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Archive for February, 2010

Homemade presents always go down very well and with Lee’s birthday on Friday a box of homemade chocolates is the perfect gift.

You have probably already guessed that we are confirmed foodies and we may well have a sweet tooth, but nothing can beat a box bulging with homemade truffles, chocolate coated candied peel, and peppermint creams.

I have two very willing helpers at hand (Billy and George) and another in the wings. The “other” is a lovely German girl we have staying with us at the moment. Sarah is here to primarily help on the farm planting strawberries, rasps, and help with the lambing (due to start any minute).

Living in means you can opt into all the other family activities if you like. With Lee’s big birthday at the end of the week the children and I have converted the house kitchen into a chocolate factory, and Sarah is just as keen to get cooking.

These homemade sweet are really easy to make with the kids, they do however lose interest when you get to the clearing up stage. Unless it means licking out the bowls!

Peppermint Creams

  • 225g sifted organic icing sugar
  • 1 large organic egg white, beaten until frothy but not stiff
  • 4 to 5 drops of peppermint oil
  • 150g dark organic chocolate

Combine the sugar, peppermint oil, and egg white into a smooth paste. You can add a few drops of green colouring at this stage (which appeals to the kids) if you like green peppermints.

Dust a surface with icing sugar and knead the paste until really smooth. Divide the paste into about 30 balls, flatten these with the back of a fork. Place the peppermints onto grease proof paper and allow to dry for a few hours before dipping half way into melted chocolate (melt the chocolate in a microwaveable bowl very slowly in the microwave, being extra careful not to burn it!).

Place back on the greaseproof and leave to set, before storing in an air tight container away from children!

Old chocolate or cheese boxes recovered in brown or pretty paper make lovely presentation boxes for your home-made gifts.

Very Easy Chocolate Truffles

  • 150g dark organic chocolate
  • 150g organic double cream
  • 2 tablespoons of brandy or rum
  • 1 tablespoon organic cocoa powder

Break the chocolate up into pieces. In a small sauce pan bring the cream to simmering point. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate pieces and rum or brandy. Stir until you have a smooth mixture. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool, before covering with cling film and putting in the fridge overnight.

The next day take the mixture out of the fridge and roll into little  balls.

We normally roll some of the chocolates in the cocoa powder, some in chopped nuts, and dip some in melted chocolate, before arranging them all in the decorated boxes.

You can store in the fridge for about ten days.

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The end of the school holiday week is nearly here, and I am just about running out of steam. Or on my knees to be completely truthful. What a week!

The children and I have been busy, busy, busy.

Everything you can think of:

  • We built a castle out of cardboard boxes, with lots of masking tape – I couldn’t find the sellotape quite quickly enough.
  • We made potato stampers for printing, remember those?
  • Painted pictures in multiple colours.
  • Walked along the coast to see ruined castles.
  • Built a tent out of sheets in the bedroom
  • Stuffed ourselves on pancakes
  • And read chapters of the current bedtime book, to mention but a few.

I will leave out the squabbling…

“Help me, you been helping him”

“His pancake is bigger than mine”

“He’s had more than me”

“Blah blah blah”

There are sometimes when I can see why people have TV. If just for a few minutes with the children zoned out in front of the box, a cup of tea in my hands, rocking myself backwards and forwards. 

We made a decision a few years ago to get rid of the TV, and most of the time I wouldn’t go back… just sometimes. We do have a movie night every now and again, and it’s a lovely treat to curl up together on the sofa, fire on, and watch a good film together. You do have to draw straws to pick the film, or have a choice rotor, nothing’s perfect! 

  • Domestic goddess-wise this week is not so good.
  • Number of hours spent hoovering = nil
  • Number of times cleaning toilets = I’ve lost count!
  • Washing machine has broken down, two months out of warranty (Zanussi), so trudging to friends and Mother’s with bags of laundry, innumerable!
  • Chocolate eaten = I don’t want to talk about it, OK!

However Lee and I did spend a lovely evening with friends, at home, Turkey-tasting. We have decided to raise some heritage breeds of turkey this year on the farm, so a tasting supper was called for and very tasty it was too!

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Pork pie

A pork pie made by hand is a very different beast to the horrid little pink offerings served up on the dreaded supermarket shelves, where I’m sure gremlins hang out to make you buy things you will never use, don’t want, and can’t understand why you’ve purchased, when you get home.

Two-for-one offers only add to the enormous 18 million plus food items we, as a nation, throw away in a year. OK, I’m taking a deep breath now and I can feel my blood pressure coming down. I will get back to this later.

There is no need to be scared of pastry, particularly hot water crust. It is very forgiving and you can even get the kids to make it, not the boiling water bit obviously!

I must confess at this point that I’m a fat saver. Yes, very odd I know, but soon you too will become obsessed. All fat we buy, margarine, butter, oils, cost us money. All the meats we buy contain some fat.  How much fat do you throw away from grilling some sausage or bacon, or pour off the Sunday roast? Well I save it. Pork fat in one jar, beef in another, poultry another, and so on. It all keeps well in the fridge. then you can use it in cooking, poultry fat for roast potatoes, and pork fat for the hot water pastry to name but a few.

Hot water crust pastry

  • 500g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt (omit if you are using saved fat)
  • 200ml water
  • 150g lard (or saved pork fat)
  • A pinch of mixed herbs
  • Beaten egg to paint over the pie before cooking

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.

Boil the water and fat together and add quickly to the flour mixture. Mix rapidly with a spoon, then get your hands in and kneed to a soft dough.

Use the dough to mould into a loose bottom cake tin. Save 1/3 of the dough for the lid.

For the filling

  • 400g sausage meat
  • 400g pork shoulder meat, chopped into small pieces
  • Pinch of mixed herbs
  • Good grinding of fresh black pepper
  • 1 dessert spoon of Worcester sauce

mix the meaty ingredients well together with the seasoning and pack the meat into the moulded pastry.

 Cover with the pastry lid. Crimp the  lid onto the pastry sides, using your two thumbs.

Paint the lid with the beaten egg to glaze and give a golden colour. Bake in a moderate oven, gas mark 4, for approx 2 hours until the meat is cooked. If the pie becomes too dark, cover with greaseproof paper, or tin foil, and continue cooking.

Allow to cool. Then, using a funnel, pour some jelly stock into the pie. This is what makes the pie succulent and authentic.

You can use stock and gelatin, but home-made is so much better and quite simple to prepare. Simply boil some meat bones, either chicken or pork (pork trotters and shanks or simply a chicken carcass). Place the bones in a heavy-bottomed pan, and cover with water. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch herbs. Boil until the meat  falls off the bones, then keep boiling for a little longer. When the stock cools it should set like jelly, if it does not re heat and continue to boil for another 30 minutes. strain the stock and use as required for the pork pie or in soups and casseroles, the meat and bones can be picked through and the meat used for curry,savoury rice, soups, pies etc etc.

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Carrot and chilli chutney

Carrot and chilli chutney

  • 8 large carrots, peeled and grated (you can use the old ones in the back of the fridge that have gone a little limp)
  • 2, 3 or even 4 chillies – as hot as you like
  • 2 oranges, flesh only roughly chopped
  • 2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 500g of sugar
  • 200ml of good white vinegar
  • A pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, and simmer on a low heat until the carrot is tender and the chutney takes on a slightly sticky appearance. This takes approximately 35 to 40 minutes.

Putting this chutney in tiny jars  to makes great presents, but taste each batch for hotness.

A great spring time chutney, it goes with everything from cheese, homemade pork pie, to cold sausage.

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Charades

I always remember playing charades as a child and now I do it with my kids.

We keep a little box on the dresser in the living room (the one with the ugly but efficient fire, only warm room in the house). The box contains squares of card with films, books and TV programs written on them. Anything from Sleeping Beauty to Blue Peter, try acting that one out!

When the cards get a little dog-eared you can through them out. The kids remember the titles and love to cheat. You always know, it’s the innocent look they give you when one child re-enacts an Umpa Lumpa and the other looks into the middle distance.

” Could it possibly be Charlie and the chocolate factory”

So out with the offending card, as you referee the “he’s cheating, it’s not fair” scuffle.

I make the cards in the build up to the holidays using old stored card from various boxes I have saved in my recycling pile. Cut out the cards all the same size and write the programs on them, it’s that simple. The kids can join in adding their favourites and it doesn’t matter if you have a few repeats.

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Holidays are coming

This half term rather creeps up on you. So soon, it seems after a long, and this time, prolonged Christmas break.

It takes some serious planning to organise kids off school and work into some sort of workable regime. The first place for me to start is the weeks menu, easy cook ahead family meals that can be stretched if you get unexpected guests. I cook family favourites that I know everybody eats.

Meat balls are one of them. They freeze really well and can be dragged out and served with root vegetable mash, pasta or crunch winter salad and crusty bread.

Meatballs

You will need:

  • 500 gms of minced organic beef. ( lamb, chicken or pork are good alternatives)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and very finely diced
  • 1 large organic carrot. scrubbed and grated
  • 1 small organic leek, washed and finely diced.
  • 1 egg beaten.
  • 1 small hand full of bread crumbs or oat meal.
  • Pinch of mixed herbs.

In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together well. Season with a pinch of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Now mould into small balls or little patties.

At this point you can refrigerate, covered, for use the next day or cook and use straight away. I normally cook now, because my mince will have been frozen and I want to freeze the meat ball for use later. You can’t refreeze unless you have changed its state, ie cooked meat can be frozen if it was frozen when fresh, is any body following this?
lets move on.

Grill, fry or poach the meat balls. My usual method is to poach. Simmering in seasoned water or stock (chicken or vegetable) in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Just enough liquid to cover the meat balls.

Poach gently for 10 minutes or untill the meat is cook right through. This will depend on the size of the meat balls. Normally biggest is best, but not with meat balls it would seem!

Fish out the meat balls, leaving the stock in the pan. The meat balls can be cooled and frozen. Don’t forget to label.

To make the liquid into a lovely rich sauce for the meat balls or as a pasta or pizza topping add:

  • 1 tin of organic tomatoes or 4 or 5 tomatoes out of the freezer.
  • 1 diced organic onion
  • 1 grated organic carrot
  • 1 dessert spoon of tomato purée

Simmer on the top of the stove until all the vegetables are tender. Taste and season if necessary.

Using a blender blitz the sauce until smooth. If you like your sauce a little thicker, return to the stove and simmer until you have the required consistency.

Bottle and store in the fridge for up to 1 week or container up and “guess what” label and freeze.

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Cold and slushy mornings are never a joy to wake up to. This morning was no exception. The kids decided to lay the pressure on with an anouncement of a school trip.

“Oh how lovely, when are you going to this nursery garden”, I say.

“Today”, says George, “and we need a packed lunch, waterproofs, warm cloths and a water bottle.”

He looks at me as if all this is possible with only 10 minutes before the school bus comes.

When you are always banging on to your kids about healthy eating and organic ethics, a jam sandwich just doesn’t cut the mustard. So without appearing too overwrought, I throw together a passable packed lunch, find a pair of waterproofs from the bottom of the cloak room (which thankfully don’t smell of cat pee), and pack them all into an organic cotton bag. The impossible it seems is doable, just don’t ask for a miracle before I have had 3 strong cups of coffee.

With all the rushing I actually arrive at work early, which is fortuitous because a lovely gaggle of walkers (what is the collective noun for walkers?) are coming in this morning for coffee and scotch eggs. Homemade scotch eggs are hardly diet food, but once you have had one you will be addicted. Come to think of it they would make excellent pack lunch fodder.

Scotch Eggs

  • Hard boiled organic eggs, shelled, 1 per person
  • 150g of sausage meat per egg. Make your own or buy very good butchers sausage meat, organic if you can get it.
  • Beaten egg
  • Homemade bread crumbs (its best to keep a supply in your freezer as you can use them from frozen)

Mould the sausage meat round the egg so it is completely covered, quite a sticky job.

Dip the raw scotch egg in beaten egg then coat in bread crumbs. Repeat this with all the eggs, then shallow fry in hot vegetable oil turning regularly until the balls are dark golden all over and the meat is cooked all the way through.

Serve them hot or cold with homemade chutney.

I have one for breakfast with a double shot latte, there goes the diet. Tomorrows another day!

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For me, it’s always difficult to get going in the morning. I like to get up early because once you are up you can get so much more done, it’s just the initial push needed to get out of bed where I stumble. I can be a marvelous whirlwind of activity once actually vertical.

After a quick look at eBay I’m also some what attracted to Freecycle, just a look you understand, I wasn’t going to actually buy anything (unless of course it was just too good to miss!). It was a little pot jug that caught my eye,  but I’m feeling particularly strong today so I resisted. Well done, good girl! Good girl!

Back to this evenings dinner party. Preparations are well under way, I have spent most of this morning drinking strong organic coffee (you should always take the organic thing as read unless I confess otherwise) and thinking about it. I work best under pressure.

I have hoovered, or at least chased tumbleweed of dog and cat hair around the house. I pay most attention to the room we live in, which runs “seamlessly” into the kitchen, and has a  large dinning table in the middle and a very ugly but efficient open fire. The rest of the house is too cold to linger in for more than a few seconds, for fear of serious frostbite, and a trip to the little downstairs loo is only for the very hardy (and it has broken may who thought themselves man enough for the job).

I make the children use that one, they can go out in the snow flatly refusing to wear a coat, not to mention the extra layers I try to force upon them. Hat, gloves extra vest, 2 jumpers, a waistcoat, 3 pairs of socks. They say I over-react to the conditions, so the down stairs loo is my revenge and in the dictatorship which is parenting you need all the leverage you can muster on your side.

So back to the dinner party. Northumbrian fish soup starter, half prepared, which reminds me to get a loaf of the most excellent wood fired bread out of the freezer (not my own, but made by a great guy who lives near Etal in Northumberland, with a bread business called The Great Northumberland Bread Company).

I feel I should confess at this point  to my ongoing affair with my freezer. I love it, and in return it loves me. I cook, label and freeze, it’s just like therapy. In extreme times of stress I go to it, look lovingly into its open arms (I really just lift the lid in panic, chanting “Please let there be something in here”) and it offers up soups, casserole, even homemade ice cream. If I could only remember to make a list of what I put in and scratch them off when I take them out, but that would really be too “Mary Poppins”-like.

So far:

  • A half prepared fish soup;
  • A henry Hoover fighting for breath;
  • A magnificent forerib of organic dexter beef in the fridge (Lee, my gorgeous partner, cut the beef joint for me this morning from an animal we had killed from our small herd of dexter cattle, and I have promised all sorts of thing that I will never deliver on, to secure the said joint)
  • A winter vegetable tagine and lemon couscous will accompany the meat, which I hope will satisfy the vegetarians among us. I have a huge stock of preserved lemon I made before Christmas for presents that I forgot to give to people, and they are so perfect for couscous.
  • The pud, I made yesterday. A really easy chocolate mousse with a little Baileys glugged in, the simplest pud to make and you can make it 2 or 3 days in advance. If you do make it well in advance, always make extra. You can hear them in the pantry calling to you, and you’d have to be made of stone not to go to them and check they are okay (which can only be done by tasting).
  • To finish us all off, some lovely local cheeses, not organic but from the dairy at Doddington near Wooler. I live in hope they will convert to organic because they really are excellent cheese makers.

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I always look forward to having friends for dinner, and it seems some time since we have. So I am looking forward, with some excitement, to Saturday night.

I really can’t say whether it is the planning and cooking, or the friends and social that I enjoy the most. I think a little of both. I love to cook, but always stick to my RULES:

  • Never cook something new that I haven’t cooked before;
  • Plan the menu around things I know I have, so there isn’t a big shopping list of ingredients I may never use again;
  • Pick a menu you can cook a good proportion in advance;
  • Use as much local and seasonal ingredients as you possibly can.

I cook things up in advance and even freeze things to defrost them later, because I want to enjoy myself too. Oh and only invite people who like dogs and cats. We have 3, dogs that is (and often a friends’ dog on a sleep-over) and 1 cat, soon to be 2. Not a breeding program, you understand, but we are looking for a new (or second-hand) cat  to join our lovely, friendly, family cat, Fernley. He used not to be alone and had a brother, Hugh, who mysteriously disappeared.

Fernley lives a strange and feline double life.  By day, he is our lovely cuddly knee warmer, but by night a trained and accomplished assassin, but we don’t like to talk about it.

With friends invited, the day looming, and my excitement building (what, I hear you say, she needs to get out more, well I really do enjoy all of this), it only leaves the actual work to do. Boo hiss!

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