Tag Archives: Dessert

When things go wrong in the kitchen…

Wisley Oct 2019 lake
RHS Wisley – on a rare fine Sunday

With a crazily busy working schedule throughout October, wet weekends have at least afforded me the opportunity to bake, and using up windfall apples has been high on the agenda, with lots of apples falling off the trees much earlier than I’d usually expect. I made my go-to apple favourites including spiced apple shortbread, traditional apple pie, apple juice and apple compote in various guises, but when a colleague on the Foodie Translators Facebook page posted a recipe for apple cider doughnuts similar to the ones we’d tasted in an apple farm in New England back in September, I was tempted to experiment. Unfortunately, the recipe was an American one and, despite using proper measuring cups, I somehow came unstuck. It’s not often I have culinary disasters, but this was one such day. I used self-raising flour with only 1 tsp baking powder, rather than the 1 1/2 tsp the recipe recommends, so that could have been an issue, as could the dilemma of how to measure solid butter in tablespoons. Turns out (thanks to my American daughter-in-law for enlightening me later) that the American ‘sticks’ of butter (so-called because they are long narrow sticks, half the weight of our 250g (8oz) slabs) are marked in tablespoons – of course they are! Whatever I did wrong, the mixture rose like a soufflé, then promptly sank again, spreading all down the sides of my muffin cases and ring moulds. It steadfastly refused to set, so I ended up leaving it in much longer than the recipe suggested – with the upshot, when they finally came out and cooled, that they were nothing more than crumbs! Tasty crumbs admittedly, but crumbs nonetheless. Reluctant to throw them away, I scraped them out of the tins and these are the two recipes I salvaged them in – very satisfying that my disaster actually turned into two delicious creations and another bag of crumbs in the freezer – waste not, want not :-).

The first was a vaguely remembered childhood treat: chocolate rum truffles, but made with cake crumbs rather than the more decadent ganache truffles you buy from upmarket chocolate shops. These are not dissimilar to the inside of that Viennese classic, the delightfully pink Punschtorte, but without the lurid pink icing. I scoured my cookbooks and the internet, without finding exactly what I wanted, then cobbled together something along the lines of what I remembered and hoped to achieve – success!

Chocolate Rum Truffles – makes 12

Chocolate rum truffles

6oz cake crumbs (any sponge cake will do – mine were spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, but that’s not essential)
4oz ground almonds
2 heaped tbsp good jam (I used gooseberry, but plum or apricot would work too)
1 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp dark rum
4oz dark chocolate, to coat (or use chocolate vermicelli)

Blitz crumbs in a food processor, then add the ground almonds, caster sugar and sifted cocoa powder. Warm the jam and sieve to remove any lumps, then stir into the mixture with the rum – or mix on a low speed if using a food processor. Mould into 12 balls and place in cake cases. Leave to set in the fridge before melting the chocolate (I do mine in the microwave at 80% for 1 minute, followed by 30-second blasts, stirring each time, until just melted, but you can melt in the traditional way in a bowl over a pan of simmering water if you prefer). Coat the truffle balls by dipping in the melted chocolate using a fork, or kitchen tongs, then set on baking paper before returning to the cases. Enjoy – all the better if you’ve rescued the crumbs from a culinary disaster in the first place!

My next crumb salvage operation was inspired by a suggestion from another colleague on Foodie Translators, although I have had this recipe in one of my ancient cookery leaflets for a while. This particular glossy leaflet was a forerunner of the popular dairy cookbooks that came out in the early 80s, and was given to me by another translator colleague and good friend many years ago. Called “Clever with Cream”, it is, as you’d expect, all about using cream in many different ways. This recipe comes under the “Crème Continental” page and has the enchanting name of “Danish Peasant Girl with a Veil” (Bondepige med Slor in Danish!). As ever, I ended up adapting the recipe to suit what I had on hand, but it worked very well – can’t think why I haven’t made it before!

Danish Peasant Girl with a Veil – serves 2-3

Danish Peasant Girl with Veil

2-3 large eating apples
Juice and rind of half a lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
sugar to taste
4oz cake crumbs
1oz butter
1 tbsp Demerara sugar
1/4 pint double cream, whipped

Slice apples, sprinkle with lemon and cinnamon and cook gently with a dash of water in a pan (or in the microwave) until tender. You can add sugar if you like, but this will depend on the sweetness of your apples. I used a Cox variety and they really don’t need any extra sugar. Stir in the lemon rind. Set aside to cool.

Set oven to 180°C fan/Gas 5. Melt the butter in a small frying pan and fry the crumbs until crisp and golden, stirring continuously. Watch them like a hawk as they can catch very quickly! Stir in the Demerara sugar.

Place half the crumb mixture at the bottom of a small greased ovenproof dish – I used a straight-sided soufflé dish about 6″ in diameter – then add the cooled apple compote, straining off any excess liquid beforehand. Finish with another layer of crumbs, then place in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, checking to make sure it doesn’t get too brown. Remove from the oven and allow to chill before topping with a swirly layer of whipped cream. Decorate as you wish – I used dried apple rings, but you could also use toasted flaked almonds or spare toasted crumbs.

Wisley Oct 2019 orange tree
RHS Wisley again – so glad the sun shone for once

 

Guilty secrets – or super-easy puddings…

poppy and me recuperating after knee op

Sorry for the huge amount of time that’s elapsed since I last posted – I can only blame pressures of work, frantic Christmas preparations and finally getting a date for my knee operation on Christmas Eve of all days! Despite my fears about the operation being cancelled, it went ahead like clockwork – very impressed with the staff in the orthopaedic unit at Maidstone Hospital. I was back at my son’s house in time for Stollen and tea the same day and able to enjoy a very small portion of Christmas lunch the next day with my family. I’m so grateful that I can now look forward to the year ahead with the prospect of my knee improving at long last – and I should have recovered sufficiently by the start of the gardening year in late March/April to do most of the jobs I want to do.

Christmas has been a time of sitting with my knee raised, ice pack in place, religiously doing my physio exercises, while everyone else cooked, walked the dogs and waited on me hand and foot – a very novel experience! Slowly but surely I’ve been feeling stronger, returning home on New Year’s Day. Today I had the clips removed from my various (very neat) wounds, and last Friday the physio gave me the go-ahead to walk with one crutch or even none if I felt strong enough. So much better than when I ruptured the ligament in the first place and had my knee in a brace for the first couple of weeks, causing my muscles to atrophy in the meantime… This consultant doesn’t believe in leg braces, preferring to allow people to gradually move the joint as they are able, aided by judicious use of physio – so far, so good.

New Year’s Day also marked the return of my younger son and daughter-in-law from their world travels: so good to be reunited with them. Perfect timing as they are now on dog-walking and cooking duties until I’m back in action fully 🙂

Yesterday we had a houseful of guests for a welcome home party, with my son cooking a delicious roast dinner – rib of beef, roast potatoes and parsnips, mashed carrot & swede, sesame-fried kale and Yorkshire pudding: delicious! They even had to go down to the allotment first to harvest the parsnips and kale. In return, I felt strong enough to make a pudding or two – very easy, minimal-effort puddings I should add! My son had opened a can of condensed milk the day before to make Vietnamese coffee, brought back from his travels, so I turned to one of my stand-by storecupboard sweets, based on a recipe from an M&S Family Cookbook from the 1980s. Called simply lemon flan, it tastes for all the world like a lemon cheesecake, yet contains no cheese – and always goes down well, especially with fresh fruit. Oh, and I used the rest of the tin of condensed milk in this equally easy traybake, one of my boys’ all-time favourites: Marbled Energy Bars. Waste not, want not…

Lemon Flan – serves 6

lemon flan

60g butter
120g digestive biscuits
200ml condensed milk (1/2 standard tin)
150ml double cream
2 lemons, grated rind and juice

Fresh fruit of your choice to serve

Melt the butter in a small pan and crush the digestive biscuits at the same time – either in a food processor or put them in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Tip the crushed biscuits into the melted butter and mix well, then use to line the base of a greased 20 cm deep flan tin (preferably with a removable base) and slightly up the sides. Press down firmly all over, then place in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

Lightly whip the cream, then stir in the lemon rind, juice and condensed milk. Whip again until starting to thicken. Transfer to the flan case, smooth the surface and leave to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Turn out onto a decorative plate to serve (leaving on the base) and serve decorated with fresh fruit – I like it with kiwi fruit, blueberries or in this instance last year’s summer raspberries from the freezer. Or you could decorate with a rim of crushed digestive biscuits and crystallised lemon slices if you fancy going old school 😉

My next super-easy pudding is very much a guilty secret. My foodie credentials are in danger of being withdrawn, as this recipes uses (shock,horror!) that 70s favourite, Butterscotch Angel Delight. Before you recoil in shock, do give it a go: I’ve never yet served this to anything other than rapturous delight; and it still gets requested by family members and friends alike at regular intervals.

Rum & Raisin Flan – serves 8

rum and raisin flan

60g butter
120g digestive biscuits
125g raisins
2 tbsp dark rum
1 packet Butterscotch Angel Delight
275ml milk (semi-skimmed works fine)
300ml double cream
Grated dark chocolate to decorate

Place the raisins in a pan with some boiling water to cover and boil for a few minutes. Set aside in the water to cool.

As in the previous recipe, melt the butter in a small pan and crush the digestive biscuits at the same time – either in a food processor or put them in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Tip the crushed biscuits into the melted butter and mix well, then use to line the base of a greased 20 cm deep flan tin (preferably with a removable base) and slightly up the sides. Press down firmly all over, then place in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

Meanwhile, make up the Angel Delight by whisking the powder into the cold milk until it thickens. Stir in the cooled raisins and the rum and mix well. Transfer to the chilled flan base and smooth evenly over the base. Return to the fridge to chill for a couple of hours.

Before serving, whip the double cream until soft peaks form and spread over the rum and raisin base. Make soft swirls with your knife, then decorate with grated chocolate. Serve to an appreciative silence……

reserved for the dog poppy

 

 

 

 

It’s a chill wind…

Kale

It’s been bitterly cold outside today, so apart from the requisite two daily dog walks, and a brief visit to the allotment to reinstate my brassica frame and harvest some leeks, parsley, calabrese and Cavolo Nero, it’s been a day for hibernating inside in front of a roaring log fire. The frame had blown down again in last week’s strong winds, along with several front panels of my allotment shed, so it was a good thing I was accompanied by my younger son, who took it upon himself to screw them back into place. Otherwise, I might very well have discovered the whole shed missing next time I go up! As it was, there was a large piece of wood lying at the shed door, which definitely wasn’t mine and must have blown from someone else’s plot. The joys of an exposed site… but a small price to pay for tranquillity and spectacular country views, I suppose.

I did manage to do my annual New Year’s Day plant survey earlier in the week, but the wet weather meant that there were only 11 plants in flower this year: a couple of primroses, hellebores foetidus and Party Frock, chaenomeles Crimson & Gold, viburnum bodnantense Charles Lamont and daphnes aureomarginata, mezereum alba and bholua Jacqueline Postill, rose Frilly Cuff (a new addition last autumn) and a deep pink heather. However, the snowdrops are growing by the day with all the rain and their first buds should soon be out. A decidedly cheering thought.

Other than cutting back last year’s hellebore foliage, most of which has now started to fan out from the centre to better show off the emerging flower buds, as if reminding me that it’s time for the chop, there really isn’t much to tempt me out into the garden at this time of year. Even the compost bins, still stocked by a weekly bag of vegetable waste from the kitchen, decay at a slower rate at this time of year. The hellebore leaves don’t go into the garden compost, of course, as some of them show signs of hellebore leaf spot, a fungal disease I definitely don’t want to perpetuate from one year to the next. I did cut down last year’s dead and strawlike flower spikes on my vigorous valerian (centranthus ruber) plants too, though, revealing the lovely new growth waiting beneath.

Seeds Jan 2018

One thing I did do yesterday was visit my local garden centre, where I snapped up some real bargains, not only in half-price seeds – always worth looking at this time of year – but half-price organic slug pellets and tomato food too. A substantial saving when you add it all up, and these are all things I will definitely get through when the gardening year gets going in earnest.

Back in the warmth, this was an evening for an old-fashioned Beef & Guinness casserole with herby dumplings, followed by that old favourite, pineapple upside-down pudding & custard. Comfort food par excellence.

Pineapple Upside-Down Pudding – serves 6

 

Pineapple upsidedown_cropped

1 large tin pineapple slices in juice, drained
50g glacé cherries, halved
2-3 tbsp golden syrup
125g caster sugar
125g butter
125g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC, Gas 4. Grease a 20cm cake tin – I like to use a tarte tatin tin for this, but any deep cake tin will do. Spoon the golden syrup into the bottom of the tin and spread out to cover completely. Arrange the pineapple slices on the bottom of the dish; you may not need them all, but fit in what you can. Arrange the cherries decoratively around the pineapple slices.

Place the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until light and fluffy. Spoon onto the pineapple and spread out evenly to cover. Bake at 160ºC, Gas 4 for 45 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. Serve warm with fresh custard or pouring cream.

Apple watch

The apple season has been unusually protracted this year, starting as it did in late July/early August with the shiny red Katy apples and now in full flow with the main crops ready to be harvested for storage: Bramleys and an unidentified, but delicious Cox hybrid in my case. I’ve been eating windfalls for months, but this weekend is on my calendar as apple harvest time – if the weather decides to play ball! I’ve been away or otherwise occupied so much recently, and am going away for work again next week, so this weekend is really my last chance before the winter weather sets in and the prospect of frost rears its ugly head.

After a delightful couple of days here in the South-East with glorious autumn sunshine and a soft breeze – combined of course with a full workload and no time to go outside and play – Saturday morning dawned wet and gloomy: not the ideal weather to cut the long overdue lawn and harvest my apples…. Fortunately, tomorrow’s forecast looks better, so I abandoned all hope of a day catching up in the garden/allotment and spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon pootling around in the kitchen, baking instead – good for the soul :-).

I haven’t had much time to bake since getting back from holiday, so a good opportunity to restock the cake tins (and freezer). My younger son is dog-sitting next week while I’m away; heaven forbid that I should leave him with no cake! Today’s session included spiced apple shortbread, hazelnut maple biscuits (courtesy of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries III, and a brace of ginger cakes, including one for the freezer. I also made a mocha ice cream and a good, old-fashioned apple crumble for tonight’s dessert. My favourite kind of afternoon….

I also wanted to share two other apple recipes I’ve made recently in this most apple-centric season: a walnut apple galette and a fragrant Apfelkuchen, a yeasted cake topped with sliced and spiced apples. The galette is from an ancient M&S Seasonal Freezer cookbook I’ve had since the year dot: Leo the labrador (6 today!) chewed it indiscriminately during his puppyhood, so it now has no front cover and rather mangled edges, but I haven’t the heart to throw it away. As for the apple cake, it’s based on a Nigella recipe from her delightful Domestic Goddess book, but with lots more fruit following a discussion with German colleagues in the Foodie Translator group on Facebook. Definitely one to make for breakfast or brunch when you have a house full of guests as it makes a rather large cake.

Walnut Apple Galette – serves 8

Walnut galette

3oz walnut pieces
3oz butter
2oz soft brown sugar
4oz plain flour, sifted
2-3 large cooking apples
Juice of half a lemon
2oz sultanas
1/2 tsp mixed spice (or cinnamon)
1-2 tbsp sugar (or to taste, depending on the sweetness of your apples)
1/4 pt double cream
3-4 tbsp natural yogurt
Icing sugar, sifted (to serve)

Grease two baking sheets and pre-heat the oven to 180°C, 375°F or gas mark 5.

Grind the walnuts to a coarse powder in a food processor, then add the sugar, butter and flour, and process until it comes together to make a firm dough. Divide the dough in half and roll out each half on a piece of floured baking parchment until you have an approximate disc shape measuring at least 8″ in diameter. Then mark a disc shape on the rolled dough using the base of an 8″ cake tin. Place a greased baking sheet on top of the shortbread disc and carefully flip it over using the paper at the sides to hold it in place. Remove the paper and repeat with the second half of dough and the second baking sheet. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cut one of the shortbread discs into eight segments while still warm (it will crack if you try to do it when it has cooled!). Leave to cool on the trays.

While the shortbread is cooking, prepare the filling. Peel, core and slice the cooking apples and put in a pan with 2 tbsp water and a dash of lemon juice to prevent the apples going brown. Add the sugar to taste and the mixed spice or cinnamon. When the apples are soft and fluffy, add the sultanas and leave to cool.

When ready to assemble, whip the cream until soft peaks form, then whip in the natural yogurt (or you can just use cream if you prefer – I like the lighter and tangier effect with added yogurt). Place the unsegmented base on a serving plate and spread half the cream on top. Spoon on a generous layer of the apple mixture, then spread the remaining cream and yogurt mix on top. Arrange the shortbread segments on top and dust with icing sugar. This softens the longer you leave it in the fridge, so if you want to enjoy the contrast between the crispness of the shortbread and the soft billowing layers of cream and apple, don’t assemble too long before eating! That said, I adore it in its slightly softer state the following day too: the flavours just seem to meld superbly….

Apfelkuchen – serves 8-10

350g strong bread flour
1 tsp dried yeast (I use Dove’s Farm)
1/2 tsp salt
50g caster sugar
200ml milk
1 medium egg, beaten
25g butter

1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp cream (or crème fraiche)
7-8 eating apples (I used Katy, but any crisp dessert apple will work beautifully)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (or lime)
1 tbsp demerara or caster sugar
Fresh nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp cinnamon or allspice
Handful flaked almonds

I make my bread dough in a breadmaker, but you can do it by hand if you prefer. For the breadmaker method, just put the first seven ingredients in the breadmaker and prepare the dough using the dough setting. My machine (Panasonic) takes 2 hours and 20 minutes for dough, but other machines may differ. I tend to make the dough in the evening and then leave in the fridge, covered, in a bowl overnight for a long, slow second prove.

The following morning, knock down the dough on a floured surface, then press into a greased 20 x 30 cm Swiss roll tin or roasting tin. It will take some pressing to make it expand to fit the tin, so be patient – it will get there in the end! Then set aside in a warm place to prove again while you prepare the filling. I find this takes up to one hour in a warm kitchen; if you’re lucky enough to have a proving drawer or an airing cupboard, you may get away with less.

Peel and core the apples, then cut into slices, coating in lemon juice to prevent browning as you work. Place in a bowl with the sugar, cinnamon or allspice and toss to mix evenly. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, 375°F or gas mark 5.

In a small bowl, mix the beaten egg with 1 tbsp cream and grate in some fresh nutmeg. Then brush this mixture over the proved dough. Finally arrange the apple slices neatly in rows on top of the dough and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes until the fruit is tender and starting to turn golden brown. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm in chunky slices with a beatific smile. My German colleagues suggested lashings of whipped cream – but even I draw the line at whipped cream for breakfast!

Currant Favourites

Currants galore

There’s a time of year when everything seems to come ready at once – everything in the soft fruit department, that is. Just as the raspberries were coming fast and furious, all the currants – red, white and black – AND the gooseberries suddenly reached peak ripeness and demanded to be picked and eaten. Cue many hours of harvesting and bowls of fruit borne home for freezing/processing, eating just as they are. A boon, really, but it is also a bit daunting to have so much in one go! Then , just as quickly as they come, you go away for a weekend (my future daughter-in-law’s hen weekend no less!) and come back to bushes stripped clean. I don’t know how the blackbirds do it, but they seem to find a way under the nets every year. Fortunately, I’d picked the majority by then, so I don’t mind sharing some of my bounty with the allotment wildlife.

What to do with all this produce? The usual suspects of jam and freezer, of course, but I also experimented this year with a couple of recipes I’ve been meaning to try for a long time. My younger son and his girlfriend are staying this month, between lets, so a great excuse to cook more elaborate dishes than I’d normally do for myself.

Blackcurrants are one of my favourite soft fruits and rather than stick to the standard pies, crumbles and fools, I had a couple of interesting recipes on my list: Nigel Slater’s blackcurrant trifle and a delicious-sounding blackcurrant & liquorice sorbet that took me right back to the sweet shops of my childhood. You can also make it with jostaberries if you have any – they tend to crop slightly later in the season than blackcurrants, but taste very similar.

Blackcurrant Trifle – serves 8

Blackcurrant trifle

500g blackcurrants
3 tbsp caster sugar
4 tbsp water
250g sponge cake (I used half a Victoria sponge I happened to have in the freezer, but you could use trifle sponges or bought cake)
100g amaretti biscuits
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 large egg, separated
vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp
250g mascarpone cheese
300ml double cream
2-3 amaretti biscuits, crumbled, to garnish

Strig the currants and put in a pan with 3 tbsp caster sugar (or to taste) and the water. Cook gently for 7-10 minutes until soft and juicy. Remove from the heat.

Break the sponge into pieces and put into a trifle dish with the amaretti biscuits. Spoon the hot blackcurrants over the base and leave to cool.

Put the egg yolk and sugar into a bowl and mix, then stir in the mascarpone and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until it forms soft swirls, then fold lightly into the mascarpone mix. Finally whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks and fold that into the cream mixture.

Spoon the mascarpone custard over the cool blackcurrant base and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Decorate with crumbled amaretti biscuits for added crunch.

Blackcurrant & Liquorice Sorbet

Blackcurrant and liquorice sorbet

200g granulated sugar
200ml water
450g blackcurrants
Juice of 1 lemon
25ml aniseed liqueur (I used Marie Brizard, but ouzo or pastis would work too – or leave it out if you prefer)
2 tsp liquorice powder (I ordered this online, but specialist Asian shops might stock it too)
1 egg white

Dissolve the granulated sugar in the water over a low heat and cook for 5 minutes or so. Stir in the liquorice powder. Leave to cool and form a sugar syrup.

Strig the blackcurrants (no need to remove all the stalks as they will be sieved afterwards) and put in a small pan with the lemon juice. Cook gently for 5 -10 minutes until soft. Add the aniseed liqueur. Purée the fruit mixture in a liquidiser with the sugar syrup, then press through a sieve.

Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn for 20 minutes, then fold in the stiffly whipped egg white for the last 20 minutes. (Alternatively, fold in the egg white straightaway and freeze in a container for 1-2 hours, whizz again in a food processor and return to the freezer until set.) The alcohol gives the sorbet a lovely texture and means it can be served virtually straight from the freezer. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Sowing crazy

Primrose pot

I’m so grateful for four-day weekends at this time of year, especially when they happen to coincide with good weather for once! Despite having family and friends around for Easter, with the associated cooking and entertaining – any excuse! – it’s good to still have time to get out in the garden/allotment and feel you’ve made progress at this busy time in the growing calendar.

A fellow plotholder had a huge delivery of spent mushroom compost a few weeks ago, and when she’d taken what she needed, offered it to other allotmenteers for the princely sum of £1.80 a barrowload. I hadn’t intended to get any this year, having added lots of stable manure last year, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. Plus it’s so dry at the moment that moving it was far less effort than it has been some years. I duly shifted 6 barrowfuls on Good Friday, focussing on mulching round my fruit bushes and dahlias, but the beds looked so good afterwards that I ended up doing another 6 barrowloads today, ready to plant peas, courgettes and beans – all heavy feeders that will definitely appreciate the extra goodness. No wonder my FitBit tells me I’ve done 21,000 steps today – who needs a gym when you have a garden?!

Mushroom compost in barrow

To put the mushroom compost where I wanted it entailed taking out some overwintered plants like the calabrese, which has done amazingly well to keep shooting for so long, but is starting to flower now. The spinach and chard in last year’s salad bed are also putting up flowering stems, which means they’ll go bitter if not used soon. A good excuse for a spinach, pea & mint soup when my parents came over for Easter Sunday lunch. Followed, of course, by a broccoli, caramelised onion & goat’s cheese tart – divine! I also discovered a row of rocket and winter salad I’d planted under cloches last autumn and forgotten all about – wonderful to pick your own salad at this time of year.

The first asparagus was ready on Good Friday too – incredibly early thanks to all this early sunshine. No hardship to pick that and serve it simply roasted with a sublime, oaky, buttery white rioja from the Wine Sociey (Navajas Blanco Crianza 2014) – a match made in heaven.

Broccoli quiche with asparagus and salad_cropped

Soil prepared, it was a relatively simple matter to sow the first peas of the year: purple mangetout Shiraz and old-favourite sugar snap Sugar Bon, along with my first sowing of root crops: parsnips Tender & True, carrot Torchon and beetroot Cylindra and Renova. I’ve covered these with fleece to keep the soil warm as they germinate and to prevent carrot root fly in the early stages of growth. I also mixed horticultural sand with the soil where the carrots are to go thanks to a tip-off from my experienced allotment neighbour and former farmer. He always manages to get fabulous long rows of carrots, whereas I’m lucky to get half-a-dozen to survive the inevitable slug grazing. Watch this space 🙂

Asparagus bed with tulips

I returned from the allotment late this afternoon, tired but happy, with a basket of purple-sprouting broccoli, parsley, leeks, more asparagus and a bunch of gorgeous tulips from my cutting bed – so pleased that they’ve done well enough to pick for the house this year. These particular ones are Bruine Wimpel and Ronaldo – a gorgeous mix.

Tulips Bruine Wimpel and Ronaldo April 2017_cropped

All in all, a very satisfying few days’ work – if only every weekend was four days long!

Broccoli, Caramelised Onion & Goat’s Cheese Tart – serves 6-8

Broccoli and goats cheese tart

20cm shortcrust pastry case, baked blind
3 eggs
300ml double cream (or single if you prefer)
3 large onions, sliced
25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
Handful purple-sprouting broccoli
100g mild goat’s cheese, crumbled
Fresh nutmeg, grated
Seasoning

Melt the oil and butter over a low hat in a large frying pan, add the sliced onions and garlic and cook on low for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelised. Stir in the sugar 5 minutes or so before the end, then add the balsamic vinegar and remove from the heat.

Cook the broccoli in the microwave in a little water for 2-3 minutes until just tender, then drain. Whisk the eggs with the cream, and add the thyme leaves, seasoning and crumbled goat’s cheese. Gently stir in the caramelised onions and cooked broccoli, then turn into the baked tart case. Cook at 180°C fan, Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with salad.

To finish, I have to share one of our favourite family desserts for special gatherings, tiramisu. This is one of my younger son’s signature desserts; I’ve forgotten now how it was that he came to make this, but he did such a good job that the task usually falls to him! He was away this Easter though, so I had to dig out the recipe and make it myself – I’m pleased to report it still worked.

Tiramisu – serves 8-10

Tiramisu

450ml strong black coffee (I make mine in a cafetière)
1 vanilla pod (optional – you could also use 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste)
200g tub mascarpone
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
300ml double cream, whipped
100ml brandy (or grappa)
1-2 packets sponge fingers (one packet is never enough, but I suppose it depends on the size of your dish!)
1 level tbsp cocoa powder to dust

Pour the coffee into a shallow bowl, add the brandy (or grappa if you want to be authentic!) and vanilla pod if using. Leave to infuse while you prepare the custard mix.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick, then whisk in the mascarpone until smooth. Add the vanilla extract or paste if you’re not using a vanilla pod. Fold the softly whipped cream into the mascarpone mix.

Remove the vanilla pod from the coffee (wash, dry and add to sugar to make vanilla sugar if you like). Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee mixture, then place in rows on the base of a rectangular serving dish – mine measures 20cm x 30cm. Don’t leave them in the coffee too long as they are liable to disintegrate! Spread half the mascarpone mixture gently over the soaked sponge fingers, then dip the remaining sponge fingers in the coffee and place on top. Finish with a final layer of mascarpone mixture, spreading right to the edges to cover the fingers completely.

Chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours before serving; tastes even better the next day! Dust with the sifted cocoa powder to serve.

globe artichoke
Globe artichokes have survived the winter at last!

 

 

 

 

Spring has sprung!

What a glorious spell of early spring weather we’re having – it probably won’t last, but I for one am making the most of it while it does. I even went down to the tennis courts for my first game of the season this afternoon – unheard of before Easter usually! The warm sunshine is bringing on the bulbs and the spring blossom fast and furious: I did opt for early-flowering tulips this year, but still, to see them in full bloom in early April is quite something. These are Vanilla Cream and Design Impression, both from Sarah Raven – if I’d known they would flower at exactly the same time, I might have risked mixing them together in their planters, but I’ve done that before, even with collections intended to flower together, and had them blooming out of sync. As it is, they provide a fabulous shot of colour either side of the arch at the entrance to the garden – gorgeous!

Tulip Design Impression

Tulip Vanilla Cream

Last weekend, after my vegan guests had gone on their way, I managed to fit in a couple of hours down at the allotment. Eminently satisfying. The purple-sprouting broccoli, and even last year’s calabrese are still going strong, as is the spinach and parsley. I dug up the rest of the parsnips so I could plant my seed potatoes in their designated rotation: like last year, I’ve just gone for two varieties, ten of each: Jazzy, a highly recommended new T&M variety for white, waxy early potatoes, and Anya, a nutty salad potato related to Pink Fir Apple that I’ve grown before and does well on my soil.

This month’s Garden magazine included an interesting article maintaining that the notion of “terroir” applies to humble vegetables just as much to grapes and I quite agree: the potatoes I grew in Scotland or in my native Cheshire seemed to have much more taste than the ones I grow down here in my Sussex clay, but some certainly do better than others. If you can find the ones that do grow well in your soil, it pays to stick with them. Unfortunately, the first early I really liked when grown down here, Ulster Sceptre, has proved rather elusive ever since, so I’m still searching – maybe Jazzy will be the one?

The sweet peas I sowed on the conservatory windowsill are germinating slowly and look to be as erratic as the others I’ve tried inside in previous years. I used to be able to start sweet peas off indoors with no problems, so I really don’t understand what’s changed in recent years. I’ll plant more straight outside in the next week or so and no doubt they’ll romp away – but hopefully not be quite as late as last year!

I added parsley and basil seeds to the propagator this week and I finally got round to distributing the contents of the compost around the garden at home – always a nice feeling.

Just two recipes today, both to use up leftovers from the previous weekend. The first was the soup I made to use up the chick peas after last week’s chick pea liquid meringues. I first had this, or an approximation of this, at the Eden Project in Cornwall over 12 years ago, and have been on the hunt for a similar recipe ever since. This, adapted from an ancient Sainsbury’s vegetarian cookbook by Sarah Brown, comes pretty close.

Spiced Chick Pea & Tomato Soup – serves 5-6

Chick pea & tomato soup_cropped

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red or green chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fresh root ginger, grated
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tin tomatoes, chopped
1 tin chick peas, drained
1 litre vegetable stock
1 tbsp ground almonds
Seasoning
Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a large soup pan and gently fry the onion, garlic and celery until soft – about 10 minutes. Add the chopped chilli and cook for another minute or so, then stir in all the spices and the ground almonds. Then add the tomatoes, chick peas and stock – you might want to just add 3/4 of the stock to start with and add more later depending on the consistency. Bring to the boil and cook for 45 minutes. Season to taste and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.

Mine was actually quite hot, because my stock of dried chillis from last autumn had gone mouldy and I used a bought chilli – always an unknown quantity! I like it hot, but you can always use less to start with if you’re not sure.

My final recipe was to use up the excess milk I had in the fridge after my vegan visitors. They had almond milk with their breakfast, but dairy-free cooking on my part meant the milk stocks didn’t go down as much as usual! What better, or easier dessert to make in a busy week than a crème caramel au café – simplicity itself to make and delicious to eat.

Crème Caramel au Café – serves 5

Creme caramel au café

100g granulated sugar
150ml water
450ml milk
3 eggs
25g vanilla sugar (or caster sugar if that’s what you have)
1 tbsp espresso coffee powder (or 25g coffee beans if you prefer)
2 tbsp dark rum

Make a caramel using the granulated sugar and water, cooking gently until the sugar has dissolved, then turning the heat up (and NOT stirring at all) until a deep golden brown colour. Remove from the heat and pour quickly into 5 greased ramekin dishes, which should be standing in a roasting tin.

Warm the milk and add 1 tbsp instant espresso powder. Stir until dissolved (you can also warm the milk with 25g roast coffee beans and leave to stand for 1 hour if you prefer, then strain). Whisk the  eggs with the vanilla sugar and 2 tbsp dark rum, then slowly whisk in the hot milk. Strain into a jug and pour gently over the caramel in the ramekin dishes. Pour hot water into the roasting tin until it comes 2.5 cm up the sides of the ramekins, cover the lot with foil and bake at 150°C (fan), gas 3 until just set. Leave to cool and chill well before turning out. Et voilà!

Spring in front window bed