you have and how many you're feeding...

3 medium red tomatoes - sliced into 3
fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
4 stalks of spring onion - finely chopped
2 large stalks of celery - chopped
half a fennel bulb - chopped
3 bulbs of garlic crushed with salt and a little fresh rosemary
50g frozen petit pois
25g (a handful) of salad rocket
1 head of gem lettuce - chopped
3/4 litre good quality vegetable stock

radish and avocado to garnish

heat a little olive oil in a medium pan and throw in the spring onion, celery and fennel.  Turn the heat to medium, season well with salt and pepper and plenty of fresh herbs and let them sizzle for 5 minutes, then add the garlic, stir and let them all sizzle for 5 minutes more.

turn the heat to low, pop a lid on and let the veg sweat for a further 5 minutes, then add the rest of the vegetables and the stock and let the soup gently bubble away for 15 minutes

take the soup off the heat and leave it to cool entirely in the pan, then whizz it up with a hand stick blender, then pour it into a bowl and pop it in the fridge till utterly chilled

serve with slices of radish, cucumber and avocado and a drizzle of olive oil.

eat and of course, enjoy!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

blackberry loaf cake

... well, just when I thought i'd have more time to dedicate to the blog the week was whisked away from me in some kind of mad whirlwind of bonkersness - if that's a thing.  Well, it is a thing and it happened.  Because it's been so busy, with such long days, we've been doing a lot of eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it's really brought our attention to how wonderful and how truly dreadful the restaurant industry can be.  We're lucky because we do know some of the little 'secret squirrel' type places but if we didn't I'm sure we'd be a lot poorer than we already are.  Two places worth mentioning this week; one for its brilliance and one for its utter dreadfulness - first to the worst which used to be called Balans Restaurant and is now the more 'hipster' Balans Cafe Society (groan) on Old Compton Street.  In the heart of Soho, this classic cafe used to be so cool and so lovely serving a divine 24 hour breakfast.  It's now horrid, stingy food, full of wankers, served by miserable underpaid idiots and I felt like a fool myself by choosing to eat there... the other was the polar opposite.  The glorious Sugar Shack at the Jackdaw and Star in Homerton.  This homely pub is home to the brilliantly inspired Andi Oliver who's created an eclectic homespun menu inspired by Caribbean and British food and was seriously divine and stupidly inexpensive.  We both had the spring onion and pea fritters - which I will try and recreate for you here soon, followed by the falafel burger with handout chips.  It was good.

of course, other than my beautiful home, one of the worst things about not going back to Lincolnshire this particular weekend is that I am going to miss the local Aby Village show.  This will a be first for me for some years and as you can imagine I am absolutely gutted... there will be no scones... there will be no bread or jam... there will be no skulduggery or WI backstabbing... I am heartbroken.  But then again, the ladies of Aby, Belleau and the surrounding villages will miss my contribution and fear my retribution for next year... so watch out... I dedicate this cake to you...

blackberry loaf cake
oh this is just one of those cakes that delivers so much from its humble beginnings... and continues to give as the fruit breaks down and moistens the cake, thus extending its shelf-life... not that this kind of cake gets much shelf life around these parts but you get my drift. For some reason I picked up a box of 'very large' free-range eggs, these arrant my usual choice of egg but they worked beautifully in this recipe and I used the classic 'weigh-the-eggs' method anyway so it was more about volume than anything... Blackberries are so gorgeous at the moment.  It's been the perfect season of sunshine and rain to produce some juicy corkers.

2 very large free-range eggs
200g butter
100g sugar
100g coconut sugar
200g Homepride self-raising flour
1 punnet of fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons blackcurrant jam (your flavour of jam is up to you)

i used a 2lb loaf tin but it would work just as well in a 20cm round, which I greased and lined with greaseproof paper and pre-heated the oven to 170C fan

in my fabulous retro Smeg stand mixer I beat together the sugars and the butter until they were soft and fluffy and creamy, then I added one egg and beat in followed by half the flour which I beat in, then the remaining egg and flour at which stage I put in the blackberries and jam and beat again until all the ingredients were combined and the blackberries were broken up

I then poured the cake batter into the loaf tin and baked for 40 mins until it was risen and golden and a skewer interred came out clean

it needed no icing or topping as it was sweet enough... just like me

eat and of course enjoy!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

garlic, mushroom and olive chicken thighs

... it's been one of those weeks where my feet have barely touched the ground but if I actually had to look back and describe what it was that made it so busy I don't think I could tell you.  Maybe i've pushed it to the back of my mind so that I can truly switch off and experience the weekend or maybe it was all a terrible dream... plus the week ended on a rather traumatic note as we were driving up to the cottage from London, on a very dark road when a small muntjac deer darted out from the bushes and hit the car. The Viking was driving and I was beginning to dose off (quite literally you can put me in a car and when the motor starts i'm asleep) when I was jerked awake by the horrible crunching sound of what i'm assuming was the crack of deer legs being crushed by the car.  Now of course there was nothing we could do about the situation, the poor beast came from nowhere and we were long gone and in a state of shock plus The Viking, being a vegetarian and an animal lover has naturally been quite traumatised by the whole thing... he's wracked with guilt and continues to see the poor beasts face in the headlights.  The front of the car was none too pleased either and a £2000 bill for a new bumper, new headlight and new side door does not make me a happy boy as I realise we have to work that same week again to make it all pay... such is the split life of those who live betwixt city and country...

garlic, mushroom and olive chicken thighs 
an absolute classic here but, and I hate to blow my own trumpet, one of the best I think... plus I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who brings garlic with her wherever she goes.  I used to think she was barmy but in fact now I find it quite an adorable quirk that I totally get... and of course for me it means that I happen to have a lot of garlic knocking about because she left some here for me - when I say some I mean a lot... more than you would see as realistically necessary but again, i'm not complaining.  Anyway, it means that I can make my version of the 'chicken with 100 cloves of garlic'  or whatever it's called plus of course garlic and mushroom is a classic so you just know it's going to taste glorious.  The garlic gets a long slow cook here so it's beautifully mellow by the time you serve the dish, i'm also including some fennel bulb (well, you know me...) as well as spring onion for a sharper, more summery vibe, plus my favourite lemon thyme to add a little pep!  I'm using chestnut mushrooms here which are a robust, medium to small brown mushroom with a lovely nutty flavour that hold up well in the roasting process but feel free to use any mushroom of your preference...

... I can't quite believe i'm writing this because there surely can't be anyone out there who doesn't know about my passion for chicken thighs but should there be a lonely food lover trawling the blogs, then this is for you.  Chicken thighs are a gift from god.  They are the tastiest part of the chicken by a country mile, they are tender yet robust so work will in slow-cook style dishes.  They have a glorious layer of juicy fat around them so are in effect self-basting.  They are inexpensive and go a long way which means you can splash out and buy free-range or at the very least, farm assured.  I always buy them with the bone in and skin on because they're even tastier and they are very versatile, just click on this chicken thigh link to find more recipes...

6 chicken thighs
2 bulbs of garlic (roughly 25 cloves - skin on)
half a fennel bulb - roughly chopped
5 spring onions - roughly chopped using the whole length
7 medium chestnut (brown) mushrooms - quartered
1 glass of white wine
a handful of pitted, green olives
1 large sprig of lemon thyme
1 large sprig of rosemary

place all the veg into an oven-proof roasting dish and lay the chicken thighs on top, skin side up.

season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle plenty of herbs on top, then carefully pour a glass of white over the whole thing

cover with foil and roast on 160C for an hour and a half, then remove the foil, turn the oven up to 170C and turn the chicken thighs over so they're skin down, then roast for another 30 minutes, then turn the thighs back over, turn the oven up to 180C and roast for a final 20 minutes till they're golden brown and divinely delicious!

eat and of course, enjoy!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

peach polenta upside-down cake

...friends eh? Whilst it's wonderful having a #squad, when they're a sarcastic bunch like our lot you can spend the weekend wondering if they really did like that 3rd cake you woke up at 5am to make... yes folks, I care that much that I wasn't happy with the first bake so I made a second and then a third.  This cake was received with stony silence and upon tasting it I was pretty silent myself but then that could have been the gluey texture sealing my mouth shut and by this point I was hearing grumblings about how my cakes look so good in photo's and that's all that really matters right?  I don't know if it's because i've lost my baking mojo or if it's because i'm baking gluten free cakes for my precious friends but I just couldn't get it right and yet I was determined to prove that I was the baking king of Belleau, so I awoke especially early last Saturday morning, grabbed some peaches from the bowl and made this beauty. I love baking early in the morning.  There's something wonderfully peaceful about having the kitchen to yourself as the room brightens naturally with the day.  I love the idea that you're working like a little magical elf to make goodies so that when your friends arise they're greeted with the intoxicating aroma of baking cake wafting through the house...

peach polenta upside-down cake
so sadly it wasn't the huge hit it looks like it should be... it was OK and the peaches tasted divine and perfectly caramelised but I think my polenta wasn't fine enough and i'm still getting used to the coconut flour too.  It was very crumbly but after 24 hours, once the cake had had time to rest and absorb the peachiness, it tasted much better, much softer and I of course was much happier... although I may go back to not baking for anyone just in case it doesn't quite work out the way I know it should do... or maybe i'll go back to the classics and not worry so much about those unable to eat proper cake... maybe...

for the upside-down layer
2 peaches
75g light muscovado sugar
the juice of half a lemon

for the sponge
120g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
125g caster sugar
2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
75g coconut flour
75g fine polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
a pinch of salt

preheat the oven to 170°C fan and lightly grease a 20cm round cake tin with butter and line the bottom with baking parchment. Generously grease the parchment with butter too. It’s best not to use a loose-bottomed tin here, but if that’s all you have, tightly wrap a double layer of aluminium foil around the outside of the base to prevent any juices escaping.

quarter the peaches and cut them into thin slices and throw them into a bowl along with the muscovado sugar and lemon juice and toss them around until the sugar becomes a syrup and all the peaches are coated. 

arrange the coated peaches in a single layer, slightly overlapping, round the bottom of your tin and pour any excess sugar syrup over the top. 

to make the sponge, cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon, or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, a little at a time, beating well between each addition, then fold in the coconut flour, polenta, baking powder, lemon zest and salt

spoon the batter over the peaches, smooth the surface with a knife and bake for 35-40 minutes or until risen and golden then remove the cake from the oven, run a sharp knife round the edge then leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning over onto a plate.

eat and of course, enjoy!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

steamed sea bream with peas, lemon thyme and lime

... what a weekend of fun and sunshine.  In a sick move, the weather decided to play like summer and we actually had a decent weekend which was lucky because we had new guests to the cottage who had never been before and whilst we personally love Belleau in all types of weather, there's nothing better than showing it off in the glorious sunshine.  We frolicked in the garden... we had a picnic on the beach and splashed around in the sea... we drank heavily and stumbled both to and home from the pub (sorry Dawn and Keith)... and generally squeezed a huge amount of fun into 48 hours.  We even made our friends brave the train to Skegness which, believe me can be a bit of a culture shock if you've never lived anywhere where you're not closer than 10 yards to a parking metre... they survived 3 disastrous cakes (see next post), 2 delicious breakfasts and 1 rather incredible asparagus and mushroom risotto... we survived copious amounts of Prosecco and an endless game of celebrities that had us laughing till I pretty much wet myself.  Now don't take me for a bragger, i'm really not meaning to show off my #squad but The Viking does have the habit of being a bit of a recluse, to be honest it almost borders on social anxiety and whilst it's hard to believe that someone who works in the hospitality industry could be such a way it is a fact that our weekends are precious, so spending them doing anything but recovering from a week of forced socialising is a big deal... and therefore it's nice that it went so well and was such fun... and that we'd only just done it a couple of weekends before to great success too (although he's now warned me that there should be no visitors till Christmas...) but It's barely Sunday evening and i'm exhausted and could do with the day off tomorrow to recover... and now there is bed linen and towels to be washed and dried in the last of the weekend sunshine, which as mentioned above, is serving its purpose nicely, thank you very much...

steamed sea bream with peas, lemon thyme and lime
I was very close to picking up the salmon to make this dish but for some reason the sea bream caught my eye and i'm really pleased it did... salmon would have been lovely but I eat a lot of it so it's nice to make a change and the sea bream is such a wonderfully delicate fish.  On a long and lazy Sunday afternoon, with the sun gloriously baking our skins I didn't really want to stand in front of a smokey barbecue and whilst many find fish a fiddle, this was literally 30 minutes from fridge to plate and just so damn tasty and pretty healthy too, which is an added bonus, so it's hard to complain.  Basically, I must cook more fish, is the answer to this tale...

180g sea bream - 2 fillets
100g frozen garden peas
half a lime - cut into 4 wedges
a large handful of fresh lemon thyme
3 spring onions - finely chopped
salt and pepper
a little butter

pre-heat the oven to 170C and scrunch up a large piece of baking parchment.  You'll also need some foil and an oven-proof dish

flatten out the baking parchment onto a larger piece of foil - enough to easily wrap the fish - and place this into the oven-proof dish

lay the peas onto the paper followed by the spring onion and the lime wedges then lay the fish, skin side down on top.  Sprinkle with the lemon thyme, season well with salt and pepper and then pop a few wedges of butter on the fish, then carefully parcel up the fish leaving plenty of air in the package

bake in the oven for 20 mins, then open the wrapping and bake for 5 minutes more

serve on a bed of watercress and thinly sliced radish and strawberries (believe me, strawberries and fish is a wonderful thing) and a large dollop of mayonnaise

eat and of course, enjoy!

Friday, 5 August 2016

gluten-free banana bread with maple syrup and coconut flour

... can you believe it's been nearly three weeks since i've blogged.  I feel both bereft and guilty and yet as many of my blogger friends agree, I also feel a little bit free... It's not like I've been doing nothing you understand.  This summer has just been absolutely manic at work.  I've been getting in at 8am and not getting home till 9pm and then literally falling down on the bed into a deep sleep.  I love my work, I really do but with the potential madness of the last quarter of the year rushing onto us I feel like a week in bed would be rather wonderful.  It also means that the blog takes a back seat for a while and I hate this because the further away from it I get the more I see the light of not being shackled to it, yet I also pang desperately for being in my kitchen.  It's the place I relax and breathe, the place I feel at home, the place I love... but with all the added stress the inspiration also takes a dive.  None of it is ideal.  What is nice, is that this weekend we have good friends coming to stay and this kind of forces me into the kitchen but in a fun way.  It's only Friday but i've already baked bread and a divine chocolate and raspberry cake which I will share later... One of our friends is gluten intollerant so i've also made this lovely banana bread and whilst many would find the whole thing a hassle i've really enjoyed the challenge...

gluten-free banana bread with maple syrup and coconut flour
i'm actually very pleased with this recipe... it's heavily adapted from one by the Minimalist Baker whom I am currently having a bit of a girl-crush on... it's hearty, like all good banana loaves yet it's light and moist and keeps really well.  It's not too sweet and in fact i've used some of the coconut sugar i've been using for the sugar-free recipes i've been developing for the Leisure Range Cooker project i've been working on, so it's also a little healthy too, which is nicely pleasing.  The maple syrup adds that dark richness that only comes from maple syrup and the coconut flour makes it lighter  which is good here in such a dense recipe...

3 medium ripe bananas
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 large free-range eggs
3 tablespoons coconut oil - melted in the microwave
100g coconut sugar (or regular brown sugar)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
180 ml milk
70g ground almond 
70g coconut flour
100g teff flour
100g rice flour
110g rolled oats

preheat oven to 170C fan and line a loaf tin with parchment paper

mash the bananas in a large bowl then add all the ingredients, stirring as you go, finishing off with the flours and whisk to bring it all together. 

pour it into the loaf tin and bake for 1 hour until it's firm and golden, remove it from the oven and drizzle with a little maple syrup and let it cool completely in the tin.

eat and of course, enjoy!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

bramley apple, pernod and maple syrup summer pudding

... well yes, the summer has finally arrived and these past four days have been beautiful... oh yes folks, didn't anyone tell you that summer in the UK only lasts for four days, probably in July but could actually be in September or in fact could even be in May.  Everyone goes crazy; barbecues are lit, picnic rugs are found and rescued from the deepest recesses under the bed and the cobwebs are (literally here folks) dusted off the sun loungers... it all gets thrown onto the lawn or into the nearest park and we celebrate until we're inebriated after which we can all pull our winter wardrobe back on and relax into the steady decline that is autumn...  So yes, maybe I am a little sarcastic here but after my short trip to Ibiza where we had 5 solid days of sun, which had been receded by weeks of solid sun and will no doubt be followed by weeks more of solid sun, i'm afraid the 'it's hotter in the UK today that it is in Ibiza' line just doesn't cut the mustard thank you very much and you can all jolly well bugger off.  One day does not a summer make.  It does make for nice apples however and the Bramleys are in particularly good form...

bramley apple, pernod and maple syrup summer pudding
it being July makes it my turn out of the four Bramley Ambassadors to make a Bramley Apple dish and because it's the 'height' of summer I thought i'd go for a classic summer pudding but with a twist. The Bramley is most definitely the star of the show here but both the gloriously deep and rich maple syrup along with the fiery undertones of the aniseed pernod compliment them wonderfully.  It's like a rich apple pie plus the little dash of pernod soaked into the bread makes for a sinfully grownup pudding. The natural firm texture of the apples is perfect here as they break down a little but still keep their bite... i've added some sultana's for some different texture but I also like it pure, it's entirely up to you...

This recipe is part of a campaign that i've been working on since the end of last year, posting recipes with different themes along with other food bloggers. I kicked off the campaign in October with a divine Apple and Sausage Pie recipe for Bramley Apple Pie Week and then in January I made the most incredible Apple and Parsnip Soup followed by Roast Sausages with Bramley Apple Cheddar Mash in April

a few slices of thick cut white bread - crusts removed
400g bramley apples (roughly 3 apples) - peel and roughly chopped into large chunks
a hand full of sultanas
2 or 3 tablespoons manly syrup - depending on taste
2 tablespoons pernod
2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

i'm using a 15cm round pudding basin

use a little butter to grease your pudding basin then take the slices of bread and patchwork them into the basin... I usually cut a circle for the base and then triangles for the sides, fitting in pieces where there are patches... make sure you leave enough bread for a lid

in a pan add the apples, sultanas pernod, maple syrup and vinegar and gently heat... you want it to heat through for a few minutes so the whole thing is gently bubbling but so that the apple doesn't lose it's texture

pour the fruit into the pudding, place the lid on top and then place a small plate on top of the pudding - small enough so that it touches the pudding, then place something heavy on top and pop it in the fridge for at least 24 hours

once you're ready to serve turn the pudding upside down and tap it on top... sometimes the pudding drops out easily but on occasion the butter used to line the dish solidifies and you may have to wait a while for it to melt and release the pudding

if you have any Bramley recipes or are looking for further inspiration try the Bramley Apple instagram or Facebook feeds as they're a wealth of fabulous information and lovely photo's... and don't forget, if you share your recipes and photo's then use #LoveEnglishBramley

serve with even more maple syrup, eat and of course, enjoy!




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