Bringing out there in here… and eating it!

8 September, 2008

When I’m walking I love looking at the wonderful stuff growing all around me. Now I’m home I’m converting some of it into things I can enjoy here.

Mes blackberries

A couple of days ago I went blackberrying with Tim and Kate (a couple of Challenge pals) in the woods. I was planning to convert my share (which also seemed to include at least half of what Kate and Tim picked) into blackberry jam, but I’ve just bought a copy of Pam Corbin’s utterly wonderful River Cottage Handbook No.2: Preserves, and I’ve decided to make a yummy blackberry and crab apple jelly instead, and also some fruit leather. Watch this space!

Highly recommended! Buy this book…

Today I’ve been a hive of industry. Which isn’t really like me at all 🙂 Still, though, a couple of days ago I noticed a recipe for Hawthorn Ketchup in Pam’s book, and so yesterday I rode my bike down to the pine woods and then walked out to the place where my sister and I scattered my mother’s ashes in early May. At the time we’d noticed a hawthorn bush in particularly prolific and beautiful flower, and it occurred to me when I read the recipe that it would be really lovely to pick the berries from that bush and make them into ketchup, in memory of Maa. I don’t actually like tomato sauce, but I felt this would be a little different, and I’m sure my sister will appreciate the idea.

So here it is! Along with some of the damson jam I made a couple of weeks ago, and a jar of Pam’s Souper Mix, which is an inspired way of adding taste to soups ‘n’ stuff when there’s no good stock at hand.

Damson Jam, Hawthorn Ketchup and Souper Mix

After that I put my cunning marmalade plan into action. I’ve been meaning to make marmalade for about half a lifetime, but today was my first attempt. I don’t like ultra-sweet things, and so after reading through Pam’s marmalade recipe I decided to try a lime and grapefruit mixture instead of orange, since the really good, sour oranges won’t be available until early in the New Year.

7 jars of lime and grapefruit marmalade!

So now I have 7 jars of lime and grapefruit marmalade, and I can hardly believe it! It took 40, rather than 15, minutes to reach setting point, but c’est la vie. I’d learned my lesson from the damson jam (which has to be hacked out of the jar with a hammer and chisel), and so I was determined not to boil it down too far. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to be able to pour it out of the jar onto my toast. I reckon it’s just about right, and it certainly does taste of limes and grapefruit.

Tomorrow I’m driving to Lakeland to buy a jelly strainer and stand thingy, and then I’ll make the blackberry and crab apple jelly and some rosehip syrup.

Now it’s time for dinner… salmon steaks, new pot’s and salad await me downstairs 🙂

Ooh! J’ai almost forgotée mes lovely soused herrings and soda bread lunch! I made these soused herrings last week some time, and the bread a few days later. Anyway, it’s really lovely, I find, to be able to go to the fridge and get out yummy things I’ve cooked myself.

Home-made soused herrings and soda bread

5 days in pictures

4 September, 2008

Well, the weather’s been so crappy that I’ve been unable to get out and do much, so I’ve spent much of my time in the kitchen.

I’m champing at the bit to make the suggested modifications to my Competition, though, and spent an hour last night trying to work out how to use a Line Lok. Doh… I almost had to post for help, but I got there in the end with the assistance of some diagrams from the web page.

The Terror Spider also made a further appearance, followed by a permanent disappearance…

Potato, thyme & taleggio pizza

On Monday Francesca came to lunch, and I made a potato and thyme pizza (including pizza base!) from a Nigel Slater recipe. It was all yummy except for the base, which was rather too ‘virtuous’, I felt; the wholemeal flour tasting very obvious and making the edges a little cardboardy. Still, Francesca was very polite and said she enjoyed it very much. Thank you, Francesca *g*

Later on Monday I converted the cucumber, round beans and runner beans…

Cucumber, runner beans and round beans soaking for piccalilli

…plus cauliflower and shallots…

Cauliflower and shallots too

…that I’d been soaking in brine overnight into piccalilli! When I remember I’ll take a picture of the finished product. What a nice colour it is! Unfortunately I have to wait 3 months to see how it tastes. Crunchy and hot, I hope, rather than squishy and sweet, like all the shop-bought ones I’ve ever encountered.

On Tuesday I decided to wash the throw thingy I have over the armchair in my sitting room–the chair underneath which the Terror Spider disappeared when I last saw it several days ago–and I found the spider tucked up in the folds! It agreed to sit there while I ran downstairs for the camera, and after I’d taken its picture I transferred it to a beer glass (the largest glass I had) and put it out into the garden, where it dashed off into the border. Eep!

Terror Spider!

Yesterday I made soused herrings and a truly delicious soda bread loaf. Last time I made soda bread it came out like a brick, but twice as heavy. This was a different recipe, though, and wonderful. Yum!

This afternoon I made lentil soup with bacon ribs–free-range bacon ribs, that is, made especially for me by the butcher after I ordered them a week and a half ago–and it was absolutely stonking, with some red cabbage. Yum, yum, yum!!!

Lentil soup with bacon ribs & soda bread

I’ve done some other stuff too–met up with two great Challenge pals yesterday; lived through 36 hours without my desktop when the blasted thing broke down (****ing Vista…); endured an hour of terror last night when we experieced some of the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard in this country; put the tent out in the garden to air and waited 3 days for the rain to stop so that I could bring it in (I’m still waiting)–but the foody things are the ones that seem to bring out the camera.

So! Crubeens crossed that at some stage before 2009 it might be possible to get out and so some walking without a snorkel and fins…

Edited to add:

Oh, joy! October TGO has just arrived digitally, with the application form for next year’s Challenge 🙂

Foody morning — Yum! Plus fantastic podcasts, photography and a wee lolcat

30 August, 2008

I’ve been intending to make some pickled onions for about… well, probably about 25 years, now *g*

I finally got round to starting the process the day before yesterday, when I peeled what felt like a very large quantity of shallots (in the absence of baby onions), made some brine and set the onions to soak in the brine for 24 hours.

This morning I washed, polished and sterilised some jars, packed the onions lovingly in and covered them with a mixture of malt vinegar and pickling spices, with a couple of dried, habanero chillies per jar, since I like my pickled onions hot and spicy.

I like my pickled onions crunchy too, though, and I thought the soaked onions felt a little squidgy as I removed them from the brine, and so I made a third batch–following The Definitive Delia’s Quick Pickled Onions recipe–which haven’t been soaked at all: simply peeled this morning, washed in a dribble of cold water, dabbed dry with a paper towel (so as not to dilute the vinegar) and tumbled into the jar.

I think I have to wait at least 3 weeks before I try them, but I’m quite excited 🙂 My mother used to make pickled onions every year, and they were lovely. The nicest I’ve ever had, though, I bought from a stall at the Southport Show a few years ago, and that’s where I got the chillies idea: they were almost hot enough to blow my head off! Quite wonderful!

I’ve been getting on with various domestic kitchen-related chores for the last week, partly because I’m in the process of mucking out the sty to put it on the market, and while I’ve been doing them I’ve been catching up with the absolutely fantastic range of podcasts over at and The Outdoors Station.

Because I’ve been out of touch for a while I’d fallen hopelessly behind, but this week I was glad of that because it gave me tons of great stuff to listen to. I’ve been through loads of them, including (but not limited to…) The Gourmet Hedgerow, Foraging for Fungi, the whole of Bob’s journey with Lee along the Cape Wrath Trail, Andy‘s Life as a Guidebook Writer and Life as an Outdoor Writer interviews with Paddy Dillon and Mark Richards respectively, as well as his Meet the Bloggers compilation from the 2008 Outdoors Show, Bob’s interviews with the Cicerone Team and with Gayle about the LeJog she and Mick undertook earlier this year in M & G go for a Walk, and one of Bob’s broadcasts from the Friedrichshafen Outdoor Trade Fair, which included his chat with Chris Townsend and John Manning. I’m now working my way through Bob and Andy’s Tale of Two Podcasters, as they made their way along the TGO Challenge in May of last year.

I’ve always loved the podcasts, but I was really quite staggered by the truly fantastic range, quantity and quality of the amazing recordings that Bob and Andy have now accumulated. What a brilliant resource it is, for all of us.

Thirdly, I’ve been over at Andy’s blog, excited by a new Photo Project he’s started, the purpose of which is discussion, debate and information for those of us interested in expanding and developing our photographic horizons. I’ve just bought a DSLR and I’m very keen to learn how to use it, and so I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time over there soaking up all the info that Andy and other photographers more experienced than me have to offer.

Right! Back to mucking out the kitchen, then… First, though, a quick scan at ICanHasCheezBurger… *g*

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Trip photos: Pyrenees, Dales Way, Pennine Way & food

19 August, 2008

I’ve almost finished writing up my C2C trip now, but I’ve got hundreds of photos from trips to the Pyrenees, the Dales Way, the Pennine Way and various shorter outings that I haven’t written up.

I’m thinking that when I’ve finished the C2C I’ll put up the photos from those trips. It seems a pity to just hide them away on my hard drive, and it’ll be liberating not having to dig out my notes and write them up at the same time.

In the meantime, I’ve got a 14 day free trial of the photo site–SmugMug–where Streapadair has his amazing walking photos, so I thought I’d make a test gallery showing pictures of how to make the little pork and prawn wontons I made a couple of nights ago, for my Thai’ish soup. Click on the wonton piccy above to get to the gallery 🙂

Tommy Emmanuel (guitar), food, pressing on with C2C write-up…

16 August, 2008

Well, it’s 5.30pm on Saturday evening, and here I am pressing on once again with my C2C write-up. Will it ever be finished, I wonder? I’d like to think that’s a rhetorical question, but… *g* Well, I’m about half way through Reeth to Danby Wiske, and currently determined to finish that section this evening.

I’ve been into town to buy ingredients for another pork/prawn wonton with Thai’ish soup thing for this evening. I lost lots of body fat on the GR20, and about time too! But since I’ve been home, taking very little exercise, it’s been creeping back on again, and so I’m making a determined effort–not entirely successful–to avoid naughty salty, fatty snacks like crisps, and stick to yummy but relatively healthy things instead. I’ve made my wonton mix and it’s currently sitting in the fridge, so that the flavours can have a chance to amalgamate. If I’m sufficiently organised later, I’ll take a piccy or two of my little parcels with the new camera.

Anyway, PhilW responded to my posting about Ken Nicol, my former guitar teacher, and so I know that there’s at least one other acoustic guitar lover out there, and these days watching Ken play often reminds me of Tommy Emmanuel so I thought I’d post a bit of Tommy from YouTube. Tommy’s undoubtedly one of the best guitarists in the world–many people would say the very best–and he’s certainly the most accomplished all-round entertainer I’ve ever seen. I first saw him play in Keswick some years ago, and because I was the first to arrive at the theatre (determined to get a seat right at the front so that I could see everything he was doing) I was already there when he strolled in from a local takeaway with some sort of Chinese meal in a bag. He stopped to chat, and told me exactly where to sit to get the best view. Before he went into the back to get ready for the gig he reminded me that great playing comes from constant practice, and told me to “get to work!” *swoon*… 🙂

Here are three videos.

The first one is easy to love. Guitar Boogie! Wow, my heart races just listening to it as I post the link in here! Go and see him in concert, and he’ll play it for you just as amazingly as this 🙂

Tommy Emmanuel – Guitar Boogie

I’ve included the second one because I love the tune: Mombasa *melts*

Tommy Emmanuel – Mombasa

This last one is the tune I think of as the essence of TE. I’m not into percussive guitar playing just for the sake of it, but this is something else altogether. It’s the most atmospheric thing I’ve ever heard anyone play, and it took me some time to get my head round the fact that he really *was* creating the whole thing right there in front of me, with nothing but his guitar, some reverb and his amp. No backing tracks: just mind-boggling playing, almost unbelievable rhythm, and infinite musicality. Unsurprisingly, it’s best live, but this’ll give you at least a sense of it. It’s quite long, and if you happen to be reading this at night I’d recommend closing the door to guard against intrusions, turning off the lights and sitting back in a comfy chair to enjoy.

Tommy Emmanuel – Initiation

Right! Back to the C2C…

Dinner tonight — Yum!!! Thai soup with pork/prawn wontons.

10 August, 2008

I love Thai noodle soups, and I also love Chinese wonton parcel thingies. This evening I made a sort of Thai soup (no noodles) with wontons, and wow! It was yummy, and very, very easy, though a *little* time consuming.

It’s very easy to make the little wonton parcels, and if you enjoy cooking and/or eating then it’s lots of fun. Yesterday I bought some free-range belly pork, some raw prawns and some little wonton wrappers (frozen in a block) from the Asian stall at the market. I followed a Ken Hom recipe from a book I bought about 20 years ago: A Taste of China. Basically, the recipe involves equal quantities of minced fatty pork and raw prawns, some minced mushrooms, some minced spring onions, some sesame oil, some Chinese rice wine, some light soy sauce, some sugar and some salt. They’re all mixed up together in a bowl and left to sit for a while.

Then one puts a blob of the yummy mixture in the middle of a wonton wrapper, wets the edges with water and folds the corners in, making sure to press in order to seal them. Don’t put too much mixture on the wrapper or it won’t be possible to wrap it properly.

After that it’s necessary to have some good chicken stock. It only takes an hour to make it from scratch, and it involves free-range chicken pieces (wings or thighs are excellent, but drumsticks work fine (breasts would be a waste of money, and there’d be less taste)), some garlic cloves (unpeeled) and, if you have them, some ginger and some spring onions. Cover the chicken in cold water and bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer, skim off the scummy stuff and add the other ingredients. Simmer for an hour and drain through a sieve.

After that, just get together a collection of the soup-appropriate vegetables that you like best, or happen to have in the fridge. I normally use broccoli florets, but I happened to have asparagus because it was on offer in the supermarket a few days ago, and also some v. nice green beans I found at the local organic farm shop 2 days ago. Tonight I also included some sliced brown-cap mushrooms, and one and a half organic red chillies that I also got at the farm shop.

So! Once you have the ingredients it’s as easy as walking from Grasmere to the Travellers’ Rest 🙂

First, Ken H. says it’s best to blanche the little wonton parcels in a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes, or until they float back to the top of the pot. Having spent a week watching Gary Rhodes learning to cook real Chinese food in China I decided to dip the parcels in a cornflour/water mixture first, as those who know better than me all seem to agree that it helps to retain the flavour in whatever’s being cooked. So, do the business, drain them and then have them ready on a plate next to the cooker.

Next, put 3 large ladles of chicken stock in a pan, turn up the heat enough to bring it to a fast simmer and add the chopped chillies (including the seeds, if you like a bit of heat in your soup). I then added about 1.5 tablespoons of fish sauce, the juice of a lime and a generous splash of light soy sauce. If I’m feeling more energetic I might also add some Tamarind paste and dried lime leaves, but tonight I didn’t bother.

When the soup began to simmer I added the sliced mushrooms. Perhaps 90 seconds or so later I added the sliced green beans–I’d cut them into pieces of about 1.5 inches each–and let them simmer for a minute or so. I like my soup veggies crunchy rather than soft, and so I’m mainly aiming to heat them through in the pan because in the time it takes me to carry the whole thing upstairs (for consumption) they continue to cook in the soup. So, about 90 seconds later I put the wonton parcels in and also the asparagus (which I’d also cut into chunks of about 1.5 inches). Another 90 seconds later I poured it all into a big bowl and added some chopped coriander.

It was delicious! I think the pork and prawns in the wonton parcels were perhaps a little over-cooked, but I suppose it’s always better to err on the side of caution with pork. Still, it was all lovely 🙂

I’m sticking this here so that I can remember how to make it next time I feel like wonton parcels in soup.

*trots away to watch the Cookery Channel*