If you go down to the woods today!

If you go down to the woods today, especially a wood that is designated Ancient Woodland, then you are more than likely to come across Wild Garlic.

Wild Garlic is one of the number of plant species whose presence indicates that a wood is ancient. Traditionally used in medicine, with the bulb being one of the key ingredients in tonics for rheumatic problems and high cholesterol.

It is a popular foraged ingredient, as its leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or blanched and used in place of spinach, or mades into a soup, pesto, wild garlic butter and for sauces. They have a mild garlic flavour and are at their best before the flowers appear. The flowers are also edible and can be added raw to salads.

A friend from Brussels days, has over 100 acres of ancient woodland and as such in the spring has an abundant source of wild garlic, along with glade upon glade of the most beautiful English Bluebells.

On my last visit ( pre-pandemic days) she was busy making wild garlic and potato soup. Although I have in the past made oodles of soup, but currently himself is not a soup frame of mind.

However, Watts Farm in Kent, ( my current favourite online grocery delivery service ( ok they don’t have everything I want) but they do have some unusual things besides and wild garlic being one of them. I think I have bought 400 grams of the leaves ( and I can tell you, that is a lot !)

So what did I use it for? Firstly I made wild garlic butter, which I wizzed up softened butter and the garlic leaves together, put into ice cube trays, froze, bagged, to go into the freezer drawer, along with my other butters and sauces.

Next I made, some wild garlic pesto, which is a combination of Olive Oil, wild garlic and pine nuts. because of the concentration of oil, it will get thick but will not freeze, so I bag it in smallish quantities and out in the freezer.

Finally, I made some wild garlic sauce, which I served with some steak, asparagus and a sauté of mixed mushrooms.

To make a wild garlic sauce

  1. 50 grams butter
  2. 4 small shallots diced
  3. a clove of garlic, crushed
  4. 100 grams wild garlic leaves
  5. pinch of dried tarragon, or 1 oz of fresh, chopped
  6. 150 mls single cream
  7. pinch of salt
Fresh Tarragon

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the shallots and garlic, cook gently, being careful not to brown the shallots. Add the wild garlic and the tarragon and cook until the leaves are tender.

Transfer to a blender, put the cream in the pan and bring to the boil, add it to the blender and process until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

English asparagus is in season right now. Here are just two of the varieties available.

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, back in the days, before he became famous and way too expensive, we used to dine at The Fat Duck, in Bray. In fact it almost became our local and for anything half way special we would eat there AND take our three kids! I even took a girl friend for a birthday lunch and don’t laugh we were the only ones dining. We joked with the maitre’d about his garish trousers ( I had forewarned her), but nowadays it is just so much more formal and more to the point Much Much more expensive.

On one occasion, I took 12 members of the Petroleum Women’s Club for lunch ( aka the Oily Women) and this was followed by another visit, almost the next day with some American colleagues, after a day at Wimbledon to watch, much to the disappointment of Himself, the Women’s final, Williams V Williams.

But I digress. At the women’s lunch, I had two outstanding courses, one was his then famous Snail Porridge and the second, Butternut Squash Ice Cream, with Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Watching the Tennis I waxed lyrical about these two dishes, so much so that our guests said they had to try them. Off we went to Bray, not exactly next door to Wimbledon. Zoot! Alors! Snail porridge was not on the menu! Never mind said the garish trousered maitre’d, I’m sure the chef will make it for you, and he did!

As yet, I’ve not experimented and made the Snail Porridge, but I have made the Butternut Squash Ice Cream. The thing I found upon eating it the first time, was the expectation. Normally, ice cream is sweet, but this is not, not in the normal, way one expects Ice Cream to be. BUT it works well, alongside something really sweet, like Sticky Toffee Pudding.

As Said, I have made the ice cream but this time around, I served it with Sticky Toffee Sauce, which works well also

  • 1 Butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 medium eggs, whisked together
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar preferably caster sugar
  • 600 mls double / whipping cream
  • 1/2 tub ricotta cheese

Pop the squash onto a baking tray and roast in a medium oven for 20 – 30 minutes until soft.

  • Whisk the eggs and add the sugar and then pour in the cream and add the ricotta cheese. if using an ice cream machine,pour the mixture in and set to churn, otherwise pour into a suitable box and place in the freezer and stir a couple of time during the freezing process.
  • For the Sticky Toffee sauce
  • 1tin cooked condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 a packet of butter
  • 200 mls cream.

Melt the butter along with the sugar,mother can of condensed milk and the cream. Stir to amalgamate all and continue to heat and stir until it is a smooth runny sauce. Remove from the heat and pour over some ice cream. EAT AT ONCE.

The rest of the sauce can be stored for several days in the refrigerator or frozen in small amounts for future use.

Do I like Tarts or Whores?

And here I’m not talking about people but a sauce! La Puttana is, to put it politely, a Lady of the night, or more normally, a prostitute, a Lady of the night, or a Strumpet. Hence the name for a a spicy sauce of Italian origin is Puttanesca sauce.

Normally, this sauce is served with pasta, and in times past I made pasta almost every Sunday! Why on a Sunday? Because I didn’t seem to have time during the week, three kids at home, husband mostly not, a cooking school of sorts to run etc etc. So Sunday was the ideal day.

Back then I had a pasta machine but honestly I don’t think that there was much else around in the pasta making department. I almost had shares in the cookware shop in my local small town of Wavre ( in French speaking Belgium). It really was the only place to buy anything cookware wise, but apart from a pasta machine, not too much else. Consequently, I read somewhere what to do and this was it. Get a pair of car jacks and a broom handle, balance the broom handle between the jacks and hey presto a Pasta drying rack ! Needless to say I hotfooted it to the hardware store and returned home with my goodies.

Since then it is himself who has fallen in love with making pasta. I have to say, rarely so in London, but often when we are in a our mountain home in France. He makes tagliatelle, lasagne sheets and ravioli.

The last lot of ravioli made during Lockdown 1 was ravioli filled with an egg yolk ( Ravioli Bernese) and it was really very good, but I digress. Puttenesca sauce. Delia Smith says that in her house they refer to this sauce as Tarts Spaghetti and so do we. It is a gutsy, strong and fiery sauce and is served usually over spaghetti, but it can be used elsewhere and I did.

I saw a picture of this sauce served with mackerel. Now I love almost all things fishy but Mackerel is not one of them. I use smoked mackerel fillets to make a very acceptable pâté but on their own, I will give them a miss. But himself really like mackerel, in fact declares his love for anything, strong and smelly.

Therefore, as I had some mackerel fillets in the freezer, decided to make the Puttenesca sauce to go with the mackerel. Very easy to make can be served on a bed of rice or orzo.

  • 2+ cloves of garlic chopped
  • Tin of anchovies 50 grams
  • +/-150 grams pitted bald olives
  • 1 red chilli chopped and descended
  • Can of chopped tomatoes ( or fresh if you wish)
  • A good squirt of tomato paste
  • A tablespoon of drained capers
  • A handful of basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Parmesan and fresh basil to garnish.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil, add the garlic, chilli and basil, sauté until the garlic is pale gold, take care not to burn it. Add everything else, except the salt and pepper.

Put on a low heat and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, by then it will be thick.Taste and adjust seasoning, it might not need any added salt,as the anchovies are salty.

Whilst the sauce is simmering and literally just before it is ready, dip the mackerel fillets in some flour and fry quickly in a small amount of olive oil. Fry for only a couple of minutes on each side. The fillets are thin and do not need a lot of cooking.

I also cheated on this and served them on a bed of Chinese noodles, which are super quick to cook in a microwave.

And serve of course with some gutsy red wine !

Baking versus Cooking

What’s the difference? One might well ask. My son is a cook, loves to cook always has done even since he was a kid. His wife is a baker and loves to make cakes and things and loves the Great British Bake off! There it is in the title, BAKE.

Baking has to follow rules and more or less to the letter, too much flour, equals too dry, too much yeast, baking powder, it just doesn’t work. Oven too hot or too cool, the result will be a mess. On the other hand cooking allows for creativity, a little bit of this, a little bit of that! ( and some rules as well).

Classical French cooking always had to follow the rules, but in recent times, things have changed, meals less heavy, sauces less rich. But how do recipes develop? Over time, by region, and by cooks themselves, partly by tradition, what their mothers did or by what food stuffs are available at any given time!

One story I like to recall is this.

A young bride was entertaining her family for Easter, and determined to do the right thing, had a beautiful Leg of Lamb. She prepared everything for her guests as had been show over the years by her mother. Just one thing thwarted her, she didn’t have an axe not even a cleaver. Why on earth did she need those? It was Easter, the stores were closed, what could she do ? She was in despair when her grandmother came into the kitchen. What’s the matter ? Granny asked ” Oh Granny, I can’t chop the end of the leg as I don’t have an axe” Why do you need to do that, granny asked. Because it is something that has to be done to roast a leg of lamb the Bride replied. My mother told me, that is the way you taught her. Granny burst out laughing. Oh Dear she said, I only did that as my pan was just not big enough !

So you see, how things can get passed down from generation to generation. Think of it as Chinese Whispers for cooking !

This weekend, I wanted to cook Osso Buco. On one of my very rare forays into a grocery store,I found some wonderful Veal bones for Osso Buco. I have not made it in years and in doing my research, there are, of course as many versions as there are cookery books. One thing I did ascertain is it seems to have gone out of favour in these days of lighter fare.

Not by Giorgio Locatelli, nor by Valentina Harris. Not by Floyd nor Robuchon. On and on I went trolling through my myriad of cookery books. Finally I found exactly what I was looking for. A couple of versions of Osso Buco, actually three, two are made with white wine, one with red, one with added anchovies one with carrots and two with tomatoes. The one thing in common with them all is the Gremolata that is served with the veal.

Julia Child, really says it how it is, you can make a veal ragout with any cut of veal but for Osso Buco it has to be from the Hind Shank as this contains the bone and the marrow. Without the marrow it is not Osso Buco! But, a Stew is a Stew! So now we know.

Basically it is a meat stew, with variations !

For my Osso Buco I used the following

  • 3 large Veal Shanks ( that was all there was)
  • 4 carrots, pled and cut into rounds
  • 2 Onions sliced
  • 4 sticks celery cut into bits
  • 3 cloves garlic smushed
  • Can chopped tomatoes
  • 300 mls veal or beef stock
  • 1/2 bottle red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped Parsley, chopped garlic and lemon zest to garnish

Heat some oil in a heavy pan and sauté the vegetables until lightly brown. Remove and put to one side.

Dip the veal in some flour and brown both sides in the pan,made more oil if necessary. Return the vegetables to the pan and then the wine and stock, turn the heat down to a simmer and leave with the lid on for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. At this time check the consistency, if too liquid bring to a rapid boil, being careful to give it a stir now and then, do not let it burn. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Make the Gremolata, by chopping finely the parsley and garlic and mix with the lemon zest.

Serve in a shallow bowl with the Gremolata sprinkled on top and give each diner a spoon for scooping out the bone marrow!

And one final word. The Avocados? They arrived on my doorstep yesterday morning. How exciting is that? I wonder what the collective noun for so many Avocados is? Whatever it is I am a happy bunny. Three out to ripen, the rest refrigerated? Yummy !

Easter Sunday

Needless to say, that this year we did not hold, nor participate in any kind of Easter Egg hunt, though both sets of grandchildren did, even our lovely eldest grandson who doesn’t like chocolate ! Can you imagine a kid who doesn’t like chocolate? Hard isn’t it?

An Amazing selection of desserts in Mexico City

In Mexico City, where the family lived for several years they discovered that Mexicans go completely over the top for birthdays and other celebrations and with oodles of ( and yes you have guessed it) chocolate! Goodie bags filled with chocolate and the birthday cakes swimming in chocolate and cream! Now he does like cream and once he told me that he had tried to teach himself to like chocolate, as he always missed out at birthday parties, but I think he has even given up doing that. Once, whilst we were visiting over Easter, we did a trip with them all, out of town to St. Miguel d’Allende. Said grandson, said to his mother ” will the Easter Bunny remember that I don’t like chocolate?” Yes of course was the reply. He shot back ” well he didn’t Last Year ! Ooops! So now it is all things yummy but not chocolate!

So what did we do for Easter. The willowy brunette came for dinner and our menu consisted of

  • Scallops with Brandy Gratin
  • Sous Vide rack of Lamb with herb butter and rosemary Jus.
  • Espresso Panna Cotta

The Panna Cotta is easy to make and almost any kid of booze can be used in the mixture. This amount makes 6 fairly large ramekins.

  • 220 mls of very strong espresso. I used 2 Nespresso Espresso coffee pods
  • 220 mls whole milk
  • 75 grms caster sugar
  • 4 gelatine leaves or 1tablespoon of granular gelatine
  • 100 mls brandy or other spirit
  • 360 mls double cream

For the syrup to pour over the Panna Cotta when serving

  • 200 grams caster sugar
  • 125 mls of strong espresso
  • 40mls brandy or whatever spirit you are using.
  1. Dissolve the gelatine according to the instruction on the packet.
  2. Heat the milk, sugar and espresso until the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Add the gelatine stir in and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  4. Whisk the cream until it is thick and then fold carefully into the cooled mixture.
  5. Divided between the ramekins or moulds and refrigerate for about 3 hours to set.

For the syrup.

  1. Make the syrup by heating the sugar gently on the stove top until it is dissolved and continue heating gently until it turns into a sticky caramel! Be careful not to let it burn.
  2. Stir in the coffee and the spirit and leave to cool.

When ready to serve, unmould the Panna Cotta and serve with the drizzle poured on the top.

My syrup had crystallised a little, but actually was nice as it gave a little crunch to what was a very silky dessert.

My left over syrup, was not discarded, it was put into ice cube moulds and frozen ! Yet to be used, I hasten to add!

This week saw me in Sicily !

Only joking of course, STRICTLY NOT ALLOWED. Living in what appears to most as a police state is interesting! But the UK vaccination programme is steam rolling ahead and hopefully soon, very soon we will be able to travel once again. Am I in a hurry to go to restaurants? No, not really, the Theater ? I think I will wait, at least it is spring time, soon to be summer when life will be easier in the base case. Golf courses are once again open as are outdoor tennis courts and swimming pools/ lidos, and yesterday was the hottest March day in 50 years ! Wow! And I was playing ( well trying ) golf!

I have decided that online groceries are the way forward. We have mixed results with restaurant deliveries, on the whole the food has been good, with one noticeable exception where I was told that I hadn’t cooked ( the precooked ) pork for long enough. It was full of Fat and gristle which no amount of cooking would have melted it !

On the other hand grocery deliveries have been excellent. I alternate with two suppliers and I think my favourite is Watts Farm in Kent. Initially they were mainly fruit and vegetables but now almost everything but in particular good fresh seasonal products such as Wild Garlic. They also have fresh yeast, which as I am into baking Bagels and Brioche, is an essential ( I don’t like dried yeast), and as fresh yeast does freeze well, it works well for me. I cut it into small blocks, wrap in cling film and freeze. Very Easy Peasy!

What with golf being back and then Easter with great day out with #1 daughter and family ( rule of two households). Kew Gardens held a “Denis the Menace ” themed event, along with the BEANO, for the 70 th anniversary of said comic!

Next day another, two household event at the former Rothschild home, Waddesdon Manor, where we saw our littlest granddaughters and Baby Molly, strutting her stuff!

So cooking has fallen by the wayside a bit this week, but never fear, I have not been totally idle ! Ice cream! Yes more Ice Cream and for me I like this one the best ( not really an ice cream eater)!

Toasted Hazelnut with Caramel! Umm! To make this I started as always with my basic, sweet cream base plus hazelnuts.

  • +/- 4 OZ toasted hazelnuts, not sure if you can buy them already skinned, but I rubbed them around to get rid of the skins once they were toasted and then chopped them roughly.
  • 500mls, double cream ( thick cream)
  • 500 mls Greek yoghurt ( not fat free)
  • 1/2 cup(2OZ )fine / caster sugar or more to taste
  • 3 eggs.

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy ( can be done in a food processor) add the cream, yoghurt and sugar. Whisk a little more until well blended. Pour into an ice cream machine or a container and freeze.

For the caramel

  • 2/3 cup caster sugar
  • Dash of water

Put into a saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves and heat gently until it starts to caramelise, let it become golden. Remove from the heat immediately as it will quickly turn to very very crunchy caramel.

Pour onto a greased metal tray and leave to cool. When cool, hit with a hammer and break into bits. Mix with the nuts.

When the ice cream is almost frozen, stir in the nuts and the caramel bits, mix well and return to the freezer.

And that is it!

If you want to be really decadent, make a toffee sauce to pour overtime when serving.

  • 200 grams (1 Cup, 4 OZ) caster sugar
  • 60 grams ( 2 OZ ) unsalted butter
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 120 mls double cream

Put the sugar along with about 100 mls water and heat. Swirl around from time to time, do not stir. When it begins to thicken and begins to be a caramel colour, remove from heat, stir in the butter, salt and cream. Mix well and leave to cool. And again, that is it!

Yet another Fish Pie!

What’s not to like about fish pie? Well everything if you don’t like fish, but for those of you who do, there has to be as many recipes as the proverbial Shake a Stick!

My go to version of late has been an adaption of Richard Corrigan’s simple fish pie, however this week saw yet another incarnation of yet another version. This time around it has a slight curry flavour, which if you like curry as Himself does, then this the way forward.

It contains,of course a mixture of fish along with hard boiled eggs and potatoes as well as some spinach, very much a variation on a theme.

Before Lockdown #1,#2 and three, I would raid my “Fish” freezer to find an assortment of fish, but nowadays I just buy along with my Fish order a portion of fish pie mix. So, OK this might be just ends from the fishmongers chopping board, but there is nothing wrong with that. In my mix was about 35% salmon and the rest assorted white fish. There is no waste, no skin, no bones. To this I added two small fillets of smoked haddock and a handful of frozen prawns, All in all I had +/- a kilo of fish.

A kilo of fish makes for at least 6 portions, but for me as I had to defrost the whole bag, I had to make a very large fish pie. To my fish above I also needed the following:-

  • A bag of fresh spinach ( about 200 grams but more is OK as well, I wish I had used more)
  • A leek finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery chopped
  • An onion finely sliced
  • At least 2 cloves of garlic chopped or crushed
  • At least 4 tsp of curry powder
  • 400 mls cream
  • 4 Oz grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 hard boiled eggs quartered or chopped
  • Juice of a lemon
  • A handful of freshly chopped coriander
  • Salt and pepper

For the topping

  • 100 mls milk or cream
  • +/- 1 kilo of potatoes depending how thick you want your topping to be,
  • 100 grms unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Salt and pepper.

Start by making the topping which is basically mashed potatoes. As usual I cook mine in the Microwave, peel after cooking and put through a potato ricer. Using a river makes for a fine mash, but don’t rush out and by one, mashing with a fork is fine, just giving a more rustic mashed potato. Once mashed heat the milk/ cream. Mix the potato with the egg yolks and butter, pour on the milk to mash a stiffish mashed potato topping. Too soft equals too sloppy for the pie, too stiff equals too difficult to spread over the pie. So a bit like Goldilocks, it needs to be Just Right!

Cook the spinach, I buy ready washed spinach ( lazy I know) as then I can just pop the bag as it is into the microwave and zap for two minutes, pop open the bag, remove spinach and drain in some paper towel, it will not be very wet anyway.

Now I always precook my fish. I dip bits in flour and sauté them and drain on paper towel. After that sauté the vegetables, along with the spices, garlic etc, pour in the cream, bring to the boil, add the cheese and lemon juice. Remove from heat. Put the fish into an oven proof dish, top with the spinach and sauce and then the mashed potatoes.

Bake at 180c ( fan) 200c for about 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown and bubbling.

Now as you can see from my photograph, that nis a big fish pie! Never mind, once cold I cut it into man size portions, freeze, vacuum pack and back into the freezer!

Guess what Himself will be having for dinner !

Les Merveilleux and Cramiques

I could have sworn that it was just last September when I decamped to Les Hauts de France, with my eldest daughter, youngest grandson and one of my dearest friends. But no, it was September 2019. My, how time flies when you are having fun! For a huge part of that we have spent confined to Barracks, or in other words, LOCKDOWN 1, 2 and 3!

Whilst on our Jolly ( #1 daughter, grandson and I were actually working, Suzette , she freshly arrived from Texas, along for the ride but ended up being the film crews #1 mate) . I digress, our first port of call was to old city of Lille, which more or less straddles France and Belgium. I say more or less, it is in Northern France but many Belgians make the daily trip across the border to work. We had a tour of the town in a Deux Chevaux and a good wander. We passed a shop, where the queue was around the corner and down the street. Our curiosity peeked, we returned on Sunday morning to check it out. They sold but two items, Les Merveilleux in ( 5 flavours) and Cramiques in three, (and maybe a croissant or two. )We felt we knew the Cramiques , a cross between a Brioche and a sweet roll, very popular in Belgium for breakfast ( and we had lived in Brussels for 13 years and thought we knew, all that was needed to know), but Les Merveilleux, we hadn’t a clue. So some were purchased and stashed in the boot of the car for future eating.

Unbeknownst to us, they were predominantly CREAM! And so after a day with the car sitting in warm sunshine, they were no longer Merveilleux, but Abominable! And inedible! Ah well such is life.

However, my friend and I discovered that there is such a shop in London Les Merveilleux de Fred in South Kensington. A visit was required and some were bought. Certainly, in Lille, they make them non stop and all are sold. Not sure about London as, they certainly are not cheap, £ 3.40 each, but then again, South Kensington is a French enclave.

The flavours are

:- Incroyable……. Speculoos , cream and white chocolate

:- Impensable…….Coffee cream and coffee crystals

:-Merveilleux……..Cream and chocolate shavings

: Manifique…………Praline Cream with almonds and caramelised hazelnuts

:- Sans Culottes……Caramel Cream and crystallised meringue

:-Excentrique……… Cherry Cream and crystallised meringue

All of them are Cream, Cream and more Cream ! But Yummy.

The other delights are the Cramiques , Fred makes them, Plain, Chocolate and then Raisins . All of them have a sugar , which to my mind is very Belgian, but not just any sugar, but Pearl sugar. Pearl sugar is very common in Belgium and is always used in their famous Gaufres de Liège, which are wonderful, served hot with lumps of molten sugar !

I have yet to try making Les Merveilleux but have made the Cramiques, which thanks to my mini bread machine, (which did the kneading for me), worked very well.

Too much bread leftover in your house? Did you know that bread and bread products freeze very well? No room in your freezer and hat,e to throw away bread, then help is at hand.

New Orleans Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce.

This is a great way of using up stale bread and the plus point is that it also freezes well, even with the sauce on top. Traditionally made with stale french bread but any bread will suffice. The quantities are very much whatever you have. I used 6 bagels and half a baguette. Using a grater on a food processor, crumb the bread. To this add 3 beaten eggs, 500 mls cream ( or milk), 100 grms sugar. Then you can add any of the following, a cup of chopped apples, chopped dates, chopped soft dried apricots, raisins or sultanas. Mix all together and make sure that all of the bread is soaked. If not add some more milk.

Grease a loaf pan, pour in the mixture and bake at 180 C ,160C ( fan) for about 45 minutes until golden brown and form. Leave to cool, slice and serve with whiskey sauce.

For the sauce, melt 250 grms butter on the stove top along with 100 grms sugar and 1/2 cup whiskey ( cheap will do). Beat an egg until it is well mixed and when the sugar has melted beat in the egg into the mixture. If by any chance it should curdle whisk well preferably by an electric whisk, it should be fine.

Slice the pudding and pour over some of the sauce. To freeze, slice and place on a baking tray, pour over the sauce and freeze the lot. When frozen, warp individually, to use, just place the pudding in a bowl, leave to defrost and pop into a microwave for about a minute to serve hot.

Preserved Lemons

This week has seen us visiting Richmond Park and Kew Gardens. Richmond Park can get very busy, especially now as we are all still confined to quarters, hence we head out early around 7 am. This week saw a marked difference in traffic volumes as schools went back the day before and the volume of traffic certainly increased.

We walked a new route and the trees were budding and lucky yesterday again to see a herd of deer ( Richmond Park is home to about 600 ). We also learnt about the hillocks which abound. They are in fact Ant Hills, home to the Yellow Meadow Ant. Some of the hills are at least a hundred years old and unfortunately because half of London has been walking in the park, many have been damaged!

We also explored again, Kew Gardens or it’s correct name of Royal Botanical Gardens Kew. We have been so many times during this lockdown and yet we still find areas that are new to us. Spring time here is magnificent and the kitchen garden area along with the medicinal area just beginning to spring to life.

Himself has been at work in the kitchen and to great success. He made Chicken Tagine with preserved lemons and olives. He used a cast iron casserole ( I don’t have a tagine, and I have an Induction Hob, so a tagine wouldn’t work anyway)

I supported various farmers in Spain this past year, it was a crowd farming effort-supporting small independent producers. I had wonderful Olive oil, to die for Mangoes, creamy unblemished avocados and 5 kilos of Devine unwaxed lemons! I immediately contacted my dear friend Jean who has in the past given me a jar of her home grown preserved lemons, and asked what to do with my haul of lemons! Preserve them in salt was the answer, which I promptly did.

For 4 people you will need:-

  • 250 mls, chicken stock
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large onions chopped
  • 3cloves ( or more to taste) finely chopped
  • 1tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • A tsp each of ground ginger and ground cumin
  • 3large or 6 small preserved lemons
  • Handful of olives, we used bald ( as that is what we had in store)
  • A cup each of chopped coriander and chopped parsley.
  • 4-6 boneless chicken breasts
  1. Heat the oil in the casserole and sauté the onions are soft but not browned
  2. Add the ginger and garlic and then the chicken
  3. Add the pepper and lemons and then the stock.
  4. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer gently for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is falling apart.
  5. Add the olives and herbs.
  6. Serve with new potatoes and crusty bread.

Be very careful the lemons are preserved in salt and DO NOT ADD EXTRA SALT, taste the tagine and if you think it too salty add some potatoes to it and let them cook until soft. They will absorb some of the salt, but discard them afterwards as they too will be salty!

Preserved Lemons can be bought in Waitrose ( they have the choice of 1) but even better Amazon has a selection of at least 6).

Not more Ice Cream ?

Well, yes, in a word. I have been collecting recipes or ideas and stick them into my Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream book. What ever the recipe says, I basically ignore it. It is just the idea that I am after. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream base is the way forward, it needs no cooking.

This week saw me making Salted Caramel Ice Cream. To be honest with you, Himself will eat almost any type of Ice Cream and if it is from Baskin Robbins, then usually the more lurid the better. Case in point, Blue Raspberry, Pink Raspberry, or Wild and Reckless! Not for me!

Salted caramel ice cream is easy to make, maybe a little more time consuming than my previous Ice Creams, but still very easy.

For the Ice Cream Base you will need:-

  • 500 mls thick cream
  • 500 mls plain full fat yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs.

To make the base, whisk the eggs together until thick and fluffy. Add the sugar. Add the cream and the yoghurt and mix well together. As always I do this all in a food processor ( it saves on washing up). Put to freeze, either in an ice cream machine or simply in the freezer.

To make the salted caramel bit :-

  • 220 grms dark brown sugar
  • 300 mls pouring cream
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 30 grms unsalted butter
  • 1tsp salt

Put all of the above into a pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer and let it bubble for 4-5 minutes, it will become thicker.

Leave to cool and then put it in a container and refrigerate until the ice cream is almost set. If you add it before the ice cream is set, it will still taste very good, but will just be amalgamated into the general setting ice cream ( believe me, I did just that ) so waiting until the ice cream is practically set, you will get a ripple effect.

Serve with some chopped nuts or chocolate sprinkles, a swoop of whipped cream, if you feel a need for more cream, or eat straight out of the box !

I’ve also made more gnocchi, this time using sweet potatoes. I think on balance I prefer the ones made with normal potatoes, but really not bad.

My basic recipe remains the same:-

  • About a kilo of potatoes
  • 125 grms plain flour
  • 150 grams grated parmesan
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • Salt to taste.

Simply, peel and boil the potatoes, until soft, but not falling apart. Leave until cool enough to handle, and put through a potato ricer, or sieve. Mix in the eggs, cheese and salt, mix thoroughly..

Lay a sheet of cling film on the counter top and put a length of gnocchi mixture, ( like a long thin sausage) roll up and tie each end with string. In a large pan boil some water and drop in the ” sausages ” ( make sure they are submerged) and boil for about 10 minutes . Remove and pop them into a bowl with cold water.

When cooled, remove the cling film, cut into slices about 1/2″ or so, dip each in flour and sauté in hot butter until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper . Here I wait until they are cold and lay all of them flat on a tray and flat freeze. When frozen, I bag them ready to use, as an alternative to rice, pasta or even potatoes.I usually make multiples of the recipe.

The other thing that I am very much into making are Bagels! I have to admit I was a bit wary at first, as having tried to make them many years ago to disastrous results, I was reluctant to try again, but now, I think I have it cracked. Commercial bagels are cooked in Lye and water, but umm maybe not to do at home and the alternative seems to be very simply just add some baking soda to the boiling water! Seems to work !