Category Archives: starter

Sweet chilli sauce

I don’t remember when I first came across sweet chilli sauce.  However, I know it made a real impression on me when I was back packing around Australia with a friend.  One of our staple meals that could be bought just about anywhere was nachos with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.  It was great because it was cheap and filling – perfect when you are living on a budget.  However, it was not until we went trekking in Lamington National Park and stayed in a guest house that I discovered the wonders of sweet chilli sauce in a dip.  Since then I have never looked back.

I started trying to make sweet chilli sauce about a year ago.  The first attempt wasn’t a wild success because I didn’t let the liquid reduce enough, subsequently I had a very thin, runny syrup that tasted OK , but wasn’t quite right.  My last attempt worked much better as it was more the consistency of runny honey and I played around with the ingredients a bit and the flavour was really good, not too hot and not too sweet.

Last week I used a combination of the sweet chilli sauce, my Chinese plum sauce and soy sauce to form a marinade for a pork stir-fry.  When I made goat’s cheese pancakes the other day I tried one of them with a little of the sweet chilli sauce and they went together surprisingly well.  But the most common use for the sauce in our house is in dips.

 

Sweet Chilli Sauce

Ingredients: (makes roughly 750ml)

  • 600g sugar
  • 400ml water
  • 400ml cider vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 hot chillies (finely diced)
  • 1 ½” ginger (peeled and finely grated)
  • 1 tsp salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and place on a high heat.
  2. Bring it up to a rolling boil and leave it to reduce down until you have the consistency that you are looking for – then bottle.

A simple dip

Ingredients:

  • 3 heaped tbsp crème fraiche
  • 1-2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • pepper (to season)
  • 3 chive stalks, chopped (optional)

Steps:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, season with pepper, taste and add more sweet chilli sauce if needed.
  2. Serve with carrot sticks, crisps etc.

Autumnal soup

I have been mushroom hunting over the last couple of days as the weather has turned recently, producing “perfect” mushroom growing conditions – so I have been told.  This is the first year that I have turned my hand to this local sport as the land surrounding where we live is meant to be very rich for mushrooms.  In the spring I collected St George mushrooms (that were delicious in a rabbit pie) and Girolles which I used in an array of sauces.  However, I have only ever found three Cepes which are meant to be the most common mushroom in our area.  Earlier in the year I asked a local family who are members of the hunt whether they felt it was a good or bad year for mushrooms.  After much conferring they announced that it was a very poor year as they had only been able to find 20 kilos of Cepes in three hours!  This made me think that I am clearly doing something wrong, or I am not getting to the mushrooms before the other mushroom hunters.

So, now that the conditions are right I have decided to give mushroom hunting another try and recently I have come across several different types.  This has been great though the next problem has been that I have been unable to identify them bar one, a rather unattractive mushroom called ‘Langue de Boeuf’ (Beef Tongue).  A few days ago I went to the local pharmacy as they are supposed to be trained to identify mushrooms – however, unfortunately the man who would normally be able to help was away.

 

Today, one of our workmen with a great knowledge of all things to do with nature was on site, so I consulted him even though the mushrooms were a couple of days old.  He took a good look at them and said the following wise words, “as I do not know exactly what they are, you need to apply the number 1 rule of mushroom hunting, if you are even the slightest bit unsure what type they are NEVER eat them!”  He then regaled a story of one of his friends, who went mushroom collecting one day and came back with some mushrooms he thought he recognised, he ate some of them but as they didn’t taste particularly nice so he fed the rest to his dog.  That night the man was terribly ill, to such an extent he was admitted to hospital the following day but fortunately he recovered, the dog however sadly did not, and died.  Taking both this story and the number one rule of mushroom hunting into account I decided the best approach was to place the mushrooms in the bin.  (If anyone does have an idea what type of mushrooms these could be please do let me know.)

After my failed attempt at mushroom hunting I headed in the direction of our vegetable garden and decided to see if there was anything that was ready to be picked.  I found some baby turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, a diminutive pumpkin and a Praying Mantis.  I felt the best way to enjoy them (the vegetables not the Praying Mantis) was to put them into a chunky autumnal soup.  I decided to not to blend the soup because I wanted to keep the flavours separate as Jerusalem artichokes can overpower the other flavours when everything is all blending together.

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Another glut – this time figs

We got the call on Sunday, it was from one of our neighbours (JP) saying that they needed help eating their figs.  We gleefully got in the car and headed over.  Not knowing how many figs there would be we took only one small plastic basket.  On arrival JP welcomed us, but upon catching sight of our basket shook his head, turned round and headed in the direction of his garage, muttering as he went “tu apporté un seule panier?” (you brought only one basket?).  Unsure what to do we headed in the direction of the fig tree,  JP quickly caught us up carrying two wooden crates and it became clear why – the tree was absolutely laden with fruit.  Some of the figs were so ripe they disintegrated in your hand as you pulled them from the tree, which meant of course you had to eat them – a burden that of course I took on.  Within 10 minutes we had filled not only our (wholly inadequate) basket but the two wooden crates as well.

The only slight snag with figs, when they are “that” ripe, is that you have to use them incredibly quickly.  Unfortunately we didn’t have any sugar in the house on Sunday and the earliest we could buy some was on Monday afternoon, which meant we lost a fair few.  However, those that we were able to save/use have been incorporated in: a tart, a jam, a chutney, dried figs and several light meals.  The chutney was made with a “throw it in and see what happens approach” – the reason being was that I had some quinces and apples that needed using up and I wasn’t sure what spices would work well.  The end result was surprisingly good and we now have 7 jars stored away though I doubt I will ever be able to replicate the taste again as I didn’t measure anything.

What I found worked best with the figs was creating a simple starter with some cured ham (no cooking involved).  Here is the end result:

Figs with Cured Ham

Ingredients:  (per serving)

  • 2 figs (quartered)
  • 1 slice of cured ham
  • small piece of red onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 tsp runny honey
  • Olive oil (for drizzling)
  • balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze (for drizzling)
  • Black pepper

Steps:

  • Place the pieces of fig on the plate, scatter over the onion and drape over the cured ham.
  • Drizzle over the honey, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Season with freshly ground black pepper.

 

 

Carrot and red lentil soup

Each week we buy a 2kg bag of carrots which disappear fairly rapidly.  You might think that this is because we, as a family absolutely adore carrots and can’t get enough of them – but this is not the case.  The truth is, there is a lot of competition for carrots in our house from our four legged friends, in the form of our two donkeys (Sampson & Delilah) and two dogs (Shadow and Biggles).  I suspect you might be thinking -donkeys and carrots sure, but dogs – really?!   When we got the donkeys five years ago the standard form of bribery treat was carrot – the dogs quickly cottoned on to this and started to lurk around the donkeys whilst the carrot was being given and in an attempt to not show an form of favouritism the dogs were duly given a bit of carrot.

Sampson (right) and Delilah (left)

Over the years “CARROT” has become one of the few words that the dogs respond to.  Shadow who is a 12½ year old Belgian Shepherd will now only go outside in the evenings if someone goes to the fridge and gets out a piece of carrot (I think our dogs have us all figured out).   I wish I could also say that I was joking when I tell you that Biggles our 8 year old Springer Spaniel comes rushing into the kitchen when he hears a vegetable peeler being taken out of the drawer and will sit by me until he receives the carrot peelings (he always looks so disappointed when it turns out I am peeling potatoes instead).

Today, I decided it was our turn to enjoy the carrots rather than giving them to the animals.  I’d made some stock the other day and I wanted to use it in a soup.  So, this morning I set to work and made a Carrot and Red Lentil Soup.


Carrot and Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

  • 200g Red Lentils
  • 4 large carrots (peeled and chopped)
  • 2 small onions (diced)
  • 1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds (crushed)
  • 1 litre stock
  • Seasoning
  • Oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

  1. Prepare the lentils by soaking them in water for 30-45 minutes, then drain.
  2. Place the onions and garlic in a large saucepan with a little oil and some sugar.  Cook on a low heat until soft.
  3. Add the cumin, coriander and carrots and cook stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes, before adding the stock and the lentils.
  4.  Cook on a medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until the carrots are cooked.
  5. Season according to your tastes and then liquidise the soup, before serving with a little cream or crème fraiche.

The Beekeepers Apprentice

This year I have undertaken the role of a beekeeper’s apprentice as my father has a small apiary at the bottom of one of our fields.  At the start of the year we had three hives which required very little attendance, other than making sure they had enough syrup during the cold winter months.  The fun really started when around April when the decision was made to artificially divide the hives in the hope that this would stop the hive from splitting and then swarming later in the year.  Well… that was the theory…

I spotted the first swarm on the first truly hot day of the year in the middle of May, fortunately my father was in the house when it happened, and with his help and guidance together we caught the swarm in a box – before then re-housing it in a ruchette (little hive).  The following day there were two more swarms.  So once again we donned our bee-suits and caught them both before once again re-housing the swarms in separate ruchettes.  I vividly remember half way through rehousing the second swarm (which is done by placing a white sheet in front of the ruchette with a plank of wood leading up to the entrance – so they can quite literally walk into their new home once you’ve upended the box of bees on to the sheet) my father turning to me and asking me if I could try to spot and then catch the queen (please bear in mind there tend to be thousands of bees in a swarm) whilst he popped back to the barn to get something.  I set about this task during his absence and with the help of the workers bees who tend to bow with their tails in the air when a queen is in close proximity, I managed to catch not just one queen but five queens (please note this is NOT normal).  After a lot of deliberation we decided to let all the queens go and watched them all head on up into the Ruchette – which with the joy of hindsight and a little bit of research on Google was entirely the wrong thing to do.

I suspect you might have already guessed what happened next…

 

       

The following day when both my parents were out at a friend’s birthday lunch, I popped down to check the hives at midday to find three swarms.  With no option other than to catch the swarms myself I armed myself with the swarm catching kit (aka 2 wine boxes and a wicker waste paper basket) and set about catching and attempting to re-house each of the swarms.  To say I had one or two problems was an understatement!  One of the swarms decided they did not want to enter the new ruchette but instead they would rather remain in the wooden box – so after two attempts I decided to leave them in the box.  One of the swarms did enter the ruchette but two hours later decided they would rather swarm again and  take up residence on a branch 3 metres away.  So I had to catch and re-house them twice.  As for the third swarm that was placed in the wicker basket I decided after all the excitement of the second swarm I would leave them be (excuse the pun) until my father’s return.

Similar events occurred the following weekend (typically when my parents were away visiting friends leaving me in charge of the smallholding and all its occupants).  Below is an email I sent to my father whilst he was away to update him on the “Bee situation”…

To: Dad

Subject:  Bees

Dear Dad

 Well this is how yesterday went.  Saw big swarm – put it in a box very easily.  Went to get Ruchette, with Susan’s [A Beekeeping Friend who was somewhat of a life saver] help kitted it all out and went and put them in the box.   Meanwhile another sneaky swarm was forming so after rehousing the first, went and put 2nd swarm in box.  Left them until 7pm – both swarms were still in situ so I rang Susan!  Susan had fortunately just reorganised her bees, so told me to pop over and collect her display hive.  She gave me more wax and cardres…  I then came home and sorted it all out, and put the bees to bed – which was in fact a much bigger swarm by the time all the bees had gone into the box than I would have thought.  So I then put those bees to bed (please note as I did so I saw what looked like a new young queen – who must have gone into the ruchette as the bees flooded in…)

So this morning, I am going to remove one of the feeders from a ruchette and give it to the second new swarm.  Will look at the big hive at the same time…

Love Ant

P.S  I dislike your bees immensely right now!!!

P.P.S Lambs and I are not on speaking terms as they have taken a chunk out of my index finger.

After all the excitement of the swarms during May, things calmed down considerably and the only thing that needed to be done to the hive was place a super on top to allow the bees to start making their honey which they have been doing all summer.  At the end of last week it was decided that the honey harvest was to happen and so, over the course of one afternoon, we spun the honey out of the frames using a centrifuge which has left us with roughly 82kg of honey…

I apologise for the length of the blog and don’t blame anyone who scrolls straight down to the recipes, which surprise, surprise involve honey as an ingredient…  Over the last couple of days I have made a number of dishes but there are really two that stood out.  The first was a play on an upside down cake and the second can really only be described as a fancy cheese on toast starter.  But without further ado here are the recipes.

Honey, Reine Claude Plum and Apple Upside Down Cake (Serves 8-12)


Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs
  • 250g cooking margarine
  • 250g sugar
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cardamom pods (shells removed and seeds crushed)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 15 plums (stoned and halved) – I used Reine Claude
  • 2 medium apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
  • 5-6 tbsp honey (runny)

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 160C fan.  Line and grease a 30cm cake tin.
  2. In a bowl, beat to together the margarine and sugar until soft.
  3. Add the eggs to the mixture slowly (adding a little flour if the eggs start to curdle).
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom and beat together thoroughly.
  5. Pour the honey into the bottom of the cake tin, using the back of a spoon to help evenly spread the honey around the bottom of the tin.
  6. Add the fruit in the pattern you would like (remember it will become the top of your cake).
  7. Finally pour over the batter and place in the over for approximately 50 minutes (or until a skewer comes out clean).
  8. Serve with crème fraiche.

Fancy Cheese on Toast (Serves 3)

Ingredients:

  • 6 pieces of melba toast
  • 100g soft goats cheese
  • small handful sliced almonds
  • 6 fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 ½ tsp runny honey
  • Black pepper (seasoning)

Steps:

  1. Cut the cheese into 6 slices.  Place a slice of the cheese onto each of the melba toasts.  Place under a hot grill for 1 minute.
  2. Whilst the cheese is under the grill, heat the almonds in a frying pan on a hot heat for around 1 minute.
  3. Remove the cheese on toast from the grill and plate up – by placing two of the toasts on each plate, scatter over a few almonds, drizzle over ½ tsp of honey, place a coriander leaf on each of the toasts and season with black pepper.  Then serve quickly so you can enjoy them whilst they are still warm.

There may have been tears at the start but it was worth it in the end…

No, for those who are wondering I am not an emotional wreck today, I have merely been cutting onions.  Over the years I have pretty much tried everything to stop the tears flowing when cutting onions including: wearing glasses, sticking out my tongue and putting a spoon in my mouth, but in the end it always seems more hassle than it’s worth and it doesn’t always work.  Subsequently, for roughly five minutes this morning as I peeled some red onions I had tears running down my cheeks.

Today I have been trying to recreate a Red Onion & Port Marmalade that I made two weeks ago on a bit of a whim.  I had seen some red onions for sale in the market which looked pretty good, so I thought why not try something new that would work well with cheese – the end result was a red onion & port marmalade.  The major problem I have in the kitchen when I try out a new recipe is I never write down what it is I am doing especially quantities of ingredients (this is partly because I largely cook by eye and by tasting things regularly).  So when the first of the 3 pots of the onion marmalade was opened and finished in less than a day last week and the second pot quickly disappeared too, I thought I had better try and work out what exactly I did before all memory of what I’d done disappeared.

The first thing I should mention is that in the first batch I made, I used up a rather old bottle of port that had been lying around for years called Sao Pedro (aged for 10) years which had a lovely strong flavour and really good smell which really came out in the marmalade.  However, this morning I used a somewhat cheaper Tawny port, that was much sweeter and in my opinion far less fragrant.  But that being said they both have worked well despite tasting slightly different. So I would say depending on your budget or what you have left lying around it doesn’t really matter what type of port you use.

Red Onion & Port Marmalade

Ingredients:

  • 5tbsp olive oil
  • 2.4kg (weight after being peeled)
  • 2tsp thyme
  • 500g brown sugar
  • 250ml port and ½ small wine glass of port
  • 350ml balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

Steps:

  1. Sterilise some jam jars ready for use once your onion marmalade is made.
  2. Finely slice the onions (I use a food processer to do this for ease).
  3. Place the olive oil in a large saucepan and warm on a low heat.
  4. Add the onions and half of the sugar to the pan and stir.  Cover with a lid and leave the onions to soften slowly, stirring occasionally.
  5. Once the onions are soft, add the thyme, salt and pepper, balsamic vinegar and the remaining sugar.  Turn up the heat a little and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.
  6. After about 5-10 minutes add the port (keeping back the port in the wine glass as you’ll need this later) and stir together.
  7. Now it is a waiting game, as you stir your pan occasionally until the liquid has reduced down so there is only a little liquid left in the pan.
  8. When you think your onion marmalade is almost ready give it a little taste to see if it needs a little more seasoning, before you add the remaining port (if you think it needs it) that you have held back in the wine glass, stir the port in and cook for a further 5-10 minutes before removing from the heat and placing in the sterilised jam jars for storing.

Ideas for what to serve the Red Onion & Port Marmalade with…

All of the ideas I have for the Red Onion & Port Marmalade involve cheese as that is what I originally had in mind when I first made it.  I made both of the following recipes as a starter as they were good to share amongst a large number of people…

Goats Cheese and Red Onion & Port Marmalade Tarts (makes 4 small tarts)

Ingredients:

  • 1 packet of pre-rolled puff pastry
  • 200g of soft goats cheese (remove any rind)
  • 14-16 cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 4 heaped tsp of the red onion & port marmalade
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • Black pepper for seasoning
  • 1 small egg

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 190C fan.
  2. Lightly flour 4 individual tart tins (12cm diameter).
  3. Roughly cut the puff pastry into four pieces and place in the tart tins.
  4. Spread 1 heaped teaspoon of the onion marmalade on the bottom of each of the individual tarts.
  5. Cut the goats cheese into small chunks and distribute equally between the tarts along with the cherry tomatoes, drizzle over a little olive oil and add a little black pepper.
  6. Finally beat the egg in a small bowl and using a pastry brush, lightly brush some of the egg wash over the exposed pastry.
  7. Place in the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes (until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese is melted).

Baked Cheese Parcel served with Red Onion & Port Marmalade

Ingredients:

Cheese Parcel:

  • 1 packet of pre-rolled puff pastry
  • 500g wheel of either Coulommiers, Brie or Camembert (depending on what type of cheese you like most)
  • 1 egg
Serve with:

  • Red Onion & Port Marmalade
  • French bread
  • Carrot batons

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 190C fan.
  2. Using a fork prick the top of the cheese you are using 6 times through to the middle of the cheese.
  3. Place the cheese in the centre of the pastry.
  4. You now need to make the cheese into a parcel, I do this by cutting the pastry into 8 segments and then folding the gently into the middle of the cheese and cutting off any excess.
  5. Finally beat the egg in a small bowl and using a pastry brush, lightly brush some of the egg wash all over the pastry.
  6. Place in the oven and cook for 20-22 minutes (until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese is melted).
  7. Remove from the oven and serve with the red onion & port marmalade, french bread and carrot batons.

 

Spicy Roast Tomato Soup

Last year my parents garden was inundated with so many tomatoes that we didn’t know what to do with them.  After eating many a tomato salad, turning kilos of tomatoes into passata for use in pastas or on pizzas, I wondered how our tomatoes would taste in a soup. I was a little dubious at the outset as I have tried a number of tomato soup recipes in the past and not really enjoyed them, subsequently I used to resort to Heinz tomato soup as it was always dependable.

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