Saturday, 30 August 2008

Brambles and Berries

As I was updating my ‘In Season’ list, it occurred to me that we are indeed entering another season.
It is a sad but very true fact that the disappointing summer is on its way out and autumn is hot on its heels. Autumn though, is not a season to be sniffed at, bringing with it luscious hedgerow fruits, wild mushrooms and fiery colours.
As I write though, the weather has taken a turn for the better, albeit for a short time before the forecasted thunderstorms and rain arrive.

Earlier in the year I plundered our overgrown garden for elderflowers to make some fritters (click to see post).

The remaining blossoms have now developed into fruits and I’m eager to pick them to make elderberry jelly or jam. Dashing into the garden with my camera to take some photos for blog documentation, I’m suddenly disappointed. The birds have got there before me! There’s hardly a berry left and all that remains are the spikey magenta stalks.

My despondency soon fades as I realise that the thorny entanglement I’ve had to fight through is a mass of brambles now covered in fruit, ripe and ready for picking.
Back into the house to fetch a bowl from the kitchen.

This is going to be a prickly challenge, but being scratched isn’t going to prevent me from gathering nature’s prize.
The blackberries are bloated and juicy and I pick them one by one, staining my fingers a dark purple.
The task takes me quite some time. There are a lot of berries on offer and it frustrates me that so many are out of reach. Not wanting to risk falling into the spiny nest of barbed stems, I decide to leave those ones for the birds.

Satisfied that I’ve gathered enough, I weigh them. A pound and a half! That’s pretty good; and I didn’t have to go very far to get them.

Wild blackberries invariably act as homes for some invertebrate wildlife, so I drop the blackberries into some salted cold water and leave them to soak overnight. This has the desired effect of evicting the unwanted beasties which can be rinsed off later.

I’m not sure what I’d like to do with the berries yet, but they freeze well, so until I decide whether to make an apple and blackberry pie or jam, they’ll keep in the meantime.

Monday, 18 August 2008


At last the carrots are ready to pull up.
They've been happily growing in their pot for a good few months now and we've been itching to taste them.
They're very easy to lift from the soil and it's so satisfying to see how large they are as they come up inch by inch.
We've grown two varieties - Nantes and Chanteney.
I can't quite believe the smell of them - they're nothing like anything you'd buy in a shop. The aroma is intense, almost resinous.
No sooner as we've gathered them, I wash them and drop them into a saucepan with some water and simmer gently. When they are tender, I drain off the water and add a knob of butter to glaze them.

These are the best carrots we've ever eaten – so sweet and delicious, and they actually taste of carrot! Supermarket carrots have nothing on these - you simply can't beat homegrown for freshness.

Whilst searching for information on carrots, 
I found this rather interesting website of the 
virtual World Carrot Museum. Click here to view.

Grow Your Own

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Fiskibollur: Fish Balls

Yet another recipe from my kitchen library. I bought the book, Cool Cuisine: Traditional Icelandic Cuisine by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, after one of my visits to Reykjavík.
I have tried various recipes for fish balls and this particular one works best.
For such a simple recipe – there are no elaborate flavourings here – it tastes very good, but I couldn't resist adding some chopped fresh chopped dill and parsley.
It's a great way to use cheaper cuts of white fish, and so long as the fish is fresh, you really can't go wrong.
You do, however, really need to use a food processor, as this gives the fine texture to the minced fish.
In addition to the original instructions from the book, I prefer to chill the fish balls prior to cooking them. This helps to firm them up and prevents them from falling apart during frying.

Serves 4

600g white fish fillets, skinned and boned
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100ml milk, or as needed
1½ teaspoons salt
third teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons plain flour
3 tablespoons potato flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil and a knob of butter for frying

Place the fish and onion in a food processor and mince finely.
Stir in the eggs, some of the milk and the seasoning.
Stir in the plain flour and potato flour, and add more milk if needed. The mixture should be fairly thick and able to hold it's shape well.
Shape oblong fish balls with a tablespoon and place them on a plate and put into the fridge to firm up for about an hour.
Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan and fry the fish balls over a medium heat until brown on all sides.
Lower the heat, add a little water to the pan, cover with a lid and cook for a few minutes more.
Serve with melted butter, boiled new potatoes and a salad.

Buy the Book
Photo: ©childsdesign 2010

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Chocolate Muffins……for Grown-Ups

Occasionally I like to indulge in a chocolate muffin, to go with a good cup of freshly brewed coffee, but I've never found anything in the shops that caters for more grown-up tastes. Shop bought muffins are mostly very sweet and I want something a little more sophisticated.
To achieve the desired flavour, I use a good quality dark chocolate. Nothing less than 70% cocoa solids will do. You need the intense, almost savoury flavour to elevate these muffins into the realms of refinement. That's why the sea salt is there too – it gives a little extra boost.

Makes 12
200g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
115g light muscovado sugar
good pinch of sea salt
185g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
2 eggs
100 ml sunflower oil
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
165ml milk

Preheat the oven to Gas 6, 200C, 400F.
Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder cinnamon, sugar and salt into a large bowl. If you find that some of the sugar won't go through the sieve, just use a spoon to rub it through.
Now stir in the broken chocolate pieces.
Whisk together the eggs and oil in a separate bowl until they become foamy. Now add the yogurt and then carefully whisk in the milk. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients until blended.
Spoon into cake cases, filling each to three-quarters full. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.
The muffins are ready when they are well risen and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean – unless you've gone through some melted chocolate, of course!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Cloudberry Vinegar

I'm always on the look out for some new ingredient to try, no matter how small a part it plays in a recipe. My latest find was some cloudberry vinegar which I discovered in IKEA's food section. When in flatpack furniture land, I make it my ritual to peruse the shelves for Scandinavian food, just before I leave the store.

The vinegar is genuine Swedish stuff and is made from cloudberry wine. Perhaps I should try to describe what cloudberries are as I'm not sure whether many people are familiar with them.
A relative of the blackberry bramble and the raspberry. It is a small herbaceous plant, with hairs rather than prickles on its stems and produces large white flowers that later develop into orange-coloured fruit when ripe. It's botanical name is Rubus chamaemorus and it grows primarily in the northern hemisphere.
I could go into lots of detail, but I think if you'd like to know more, then you should have a look on wikipedia.

Anyway, back to the vinegar. Unlike raspberry vinegar which is usually infused with the fruit after the vinegar has been made, this starts out as a wine made from cloudberries.
I tried a little spoonful to check on it's taste and acidity before using in a salad dressing. The vinegar has a definite wine flavour, is not too acidic and the scent of the cloudberries is evident.
The flavour isn't so overpowering as a raspberry vinegar so I can see that it would lend itself to a wider variety of uses.
I  don't think £3.75 for 200ml is too high a price to pay for something that is of high quality and so refined in flavour. A little goes a long way too.
One thing I've learnt, is to never buy cheap wine vinegar again.

To find out more about the vinegar's producers visit: grythyttanvin.se
Cloudberry image from wikipedia

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Victoria Sponge Made Simple

It's not often that I bake cakes, but sometimes on a Sunday, we feel we deserve a treat, so this weekend I decided to make a Victoria sandwich cake, but with a twist. Instead of the usual strawberry jam I used lemon curd and for added zing I pepped up the sponge with some grated lemon zest.

The recipe that follows is for the basic version, but for the adventurous it can be adapted to create many different variations on flavour.

TIP: This is such an easy way to work out how much of each ingredient you need. You should never need to refer to a recipe again.
First weigh your eggs in ounces as this makes for nice round figures. Then use the same weight for each of your unsalted butter, caster sugar and self raising flour.

Today, my three large eggs gave me 7 oz, so the recipe was as follows:

3 large eggs
7 oz unsalted butter, softened
7 oz caster sugar
7 oz self raising flour
half teaspoon baking powder
1-2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to Gas 4.
Grease two 8 inch sandwich tins and place a circle of greaseproof paper or baking parchment in the bottom of each one.

Beat together the softened butter and sugar until it becomes pale and creamy. I always like to use my KitchenAid mixer for this, as it makes the cake so light in texture.

Whisk the eggs in a jug until slightly frothy.

With the mixer still running, add the eggs by pouring very slowly in a thin stream into the butter and sugar mix. When the mixture is pale, and increased in volume, stop the mixer and remove the bowl from it.

Sieve in a tablespoon of the flour and fold in carefully to avoid knocking out any air.
Repeat, adding a spoonful at a time until all the flour and baking powder is incorporated.
The mixture should be of a soft dropping consistency. If it seems too stiff, then fold in some milk.

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and spread out evenly, smoothing off the tops.

Place in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes.

The cakes are ready when they're risen, golden brown and their edges are pulling away slightly from the sides of the tin.

Turn them out on to a cooling rack and carefully remove the baking paper.
Leave until completely cool before filling with jam.
To finish, sprinkle the top of the cake with caster sugar.

Essential Item

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Fruits of Our Labour

My blog has been a little neglected lately as a lot of my time has been taken up with the needs of the kitchen garden.
It's amazing how things have grown so quickly over the past few weeks. The tomatoes have come on in leaps and bounds, helped along by the long, warm sunny days. It doesn't seem that long ago that they were little plants full of potential. Their growth rate has been incredible – I found myself imagining that I could hear them creaking as they climbed up past the window and the little fruits literally popping into existence overnight! As you can see from the picture above, I have one tomato already beginning to ripen.

The hoverflies have been busy aiding pollination. I don't think I've ever seen so many of these little insects all at once. I find it quite relaxing watching them flit about between the flowers as they feed on nectar.
There are so many tomatoes now, that I'm already making plans to make ketchup and chutney, as well as eating them in salads of course.
The carrots and beetroots are developing well too. The tops of the swelling roots are now visible at the compost's surface. I'll definitely be growing them in containers next year, as this has successfully deterred the carrot flies which can destroy your crop.

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