Monday, 29 August 2011


It's the end of the month and as usual, things are a bit tight, so it's time to make cupboard food!  That is, try to make something nice with whatever is left in the fridge, cupboard or freezer - a bit like when I was a student, but hopefully I'm a bit better at throwing things together these days.

There are quite a few recipes from all over the world that seem to fit into this category of food - and this is not to say that these meals aren't tasty, wonderful, nourishing, or classy when made with the right, and often expensive ingredients, but they can also be put together with whatever is at hand.

For instance, Minestrone can be made with so many variations of ingredients, you can pretty much always cobble something together that is at least approaching a decent soup with that last carrot, the onion at the back of the drawer, a tin of tomatoes and some stand-by pasta - hey presto Minestrone!

This soup is another version of that idea - a Tuscan version, but I'd love to hear what your idea of an 'end of the month' meal is, before pay day rolls around and you can eat extravagantly again!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Shepherd's Pie

Last night I cooked a meal for my parents, which even at my age is a fairly terrifying prospect.  There was a lot of stressing over what to cook, how to cook it and when to serve it, and hopefully all without being on the receiving end of any withering put-downs about the quality or quantity of the menu.

In the end, it all worked out fine - I decided to cook various curry dishes from scratch, all of which met with hearty approval (although the availability of large quantities of wine helped somewhat!) but it got me thinking about the relationship between parents, cooking and memory.  Whenever I cook certain dishes, I'm only happy if they resemble the versions cooked by my mother (in particular, Steak and Kidney Pie, one of my all time favourite dishes) and when I'm thinking about planning meals, there are certain dishes that I always fall back on, and these are always dishes that I ate when I was a kid.

Does everyone do this?  And what were your favourite meals as a child that you still cook reguarly - I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments (and also what you have cooked for your parents, and if you found it as intimidating as I did!)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bramble, Elderberry and Port Jam

Yet another result of the weekend's haul of berries is this jam, which is an interesting variation on the usual hedgerow jam, the addition of the port gives it an extra zing and depth of flavour and the elderberries make the jam lighter than just using brambles alone.

At this time of year, the brambles (or blackberries if you like - I'm not really sure if there is any difference really) are reaching the pinnacle of their flavour and ripeness, and a quick trip to any hedgerow, derelict ground or similar location will yield a healthy crop. They go really well in pies, crumbles, and also with pork.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Bramble and Elderberry Crumble

Yesterday we went out looking for berries again, and ended up bringing back our largest haul yet - over 2 kilograms of the biggest, sweetest brambles that we have so far picked.  The branches were just groaning under the weight of the fruit, so it took all of 30 minutes to complete picking our haul.  Plus, we had a lovely walk in the countryside, all without seeing another berry-picker, or even much evidence that anyone else was even vaguely interested in the delicious things.  I have to ask again, how come no-one seems to be picking brambles?  Ah well, more for us anyway.

As well as brambles, we picked more crab apples, to make jelly with (recipe coming soon) and elderberries and some more wild apples - a bit sweeter and larger than crab apples.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Faki Lentil Soup

Ahh the lentil.  Butt of so many jokes when it comes to vegetarian cooking, but invaluable in making so many delicious soups, casseroles and even pate. For years, all I could think about when I heard about anyone cooking with lentils was Neil from The Young Ones.  Indeed, I suspect that he did more to set back the cause of the humble pulse, and probably vegetarians as a whole, than anything else I can think of.

But now I'm a bit addicted to them, which is something I never thought I'd say, what with being a ravenous carnivore and all (like a T-Rex from Jurassic Park, but less likely to eat Bob Peck - he's all gristle anyway, I've heard...) and I use them in all sorts of things, from being the basis of veggie chillies, lasagnes and Shepards pies (is it still a Shepard's Pie if there is no actual Shepard, umm, meat in it?  Answers in the comments section please...)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Cock-a-leekie Soup

I used to eat this soup a lot, out of a tin, and thought I'd have a crack at making it myself.  However, as I did a bit of searching round, I found that the version I had been used to, that I bought in the shop, was a lot more complicated than the soup that is traditionally consumed on Burns Night.

That said, I'm aware that there are as many ways to make soup as there are cooks making said soup!  So here's my version of Cock-a-leekie.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Seafood and Fennel Soup

 This soup recipe has a wonderful combination of flavours, from the tomato and orange, and the fennel complimenting the fish perfectly.  It makes a great starter for dinner parties, and goes great with crunchy croutons - the instructions for which I've also included below.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Rowan Berry Jam

Since moving from the middle of a city, where the only trees tended to be in parks surrounded by drunks, to the (almost) countryside where hills, fields and woodland are all but a short walk from my front door, I've been gripped with the urge to find out more about what is growing in the hedgerows and on the trees I walk past most days.  And more importantly - can I eat any of it?

After picking Bilberries and turning them into jams and crumbles, and seeing that the healthy crops of brambles won't be ready for another couple of weeks yet (although many plants are already laden with ripe fruits - I think we are in for a bumper harvest this year!) I turned my attention elsewhere.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Bilberry and Apple Jam

Following on from our foraging adventures, we decided to make some bilberry and apple jam.  Sadly the apples weren't home grown or picked wild, but hey, you can't have everything, can you?

500g of bilberries took two people about an hour to pick, and gave us a very pleasant afternoon out in the countryside.  Also, for those of you not familiar with these berries, there is a nice article about them here

Bilberry Foraging [...and Happy Yorkshire Day!]

It was a lovely day today so we decided to go foraging.  As it's that time of year where a walk through the contryside  reveals all sorts of things ripening in the bushes and hedges, it seemed appropriate to grab our walking shoes, a flask of tea and go hunting for delicious ingredients that can be turned into all manner of things.