JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Escape to Sussex

Suddenly needed to get away for a few days. This is the view from my room by the sea. Yesterday it was sunny, but I didn't have my new camera then. (After months of humming and hawing, took the plunge, bought a Nikon D90, fell in love with the first click.)

I went to Alfriston, to visit the Clergy House, the first building ever bought by the National Trust. Wonderful floor, made of tamped chalk hardened by pouring sour milk and leaving for a couple of weeks. Beautiful oak frames, and an oak leaf carved into one - the centuries-old decoration of a yeoman farmer, now used as the logo of the National Trust. The garden is beautiful, the productive parts much the best to my eye.

Then to Much Ado Books, where the lovely proprietress slipped a teabag into the book I bought, so that I could enjoy reading it with a cup of tea ... I went straight back to the car and got the kettle out of the boot.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cucumber and dill pickle

Last autumn, I bought The Wonderful Weekend Book by Elspeth Thompson - I am not damning it with feint praise when I say that it is charming, also much the best of the recent deluge of books on home-making for the nostalgic.

Elspeth gives a really wonderful recipe for cucumber and dill pickle, and I made a huge vat with the last of the cucumbers. I've been eking it out carefully, as it is so delicious. But now the first cucumbers have arrived in my vegetable box, so I can polish off the few remaining slices and make some more.

I didn't post this when I made it, because there were no more cucumbers (I don't really think it would be a good idea to make this with watery winter indoor fruits). It can also be made with courgette, although I haven't yet tried that.

Courgette and dill pickle
for four 450g jars

It always seems to me a miracle that something submerged in liquid can retain its crunch, but this does. And the flavours are great from day one, none of that leaving it to mature until Christmas that you have to do with chutney. I've found this is terrific with my usual lunch of leftovers, almost as good as chilli jam.

3 large cucumbers (or 6 courgettes)
2 large onions
50g coarse salt
450g soft brown sugar
600ml cider vinegar
1 tbsp whole mustard seeds
a large handful of fresh dill

Thinly slice the cucumbers and onions, and this is easiest on a mandoline. Layer with salt in a large plastic box, and weight down with a plate and some tins. Leave it four at least four hours, then drain and rinse in a big colander. You want to get all the salt out.

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar, then add the veg, seeds and dill. Bring to the boil. After one minute, drain, reserving the liquid. Boil to a syrup (which will mean boiling off around one third). Meanwhile, put the vegetables in sterilised jars. Cover with juices, and seal. Keep in the fridge once you've re-opened the jar.

Other good preserves

Spiced apricot preserve
this one is BRILLIANT for an instant gravy to go with roast pork
Roasted tomato ketchup very good for cooking
Home-made vanilla extract easy, and satisfies my need for the semblance of thrift
Rose petal jelly it will soon be time to make this, the buds are swelling - and it's pouring with rain at the moment, which can only be good for the roses

PS Elspeth has a new book about to come out ... she says on her blog today that it's already in some shops, so I'm hoping the postman will deliver my copy today

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Yoghurt and lemon cake

I don't keep butter in the house when the young are away, which made it tricky this afternoon when I took it into my head to cheer myself up by making a lemon cake. But then I remembered Turkish yoghurt cake, and found a good recipe in Claudia Roden's Arabesque. It's a soufflé of a cake, no butter, not much flour, eggs, yoghurt and a lemon. Just the thing.

Turkish yoghurt cake - yogurtlu tatlisi

4 large eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
3 tbsp plain flour
400g Greek strained yoghurt
grated zest of a lemon
juice of a lemon

Beat the egg yolks and sugar until it is pale. Beat in the flour, then blend in the yoghurt, zest and juice. Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, then fold into the cake mixture. Pour this into a non-stick baking tin - I use a 23cm clip-ring tin which I grease with olive oil.

Bake at 180C for 50-60 minutes, until the top is brown. Eat warm or cold.

PS you can serve this with a syrup made with 150ml water, 25og sugar, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and the finely grated zest of an orange ... Claudia Roden says she doesn't bother, and neither do I.

PPS picture to follow - I meant to save this as a draft until the cake came out of the oven, but hit publish instead ... I've been a little distracted for the past couple of weeks, which is why I need cake!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Garden notes

Last week was not good. I suddenly came upon a pot of last year's tulips (Red Hunter) and they made me feel better. They are in full flower now, opening with the sunshine. Very cheering.

My annual Easter arrangement consists of beech hung with painted eggs. It's crucial to pick the boughs ahead, so that they come into leaf, otherwise the decoration is just twigs. The weekend before is not too soon. This Easter I had twigs and eggs (assembled on Good Friday). Now I have a vibrant green display .... but Easter was so late this year that they're barely ahead of the leaves in the wood. Our bluebells are starting to come out, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lamb with dates and chocolate - an Easter feast

Years ago, I was in Delphi on Easter Sunday. It was in the 1960s, before the days of mass tourism. The main street was closed off, because the road was being used by villagers who set up their fires to spit-roast whole lambs with herbs from the surrounding maquis. The smell was wonderful - and so was the hospitality: we were all invited to join in the eating, dancing and singing. There was a real sense of a Christian festival, of joy, of release from the privations of Lent. And so my Easter menu is always roast lamb. Until this year.

For the past few years, our daughter Lettice has played a huge part in making the Easter feast - she lays the table beautifully with flowers and chocolates; she helps prepare vegetable dishes; and, crucially, she makes the last-minute gravy. She's in South Africa, teaching in a township school, the first time she has been away for Easter. So a new plan, new traditions. The boys laid the table: an austere arrangement of cutlery and glasses, nothing more. And I made a gently spiced lamb stew, with cinnamon and saffron, chocolate and dates. Seriously delicious. Alfred insisted on roast potatoes (some things are not allowed to change), but this would be better with couscous, rice, or even mashed potato.

The recipe is adapted from Willie Harcourt Cooze's excellent book Willie's Chocolate Factory, in which all sorts of surprising foods are given the cacao treatment. Once you've got over the initial shock, you realise that good cacao is a fabulous flavour enhancer, up there with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. Willie's cylindrical bars of cacao are, without question, a must-have in my kitchen - and, although they are expensive, as with good balsamic, a little goes a very long way.

Lamb with dates and chocolate
Enough for 4-6 people (I'll add notes at the end about scaling this up for a crowd).

1 kg lamb leg slices
2 chopped onions
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp saffron threads
3 cloves garlic, chopped
25g finely grated cacao
200g tomatoes, skinned and chopped
stock to cover
100g pitted dates

Put everything apart from the dates into a casserole dish, cover with stock, and simmer with the lid on for an hour and a half. Add the dates and simmer for half an hour with the lid off, so that the sauce can thicken.

NOTES: this simple recipe lends itself well to scaling up. I used tinned whole tomatoes (if you use their juice, you'll hardly need any stock), one can per 1.5kg lamb. I also used tinned Spanish onion, which I often do when I'm mass catering, at the same rate. Saffron is an essential element to the success of this dish: mine was highly scented & from Iran - anything less pungent, and you'll need more. AND, this is better made a day ahead: I put the dates in at the end of the first cooking stage, cooled the pan, and then reheated slowly the next day without the lid.

Related links

Willie's quick chocolate pud
Easter roast lamb with ginger rub
Very easy lamb with olive paste
Lamb shanks

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A very good ginger cake

Susie brought us this wonderful ginger cake at the weekend. The recipe came from the BBC Olive magazine site. She says it's a bit of a faff to make, but it's definitely worth it, lots of subtle flavour - dark muscovado notes. She made it in one of those rubbery moulds I'm always too mean to buy, which is why it bulges with voluptuous Ruben-esque curves ...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hot uncrossed buns

I made some more hot cross buns on Easter Sunday, and they were gobbled up for tea, gone in moments. These were a slight refinement from the Good Friday recipe, better - only I forgot to slash crosses in them, so I suppose that makes them teacakes. Or crossless buns. Eleanor's favourite, anyway - and she's been very helpful with improving this recipe.

The main changes are making the buns half the size, ensuring that the oven is very hot indeed, and using a lot more spice. Yet to be tried is a little lemon zest - I think it would give the dough a lift.

Here's how it goes:
this makes 12

1/2 tsp instant yeast
300g strong white flour
20g melted butter
150g water
pinch of salt
dssp honey
3 tsp mixed spice, maybe even four (I used the Christmas pudding mix from The Spice Shop)

a handful of sultanas (best soaked for a while, but, obviously, not always possible) kneaded in while you are forming the buns

When the dough is mixed (I've been using the machine), form into buns and leave to rise in a warm place. Decorate with a cross - but that should really only be on Good Friday. Bake in a very hot oven.

While the buns are still warm, brush with honey melted in a little water - I put a pot on the edge of the stove, and it amalgamated into a fragrant syrup in moments, even though it was the solid English sort of honey.

Related links

Hot cross buns, Mk 1

Antioxidant tea bread
Fabulous cinnamon rolls - another of E's favourites

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An egg for Easter

This morning Lucius found the first egg from our new bluebell pullets. No idea whether it was the little grey hen, or the brown one who is too timid to stray far from the cockerel.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Very quick, very delicious chocolate pudding

Fabulous Easter pud - make it with the best chocolate you can find. I make it with Willie Harcourt-Cooze's Peruvian or Venezuelan, but anything darkly delicious will do. It's (more or less) his recipe, too - they come on the inside of the wrappers.

I've got one sitting in the fridge for dinner tonight. I may make another for lunch tomorrow ... it's the work of moments, only you'd never guess.

for 8-12 (it's v rich)

180g cacao, grated
300ml double cream
150g icing sugar

Melt the chocolate. Whip the double cream to soft peaks, add the sugar. Let the chocolate cool a little, then beat it into the cream. Pour this mixture into a mould lined with cling film - this is enough for a small loaf tin. Chill.

Related links

Jennifer Paterson's adult chocolate cake - particularly good with Willie's cacao
Nigella's fudge icing for chocolate cakes
Rich chocolate refrigerator cake
Dense chocolate loaf

Hot cross buns

I've made all the bread eaten in this house for well over a year, so today I'm making hot cross buns, a great British tradition for Good Friday. These are just notes so that I can make them again next year. I've simply tweaked the pizza dough I mix in my machine.

for 5-6 hot cross buns

1/2 tsp instant yeast
300g strong white flour
20g melted butter
a handful of sultanas
150g water
pinch of salt
dssp honey
tsp mixed spice

When the dough is mixed, form into buns and leave to rise in a warm place. Decorate with a cross - either by slashing, or with a flour and water paste. Bake in a hot oven.

While they are still warm, brush with melted honey. Mmmm

PS as I forgot to put a tsp mixed spice into the mixture, I added it to the honey, which I melted with a drop of water

PPS putting the sultanas into the machine at the beginning means that they get cut up into little pieces, which sweetens the dough, but means you don't have whole sultanas. My machine isn't reliable at mixing in additions, they're often left sitting on the edge of the dough - next time, I think I'll add a few as I'm forming the buns.

PPPS there are so many alternative views about making the flour paste for the crosses, and I'm running out of time - so I simply slashed the buns

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Apple tart - Alfred's new favourite

This apple tart is quick and straightforward as apple tarts go, and there's the added oomph of thriftily boiling up the peels in the syrup mixture. It's the prettiest apple tart I've ever made, thanks to a new-to-me way of dealing with the fruit: peel the apples whole, halve them, dig out the core, slice them and leave them in their halved shape so that you can easily fan them out in circles on the pastry. Obvious really, but it had never before occurred to me.

Apple Tart
for an 8-9 inch tart lined with your usual pastry

5-6 dessert apples (I used Jazz apples, grown in Kent)
a little butter

Heat the oven to 200C (400F).

Peel and slice the apples. Arrange them on the chilled pastry. Dot with tiny slivers of butter (or melt butter and brush it over - I would have, but my pastry brush is moulting, and I found this just as effective). Bake for (up to) three quarters of an hour, turning once or twice.

Meanwhile, put all the peelings into a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and as little water as you can. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain - it will be beautifully rosy coloured. You might then want to boil some of the liquid off if you think it's not thick enough.

Give the tart a minute or two to settle out of the oven, then brush with the apple-y syrup.

Serve warm, or at room temperature. Very good. Alfred ate half in one sitting.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Weed sauce

These are the leaves I used to make a salsa verde for lunch. The dandelions came from the lawn, just before its first cut of the year; the nettles came from a newly-sprung patch just outside the greenhouse; the rocket had self-seeded in the greenhouse; the sorrel has seeded itself all over the path - my fault for not picking it hard enough last year. In other words, this is the lazy gardener's sauce. Tastes good.

This variation on my basic salsa verde recipe went as follows:


  • a small basket of mixed green leaves
  • a little red wine vinegar
  • two or three anchovies
  • some mustard
  • olive oil

PS if you are using nettles, you need to blanch them briefly, to defuse the sting:

Related links

Nettle pesto

Nettle soup
Nettle tea
Nettle beer

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Chicken love

Our new chickens are very inquisitive ....

... and it's the little grey hen who leads the way

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Nettle flatbread

It's very satisfying, eating weeds, especially nettles, which grow so readily here. This is a quick addition to lunch: I split my "usual" flatbread dough in two, made two rough circles, covered one with a cheesy nettle mix, covered and slashed it, then baked it in a hot oven. Delicious.

Nettle flatbread

for the dough:
300g strong white flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
170ml water
pinch of salt
glug of oil

Put everything in the bread machine and use the dough setting.

for the nettle mixture:
A handful of nettle tops
A few leaves of mint
cheese - whatever you've got

Slice an onion and sweat in a little oil. When it is soft (or browned, if that's what you'd like), add the chopped washed greens. Continue cooking until they've collapsed and the nettles have lost their sting.

Make two circles of dough. Cover one with the nettle mix and add some chopped cheese. I used gruyere, but blue or creamy would work here too. Cover with the second circle, pinch it together, slash and bake for 15-20 minutes in a hot oven.


Other things to make with nettles

Nettle pesto

Nettle soup
Nettle tea
Nettle beer

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A play-date at Miele Experience Centre

A week or two ago, I spent a very merry day at the Miele Experience Centre, trying out their kitchen equipment. We've got a little light kitchen remodelling to do here, and I've been humming and hawing about it for months. Not any more. I've got it all sorted. Nearly.

The Experience Centre is unique amongst white goods manufacturers: anyone can go (by appointment) and play with the full range, everything is "live" - ie plugged and plumbed in. You can even take your washing. But mostly, people go there to cook, guided by Miele's home economist Elspeth.

You might think that a cooker is a cooker is a cooker. But you'd be wrong. (Well, I was wrong.) The test kitchen has four work stations, and each of them is equipped slightly differently: a hob, ovens, plus one item which might be described as a novelty. There was a barbecue grill, a salamander (which is a fancy, space age sort of a grill that rises up out of the worktop), a tepanyaki hotplate, and a built-in wok. All good fun, if in total contrast to my Esse woodburning stove, and the Aga that I have cooked on for over 20 years.

Someone commented that this was scientific cooking ... all that programming is not the thing for an instinctive cook. On the other hand, here's something worth having - the whole range is integrated, so that all the trays and racks fit everything .... you can prepare food ahead, put it on a metal tray which slots into your fridge and later will go straight into your oven. Every last little detail has been thought about - top class design and engineering.

I'm not a great one for gadgets, but the built-in coffee maker is a dream. We won't need a microwave any more, as we only ever use it to heat up milk for hot chocolate. And we'll have a heated drawer, which will primarily be used for proving bread, although we'll never have an excuse for cold plates any more, and we'll be able to keep supper warm for late-comers.

Miele are kindly going to lend me a steam oven to play with .... people who have them say that they are the best; I just wonder if it's too scientific for me, if it would end up as the world's most expensive egg boiler.

Anyone can spend the day at the Experience Centre, for which there's no charge (that's real confidence in your product), although my day there was specially arranged for a group of bloggers. I cooked with Sam, the Cycling Cook, whose post explains what we made. Also there were Alex from The Princess and the Recipe, Joy of Almanzo's Belly and Alex at Just Cook It. A great day out ... made perfect by Anna, the washing-up fairy, who made it possible for one fabulous day to cook without having to bother about clearing up.

Beware though, you may end up, like me, thinking that there's really no alternative ...