Monday, 27 August 2007

Lazy Saturday Afternoons

We had such a lovely weekend with gorgeous sunshine and warm temperatures. It seems that summer has finally decided to visit us and we are basking in it.

Saturday afternoon saw us on a nice leisurely walk down through the village with Jess. It seemed everyone was out enjoying the sunshine. The local pub was full of people getting their fill of the fresh air and warm temps under the umbrellas outside, and the line of cars going through the village full of people out on their grand adventures was nonstop. I guess that is one of the prices you pay for living in a most populated part of the country and one of the most beautiful counties. It's a shame though because I think it rather spoils some of the charm of rural life.

There is a rather old church down in the village. Todd says it dates back to Norman times. We took a lovely wander through the grounds. There are literally hundreds of headstones there, some so old you can barely make out the writings upon them. There's a story to be told on every one and Ifound it quite fascinating to read them all as we walked amongst them.

I made this lovely bread pudding for our dessert on Saturday night. Loosely based on the idea of British Sticky Toffee Pudding, I found it a very comforting and delicious capper to what had been a quite delightful day . . .

*Sticky Date Bread Pudding*
Serves 6

As simple as this is it really is quite delicious. Who doesn't love bread pudding. This one, studded with sticky dates and crowned while still warm with luciously rich dulce de leche is a real lip smacking winner!

1 pound of day old brioche bread, cut into 1 inch cubes, approximately 8 cups
1 cup pitted and chopped dried dates
1 1/2 cups chopped ready to eat Deglet Nour Dates
(moist and golden)
6 large organic free range eggs
2 large organic free range egg yolks
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
1 3/4 cup of double cream
1 3/4 cup of whole milk
1 TBS pure vanilla extract
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
icing sugar for dusting
1 carton of Dulce de Leche for serving

Take a 9 by 13 inch bakign dish and butter it well. Arrange the bread cubes in it along with the chopped dates, tossing them together to make sure they are evenly distributed.

Put the eggs and egg yolks into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until they are quite frothy. Add the caster sugar and beat again until the mixture becomes thick and pale yellow in colour. Add the milk and the cream, mixing it in well on low speed and then stir in the nutmeg an vanilla. Mix well.

Pour the resulting custard evenly over the bread cubes and dates. Let sit for about half an hour to an hour in order to allow the bread th absorbe the mixture, pushing the bread down occasionally with a wooden spoon.

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/375*F. Bake the pudding for about 25 minutes. Open the oven door and give the bread a little push down into the custard again with a wooden spoon. (be careful not to burn yourself!) Continue to bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until a knife or skewer inserted near the centre comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool to warm. Dust with icing sugar. Heat the Dulce de Leche in a microwave for about a minute or so. Spoon some of the bread pudding out onto plates and then serve with some of the warm Dulce de Leche spooned over top. Delicious!

Friday, 24 August 2007

What a way to make my day!

Oh my goodness! I've been given an award! The Droolworthy Award! Valli of More Than Burnt Toast has deemed me worthy of drooling and I have to say at the very least I am dead "chuffed". (Now how's that for a saying! Yes, I have been well and truly anglicized!)

I feel as if I have been given an Academy Award or something, and in a way it's probably even more special than that, for it is an award that comes from a peer, a fellow food blogger,a fellow foodie, a fellow food porn addict that trolls the internet looking for their next titillating and salacious image of a delicious recipe and hopefully the tantalizing words to go along with it! (there is nothing more frustrating than coming across a delicious looking picture of food posted on a journal by an author who selishly neglects to also give you the recipe! I know you can all feel my pain here!)

Anyways, all kidding aside, I do want to thank Valli for this. It does mean an awful lot. Especially since I have only been doing this food blog for a short time and so am a relatively new kid on the block!

The award comes with a responsability, and that is to pass it along and so I do to several very worthy recipients. They always make me drool, and ... they always include the recipes!

Nic of Cherrapeno
Julie of Tulips Kitchen
Amanda of Little Foodies
Hannah of Hannah's Country Kitchen (yes, she was a finalist in Master Chef 2007)

I musn't disappoint and to make sure my award really is well deserved, here is something to drool over today . . . (this feels like a celebration, so let's all eat cake!)

*Golden Celebration Cake*
Serves 12
What could be any better than a good old fashioned Victorian Sponge cake? Why a version made with golden sugars, stuffed with raspberries, filled with clotted cream and more raspberries and topped with frosted rose petals of course!

6 ounces of golden caster sugar
6 ounces of butter, softened
4 large eggs, separated
4 ounces self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 ounces ground almonds
3 to 5 drops almond extract
1 heaping cup of fresh raspberries
For the Filling:
1 (227g) container of Cornish Clotted Cream
1 cup fresh raspberries
For the Decoration:
2 - 3 ounces golden caster sugar
1 egg white, lightly beaten to a froth
4 ounces icing sugar

Begin by making the frosted rose petals the day before. Separate the petals and spread the castor sugar over a plate. Holding one petal at a time, lightly paint both sides with egg white. Spoon sugar over it, then using tweezers, shake off the excess. Dry on parchment paper for a day. (Use only pesticide free roses)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter two 8-inch round cake tins and line their bases with parchment paper. Set aside.

Tip the sugar into a mixing bowl and add the softened butter. Beat for a minute or so until pale and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolks. Sift together the flour and baking powder, then sift over the cake mixture. Fold in as lightly as you can using a large metal spoon, then fold in the almonds and extract. Stop folding as soon as the flour traces have gone.

Whisk the egg whites until they just hold their shape. Gently fold in a third of the egg white into the cake mix, using a whisk. Repeat with another third, then the final third. Take care not to over mix and lose the lightness of the egg whites. Lightly fold in the raspberries.
Divide the batter between the prepared tins and level the mixture using a round bladed knife. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks, peel off the lining paper and leave to cool completely.

Set one cake on a serving plate. Spoon the clotted cream evenly over top. Scatter the raspberries over and put the other cake on top. Blend the icing sugar with 1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp cold water until it is smooth and coats the back of a spoon thinly. Drizzle the icing over the cake.
Scatter the rose petals over and around the cake, dust with icing sugar and serve to some very lucky people.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Summer's bounty caught up in a hedgerow

As I have said before, the cottage that we live in is surrounded almost completely on all sides by lovely orchards, full of fruit. In the springtime, we are overcome with oceans of beautiful pink blossom, and in the autumn the air is filled with the scent of ripening apples and pears. We often take our Border Collie, Jess, for long walks through the orchards, and along the hedgerows at the edge.

Hedgerows are one of the things I love most about Britain. Wire fencing over here is quite rare, instead, plots of land are divided by lovely, green and lush hedgerows. From the air it looks like a lovely, fluffy green quilt. Todd says that the ones around us are very old. He says that the way you can tell that is because there are quite number of different species of plants growing in them . . . the larger the variety of species, the older the hedgerow.

We were quite disturbed several weeks back, to see the farmer trimming the hedges with this horrible, big trimming machine. My, but it was big and noisy and . . . brutal. It didn't seem so much that they were trimming the shrubs and trees, as it seemed that they were ripping them apart, raping them and tearing off great swathes of branches. The trees in the hedgerows looked ravaged and torn. It was ugly to watch, and I could feel their pain. I suppose the farmer does know what he is doing, and it is probably a necessity, although it seems to me, there must be a better and more humane way of doing it.

Right now the hedgerows around us are just full to the brim with beautiful blackberries, their heavily laden branches bowed beneath the weight of these lovely, shiny black fruits. It is a race between the birds and us to see who can gather the most.

I like to freeze them. I place them on parchment paper lined, rimmed baking trays in single layers and then pop them into my freezer. Once they are frozen solid, I then pour them into zip lock bags. That way they are loose frozen and in the long winter months ahead I can take out just as many or as few as I need to use, at any one given time. I do the same with all my berries that I freeze.

In Canada, when my family was growing up, I used to put up pints of blackberry jelly for the winter every late summer. We lived in a rented farmhouse on the banks of the Georgian Bay at one time, and the hillside down towards the bay was stogged full of wild black berries. In the late aAugust every year, I regularly donned a long sleeved shirt and faced the brambles in my quest for the lovely black beauties. Back at home afterwards, I would make jar after jar of Blackberry jelly, to be enjoyed in the coming winter on thick slices of freshly toasted homemade bread or spread in between the soft sweet layers of a freshly baked Victorian sponge. It also made the loveliest of jam tarts. What didn't make it into the jelly pot made it into my freezer, to be enjoyed at a later date, baked up into delicious dessert bakes, muffins, cobblers and pies.

I have't made much in the way of jams and jellies since I moved over here. Todd and I are just two people, and it takes us ever so long to eat them up. So long, that I fear they will spoil long before we can get them used. Instead, I gather them up, leaving some for the birds, and what I am not able to use right away fresh, gets frozen for use in the cooler months ahead. They are lovely in crumbles and pies. A little taste of summer to light up a dreary winter's day ...

*Blackberry Pie with Streusal Topping*
Makes one 9 inch pie

You can use store-bought blackberries for this delicious pie if you wish, but I prefer to use the wild ones picked from the bramble hedges. They seem to have so much more flavour, and I suppose the effort one has to make in order to acquire them makes them taste all the better . . .

prepared pie crust to line the bottom of a nine inch pie dish
(ready made or make your own)
1/2 cup of caster sugar
2 1/2 TBS of cornflour
pinch of salt
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
the juice of 1 lemon
1 pound of fresh blackberries
Streusal Topping:
3/4 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup of plainflour
1 TBS water
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup of butter softened

Preheat the oven to 205*C/425*F.
Make the streusal topping by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl until crumbly. Set aside.

Roll out the flakey pastry to about 1/8 inch thick and about 12 inches in diameter. Carefully transfer it to your pie tin. Trim the edges to about a 1/2 inch over hang. Fold this under until even with the rim of the pie dish all around and then flute the edge decoratively.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornflour, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest. (I only use unwaxed lemons. Who wants to eat wax. If you don't have unwaxed lemons wash them really well in soapy water to remove the wax coating. I have a microplane that I used for zesting. It does a lovely job!) Put the blackberries in a bowl and pour this mixture over them, tossing them gently to coat. Try not to crush the berries too much. Let them sit for about fifteen minutes and then, giving them a final gentle toss, pour the whole mixture into the prepared and waiting crust. Sprinkle the top evenly with the streusal mixture. You will most likely have too much, but that's ok. Just freeze what you don't use in a zip lock bag to bring out and use another time. It goes great on muffins, coffee cakes and other things.

Place on a cookie sheet that you have lined with aluminum foil and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 to 45 minutes until the filling is all bubbly and the streusal all crunchily golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack before serving. We like to have it warm with big scoops of cold vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Rainy Days and Mondays

It seems this summer we have had more than our fair share of rain. It has been cold and wet and damp for almost the whole summer. I have noticed that the mornings are getting a lot chillier this past week and there is a distinct chill in the air in the evenings. One night last week we even had to have the electric fire on down here in the kitchen just to take the chill off.

The leaves at the top of the large chestnut tree that stands at the end of the drive are already starting to turn. It's hard to believe that summer is waning, for it seems we have hardly had one at all.

Rainy days call for comfort food. Food that makes you feel all warm and squidgy inside. On a cold rainy Monday there is nothing more relaxing or comforting than a nice cup of homemade tomato soup and a hot grilled cheese toasty. The two just go together like, well, peas and carrots! If this doesn't warm the cockles of your heart, nothing will!

*Cream of Tomato Soup*
Makes 7 cups

This has to be everyone’s perennial favourite. Who hasn’t eaten a toasted cheese sandwich with a bowl of this and felt instantly comforted. Usually it’s from a tin though, and I have to tell you that, once you try making your own, you’ll never go back to tinned! A hot bowl of this cures anything that’s ailing you and makes you feel all warm and lovely inside as well! Why ever would you eat tinned when it’s so easy and much tastier to make your own from scratch!

3 cups chopped peeled tomatoes, or an equal amount of tinned tomatoes (don’t be tempted to use fresh tomatoes out of season. Their flavour will not be as good. Tinned tomatoes will give this soup more flavour in that case.)
½ tsp baking soda
4 TBS butter
1 tsp onion powder
¼ cup plain flour
4 cups milk
1 TBS honey
1 ½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ tsp dried basil flakes

Put the tomatoes into a food blender or food processor and process until completely smooth. Stir in the baking soda and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the flour. Let cook over medium low heat for a minute to cook out the flour and then slowly add the milk, stirring the whole time. Add the honey, onion powder, salt and basil and continue to cook and stir until it is slightly thickened. Stir in the pureed tomatoes and the ground black pepper. Bring the soup just to a simmer. Taste and correct the seasoning if required. Serve hot.

**Note- the cheese toastie was just some thinly sliced Red Leicester Cheese, mixed with some slices of medium cheddar and gouda cheeses, put between two slices of buttered French Bread, and toasted in a hot skillet until nicely browned on both sides and all meltingly gooey and good.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Cherries, Cobnuts, Hops and Apples galore ...

I live in a beautiful cottage, nestled in a village, in the heart of the countryside of beautiful southeast of England .

Today, in the late summer sunshine, I am revelling in the scents and sounds of the orchard that surrounds my humble cottage. Birds are flying back and forth from several bird feeders that we have hanging from the eaves . . . nuthatches, blue tits, chaffinches, little wrens, wag tails and the inevitable sparrows. The golden sounds of the song thrush regale us from the top of the shed and a late summer breeze rustles the leaves and the branches in the trees and floats across the hedgerows that divide our garden from the orchard behind. The air is redolent with the smell of ripening apples and pears. "Scrumping" is not allowed, but my husband assures me that the windfalls are free for the picking, and so I have taken advantage of that and picked a few to make a dish from out of this little cookery book I have which is entitled "Favourite Kentish Recipes."

There's alot of tasty looking recipes held inside it's pages . . . Kentish Huffkins (little yeast rolls with a hole in the top to be filled with jam, topped with whipped cream and then eaten) Kentish Well Pudding ( a suet pudding studded with currants and lemon rind, steamed and then served warm with lashings of custard) Ginger Cob Nut Cake (full of roasted and chopped cob nuts and delicately spiced with ginger) Folkstone Pudding Pie (looking for all the world like a delicately lemon scented custard pie, studded with sweet currants and dusted with nutmeg) . . . so many delights await me, but for today I decide to go with a Kentish Pan Cake. The name intrigues me . . .

*Kentish Pan Cake*
Serves 6

Not so much a cake, as it is a stack of thin and delicately spiced pancakes, full of delicious and tart little chunks of apple. Serve dredged in icing sugar and cut into wedges along with a spoonful or two of lovely Bramley apple sauce and a big dollop of whipped cream . . .

3 large eggs
2 egg whites (save the yolks to make a cake)
1/4 pint (1/2 cup) of double cream
2 TBS sherry*
3 dessertspoons of calvados (apple brandy)**
4 ounces plain flour
pinch of powdered ginger
pinch of salt
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 TBS caster sugar
1/2 medium sized cooking apple
lard for frying

Whisk the eggs, egg whites, milk, cream, sherry, brandy, flour, salt and the spices together in a mixing bowl. Beat well until smooth. Peel and core the apple and chop it finely. Add the sugar and the apple to the batter and then set it aside in a cool place to rest for 30 minutes.

Lightly grease a non-stick skillet with lard. Pour pancake batter in to barely cover the bottom, tilting the pan to make it even and as round as possible. Cook for a minute or two on the first side, or just until it looks dry on top. Flip it over and brown the other side, only about a minute or so longer. Remove to a large piece of greaseproof paper. Continue in this same manner until all the batter is used up, stacking each one on top of the previous one when done. (Keep the finished ones warm in the oven while you are cooking the others)

Turn the "stack" onto a warm plate and dredge the top with sifted icing sugar. Cut into wedges and serve warm with whipped cream and warm applesauce.

Tommorrow I think I'll make another spiced applesauce cake with the leftovers . . .

* ** Note: because I don't do alcohol, I was able to substitute apple juice for these two ingredients successfully.

(This is an entry in the Sugar High Friday event, hosted by The Passionate Cook . Details of the event can be found on Is My Blog Burning )

Friday, 17 August 2007

Eggs, Blenders and Julia Child

I was rather surprised at the beginning of the month to get an e-mail from Sainsbury's Magazine, telling me that a letter I had written to the magazine several months ago had been picked as the Star Letter for their September issue. I like to write letters to magazines, especially food magazines, and I have had several published at different times, but this was the first time one of my letters had been picked as the *star* letter, and as a result, I won a rather beautiful prize! Well, beautiful to me at any rate. I won a Kitchen Aid Blender, in a lovely yellow colour. I was thrilled to say the least! It's an honour just to have your letter published, and I am always dead chuffed when that happens, but to have one singled out in this way, was really special! My blender arrived yesterday. It was waiting for me when I got home from work, and I could hardly contain my excitement as I took it out of the box and set it out on the table to have a look.

Today I was able to use it for the first time and it worked perfectly. I had wanted to make Eggs Benedict, in honor of Julia Child's upcoming birthday bash, for a few weeks now and with the arrival of the blender I had the perfect excuse. I know it's quite easy to make Hollandaise sauce without the aid of a blender, but I just had to try this new gadget of mine out, just to make sure it was in good working order. (You know how it is.)

It worked perfectly. I had to fiddle with it a little bit to figure out what all the buttons on the front are for, but in no time at all I had it all sorted. It's really a wonderful tool. Instead of having a whole line of buttons numbered from one to ten, it has five distinct buttons, all in a row, with various symbols on them, and a further three below . . . on, off and pulse. I think I'm really going to like this new toy! (Apparently you can mix cement with one of these blenders, although I am quite sure I'm not going to exactly be doing anything like that with mine!) It's sitting on the counter now, in a place of honor, having been freshly washed after it's first use. I think it can stay. I could get quite used to this ...

*Blender Hollandaise Sauce*
Makes about 1 cup

Mmmm... deliciously buttery hollandaise sauce, made in just a few minutes, with all the ease of pushing a few buttons. Turns out perfect every time.

2 large free range organic egg yolks (Save the whites to make some meringues at a later date. They freeze very well)
2 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
4 ounces butter
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the vinegar and the lemon juice in a small measuring cup in the microwave for about 30 seconds or so, just until the mixture starts to bubble and simmer. In the meantime, place the egg yolks into your blender and season with a smidge of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Blend for one minute. Turning the blender on, add the lemon juice/vinegar mixture to the egg yolks in a thin stream, very slowly. (You can do this through the hole left in the lid after you remove the little plastic cap) Turn the blender off and melt the butter in the same measuring cup you used to heat the vinegar and lemon juice in until it is slightly foaming. Turn the blender back on and very slowly add the hot butter in a thin stream to the beaten egg yolks, once again through the little hole in the top of the lid. The slower you add it, the better. Turn the blender off and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, then put the lid on and blend again for a few seconds. Set aside.

*Heavenly Eggs Benedict*
Serves 3

Eggs Benedict is really a delicious breakfast or light lunch. History has it that it was created at the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 for a customer hoping to find a cure for a morning after the night before hangover. It turned out to be a blessing for all of us, because we now can enjoy the results of his agony. What better way could you start your day than with a lightly toasted English muffin topped with a perfectly poached egg, napped in butterly gorgeous hollandaise . . . this is heaven.

6 large free range organic eggs (if you are going to have an egg as the star of the meal, it only makes sense to use the best eggs possible)
12 slices of pancetta, grilled until crisp
6 slices of baked ham
3 english muffins, split in half
1 quantity of Hollandaise sauce

Have all your eggs at room temperature and break each into a small bowl before you start. Bring a pot of water, to which you have added 1 tsp of vinegar, to a slow simmer over gentle heat. Once you can see tiny bubbles on the bottom of the pan, carefully add the eggs, one at a time. Simmer, without covering for exactly 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for exactly ten minutes. (a timer is incredibly useful here) At the end of the time you should have a perfect poached egg, with a beautifully translucent and pefectly set white and a soft and creamy yolk. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, one at a time onto some paper kitchen toweling to drain.

Lightly toast the english muffin haves and butter them. Place them on a baking tray. Top each half with two slices of pancetta and 1 slice of the ham. Put a poached egg on top of each and spoon over an equal amount of the hollandaise, covering the egg. Place the eggs under a hot grill for about 30 seconds. (This shouldn't take long, you don't want them to brown. The surface of the Hollandaise should just be glazed) Remove to hot plates and serve.

I think Julia would be proud of me . . . As she would say . . . "Bon Appetit!"

Thursday, 16 August 2007

The Heartbeat of a Village

We walked down to the village the other morning, just to get some eggs. I only wanted a few, and it was such a lovely morning that a walk just seemed in order. Jess didn't mind one little bit. There used to be a small shop in the village where you could get the loveliest of organic ingredients . . . beautiful crusty loaves of fresh organic bread, tubs of salty olives, tasty meats and cheeses. I loved to go in and browse the counters. Alas, it didn't stay open for long. I guess there wasn't enough of a custom to make it worth the owner's while.

That is a sad thing. It seems that the larger supermarkets are swallowing up all the little shops of the countryside, and when we lose them, I fear we will lose the heartbeat of our village life. I try to support the small shops whenever I possibly can. Our local butcher, carries some sundries such as eggs, milk and some fruit and veg, but there is no bread now to be found anywhere in the village . . .

While I was in his shop picking up eggs, he was just putting together these lovely looking beef burgers. I just had to have a few, and while I was at it, I picked up some bananas. There were only three left, and they looked lonely in the bin, just enough for a delicious banoffee pie . . . I thought to myself. In the meantime, Todd was waiting outside with Jess, and panicking when he heard the butcher say the price, thinking they were an awfully expensive half dozen eggs! He was relieved to find I had gotten more than just eggs! (he should have known better, silly man! )

On our way back home I noticed the rosehips are ripening and the birds have already started their autumnal feasting on them, even though there are still a few errant blooms putting out the last of their season's hurrah. I just had to hurry home and grab my camera, the temptation to catch it all in the eye of my lens was just too great. The conkers on the chestnut tree are beginning to make the branches droop, they will soon begin to fall and the berries are ripening on the mountain ash at the edge of our garden. With the cooler nights and the chilly mornings ... autumn can only be just around the corner, peering in at us already . . .

Back at the cottage I decided to make a delicious supper for us with the beef burgers. This was something my children always enjoyed and even now we enjoy on our own, although the calories are such that it is a rare and welcome treat. I cook often for the missionairies from our church and they love them too.

*Easy Cheesy Topped Burgers*
Serves 4 to 6

Delicious open faced burgers topped with full on cheese flavour! Cheese, Bacon, Onion . . . What’s not to like about these! You know you shouldn’t . . . but you will anyways. . . go ahead, enjoy!

2 ½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese
8 slices cooked smoked streaky bacon, crumbled
1 cup chopped spring onions
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 TBS tomato catsup
3 tsp hot pepper sauce (Optional)
12 minced beef patties (3 pounds)
Bread or hamburger buns, if desired

Heat gas or charcoal grill, or oven grill. In a small bowl mix all ingredients except for the beef patties.

When the grill is heated, place frozen patties on the grill. Cover grill, and cook over medium heat 4 to 8 minutes, turning once, until the patties are nicely browned and cooked through.

Carefully top each patty with about some of the cheese mixture. Cook, covered, for 4 minutes longer, or until cheese is melted. Serve on toasted bread.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Seasons Through the Eye of an Orchard

Where we live, we are surrounded by orchards. We walk through them pretty much on a daily basis with our border collie Jess. It is really the ideal place to live and the perfect place to walk a rambunctious collie.

I get to observe the seasons passing on our daily walks, and it's amazing to watch it all changing every time we walk though ... right from the glorious sea of pink blossoms in the early spring to the heavily laden branches in the autumn. Right now they are somewhere in between, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming of all that is to come.

My husband assures me that there is a rule over here which means that drops are ours for the picking and pick we do. They are lovely ... big tart Bramley cooking apples that are fantastic in apple pies, Cox's Pippins, just great for eating, Granny Smith's which are good for both! There are also beautiful conference pears that look like they are ready to pick right about now. Things seem earlier this year for some reason.

When I lived in Canada, throughout the years my children were growing up, I used to make several batches of delicious spicyApple Butter every year, along with countless jars of crabapple jelly, and plastic margarine tubs full of applesauce to put into the freezer. In the long cold winter months they were a delicious taste of autumn, which my sight and senses tell me is just around the corner.

*Applesauce Spice Cake*
Serves 10 to 12
Printable Recipe

This is a lovely cake that the whole family will enjoy. Deliciously moist and full of the wonderful flavour of spice, studded with soft raisins and crunchy walnuts, this truly is a joy to bake and to eat. The smell of this when it is baking is truly heavenly!

2 ½ cups plain flour
1 cups caster sugar
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
½ cup vegetable shortening such as Trex, White Flora or Crisco
½ cup water
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 cup sultantas
¾ cup of softened butter
5 cups icing sugar, sifted
¼ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp lemon essence

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 by 15 inch baking pan and set aside.

Sift together the flour, soda, baking powder, salt, spices and sugar into a large bowl. Drop in the shortening, applesauce, water and eggs. Beat it all together with an electric mixer until it is all smooth, beating well. Fold in the sultanas and walnuts. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake for approximately 34 to 40 minutes or until lightly browned and the top springs back when lightly touched. Alternately you may use a toothpick to see if it is done, which when inserted will come out clean.

Remove from the oven and place in the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
Once completely cool make the frosting. Beat the butter until light and fluffy and then beat in the remaining ingredients, beating until smooth and fluffy. Spread evenly across the top of the cake. (leave the cake in the pan and serve from there) If you want you can sprinkle more toasted walnuts over the top of the finished cake.


Sunday, 12 August 2007

Please Sir ... Can I have S'More ...

I must have only been around ten or eleven when I first saw the musical "Oliver." I know that technically he did not actually ask for a S'more .... he actually asked for some more .... but I can't help hearing the word s'more when he asks this question, in his cute little English accent, which also happens to be remarkably very posh for a poor lad of his stature in that day and age here in Britain!

S'mores .... those lovely sweet concoctions that conjure up camping memories and thoughts of Girl Guide hikes, midnight feasts and forbidden forays into the bulging larder. S'mores are kind of hard to come by over here in the UK. You can't really get Graham Crackers so to speak. I know, you can get them from one of those online sites that dish out American goods at a very hefty price, and I do confess that I have splurged on at least one occasion ... or maybe two or three. But yesterday I had neither the money, not the time or inclination. I wanted a S'more NOW! I had been up late the night before reading MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook: For the Farmgirl in All of Us by Maryjane Butters, one of my favourite books, and drooling over all her country pursuits that are so well laid out inside and came across a particularly appealing picture of a homemade S'more, the crackers homemade of course and cut out with pretty little flower cutters, the gooey marshmallow and chocolate oozing out in a most delicious way. From that moment on I knew that yesterday I would have to have a S'more.

I woke up yesterday morning with S'mores on my mind and set out early on to make my S'more dreams come true. I found a recipe that seemed pretty straightforward and easy to follow. I did have a few problems with it however. The dough seemed very sticky and the ones I had cut out like flowers (after a lengthy chill time of course) were very difficult to manueuver and get onto the baking sheet all in one piece, but I did manage eventually. I only cut out two as flowers, and the rest I cut into squares, leaving them on the parchment paper I had rolled them out on. They baked quite nicely and were delicious to boot!!! I ended up having to eat the flower ones in bits. There was a good reason for the parchement paper. It kept the crackers from sticking to the baking sheet, which my flower ones did, as they had no parchment paper under them.

Never mind, it was a most delicious mistake to make as I got to enjoy the crumbs of my labours. The rest turned out perfectly and I was able to make some yummy s'mores with a few of them, for Todd and I to enjoy. Well, I say that loosely, because Todd think's us North Americans have really wierd tastes and he did not like them at all, but as for me, well, I did, of course!!! But then again you could slap some marshmallow and Green and Black's Milk chocolate between two shingles and I'd probably enjoy them too!

* Indoor S'Mores with Homemade Graham Crackers *
serves 4

It may have been only a pot of gruel that Oliver Twist was asking for when he made his fateful mistake in daring to ask, but I'm quite sure that if S'mores had been discovered then, he'd not have settled ... he'd definitely have asked for S'more ...

12 marshmallows, recipe follows or store bought
8 graham cracker squares, recipe follows
2 milk chocolate bars, I used Green and Black's Organic Milk Chocolate

Homemade Marshmallows:
4 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
12 tablespoons sugar
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Marshmallows: Combine the water, the corn syrup, and the sugar in a saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer. Bring to a boil and boil to "soft-ball" stage, or about 235 degrees F.

Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Sprinkle the gelatin over the 2 tablespoons cold water and let dissolve. When the syrup reaches 235 degrees F, remove it from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix. Pour the syrup into the whipped egg whites. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff and mostly cooled. Transfer to a pastry bag with a large plain tip.

If you're not making the s'mores right away, just pipe the marshmallow directly onto icing sugar covered cookie sheets and let set until ready to use, at least 1 hour or overnight.

If you're serving them right away, lay half of the graham crackers on a cookie sheet. Top with chocolate pieces to cover, then pipe "kisses" of marshmallow to cover the chocolate. (If using store-bought marshmallows, place 3 marshmallows on top of the chocolate layer. Leftover homemade marshmallows should be stored in airtight containers.) Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake until the marshmallow is puffed and golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the remaining graham crackers, pressing down slightly to make a sandwich. Serve immediately, while still warm.

*Homemade Graham Crackers*
Makes 48

1/2 cup plain flour
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 TBS runny honey
2 TBS mild molasses
1/4 cup cold water
1 tsp pure vanilla essence

Measure the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into the bowl of a food processor. Blitz for a few seconds to combine. Drop in the butter and blitz again once or twice to combine until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Measure the water, honey, molasses and vanilla into a cup and mix well. Drizzle into the food processor through the feeder tube whilst the motor is running again, mixing until the dough starts to come together into a ball, probably only about 30 seconds or so.

Place the ball between two sheets of parchement paper and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour, longer if possible. Several hours is ideal.

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Remove the dough from the fridge and remove the top sheet of parchment paper. Cut into 2 inch squares with a pizza cutter. Prick the top of each with a fork. Lift the whole thing on the parchment paper onto a baking sheet and bake for about fifteen minutes, until brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan before breaking apart into squares.

Note: this post has been an entry in the Food In Film blogging event sponsored by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook . Hop on over and take a peek!

Friday, 10 August 2007

Hot Summer Corn Days

As a child growing up in Canada, the month of August meant corn on the cob. That was something we longingly looked forward to, the whole rest of the year ... corn season. Farmers would set their wagons up on dusty, country corners, their children coerced into spending the first few weeks of their August days out in the hot sun flogging it to all us townies, who would flock out to them in huge crowds, buying dozen after dozen of the delicious golden ears. It was always a farmer’s dozen too, which meant thirteen ears. The corn was always wonderful, crisp and sweet, fresh picked just that morning …

My mom would set us to work when we got back home, in the garden at the picnic table shucking what seemed like dozens and dozens of ears. I loved feeling the silkiness of the golden tassels at the end of the cob and the sound that the husks made when you peeled them back, a sort of crackling sound that you never heard anywhere else. In the meantime my mother would be heating the water on the stove, ready to plunge the naked cobs into as soon as we brought them back in to the house.

We’d sit around the table in eager anticipation, and it would not be long before the air would be filled with the sweet aroma of boiling corn. That is all we’d have for supper on those hot summer nights, cob after cob of golden corn, covered in lashings of cold butter and oodles of salt. It was a race to see who could eat the most cobs and top the winner of the year before, our hands and faces all buttery and salty and full of corny goodness, the ends of the cobs burning our fingers in our eagerness to get stuck in … You could get fancy corn thingies that you could stick into the ends that you could hold on to, but we never bothered. They never quite worked the way they should have anyways! There was a proper way to eat corn … we’d make our way down the ears like a platen making it’s way across a typewriter bed, the only thing missing … the sound of the bell as we got to the end of the cob and hit the carriage return, starting back at the beginning … We’d eat until our bellies could hold no more and our teeth were stuck full of the little pieces of silk that got left behind, no matter how hard our fingers had tried to peel them away … if you pressed your lip up to your nose, it would smell all buttery and slightly sickly, the smell of hot summer corn days …

I've tried growing my own corn off and on through the years. Mostly it fed the racoons. We tried hanging Christmas lights on it and everything. They (the racoons) were always too smart for us. We'd go out in the morning and find it had all been decimated anyways. Racoons know exactly when the corn is ripe for picking. We gave up. It's always been a lot less stressful to just go out and buy it.

I was thinking about all of this last night when I made our supper after work. The sweet corn over here is not nearly as good as the sweet corn in North America, and I know that, but still, each year when I see it in the grocery store, I relent and buy a few ears, hoping that it will magically have transformed itself into the golden sweet ears of my childhood. Of course it never has, but we enjoy it anyways, although now we end up having to cut the kernels off the cobs to eat it and our faces are not quite as buttery when we are done …

*Perfect Corn on the Cob with Basil Lime Butter*
Serves 8

I love sweet corn and fresh picked sweet corn on the cob is the perfect way to eat it. Accompanied with this delicious butter there is no finer meal. The tang of lime along with the peppery spice of the basil go perfectly with the sweet crunch of the corn, not to mention the underlying heat of fresh garlic. This recipe is a real winner in my books!

8 ears of sweet corn
For the Butter:
¼ cup of basil leaves, lightly packed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup butter
1 TBS fresh lime juice (roughly the juice of one small lime)
1 tsp sea salt
Pinch of sugar

First make the butter. Chop the basil fairly finely and crush the garlic. Cream the butter until quite fluffy and then cream in the basil, garlic, salt, sugar and the lime juice until it is quite smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate while you boil the corn.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding a pinch of sugar to the water. Remove the husks, silk and end from each ear of corn. Rinse in cold water and then drop the ears into the boiling water, making sure they are completely covered by the water. (Don’t salt the water as it makes the corn tough) Bring the water back to the boil. Immediately cover the kettle and turn out the heat. Let the corn stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain well and serve immediately with the chilled Basil butter. Delicious!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The Colour of August

Canadian growing seasons were very short, and as a consequence, certain fruits were only available fresh, for a very short few weeks during the year. They were very precious indeed.

Long about August , our thoughts would quite naturally wander into the woods, and begin to think of blueberries, as August was the season of blueberries in Eastern Canada. Not those big grape sized ones you can get in the grocery stores over here, but those delicious tasty little pea sized morsels…wild blueberries…that you can only get after spending back breaking hours in the hot sun to acquire.

The first week of August the ice cream buckets would appear on the kitchen counter. It was then that we children knew it was blueberry picking time, a time we both dreaded and revered all at once. We would spend hours in the blueberry bush, choosing and picking the dainty delicious berries and filling those plastic four litre buckets, until our backs were aching and our arms felt like they were ready to fall off, the time only made longer according to how many actually made it into the buckets and how many made it into our tummies! The warm summer sun and humming insects helping us to feel all cosy and, well….a part of a family, lovingly coerced into partaking of this glorious labour. Compelled into participation by rose coloured memories and the anticipation of pieces of warm, fresh blueberry pie, it’s luscious blue juices dripping onto the plate, mingling with runny rivulets of melting fresh vanilla ice cream….beautiful puffy lemon coloured muffins, studded with those gorgeous purple berries and sprinkled with crusty sugar crumbles on top….light as a cloud buttermilk pancakes bursting full of the sweet luscious beauties, stacked three high on a plate, a golden pat of butter melting and gilding the edges, doused in beautifully sweet and rich Maple Syrup , the perfect foil….

We knew as children, that the more berries we picked, the more of these delights we’d be able to savour during the long winter ahead. Tired and hot at the end of the day, our fingers stained blue, with blue lips and teeth, we’d sit around the kitchen table with big bowls of tasty berries, sprinkled with sugar and covered in cream….Berries….still warm from the sun, cream …cold from the fridge, smiles on berry stained faces, knowing we had once again secured this little taste of summer for the winter ahead…

*Lemon Glazed Blueberry Bundt Cake*
Serves 12

I fell in love with this cake the very first time I made it. It is deliciously moist and studded with sweet berries. The Lemon Glaze is perfect on top, giving it just a little tang, which only helps to enhance the flavour of the blueberries.

2 ½ cups plain flour
1 tsp plain flour, for blueberries
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup soft light brown sugar, packed
1 cup caster sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla essence
1 cup dairy sour cream
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 TBS finely grated lemon zest
The juice of two lemons
2 - 3 cups icing sugar, sifted

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Butter and flour a 12 cup bundt or tube pan. Set aside.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

In another bowl, cream together the butter and two sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating until thoroughly combined. Beat in the vanilla.

Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour. Gently toss the blueberries and lemon zest with the 2 tsp of flour. Fold them into the batter.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the cake tests done when a toothpick is inserted and it springs back lightly when the top is gently touched.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before removing and inverting on a wire rack to finish cooling completely. Place upright on a plate.

Make the glaze by combining the lemon juice and the sifted icing sugar, until the desired consistency has been reached and the mixture is smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the cake. Enjoy!

Monday, 6 August 2007

Out on a limb, a delicious chocolate limb ...

Okay, I am going to go out on a limb here and enter a little competition. Competition is healthy and any competition that involves chocolate is even better. . . and when you throw brownies into the mix (no pun intended) then it becomes totally impossible to resist!

Myriam of Once Upon A Tart is hosting a fresh competition, and not being one to shirk my duty, especially when it involves chocolate of any description baked into lucious brownies, I feel compelled to throw my hat into the proverbial ring!

What is the perfect brownie? To some, they might have a slightly cakey consistency, to still other's they might be so fudgy as to verge on the edge of almost raw. Then again, a brownie might not even be brown at all, but a blondie! (stogged full of chocolate chips would be my choice) Nuts, or no nuts. White chocolate or dark chocolate. Cranberries, peanutbutter, marshmallows, mint .... brownies come in many shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. I am not prejudiced. If it says brownie in the title I am right there with my fork and tingling tastebuds, ready to dig in and enjoy!

These happen to be my favourite brownie. Slightly fudgy without going over the top into sludgy, still holding their shape, filled with a rich chocolate flavour. Baked with nuts, or not, these are my nemisis . . . these are the ones I find myself waking up and thinking about at two o'clock in the morning, and, being the weak person that I am, down in the kitchen digging into the tin for just one more ...

*Fudge Walnut Brownies*
Makes 24 squares

I wish I had a pound for every time I have made brownies in my life and for every new brownie recipe I have tried! I’d be a rich woman! This is my old standard that I return to every time. Moist and delicious with full on chocolate flavour, these are everything a good brownie should be! You can leave the nuts out if you wish, or you can add chocolate chips instead. They then become double chocolate fudge brownies!

1 cup butter
1 cup plain flour
4 ounces good quality bitter chocolate
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 TBS vanilla essence (YES 1TBS)
Pinch salt
½ cup walnut halves, broken into pieces

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Grease and flour the bottom of an 8 inch square glass baking dish. Tap out any extra flour.

Melt the butter along with the chocolate over low heat in a large pot. Allow to cool, then stir in the sugar, eggs (one at a time) vanilla, flour and salt, mixing with a wooden spoon and being careful not to over mix, no more than 50 strokes!

Pour batter evenly into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out a little wet if you want fudgy brownies. Bake until it comes out cleaner if you want cake type brownies, about 40 to 45 minutes for the fudgy ones. Let cool a bit before cutting into squares.

AND, just because I can't do ANYTHING half way, here is my other favourite, one of the blondie versions, full of "caramel-like" fudgy goodness. In this case, Blondes definitely do have more fun!

*Butterscotch Blondies*
Makes 12

These bars are lovely and chewy and full of wonderful butterscotch flavour. I try to use the best milk chocolate possible and that is Green and Black’s organic (in my opinion). They small fantastic when baking and the taste, well, it’s out of this world! Bet you can’t eat just one, which also makes them very dangerous to have around!

140g butter, plus more to grease the pan
2 large eggs, at room temperature
Pinch salt
350g light muscovado sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla essence
250g self rising flour
100g milk chocolate, cut into big chunks
100g macadamia nuts or pecan nuts, coarsely chopped
Icing sugar to dust over the tops when done

Pre-heat the oven to 160*C/350*F. Butter a shallow pan, about 20 X 21 cm in size and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small bowl and set aside to cool. In the meantime chop up your chocolate.
Beat the eggs until frothy in another bowl. Add the melted butter along with the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Tip in the flour and mix only until combined. Stir in the chocolate and ¾ of the nuts. Try not to over mix the batter, you'll end up with tough brownies if you do.

Spread the batter into the prepared tin and scatter the remaining nuts on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until done. Don’t overbake. You want them dry on the top with a slight resistance to the touch of a fingertip, but you also want them to be fudgy and moist.
Let cool, then cut into bars and dust with the icing sugar.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Country Ramblings ...

We found out Jess could swim yesterday, quite by accident I might add! It was actually quite a scary experience and not one I'd care to repeat! We had a gorgeous day yesterday, sunny and warm and relaxing. We had friends for dinner, and after having stuffed ourselves silly, we decided to work some of the calories off by going for a wander around the area.

There is something special about warm summer days and country ramblings. They make a body feel all comfortable and at ease. We are luckier than most...we wake up to beauty surrounding us every day of the year, even in the rain. I do love the country so ...

Part of the reason we were walking off our tea was this delicious Chocolate Tart. I haven't met a person yet that can refuse a slice, or two or three...

*Decadent Chocolate Mousse Tart*

Serves 8

Not only is this sinfully moreish, but it’s also relatively easy to put together. I’d call it a dawdle! There’s no real cooking involved here. I think this will become a fast favourite with anyone who tries it!

200g packet of butter shortbread biscuits

100g unsalted butter

1 TBS golden syrup or honey

100g bar of good quality dark chocolate (use one with a high cacao content, at least 70%)

100g bar of good quality milk chocolate

1 tsp pure vanilla essence

2 TBS of icing sugar, plus more for dusting

200ml of whipping or double cream

Give the biscuits a whir in the food processor, until they are quite broken down. You don’t want them too fine, but you don’t want big chunks of biscuit in them either. (You can also do this by putting them into in a zip lock food bag and giving them a good bash with the rolling pin!) Put the crumbs into a bowl. Melt the butter with the syrup or honey in the microwave and stir it into the crumbs, mixing it until they are all mixed together well. Pat the mixture onto the bottoms and a bit up the sides of a 12 X 36 cm rectangular loose bottomed tart tin or a 23 cm round one. Put it into the fridge to chill while you are making the filling.

Break all the chocolate into bits in a large bowl and melt it in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes on high. Check it after about a minute and a half, giving it a stir. You may not need any longer than that, depending on how strong your microwave is. Stir in the vanilla essence and then sift in the icing sugar. Mix it in well. You will think it is going solid on you, but it isn’t. Whip the cream just until it holds it’s shape and then fold it into the melted chocolate mixture. Spoon it into the prepared crust and smooth the top. Place the tart in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours or up to two days.

About half an hour before serving, remove the tart from the fridge. Let it sit and then remove the sides of the tin and place the tart onto aflat plate. Dust with icing sugar and then serve. You can serve it with a little bit of crème fraiche dabbed on top or a scoop of ice cream on the side. Delicious!

Friday, 3 August 2007

On these warm summer days Todd and I love to go walking with Jess through the Orchards that surround where we live. In the springtime it is all awash with the beautiful and fragrant blossoms of a sea of fruit trees, but now in these later days of summer you can clearly see the apples growing large and red, causing the branches to bow down in all their bounty. The hedgerows are alive with the humming of insects and beautiful blackberries that I know will be ripe for the picking in just a few weeks now. What glorious crumbles and jellies we have to look forward to.

In the meantime, I have been busy where I work as the cook, sorting out the larder. Yesterday I discovered an infestation of weevils and it seems that all the cereals, rice and grains were loaded with them, and so I had to pitch the whole lot out and disinfect all the shelves and containers. It was alot of work, and was quite disheartening, as it means I will now have to go out and replace the lot. Never mind though, the larder is looking quite nice, clean and organized. Tidy.

I was quite tired when I got home and so made us a simple dish for our tea. Todd always loves it when I make this. Not quite as modest as Beans on Toast, but just as tasty. This is comfort food, plain and simple. With a delicious salad on the side, this was anything but ordinary ...

*Beans and Wieners Under Cornbread*
Serves 4

This makes a delicious and simple supper. Hearty and family pleasing. Todd really enjoys this when I make it and I can say with a certainty that the leftovers taste even better the next day, so it’s worth making the whole recipe, however you can quite successfully cut the recipe in two if you wish.

1 package of smoked frankfurters
2 (415g) tins of baked beans
1 heaping dessertspoon of tomato sauce
1 TBS Dijon mustard
1 TBS dark soft brown sugar
1 tsp hot pepper sauce (Tabasco)
(You can cut this down if you don’t like your food too spicy)
1 TBS dark molasses (in the UK you can use a combination of dark treacle and golden syrup)
1 cup flour
¼ cup caster sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal (polenta in the UK)
1 cup buttermilk
2 TBS olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 ounces roasted diced green chilies
¾ cup grated strong cheddar cheese
1/3 cup diced red onion

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/375*F. Cut the frankfurters into 1 inch pieces and brown them in a large hot skillet. (There is no need to add any fat to the skillet). Once they are browned add the beans, tomato sauce, mustard, sugar, molasses and pepper sauce. Stir it all together really well and bring to a simmer. Let cook for about five minutes, on low heat, while you make the cornbread mixture.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the cornmeal and ½ cup of the grated cheese. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil and egg. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry just enough to combine, without over mixing. Fold in the roasted chilies and red onion.

Place the hot bean mixture in a lightly buttered casserole dish*. Pour the cornbread mixture over top. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup of grated cheese. Bake in the heated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cornbread is well risen and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

*Note- You can also bake this in individual casserole dishes as I have done above.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Summer Sunshine

Well, these past few days have seen us making up for all the recent rain and having glorious sunshine to enjoy, although to be honest, the mornings have still been quite chilly! I have noticed a fresh crop of wasps making their presence known around the gardens and yesterday, up at work in the big kitchen, I killed no less than three of the little monsters that were threatening my safety and trying to get at my fresh Banana Loaf! We have a big problem with wasps here as we are surrounded by fruit orchards. I guess it's a small price to pay for having all those lovely drops to pick up in the autumn!

Hot August days always meant one thing when I was bringing up my family. Preserving time! Every year I put up jars and jars of pickles, jams, jelly's and preserves. Those days my kitchen would be full of the smells of vinegar and spice and the sweet delicious smell of boiling fruits. Now that there is just Todd and I, there is not the requirement for all those lovely pickles and relishes. Not only do I not have the storage space, but we would never get through them in a million years, ahhhhh ... but I do miss them.

We can use up a bit of this jam though, and so yesterday I made some fresh strawberry preserves. I know we are still trying to use up the raspberry ones I made last year, but with the price of berries so low in the stores right now, I just couldn't resist! It was especially lovely last evening, spread onto two halves of a freshly baked scone ... a dab of clotted cream on top, it's delicious finishing touch!

*Classic Strawberry Jam*
Makes 6 pints

Simple and delicious, this jam recipe doesn’t use any pectin to help it jell. Instead, you must rely on your own talents for judging when it is done. Don’t worry, it’s not really that hard to do!

9 cups fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
4 cups white sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 TBS unsalted butter (optional)

Put the strawberries into a large saucepan. Bring them to a simmer over medium low heat, mashing them roughly with a potato masher or the back of a large flat spoon. Stir in the sugar and the lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the butter, if using, and then bring it to a vigorous boil, stirring often. Cook for ten to twenty minutes, measuring the viscosity of the jam periodically by dropping a spoonful onto a glass plate and tipping the plate. Once the jam slows it’s drip down the plate and no longer runs like a syrup it is done.
Remove the jam from the heat and skim off any foam that rises to the top carefully with a metal spoon.

Make sure you have six pint jars waiting that have been washed in good clean soapy water and rinsed really well. I like to sterilize mine in a hot oven by placing the jars on a baking tray and popping them into a moderate oven for about 10 minutes. Fill the jars with the hot jam to within ¼ inch of the top. Make sure the edges of the jars are clean from any jam, wiping them clean if needed, with a clean damp cloth. Place lids on the jars and close tightly.

Place the jars in a pot large enough to hold them, and cover with boiling water, making sure the jars are completely submerged. Boil for 15 minutes. Remove jars with tongs and cool upright on a wire rack. Check for secure seals on jars (lid should not spring when touched) and store in a cool place away from light for up to a year. Any jars that do not seal should be refrigerated and used up first.