Saturday, 9 December 2017

Christmas countdown - week two

Home-made mincemeat is one of my absolute favourite things to make at this time of year.
A little chopping, mixing and stirring, preferably with a few Christmas Carols playing in the background, is the perfect antidote to the frenzy which can so often engulf us.
And as for the taste - well I could happily eat spoonfuls of the stuff straight from the jar!

This is the recipe which I have used for the last few years and which I think is delicious.
It is a recipe which I adapted from a Waitrose magazine and uses coconut oil instead of the more usual suet.

Here is the recipe again if you wish to try it.
Don't be put off by the amount of brandy. It soaks into the fruit overnight and makes the mixture deliciously boozy.
Since the mincemeat is not cooked or heated in any way, I keep it in the fridge and use it to make the mince pies within a few days.

Excitement for the Big Day is mounting here and this year Tiny Girlie is 3 and beginning to understand a little more about Father Christmas.
There have been a couple of Santa sightings so far.
Last week, when we were shopping in Cambridge, he popped his head around the door of the cafe we were in and gave everyone a cheery wave and earlier this week made an appearance along our road riding on something which resembled a fairground ride.
No sleigh or reindeer in sight!

And snow .... if the weather app is correct, we are fully expecting to wake up tomorrow morning to a world transformed by a blanket of pure white!


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Christmas countdown - week one.

And so December is here and it's ok for a few twinkly lights to start appearing around the house!

I spent a happy half hour fashioning this star from a few spare twigs I found at the back of the shed and then winding ivy and lights around it. 
Pinterest has a lot to answer for!

And December, of course, also means baking and more specifically baking the Christmas cake.
After last year's success with this recipe for a chocolate Christmas cake and following a request from younger dear daughter, I have made the same cake again.

Fear not, it is still the rich, fruity, boozy cake beloved by so many, but with the addition of some luscious melted dark chocolate.

Here it is in its naked state straight from the oven, ready, when cooled, to be tucked into a tin and anointed with brandy at regular intervals over the next few weeks.
Are your festive preparations under way yet?
Some people have had snow I hear, but not us - unless a few brief flakes over the space of 5 minutes counts!

Wishing you a good week ahead.


Saturday, 25 November 2017

Hygge, heiter, cosy .....

.....whatever you like to call it, Millie the cat has it cracked.

Millie is a recent addition to our family. She arrived by default; a rescue cat whom we 'fostered' for a few weeks when dear daughter couldn't look after her and who has now made her home permanently here!
And she certainly knows how to do cosy.

This morning was very cold and frosty.
Time for warm blankets, candles in the evening and comfort food.
'Tis the season for crumble!

With some of the plums from the summer's huge harvest still in the freezer, I decided on a plum crumble with the addition of chunks of dark chocolate and some toasted hazelnuts.

But when the plums had defrosted they had, for some unknown reason, a distinctly 'off' flavour. 
Feeling rather disappointed, I rummaged around in the cupboard and found a tin of pears which made a good substitute.

So here is pear crumble, with oats, dark chocolate and hazelnuts.
I tend to go with Delia's recipe for the crumble mix, but I replace half the flour with oats and in this case added some dark chocolate broken into chunks ( as much as you dare!) and some toasted, chopped hazelnuts to taste.

Serve warm with cream or custard.
Guaranteed to cheer up a grey cold day!


Monday, 13 November 2017

more apples ...

Here we are nearly half way through November. Bonfire night has come and gone.
Did you celebrate?
We  had a few sparklers in the garden with Tiny Girlie and warmed ourselves with soup and jacket potatoes.
Then cosied up in front of a log fire and ate chestnuts roasted in the embers.

Oh and cake.
There was more cake. Made from more apples.

A simple, rustic style cake, with apples, walnuts and raisins ...

fragrant with cinnamon and ginger.

Winter is tightening her grip on the weather. Today has been so cold.
There is even talk of a white Christmas.
We shall see!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A gift of apples...

Mr digandweed arrived home the other evening with a big bagful of apples ; a gift from a colleague, from their garden.
 Beautiful, rosy cheeked cooking apples, just waiting to be turned into something delicious .

I immediately had in mind a recipe for a luscious cinnamon apple butter; a recipe that my sister made a couple of years ago, from a book called Perfect Preserves:Maggie Mayhew.
Apple butter is a thick spread made from cooked pureed apples, cider, cinnamon and sugar.

Apple and cinnamon are a match made in heaven and apple butter seems to encapsulate the essence of Autumn.
It is also relatively straightforward to make. There is no worry over whether it has reached setting point, since the pureed apple and sugar are simply bubbled away until a good spoonable consistency is reached.

Spread it thickly on hot buttered toast or scones and enjoy!

Today is the last day of October, the clocks have gone back and Bonfire night is looming.
How did all that happen?!
Hope you are enjoying these last autumn days.


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Autumn celebrations.

Some things in life remain a mystery - such as why the beetroot on the allotment were a dismal failure this year!
Poor germination and diddly squat growth meant that these two beetroot were virtually the sum total of the harvest.

But augmented by some extra beetroot and red cabbage from the shop, I was able to make Borscht, one of my favourite autumnal soups .
A quick 'google' reveals numerous recipes for this well known soup.... and opens a Pandora's box as regards its origin and list of ingredients;
is it Polish or Russian, should it include meat of some sort or be purely vegetable based?
I will leave you to make your own mind up!

In the end, shunning any meat content, my recipe included equal amounts of grated raw beetroot and red cabbage (about 500g each, reserve a little of the beetroot for decoration later) with one grated red onion and one carrot , all lightly sauted in butter before being simmered in a well flavoured vegetable stock until tender. Add a small amount of tomato puree and red wine vinegar to taste, season with salt and pepper then blend.
I like to serve this with a spoonful of yoghurt mixed with a small amount of creamed horseradish and topped with a little of the reserved beetroot for decoration.

Earlier in the week, Tiny Girlie, her mama and I were on a mission to find a pumpkin patch, in order to celebrate this most autumnal of vegetables.
A drive across the wide open fields of the Fens proved fruitless, until we stumbled upon a PYO farm  just a few miles from here.
Here, we found pumpkins, squash and gourds of every description, plus a lovely farm shop ...and tea and home made cake!
It took a while to decide upon the perfect pumpkin ...

But having selected one, we also picked sweetcorn for our tea and said hello to the friendly scarecrow.

We are going to carve smiley faces on the larger pumpkins.
Though I'm not a fan of Halloween, decorating the house with these lovely vegetables seems a fitting way to celebrate the beauty and bounty of Autumn.

Hoping you are enjoying this wonderful season too.


Sunday, 1 October 2017


October is such a beautiful month; a month of golden hues, of cocoa-coloured nuts and conkers, russet tinged apples and pears.
This time a year ago, dear daughter had just had her first round of chemotherapy and so it was fitting that, on Friday evening, a year on, we both took part in Maggie's culture crawl, a night-time sponsored walk around the city of Nottingham to raise money for this wonderful charity.

The photo below is of the iconic library building on the Nottingham University Jubilee campus and was just one of the places we visited.

We had a wonderful fun filled evening, walking through parts of the city not usually accessible at night, in the company of lots of other lovely people and entertained along the way by musicians and actors explaining the history of various buildings - and not to mention sustained by some delicious food!

Meanwhile, back on the lottie, I have harvested the Butternut squash.

I grew several plants from seeds that I saved from last year.
I have always found the squash to be a reliable crop, despite our sometimes unpredictable summers... and also extremely versatile in the kitchen.
Amongst other things, squash make delicious soups.

Recipe adapted from Roasted Butternut Squash Soup: New Covent Garden Book of Soups.

Here's to a cosy week ahead full of autumnal colours.


Sunday, 17 September 2017

Lately ....

If we were hoping for an Indian Summer, then so far this month we have been disappointed.
The weather has turned decidedly autumnal.
Nevertheless, last week, optimists that we are, mr digandweed and I booked a beach hut at Wells next the Sea for the day.

Don't be fooled by these photos - the wind was very cold and the day was peppered by heavy storms!
Unsurprisingly, we had the beach more or less to ourselves.

But the inside of the beach hut was cosy and it was lovely being able to retreat inside and make a cup of tea.

Apart from a windswept time at the beach, there have also been some blustery walks through local woods.
At the end of this month, I am joining dear daughter on a 10 mile sponsored walk around the city of Nottingham in aid of Maggie's, so I am getting in some practice. 

Maggie's is a nationwide charity providing help and support for people with cancer.
They are beautiful, individually designed buildings situated within hospital grounds providing a 'home from home' away from the hospital ward.

When dear daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma this time last year, we were very grateful to have a Maggie's centre on the Nottingham campus.
They provided our daughter with financial advice, as well as support regarding hair loss and also put her in touch with another young woman going through the same thing.
During the long hours of chemotherapy ( 7 hours at a time), it was a lovely friendly place for me to pop into. 
There was always a warm welcome, a cup of tea and a place to eat my sandwiches around the kitchen table which forms the heart of every Maggie's centre.
A wonderful charity.

And back in the kitchen at home, I have been baking.
On a cold, autumnal afternoon, cake and tea is what you need!
This is a cake I made the other day: a sponge cake rippled with blackcurrant puree and baked in a bundt tin.

Hoping the week ahead is a good one for you.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

woodland walks and wild berries

It's September.
One of my most favourite times of year -
season of mists and mellow fruitfulness :John Keats
And as if on cue, this morning we woke to a heavy dew and mist hanging low across the fields.

These are photos taken on a walk that mr digandweed and I did the other day through Fineshade woods.

Often days that start off misty, turn into wonderful, warm and sunny Autumn days.
There's nothing nicer than seeing the array of seed heads, berries and hips that adorn the hedges.

And the most delicious of all, of course, the humble bramble.
Mr digandweed is a useful companion when blackberrying as he is able, due to his height, to reach the biggest, juiciest berries which would normally be out of reach.

It's no coincidence that apples and blackberries ripen at the same time, for what better combination could there be ?

A rosy red apple, baked in the oven and served with stewed blackberries and yoghurt makes the most delicious breakfast.

One of September's little pleasures!


Saturday, 19 August 2017

the late summer garden

 August is coming to an end and the heat of a few weeks ago has dissipated. There is a hint of Autumn in the air.
 Not that I mind. I like the onset of Autumn
My pale skin  means I have never enjoyed extreme heat. The gentle warmth of Spring and Autumn are much more my thing.

In the garden, there are signs of the changing seasons. The fresh lush green growth of Spring has faded. In its place come russets and browns. The odd crinkly brown leaf, a withered stem, indicators of what is to come.

And on the allotment, the Rosette apples are ready to pick.
A delicious, crisp, sweet eating apple.
They are not perfect specimens, it has to be said, but what's a blemish or two between friends!

The plums, other than those that have been transformed into jam or tucked up in the freezer have been consumed.
My breakfast for the past week or so has been softly stewed plums with creamy yoghurt, a sprinkle of nuts and seeds and a drizzle of maple syrup.

The past couple of weeks have been very busy.
Aside from tending the garden and lottie, we have been helping lovely daughter and her husband move house.
 I have been on duty helping to pack, clean.
Mr digandweed was allocated the important job of entertaining Tiny Girlie and keeping her out of mischief!

I'm looking forward to a slightly quieter week ahead!
Hoping your week is a good one.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

river cottage plum jam

Plums -  after last year's massive harvest I was expecting a smaller yield this time round.
The tree on our allotment is only small, barely taller than I am, but once again it has produced a huge amount of fruit.
 70 lbs at a conservative estimate.
They are delicious, but there's only a certain amount of plums a person can eat. 
The carefully staged photo below belies the true situation.
I will admit to being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of fruit.

Mr digandweed, laden with bags, has been knocking on neighbours' doors plying them with plums.
Lovely daughter took more bagfuls to her Nature Play group.
 The freezer is crammed with plums; the fridge with plum compote.
It has become obligatory to eat plums at every meal!

So it was time to get out the preserving pan and start some serious jam making.
This year for a change I tried the River Cottage recipe from the River Cottage Preserves handbook.
Plum jam is one of my favourites.
Easy to make, as the good quantities of natural pectin produce a reliable set and delicious to eat.

The ratio was 1.5kg of plums to 1.25kg sugar.
And the yield  8 x 340g  jars.

The jam is now safely stowed away in the cupboard and spread on hot buttered toast in the winter months to come, will be a delicious reminder of summer.

Have a happy weekend!


Sunday, 16 July 2017

water kefir.... or another foray into fermentation.

It was lovely daughter who first introduced me to water kefir, the slightly carbonated fermented drink which is full of beneficial probiotics.
Like many fermented foods, its origin is uncertain but it has probably been consumed in certain countries such as Mexico and Tibet for centuries.
Making water kefir at home is simple, though initially you do need some water kefir grains.
The term water kefir grains is a slight misnomer, as they are not actually grains, but resemble jelly- like crystals.
The grains are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts, which when fed with sugar and water produce the beneficial drink.

There seem to be different methods for making the kefir and this website has lots of interesting information, but the method I used was as follows:
Place 4 tablespoons of water kefir grains, 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar and 800ml water into a clean kilner jar (or similar).
Stir, cover with a cloth, (but do not close the lid) and leave on the worktop for 48 hours during which time the liquid should start to ferment and may bubble slightly.
After this time, strain, reserving the liquid and place the water kefir grains into a small jar, cover with water, add a teaspoon of sugar to feed them, place the lid onto jar and store in the fridge ready for next time.
The reserved liquid will be quite sweet at this point.
It is now time for the second fermentation,which is best done in a flip top bottle.
So pour the liquid into a suitable bottle and again leave on the worktop for 24 to 48 hours.

 During this stage the bacteria feed on the sugars;
the liquid becomes cloudy, more carbonated and far less sweet.
It is important to 'burp' the bottle from time to time by gently opening the lid, otherwise when the lid is finally released the contents will spray in a huge fountain covering walls, floors and yourself with precious liquid!
I speak from experience!

During the second fermentation, you can flavour the water kefir with lemon rind and pieces of root ginger which can be placed in the bottle, alternatively it can be flavoured by adding ingredients afterwards.
Having tried both methods, I think the latter is probably preferable as each drink can be flavoured in a different way.
For example, lemon, lime or fruit juice can be added to the glass and then topped up with water kefir.

Unflavoured, the water kefir is an acquired taste, rather like a cross between flat lemonade and ginger beer, but it becomes more interesting when flavoured.
I'm definitely a 'newbie' when it comes to fermentation but it's a very interesting subject.