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Saturday, 3 October 2015

A foodie friday reviewing Sarah Raven's recipes on a Saturday

September and October mean apples, and I've been picking them at the allotment for weeks now. I have three apple trees, two are cookers and the other is a variety with the warmest, rosiest glow.

There's been quite a number of them, and I've been using them every which way I can.

So on my day off, it was time to hunt through my recipe books to make something different. I've already stewed pounds of apples ready for crumbles this winter and made a few apple cakes. But I wanted to make something different.

And I struck gold with this book from Sarah Raven, which was published back in 2007 I think....and I'm pretty sure I bought my copy about five years ago.

Now this what I call a generous cook book. And by that I mean, this is one of those labour of love books where the author has given we readers  her life time's experience of growing and cooking fruit and vegetables. This is not one of those  a hundred recipes a book if you're lucky type of thing on a double page spread type of book. Oh no. It's not a fancy pants type of cookery book either, with long, infinitely long winded and show off recipes either.

It literally is full to brim of tasty, workaday recipes to make the most of the produce from your garden and allotment. And as I've begun to grow more vegetables and now have fruit trees, I'm discovering different sections of the book.

The first new recipe to try was celeriac and apple soup...another way to use up  apples. This is a pale, silky textured and comforting soup. The sweetness of the celeriac married with the sharp freshness of the apples worked really well for me. Unfortunately my other half wasn't so keen.

But he did like the next new recipe very much... ...a Kentish apple cake. Now, I've made a Dorset Apple cake before but never one from Kent, and it's quite different in method and texture.

Here's the recipe....

225g unsalted butter plus a little extra for the tin
350g self raising flour
1 tspn ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
110g of sultanas or raisins soaked for an hour in water
175g castor sugar
75g toasted hazelnuts , chopped
450g cooking apples such as Bramleys
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
plenty of Demerara sugar for dusting

How to make

1.Preheat  oven at 180 degs /gas mark 4 and grease and line the bottom of a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin

2.Pulse the sifted flour, cinnamon, salt and butter in a food processor until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Put the mixture in a bowl and stir in the sultanas, sugar and toasted nuts

3.Peel, core and chop the apples and add to the other ingredients with the lemon zest. Lightly beat the eggs and put them in.

4.Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for one to one and a quarter hours or until firm to the touch. You may need to cover the cake with foil to prevent it from becoming too brown on top.

5.While it's still hot, sift over plenty of Demerara sugar, and let it cool in the tin or a wire rack.

As Sarah Raven says, it's a good cake for tea or you can serve it warm as a pudding with lots of thick cream. I've now tried both ways of serving...and both are equally as good!

The more I use this book , the greater is my admiration for the sheer breadth of recipes..and there are some lovely photographs by Jonathan Buckley.

Incidentally, you can still obtain personally signed copies of this book - Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook published by Bloomsbury  from Sarah's own website.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

An unexpected day on the Isle of Wight

I'd left Mr Thinking of the Days in Leicestershire and was in Southsea the other weekend. On Saturday my daughter had to work. It wasn't that she had an inconsiderate boss -  after all she is the boss, but all Saturdays are busy at a seaside tearoom when the sun is out.

So I was going to drive along to Hayling Island and explore, but then Sue came up with a rather nice plan...."We're  taking the RHIB over to Cowes for lunch ....just a couple of hours or so. Do you fancy coming?"

Well of course I said yes, Sue is not only a friend but we're related by marriage. We're in laws....At least I think that's what you call us...her son  married our daughter.

Sue was first on the rib with Edie and Samuel....

Immy and Georgina were there too

Immy's brother Josh was there and their father Steve was the skipper. Oh and Emily., Edie and Samuel's Mum, who has a filthy laugh.

. Now, I've never been on a RHIB before even though my brother had one for years. What an ideal way to nip over to the Isle of Wight....although the ferry loomed rather large compared to us.

It was lovely to be pootling around old Portsmouth in the sunshine, past the Bridge Inn, which does such tasty fish and chips wrapped in newspaper.

I adore this stretch of water

But as soon as we came out into open water, the breeze picked up, so did our speed, and poor little Samuel who'd been gurgling with joy and waving to everyone on the ferry, suddenly became uneasy. "I don't like it" he muttered, and as we sped over the waves, hitting them with a resounding whack, he burst into tears.

It must have seemed a long time to such a little boy...but shortly we were in Cowes.

The others sped off for lunch, and I sat in the hot sun outside the Cowes Harbour Commission Building waiting to see my brother and his family who were coming over from the other side of the island.

 It was a good opportunity to people see the ferry disgorge its passengers, to listen to a girl on a mobile phone was waiting for a date. She was early, her friends were texting and talking to her, wishing her luck. Unfortunately I had to leave before he arrived....I was dying to see whether what he was like, and to see their reactions to each other. Somehow I just sensed that one of them was going to be disappointed.


But I was thrilled to see my darling brother Richard and gorgeous sister in law Cindy and there was a lovely surprise niece Heidi and her fiancĂ© Charlie were over from Amsterdam.

Drinks all around, and time to catch up on the family news . My brother has five children, and I have three so there was lots to hear and talk about. Weddings, music, jobs , new directions....we covered all the bases , and we weren't exactly quiet. But who can object to squeals of laughter, giggles and gossip ...."They did what?"

After a delicious lunch with wine, where we all ate far too much, it was time for a walk. We humans needed one to wake ourselves up, and Lula the dog, who'd waited so patiently for her walk, really wanted a swim. too. 

Now Lula is a cocker poo, the quietest of natured dogs who behaves beautifully. Honestly, a taxidermist could have had his evil way with her and we wouldn't have known. That's how still  and silent she is.  Used to the rough of tumble of having two terriers with another two making frequent guest appearances, I'm not accustomed to such a dog.

She sat quietly again in the car until we arrived at Thorness Bay between East Cowes and Yarmouth. Once there she sprang into if jet propelled she swam and swam while we watched her and walked along the shoreline.

It's a lovely walking spot at Thorness...

and it's a good place to find shells, driftwood and other flotsam and jetsom..which my sister in law found, and which will be fashioned into a few decorative pieces.

 It was time to go though, and the RHIB had long gone back to Portsmouth. The gang dropped me off  in Ryde, and after hugs, kisses and cries of "See you soon", I caught the hovercraft back to Southsea  where it was back to Sue and Steve's with Lucy for another glass of wine.

Five hours on the island with my family who I absolutely love and adore...stealing a sunny September day to put in my bank of happy seaside  memories to tide me over until next spring and summer. 

Five hours on the Isle of Wight which reinforced my fondness for this lovely island and made me determined to spend more time down here next summer.

Monday, 28 September 2015

A terrific day at a lovely little tearoom

Last weekend I was enjoying the sunshine in Southsea, on Hayling Island and on the Isle of Wight.

I was there to see my daughter and her husband who, since the beginning of the summer, have their own tearoom and gift shop.

The tearoom is called Madhatters, and it was so exciting to see it...

It' a quirky little place

with lots of painted furniture

 and lots of painted signs and chalkboards which Lucy specialises in

And there's some lovely little gifts and cards from Charlotte Macy Textiles and Julia Davey Ceramics

And some tasty treats to eat too. At the moment, full English breakfasts, eggs benedict and the like are served until noon, and after that there are paninis, jacket potatoes, salads etc as well as 
 savoury tarts, quiches and soups.
Oh and cakes. Gorgeous  home made cakes with always a gluten free alternative. The orange and almond gluten free cake was full of flavour with just the right texture. I could have also chosen a Victoria sandwich, a rich dark chocolate cake, and another with pecan nuts. I wish I could have tried them all but I'd already polished off a jacket potato, with homemade coleslaw, salad and some chicken on the side.
In the afternoons there are full afternoon teas too which are popular
And now that autumn is making an appearance I understand there will be pop up suppers in the evening too, and there's already been a number of private parties booked.
But what's impressive is the genuinely warm welcome every visitors gets when they come here. One of the new regulars was saying that not only is the food good, it's the friendliness of Lucy, Harry and their staff that make them want to come back. OK, I'm biased, but really, it's true!
It's obvious that Lucy and Harry are loving their new venture....
It's a big step starting your own business....but thrilling too, and I was thrilled to see this sweet little tearoom for the first time.
So , if you're ever on Hayling Island....look them up at
Madhatters Tea Room & Gift Shop
232b Seafront
Hayling Island
PO11 0AU



Monday, 14 September 2015

weekend days

It's first thing on a Monday morning. A dark, very wet and dreary morning with torrential downpours, winds and thunder predicted. Oh the joy.....

And after the weekend I've had, I really feel I could do with another day off. A mooch around the house kind of day, perhaps do some baking, read a few magazines ....but that isn't going to happen.

When I say the kind of weekend I've had, that's not saying it's been a bad weekend, it's been a great weekend, but just busy.

 Saturday mornings always mean a long walk with Eric and Boo.....we waited until the rain stopped but still the dark clouds rolled in....

Eric wanted to play King of the Castle on top of the trailer....

And as we walked home, there was a magical light, a strange glow as the sun tried to peep through the dark clouds...

We'd all got very muddy, but after a quick wash and brush up for us all, I left the dogs to snooze and whizzed over to the other side of the county to meet up with my friend  and work colleague Dave Andrews who was opening a local village show and presenting the prizes. Meanwhile I was recording enough material for  an hour long gardening programme. Dave is the usual presenter of that programme but is currently recovering from a hip replacement operation...hence the crutches.

It was a lovely afternoon in a beautiful village seeing the whole community getting together..
and admiring all the things they had grown, picked and made...

But then it was time to whizz home, spend an hour with the dogs, get changed and off out for another fifty mile round trip for a party...a great party thrown by Kay, Katherine and Annie  - three fabulous women to celebrate their joint big birthdays.

And what a cake they had....

Getting home at 1am, I was shattered but couldn't get to sleep. So I think it was safe to say when I woke up at 6.50am, I wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders. But there was no time for a lie in..because my friend Laura and I were off to the local car boot sale.

It was a successful mission. We both got some absolute bargains...a car full. But more about that another time.

Yesterday afternoon , the dogs and I went off the allotment to pick beans , raspberries and apples, followed by cooking a Sunday roast and poaching a kilo of plums I'd picked on Fridays.But there was disturbing news from there...more later on that subject when I find out more.

So yes, I fell asleep on the sofa last night!

What's in store this week I wonder? I'd better go to work and find out........

Friday, 11 September 2015

A day of cooking from the Riverford Farm Cookbook

I usually have Fridays off. Phew...I love the anticipation of a day when I perhaps meet up with my writer friends for a lunch where we all bring a dish, have a feast, and talk about books and our writing. If not, I'm probably at the allotment or in the kitchen cooking , or at this time of year, making jam.

Now, this is an old favourite cook book of mine, published back in 2008 by 4th Estate...which I found out about when I met the team from Riverford at a local food fair shortly afterwards..

That's what the cover used to look like - it has now been "customised" by my terrier Eric...who decided to rip the front cover off and chew some of the pages.

But as the saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover, and this old battered copy is a trusted and tried favourite. Written by Guy Watson, an organic farmer who's been growing vegetables for years and years, and Jane Baxter , who seems to have worked everywhere, including the River CafĂ©, this is an immensely practical book with pages and pages of quick and easy, but above all  tasty and seasonal recipes to make the most of your vegetables.

I've made so many of these recipes time and time again...especially the delicious sweetcorn fritters on page 370 and the braised red cabbage on page 83 which is made every autumn and winter. But the whole point of these foodie Friday posts is to try new recipes from my ever growing collection of cookery books.

And so, I delved into the previously untried pages of beetroot recipes. You see, I've always hated beetroot. I can remember the yucky taste of beetroot in vinegar as a child, and I vowed with hand on heart, that when I was a grown up, and I could choose what I wanted to eat, I would never, ever eat beetroot again.

And it's a vow I've stuck to for years, until my friend Debbie made a gorgeous Ottoleghi beetroot and walnut salad. I was intrigued, this was really nice! So this year, for the first time, I grew beetroot, only three rows though...just in case, that recipe was a one off and I found out I still didn't really like it.

And as soon as they were big enough, I opened the Riverford Farm cookbook to try some new ways of cooking them.

And here is the recipe that I have tried first....and I fear this may become an addiction.

Beetroot Gratin


1kg of beetroot, peeled
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
100ml double cream
2 sprigs of summer savoury, chopped or rosemary or thyme (I prefer thyme)
sea salt and black pepper

How to make

1.Thinly slice the should be 2-3mm thick

2.Mix the garlic and cream in a small pan and bring to the boil.Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

3.Put the sliced beetroot in a bowl and add some seasoning. Add the cream mixture and herbs and mix thoroughly so the beetroot is coated with cream. ( I must confess I added some extra)

4. Arrange in a 30cm gratin dish, ciover with foil and bake in a  preheated oven at 160 degs/gas mark 3 for 40 minutes.

5.Remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the beetroot is tender.

And that's it. So easy and full of garlicky goodness which marries so well with the sweet softness beetroot. You will love it! Now I know you may think that's a rather sweeping statement. OK, I suppose it is, but so many beetroot haters I know simply adore this recipe.My son for one, and his girlfriend Ellie .She had joined us for supper last Sunday night for a roast. She was starving, but when she saw the deep pink creamy dish, she said an unequivical No!

"Try a teaspoonful "we all urged. She eventually did, with the greatest reluctance I might add, and before I knew it, she was piling her plate high. And she ate every mouthful.

I'm now making my way through the other beetroot recipes in this book. Chocolate beetroot brownies anyone?

But the Riverford Farm Cook Book isn't just a collection of tasty recipes. We learn how the vegetables are grown, there's tips on storage and preparation from years of experience from an organic grower, and the connection between growing organically and we are what we eat.

Meanwhile, I 've already decided that I'm definitely growing far more beetroot next year at the allotment!

Monday, 7 September 2015

The day I got a big surprise at the Village Show

The beginning of September has a different feel.It's been cold in recent nights, and although the weekend was warm and sunny, there's a different feel and smell in the air. Autumn ...and then it's the oh so fast slippery slope to winter.

Of course , there are compensations! Harvest! At the allotment there's an abundance of apples and plums, the runner beans, although slow to start, are now in full production and I've been picking climbing french beans for a few weeks now. I'm still digging up  up potatoes too, although it's the last row now as I only planted some first and second earlies.

The beginning also marks the joint annual village show of a number of villages close by. I have an allotment at one of them, and Monica , the wonderful allotments organiser, encouraged us to enter the show.

I didn't consider it initially - after all, I don't grow the best vegetables or the most on the allotments, and I'm still learning. But no one else apart from Monica and Christine seemed game, so on Friday I rang Monica . "What classes are you entering" she asked. "Fruit and beans" I answered.. So, I was told to turn up at the village hall , pay my entry fees for each class and then display them.

The entry fees were nominal, 20p for each class! And  the organisers were so friendly, showing me where to go, and were so encouraging.

I was looking at the exhibits already displayed and almost decided to go straight home, but then Monica came over, and gave me a few tips.

"Good, you've got the strings on your beans" she said and advised to get six the most compatible in size. I'd bought lots in my basket and started measuring them.

Then it was onto the plums and apples sections with more advice.

Everything displayed and my number attached to each exhibit, it was time for a chat with everyone else. , who were all very  friendly and welcoming. There was just time to have a look at all the displays, but by then the judges were arriving so we were  all shooed out of the hall.

When I returned in the afternoon, I couldn't have been more surprised if you had slapped me around the face with a piece of wet fish.

"Come and look" said one of the organisers with a big smile..."you've done well for your first time"

I received a third for my dish of three plums.

There was even better news for my beans

And I burst out laughing when I got a first and a best in  section for fruit.

Now I'm one of the least competive people I know, I like the buzz of doing things for pleasure not for winning, but I genuinely was so pleased.

And it's all thanks to Monica who encouraged me to enter, and who was so helpful. I shall now call her  my mentor Monica, not just because of this weekend , but all the helpful advice she gives to everyone on the allotments. Not so long ago, she lost the sight in one eye after a really nasty car accident. Many would have given up running the allotments, or let somebody do all the work for a while. Not a bit of it, she carried on regardless, and I for one, am so grateful for the work she does on our behalf.

Now, this is may be just a small village show, and it's only the second  I've attended , but what I loved was the genuine warmth and camaradie there. Everyone admired what was displayed, it brought the three villages together, and I couldn't get over what talent there was in the cake, bread, and bottling sections. 

But this year, there weren't so many entries as usual I'm told, and this is worrying for some. If no one enters, then shows like this could come to an end. And that's a crying shame. In the old days, these shows were a focal point for all the villagers to get together and celebrate the food they had grown for their families, to find beauty in the flowers and fruits of their labours.

A Saturday in a lovely rural village, celebrating  time honoured traditions, meeting up with like minded people who like growing and making things, all made an entertaining afternoon.. And I shall be back next year!

Meanwhile next Saturday I'm off to another village show at the other end of Leicestershire. This is quite a big show - but I'm not there to enter. I'm making an hour long edition of BBC local radio's longest running gardening show , finding out what goes on behind the scenes, and it will be great to get some tips for next year's village show near where I live too.