Wednesday, 17 May 2017

May - On the Cusp of Summer

Llangrannog Beach

Welcome May!

Normally our world is warming up nicely now and we’ve really started to live outside.  By now the flannel sheets and thick winter duvet have been exchanged for their summer counterparts.  This year is still quite cool, if not cold on times so I’m hanging on a little longer.  The quilt was only changed last weekend – almost unheard of!

While May can still be a chilly month as it warms up our summer eating regime kicks in and the barbeque season starts.  We treated ourselves to a gas barbecue last summer and it’s been a revolution – we often grilled gammon stakes, bacon and sausages for a lunch-time treat, as well as full-on barbies!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

On cold days I still like a warming bowl of soup.  This chicken tortilla soup fits the bill perfectly, warming and soupy to ward off the cold, light and full of flavour because it is late spring now! 

Risotto primavera
This is a lovely month food-wise.  The home grown asparagus is at its best, and a risotto primavera is a lovely way to make use of it.  Risottos bridge the gap between cold to warm weather eating nicely.  They’re comforting enough for cooler days and Mediterranean enough to remind us that better times are coming!

As the weather improves and we take off for beach days I find a corned beef pie (always a stand-by in my kitchen) invaluable.  Sometimes I make them in small patty tins (mince pie tins) and freeze them, defrosting as needed to take along on picnics.  A plate pie is nice to have too, useful to come home to after away days.

Corned Beef Pie
The trees are in full leaf now, my garden has a lovely canopy of green at the bottom, and my summer seclusion is restored!  With significantly longer evenings now I’ll be pretty much moving outside permanently – Holly carrying out regular boundary inspections (!) while I’m buried in my book!  On warmer evenings I’ll have a glass of wine or a G&T to hand, a cuppa and a cardigan on cooler evenings!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Bacon Hotpot

I first encountered this lovely dish on holiday in Newquay many years ago and had completely forgotten all about it until our recent trip to my old family homeland of Cardiganshire! 

It’s one of those lovely dishes that sits quietly in the oven taking care of itself, after some very basic preparation – and it’s a very frugal dish too.  It really sums up the best of traditional Welsh cooking, like the Italian Cucina Povera.  You can make it with some rashers of bacon, or use up the last ends of a bacon, gammon or ham joint.

 For one person I used :

 1 small onion
4 rashers of back bacon (I used up some cooked ham from the freezer)
2 -3 baby potatoes
Just under 250ml chicken stock

 Melt a knob of butter in an oven-proof pan while you peel and slice the onion, then sauté the onion in the butter for a few minutes.

 Coarsely chop the bacon or ham and add to the cooking onions, then thinly slice the baby potatoes and add three quarters of those to the pan too.  Season and give everything a good stir before pouring over the stock, then top with the remainder of the sliced potatoes.

Simmer gently for 10 - 15 minutes, until the potato slices are cooked through and the stock is reduced.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

April - Spring Lambs and the Easter Bunny

After the endurance test of the long, dark winter months April blows in like a breath of fresh air.  The spring bulbs are all in bloom now and the garden is a riot of yellow daffs and multi coloured tulips and anemones.  You just can’t help but smile when you see them, nodding their heads in the gentle breeze.

On the home front it’s all change this month, and a hefty dose of serious spring cleaning – literally blowing away the cobwebs.  Delia’s Winter Collection returns to its spot on the bookcase, to be replaced on the kitchen counter with the Summer Collection!  Later this month I’ll be retiring the flannel bedding for the season and replacing them with the thin cotton Summer bedding.  That first night really is a case of ‘brace yourself’ as you climb into bed, but we’ll soon appreciate their silky coolness.

Baked Chicken and Rice
April is usually the start of the cricket season, which literally takes over our lives until the end of  Our week starts with the selection meeting, then the teams have to be put out, then the daily chasing of players and adjusting the teams as players drop out, the last minute organising of lifts and finally, on Saturday morning the holding of breath waiting to see if the game is going ahead.  The dreaded call “the game’s off” can throw a whole day’s plans into disarray.  It was on one such Saturday last year that I concocted what turned out to be a seriously tasty one-pot dish out of what I had in the fridge and some cooked chicken that was languishing in the freezer!  Holly rather enjoys our Sunday afternoon visits to the cricket club, she’s even grasped the fact that the rope boundary mustn’t be crossed and the red leather balls really aren’t for her!

September (or even October!).

One pan stuffed leg of Lamb
More often than not, Easter falls in April, usually on or around my Dad’s birthday.  In other years we used to have such happy family get-togethers celebrating both events.  Now that Dad’s gone we don’t have the heart for it any more, the Easter gatherings are a thing of the past.  One of my Dad’s favourite Easter meals was the baked stuffed leg of lamb that I used to make.  Meat and vegetables all cook together in the roasting tin which makes for very easy entertaining.

Weather permitting, we might be lucky enough to have the first barbecue of the season.  I seem to remember more sunny and warm Aprils than wet and cold ones – but nothing’s guaranteed!  Last year, the day the barbecue was delivered it snowed – very, very briefly, but nonetheless, it snowed!

Tuna Pasta Salad
A kind April can usually find me abandoning stout footwear for sandals and spending most afternoons, if not early evenings too, pottering outside and drifting out with cups of tea.  A very kind April will see me all but move outside permanently!  Early indications aren’t good for this year, it’s still very cold!

In the kitchen there are some serious changes as I finally retire the winter comfort dishes and start  This tuna pasta salad is a nice early salad, served with the pasta still slightly warm it isn’t too much of a shock to the system!
bringing salads into the rotation.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Anglesey Eggs

This is such a lovely dish and well worth making, despite being quite labour intensive!  It involves one pan to cook the leeks, another for the potato, another for the eggs and yet another for the cheese sauce – BUT, there are corners that you can cut and it freezes like a dream so you can bulk cook for the freezer.  If you do that, to ring the changes, you could add some grated cheddar to the mashed potato and leek to make a cheese and potato pie for the freezer (link to recipe below)

 To make things simple, I cooked the eggs the day before I wanted to make it and used a ready-made tub of cheese sauce.  It’s a dish that you can prepare well ahead of time, as long as you don’t put the cold eggs and cold cheese sauce onto the hot mashed potato it will come to no harm.

 Quantities will depend on the number of people you are serving, but for four serves I used :

 3 large potatoes
4 small leeks
A generous knob of butter for the leeks

4 hard boiled eggs

 1 x small tub of ready-made cheese sauce

 2 oz or so of grated cheddar for the topping

 Salt and pepper to taste

 Peel and boil the potatoes.  While the potato is cooking clean and dice the leek and sauté in a generous knob of butter.  Grate the cheese for the topping.

 When the potato is cooked drain and mash then and add the buttery leek, combine together before turning into an ovenproof dish. 

 Peel and coarsely chop the hard boiled eggs and distribute evenly over the top of the mashed potato.  You could slice the eggs if you prefer.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 Pour over the cheese sauce into a thin layer and then top with grated cheddar cheese

 If you are eating straight away simply pop under a pre-heated grill until the cheese sauce is heated through and the grated cheese is golden and bubbling.  If it has been prepared ahead and is cold it will need about 30 minutes in a hot oven.

Ham, Leek and Goat's Cheese Tart

Over the years I’ve made all manner of quiches, but this one really is my absolute favourite.  Leeks are a real feature in Welsh cooking, and a firm standby in my kitchen – they put an appearance in dishes often. 

This quiche really is a winner.  The buttery sweetness of the leeks, the subtle tang of the goat’s cheese and the creamy unctuousness of the cheesy duck egg custard were a perfect combination.  Do look out for Welsh goat’s cheese if you can, it has a much better flavour; ditto good Welsh Cheddar cheese.  Collier’s is my favourite.

 For an 8” (20cm) tart I used :

 ½ a 500g pack of ready-made pastry

 3 thick rashers of bacon, cooked and then chopped (or use cooked ham)

1 baby leek
4 slices of Welsh goat’s cheese
2 – 3oz (60 – 90g) cheddar cheese
½ pint (250ml) milk
2 eggs (duck if you can find them, they make a much better quiche)
Salt and Pepper to taste

 Roll out the pastry and line a greased flan tin.  You can part-bake the pastry case, but I’ve never had any success doing it so have long abandoned this step!

 Halve the leek and wash carefully, then dry as best you can before slicing up and sweating gently in a little butter for 5 minutes.  You just want the leek to soften, not brown.

Scatter the chopped cooked bacon or ham into the bottom of the pastry case, then add the cooked leek.  Slice the goat’s cheese and then add that and finally scatter over the grated cheddar.

 Combine the eggs and milk together with the seasoning and then pour over the contents of the flan tin. 

 Cook at 180oC / 350oF / gas mark 4 for 35 to 40 minutes, until the quiche is golden and set.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

March - Spring is Springing

After all the dark days of winter, March arrives like a welcome old friend.  We have noticeably lighter evenings, and slightly warmer sunny days and the first of the days when drifting outside with a cuppa becomes irresistible.  Often I have to retreat back indoors the minute I’ve drained by cup, but nonetheless – the season has begun!

Hopefully now the tumble drier can be retired until next winter, there should be enough dry, sunny and windy days to make drying flannel bedding outside possible.  I love my flannel bedding, and as lovely as it is out of the tumble drier, nothing but nothing beats the smell and feel of the sheets after being dried outside in the fresh air.

My dog walks now start to become a pleasurable pastime in the warm and sunny afternoons, less of the hunched down marching against driving rain and more of a head up soaking up the sunshine stroll.  These days are the reward we loyal owners get for all the soaking, wind-lashed walks we took during the winter.  Evening walks are now a pleasure to take too, not a chore to be hurried over before a restorative cuppa and a hot bath!

Welsh Cakes
The first of March is the feast day of our Patron Saint, Saint David.  Tradition dictates that little girls set off for school in “Welsh Costume” – that lovely but peculiar combination of lacy apron, fringed shawl and a hat that’s a combination of topper and witches hat!  The rest of us wear either a daffodil or a leek, usually a pin but on rugby days only the real thing will do!

Teisen Lap
To celebrate St David’s Day only the best Welsh cooking will do – crempog (pancakes) for breakfast, cawl (stew) for dinner and Welsh rarebit for tea followed by either a couple of Welsh cakes with a cuppa or a nice slab of Teisen Lap!  No St. David’s Day is ever complete without a big bunch of daffs in the window, such sunny and colourful flowers they really let us know that the worst of the winter is over.

The vernal equinox comes in March, firmly putting the dark dreary winter days behind us.  From now on, things can only get better!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Welsh - Irish Soda Bread

In reality this is simply a classic Irish soda bread with a bit of bacon, leek and good strong Welsh cheddar thrown in for good measure!  The leek and Welsh cheddar are what make it a Welsh soda bread!

275g wholemeal flour (I used spelt wholemeal for its nutty flavour)

75g plain flour

50g oatmeal

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 ½ tsp salt

1tsp sugar

1 egg

1 x 284ml carton buttermilk

100g strong Welsh cheddar

3 rashers of bacon

The green part of a medium leek

Cut the bacon rashers into strips and dry-fry until crisp, leave to cool and then chop finely.

Halve the leek lengthways, half lengthways again and then slice across to dice fairly small and then cook in appx 1tsp of butter for a few minutes until softened and starting to brown.  Add the finely chopped bacon and combine.

Grate the cheese and add to the cooled leek and bacon mixture.

Combine the flours in a mixing bowl with the oatmeal, salt, sugar and bicarb.  Stir in the cheese and bacon mixture.

Beat the egg in a large-ish basin and then add the buttermilk and mix well together then add to the flour and cheese mixture.  Mix together gently and then tip onto a well floured worktop, shape into an oval and pop onto a greased baking sheet.

Brush with a little milk and then scatter a little more grated cheese over the top.

Bake at 190oC for 50 – 60 minutes. 

(190oC / 375oF / gas mark 5)