Sunday, October 31, 2010

Another 8 jars of passata

With winter fast approaching we have been busy the last few days getting as much as possible of our last bits of harvest in and stored.

Another 8 jars of passata came from the last tomatoes in the greenhouse when I cleared it out in the week, but did not get cooked up until today.

Another jar of dried foraged field mushrooms.

Another large bottle of dried mixed herbs.

And the last of my jars has now been used up, just a few kilners to go for the pumpkin puree and that's it.

Red bell peppers and green chillies under oil in some pop top beer bottles, garlic cloves in oil for everyday use in old vodka and gin bottles.

And that was the last of my glass bottles used up.

The pantry is overflowing now, I have a whole corner of the barn also devoted to jars of jam and chutney. We will definitely not starve.

Going to carve up the Halloween pumpkin now ready for tonight.
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Very brief catch up

Thursday saw me peeling and cleaning yet more foraged mushrooms ready for drying, that is after using quite a large amount of them for some comfort food, sausages and mash with mushroom and onion gravy.

Overwhelmed by paperwork today, yet more forms to sign, other forms to be witnessed, forms to be filled in triplicate, and then a mad dash to the post office to try to get them on their way before the bank holiday here in France on Monday.

All the chickens, geese and ducks are now loose in the garden, with only the last few rabbit cabbages and potatoes left there is nothing for them to ruin, so let the ground clearance begin.  It certainly cuts down on the mowing anyway!

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Collecting seeds to save money

I love browsing through seed catalogues. Much more interesting than clothes and shoes and I NEVER thought I would say that!

But obviously new seeds cost pennies, so whilst I do like to get a few new varieties in whenever I get a chance, for the basics I collect up and use my own seeds.

Fruity seeds I tend to dry overnight in the warming oven, and have had good success with leaving things like squashes as a whole fruit and only splitting it apart in the spring ready to harvest the seeds for replanting. Surprisingly enough tomatoes are very good for this. With the last few fruits on the plants in the greenhouse I tend to just leave them to fall on the ground and they reseed themselves beautifully with no effort required at all.

Flower head seeds like dill, carrots and parsnips are best left outside and monitored carefully, because the window of just the right dryness is a small one, but they dry on the plant, you just shake them out into a bowl then store in an airtight container or a twist of paper in a dry dark place.

Today I have been harvesting thyme, marjoram, mint, asters, echinacea, lavender, dill, fennel, parsley, carrot and parsnip seeds, mostly because the sun is out and the flower heads are just right. If you rattle them gently you can hear the seeds in the dry casings.

I am quite lucky in that in my recycling boxes in the homes of my clients I get these effervescent tablet tubes, which have the little widget in for keep moisture out of the tube. These are perfect for seeds, airtight, dry and just the right size for tiny seeds.

So can you guess what it is yet?

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

early Christmas treats

I was bidding on a camera bundle recently on ebay which ran way out of my price range, but had a selection of lens filters and adapters in it that I fancied a go with. With a bit of trawling around I found a seller of generic screw on pieces that includes a wide angle lens for only a few pounds, so I though I would try it out.

Not having lots of money to spend on new lenses for my Canon camera that I adore, I had bought some macro screw on lenses last year, that cost me about £10.00 which I have been very happy with, and this super wide angle is the same brand for about the same price.

Once again I am very happy with my budget purchase.

OK I am sure that purists would say that it is nowhere near as good as the real thing, but I don't have hundreds of pounds for the real thing, for the few shots that I want it for I think it will be sufficient.

Anyway it arrived in the post yesterday morning so yesterday after work I spent some time experimenting with it, as well as the CPL filter I orderd for another couple of pounds. Unfortunately the weather was horribly cold and windy yesterday so I did not venture outside.

Today, Tuesday, now that the sun is finally out, before I spend anymore time playing with my new toys, I must clear out my greenhouse. The temperatures dropped to -7.5°C last Thursday night and that has done for all the rest of my tomato plants. The last of the fruit needs picking now, and the plants clearing out, hopefully by this afternoon the sun will have warmed up the interior enough that I can get in there.

It may be sunny this morning but it is barely above freezing, and the garden is still white at 10.30am.

In the meantime will just have to continue with my cross stitch.

can you guess what it is yet?

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ooooh - new fire

We have bought and spent the day today installing our new fire in the living room.

It is a Panadero 'Dublin', and replaces our Yukon pot bellied stove.

There is a method to the expenditure so bear with me. We only have wood burners for heating, no mains gas here so no economic central heating, electric heating and heating oil is too expensive. Which means that to heat our house for the winter we have the Rayburn in the kitchen heating the two upstairs bedrooms with radiators, but they do not throw out that much heat because the majority of the output of the Rayburn goes into heating our hot water.

On the other side of the house we have a wood wire in the living room which has a flue running through our bedroom providing secondary heat. That leaves a fire in the bathroom.

What happens is with two fires to feed, the bathroom fire hardly ever gets lit, three fires is too much.

With a large amount of research and discussion we decided therefore to buy a fire to which we can fit a boiler and from which we can run a radiator to heat the bathroom.

Fires with boilers are available if you have lots of money, so this is a compromise, a fire with a large enough capacity to take a hand made stainless boiler. However that will have to be made and fitted next spring as now is not the time to start knocking chunks of wall around to run copper piping through.

In the meantime to make sure that the fire is OK we undertook the installation of it this morning. Which should have been a quick couple of hours of disconnecting the old flue, removing the stove, placing the new fire in situ, attaching the new bit of flue pipe and connecting it to the existing flue.

What actually happened was, when I grabbed the flue pipe sticking through the living room ceiling, my hand went through the back of it. When Bren pulled the flue pipe in the attic, half of it fell off, another of the joints had crumbled into the pipe. Rust rust rust and more rust.

Luckily when we bought the stove we bought a bit of flue with it because of the height difference and new elbow required so we had an additional metre of flue pipe to play with to try to reconnect and *cough* bodge in the new fire!

But finally it is in, and it works, and it looks good. It seems to throw out enough heat to run a boiler as well as keep a room warm, after all its highest KW rating is 12, but we are keeping it tamped down now that the first burn has finished stinking the house out.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wood wood glorious wood

After last night's rich meal washed down with several glasses of wine, it was a good job we had so much hard physical labour to do to today to mitigate our hangovers - well my hangover as Brendan does not suffer from them.

Our winter wood was delivered and so we spent the morning stacking 10 sterres of oak and ash.

Forget yoga Madonna - try stacking wood for muscle definition!

Another Friday - another dinner party

Tonight's dinner party menu:

Fishy blinis
Rabbit in mustard sauce with garden carrots and 
hedgehog potatoes
Meringue mess

I make my own little blinis in an escargot pan, I remember when I picked it up at a car boot in France, the lady selling it went to a lot of trouble to explain to me how to cook snails, then looked totally horrified when I said that I would be using to make blinis and fry quail eggs in instead.

The batter is a very simple recipe:

1 large fresh egg
3 heaped tablespoons of self raising flour
pinch salt
enough milk to create a thick but still runny batter (thickness of double cream)

To make sweet dipping blinis for chocolate, hazelnut spread and jam, just add a tablespoon of caster sugar and a couple of drops of vanilla extract to the mix.

For the rabbit (this one an even closer to home kill than the wild boar last week as it was in the front garden last year), joint the rabbit, which essentially means separating its back legs from the spine, crack the legs open at the pelvis then cut round with a sharp knife, there is just a thin stretch of muscle then holding them to the spine.  Then with a cleaver, chop through the spine just behind the front legs, cleave in half, then cleave the saddle into two pieces and cleave in half again, you should end up with 8 pieces of rabbit on the bone.

Fry the rabbit in a large casserole dish in a little olive oil with salt and pepper, then add a glass of white wine, 2 large onions quartered, 2 large cloves of garlic, several sprigs of fresh marjoram and a litre of good thick chicken stock - I am using the duck stock I made yesterday.  When this reaches the boil, add 2 heaped teaspoons of whole grain mustard and put in the oven for a couple of hours at 180°C.
An hour before serving add 200 ml of double cream, season again, add a pinch of cayenne pepper and leave to cook in the oven at a low heat for the final hour.

I can not remember where hedgehog potatoes came from but they are really easy and a quick way of making jacket potatoes.  Use a thin skinned potato like a Charlotte, scrub clean and place in a baking tray,  1 large or 2 small spuds per person.  Cut slices along each spud three quarters of the way through, spinkle over sea salt, some black pepper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, cover with tin foil and bake in the top of the oven for 1 hour at 200°C.

For pudding it was Thea's choice, her favourite and something I only make in the Rayburn because they take a couple of hours to cook, meringues.  A good way of using up surplus eggs too.

I never gave this much credence but having had to make two lots on Friday, I am now convinced that meringues must be made in a metal bowl.  

With an electric whisk whip up 4 egg whites into soft peaks, add a pinch of salt, then gradually introduce 280g of icing sugar whisking continuously to create stiff peaks, then a splash of vanilla extract.

With a metal spoon create separate pools of meringue on some baking paper on a tray, spread well apart.  Bake in a low oven for a couple of hours.

Into these I poured some warmed cherry jam and topped with chantilly cream, then finally a little meringue hat with some melted chocolate dribbled over.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to make stock..

It is almost that time of year again when I have to start considering the despatch of our birds. This year we have a goose, four ducks and sixteen chickens as well as six rabbits to add to our freezer.

But first I have to somehow make room for them in my two crammed to the gunnels chest freezers. One still contains large amounts of Ernie the lamb, and in the bottom of the other I still have some bits of bacon I made from our pigs in 2007.

Whilst delving around looking for tomorrow's dinner party main (rabbit) I found a couple of bags that I had conveniently labelled 'duck carcasses for stock'.

So in preparation for the dinner party rabbit dish I am making the stock for it today.

Stock is really easy to make but very rewarding taste wise. You can make either brown stock from roasted bones - particularly good with big meaty marrow bones like beef, or a white stock from uncooked bones.

These are uncooked bones leftover from last winter's duck cull, where the breasts and legs have been removed but there are still meaty tendrils on the ribs and the wing nubs.

The basic ingredients for a good flavoursome stock are carrots, onions, bay leaves, garlic cloves, salt and pepper.

This basic stock is ideal in pies, stew, casseroles and gravy.

I make flavoured stocks if I intend them for a specific dish, so if making a curry I will make a stronger garlic stock, or a thyme based stock or marjoram. Just add big bunches of the fresh herbs or a tablespoon of dried to the stock water.

Amounts are always rough because I find it depends on the bones, but at least 2 large carrots peeled and cut into batons, 2 medium onions quartered, 3 bay leaves and 5 cloves of garlic. A generous teaspoon of salt and some black pepper ground in plus 5 or 6 peppercorns in the stock water. Add the bones and leave to simmer for hours on gentle heat.

To preserve, strain the liquid and while it is still very hot, decant into a clean and dry but empty wine bottle, cork and leave in the fridge where it will keep for a couple of weeks. Once opened it does go off quite quickly but a wine bottle (70 cl) is about the right amount of stock for most recipes.
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Feels like winter is arriving

Frozen cobwebs through the chives.

It feels as though winter has arrived, we have had varying forecasts for the end of the week from -10°C overnight on Friday to one forecaster telling us we should consider ourselves lucky to be below 1000m otherwise the freezing rain of the past couple of days would have fallen as snow.

Luckily the rain clouds have cleared and yesterday was bright and sunny - albeit not very warm - it did however mean that I could get outside and catch up on some of the outstanding pre-winter jobs.

I had to write a list otherwise I would forget what I had intended to do

Over the afternoon:
fennel was cut for drying inside and the root balls transferred undercover in the hopes that they may regrow next year,
dried on the vine haricot beans were collected in,
broccoli heads cut for the freezer,
red and white cabbage cut for the freezer,
bean canes taken in and the twine rewound ready for next spring,
red tomatoes in the greenhouse harvested,
five jars of passata cooked,
last of the patty pan squashes cut and cooked for dinner,
dill seeds collected, dried and bottled,
field mushrooms chopped and left to dry in the warming oven overnight.

thanks again wikipedia 

I have just scrubbed the caps, removed the stalks and roughly chopped, then laid the pieces out on  baking trays and I will leave them in the warming oven of the Rayburn overnight and probably most of the next day.  Once dry traditionally they should be strung up to use, but I think I may put mine in a dry sterlie kilner jar.  To use they need to be soaked for about 4 hours before adding to a dish, but you can then use the soaking liquor to add flavour to soups and sauces too.

I have at least another two large bowl fulls of plum tomatoes to ripen, not sure if they will do so before it gets too cold in the greenhouse.
This time I just used the plum tomatoes and a little olive oil, salt and pepper, left them to simmer for 40 minutes then into some sterilised jars.  I make various flavoured sauces and a plain mix too to use for soups and as a base for ketchups.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A plague of Mondays and a walnut cake

That is what they feel like, all those dreary little jobs to do on a Monday, letters to write, offices to call, grrrrrr - at least there was some respite to be had playing with my new chickens.

Three Orpingtons joined my flock on Sunday and very pretty they are too, they just need to settle in with my current girls and their man. To introduce new chickens which I tend to do every year because we always have a few that are destined to be for the freezer, I have a so far reliable method.

The first afternoon the new girls stay in the large dog cage where they can be seen by all the other birds, they get grain scattered in and around them so that they all have to eat together. They sleep separated for the first night. The second day they spend half the day still in the cage, but learning that the sound of grain rattling in a tin can brings them food - as well as a greedy audience to dine with them. They sleep separated for the second night. The third day the new girls are fed first so that they are not starving hungry and likely to fight for food, then the remainder of the birds are released to a mountain of grain so as to cut down on any fighting for food. And that's it....(touch wood) it has not failed me yet.

Now that Monday and the deluge of horrid little jobs is over, I can relax and get back to baking and sewing and other fun things.

Started today by edging my aida ready to start my cross stitch project for the winter, I usually edge with masking tape but have a cronic lack of it at the moment and it is just not on the shopping list so good old sticky tape (remember how hard Blue Peter presenters would have to work not to say the dreaded Sellotpe word?) will do.

And today's comfort food is Maple Walnut Tart.

pastry:     70g plain flour
70g wholewheat flour
pinch salt
100g cold butter cubed
1 egg yolk
2-3 tablespoons iced water to bind together

Rub the flour and butter together to form breadcrumbs then cut in the salt and the egg yolk, bind together with the water until you have a solid dough ball, then refridgerate for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, work it as little as possible so that it stays very short, mine cracked apart when rolling and I just put in the dish and pressed the edges together so as not to warm it up too much. Prick the base all over and bake blind for 10 minutes, finish with a couple of minutes without the baking paper and baking beans to crisp the bottom up.

filling:     3 eggs
pinch salt
55g caster sugar
55g melted butter
250ml maple syrup or just use golden
115g chopped walnuts

Whisk together the eggs, salt and sugar, stir in the butter and the syrup.

Pour the filling into the case and sprinkle over the nuts. Bake on a tray for about 35 minutes until the filling has set.

I admit freely this cake is moreish - it is not the healthiest breakfast to have but the sugar hit with coffee is just the best start to a cold winter's morning I can think of. Probably a good job a good friend did not manage to convince to join an on line slimming club - I think that alone would be all my points for the day used up in one meal.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

What to do with 5 kilos of walnuts?

Walnut bread for starters.

French Pain Aux Noix

50g butter
350g wholemeal flour
115g plain flour
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
15ml dried active yeast
275 lukewarm milk
175g walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Add the sugar to the dried yeast and pour over some of the warmed milk, use when about 2 cm of foam has formed.

Start the butter melting in a pan.

Mix the flours and salt into a bowl and make a well.

Pour in the yeast and the remainder of the milk, pour in the butter through a sieve then mix together by hand to form a moist dough.

Knead for a few minutes then leave to rise for an hour in a warm place in a covered oiled bowl.

Once risen gently knock back onto a floured surface, then press the dough out flat with the heel of your hand. Sprinkle over the chopped walnuts and press lightly into the dough, then roll up. Leave to rise again for another 30 minutes.

The traditional way to bake this bread is to make two separate balls, but I perfer it as one longer loaf. When it has the shape you want leave it to rise for another 45 minutes.

Place the dough roll onto a baking tray and bake in the centre of the oven for 35 minutes. If making ball loaves slash the tops, but when I make the longer roll I just leave the wrapped over edge on the top.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

This bread is particularly wonderful with cheese -walnuts and a soft St Nectaire cheese are a match made in heaven - particularly when eaten on the sofa in front of Star Trek Generations.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

La maitresse de maison c'est MOI

I forgot to mention that I got to wear my lovely new apron while being all domestic goddessy yesterday - and remarkably enough it has survived and is not ruined by red wine and blood stains.

Today I have :-

sliced the rest of my red cabbages and layered them in salt ready for pickling tomorrow

rendered my left over duck fat from Thursday ready for roasties another day

and am wearing in my new shoes - an essential with 'new' secondhand shoes, I wear them in with thick socks for a few days around the house to make them lovely and comfy for a proper trip out.

Off to eat lentil and boar leftovers for dinner now.

Dinner Party Menu - Roast Wild Boar

Great night last night with great friends.

so here is my dinner party menu

~   Starter :  Goats cheese and red onion tartlets  ~

Cheat number 1: ready roll shortcurst pastry  - I have way too much to do to be making pastry too, so ready roll will do.
Roll out pastry, cut and blind bake for 15 minutes at 180°C using tin foil until pastry is crisp and golden, then leave to one side to cool.
Meanwhile slice 3 large red onions thinly, and fry in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until translucent, then add a couple of tablespoons of water and leave to simmer on a gentle heat for 20 minutes.  
When pastry cases are cool fill with the onions, top with a thin slice of goats cheese, a cherry tomato and a some walnut pieces.  

Then throw in the oven to heat through for 10 minutes before serving.  I just balanced mine on top of the meat tray so I can only estimate the time and heat required here - but 10 mins at 180°C seems reasonable.

~ Main : Roast Wild Boar on a bed of Puy Lentils  ~

Boar should be marinated for at least 12 hours before cooking but once again I have a handy hint:  if you are using a frozen piece of meat, put it in a large bowl to drefrost with about 500ml of water, leave for 24 hours to defrost to allow the meat to marinade in its own blood - sounds ghoulish but makes for a tender roast.

Sanglier Marinade:  500ml red wine
teaspoon of sea salt
teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 whole head of garlic - just break the cloves apart
3 onions quartered
4 carrots cut into small chunks
3 cloves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons of olive oil
8-10 juniper berries roughly crushed

Leave the meat in the marinade for 4-6 hours.
Brown the meat in olive oil on all sides in a large meat pan before adding the marinade to the pan, cover the meat tray and put in the oven for about 2-4 hours depending on the age of the meat - the older the longer.
As my Rayburn is not necessarily accurate on its temperatures, I would say 180°C would be OK.

In the meantime, pour a cup of lentils per person into a large pan of cold water, cover and bring to the boil, then leave to simmer for 45 minutes.  Puy lentils don't need soaking.  Just sieve once cooked.

To serve, carve the meat onto a large dish, sieve out the bits from the marinade and scatter over the meat, pour the juices over the lentils and there you go. 

As a side veg dish I did   ~ roasted red cabbage gratin with carrots.

Just thinly slice red cabbage, carrots, onions and celery and layer into an oven dish, season and oven cook for 40 minutes.

Then make a gratin top with flour and butter or lard, just rub together with your fingers to make breadcrumbs,  grate in some hard cheese like Cheddar or Cantal and scatter over the semi cooked veg.  Bake for a further 40 minutes until all the veg is soft.

~ Dessert :  Foraged Plum cake with Chantilly Cream  ~

For this I am using a tried and tested recipe (here)  but substituting peaches for the red fruit.  Roughly peel the peaches and quarter, remove stones and if slightly unripe as these were just cook in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of sugar for a couple of minutes.

These are foraged peaches and have red flesh, I have no idea what variety they are but they taste and smell very peachy, once baked they tasted more like a damsony peach.

My Chantilly cream is my last cheat, to 200 mls of double cream, add 50g of icing sugar, and a packet of powdered Chantilly fixing powder, whisk for a few minutes until cream stiffens then refridgerate until serving.

A dinner party fit for Nigella the goddess of food herself.