Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Simple Beach Barbecue: Paprika Scallops and Prawns with a Tomato Salad

School was out and the sun was still just about shining so we headed down to the beach for a bit of paddling, hole digging and sandcastle building. Whilst my crew were busying themselves at the seashore I unpacked my provisions and set about building a barbecue. We had decided to head to the beach in the late afternoon, picking up a few simple ingredients along the way. We are spoilt here in North Wales, you can be at any number of award-winning beaches in under an hour. We plumped for Conwy; a peaceful and unspoilt beach where there are plentiful stones, perfect for barbecue construction.

Whilst the coals were heating I rubbed some scallops and prawns in olive oil and sweet paprika and I thickly sliced a chorizo sausage before loading up my skewers. I then sliced juicy, ripe tomatoes into a bowl where I simply dressed them with salt, pepper and olive oil. Once the barbecue was throwing out a fierce heat I put on the chorizo, turning it just before it started to blacken. The scallops followed a few minutes later, I gave them a minute or so each side, until the outside was just caramelized and crisp. Finally I put on the prawns, giving them less than a minute each side, so they were slightly charred and just cooked through. I added the chorizo to the simple tomato salad and tossed them together. The seafood needing just a sprinkle of sea salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon and we ate it greedily with our fingers. Simple summer food. Enjoy, Victoria x 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Summer & Strawberries: Recipe free zone

The warm weather is continuing and we are trying to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of it. Other summer inspired recipes will be on the way but today is just a quick post celebrating the arrival of summer and the strawberry season. Evie and I spent a lovely morning strawberry picking at Hawarden Farm Shop this week. No recipes here: when strawberries are this luscious and sweet the only thing to do is to eat them just as nature intended: a real treat.

Hawarden is my favourite farm shop. They stock a wide variety of produce and it is situated in the beautiful grounds of the Hawarden Estate Farm. We have whiled away many hours here; Evie watching the piggies rolling in the mud from the top of the fort play area slide and chasing the free-range chickens that have ventured inside its walls.  The village of Hawarden is a lovely place to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon. The woods that surround the old castle are perfect for a gentle stroll and the Estate also owns The Glynne Arms pub which serves a mean Sunday lunch. Today, there are a number of events in the village including a charity cricket match with cream teas and an antique and vintage market at the pub. For more details of the events visit the Hawarden Farm Shop website. I might see you there. Enjoy the sunshine! Victoria x

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Salad Days: Asparagus, Watercress, Pea & Wensleydale Salad

I've reached that point in the year where habitually lunch is some form of salad. As that will probably mean there will be a glut of salads featuring on these pages you hopefully agree that you can never have too many salad ideas. In the last few weeks I have often arrived home from work on a sunny afternoon with hunger pangs. I love that I can be in a summer dress/flip-flop combo and on the patio with a bowl of salad in under half-an-hour. It feels like a stolen holiday moment in the middle of the working week before I have to get on with the chores and pick Evie up from school. So, here's to the beginning of summer salad days and stolen moments of simple sunshine pleasures.

Asparagus, Watercress, Pea & Wensleydale Salad

I don't offer quantities here as I feel it really is matter of individual appetite and taste.

For the dressing

Lemon juice
Rapeseed Oil

For the salad

Asparagus spears
Frozen Peas
Wensleydale (or similar crumbly cheese)
Melted butter (wild garlic butter is very good here if you have any left)

In a jam jar shake together the dressing ingredients. I work on a rough half and half of juice and olive oil and honey to taste but it really is up to you. 

Put a frying pan or griddle on to a high heat. Toss the asparagus spears in the melted butter and then cook in the pan/griddle until slightly charred at the edges. Throw in the peas to warm through for a couple of minutes (fresh or frozen is good here).

Assemble your plate with the watercress leaves, asparagus and peas. Dribble on some of the dressing and crumble nuggets of cheese in and around the asparagus.

Enjoy, Vic xxx

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Father's Day Treats: Chocolate Truffles

Evie's school let me down this week. Back in March when I picked her up on the Friday before Mother's Day Evie made it very clear, as she met me at the gates, that under no circumstances was I to look in her bag because, 'there is a surprise in there for you Mummy'. Indeed there was; on Mothering Sunday morning she came rushing in to my room to proudly present me with a gorgeous homemade lavender bag, 'It makes your drawer smell nice', along with her own original artwork card. It seems reasonable then that this week I had assumed that Evie would come home on Friday laden with homemade gifts for Father's Day. I was wrong.

It's not that I had forgotten. I just thought that Evie had it covered. I had been reminded of it on my way home from work on Wednesday when listening to a hilarious exchange between food writer Giles Coren and and a chap from a dads' internet forum. Is Daddy Pig (of Peppa Pig fame) a real representation of modern day fatherhood and a suitable role model for its audience of under-fives in comparison with modern day dads like David Beckham ? In our household we are firmly in the Daddy Pig camp along with Giles who quite rightly argued that Daddy Pig is a hero. His catchphrase, 'I am a bit of an expert at...' is regularly quoted by my husband and much to my dismay our own Daddy's favourite episode is the one where, upon attempting to translate a letter from Peppa's French penpal, Daddy Pig concludes, 'it's no good... it's nonsense.' That one is regularly quoted (jokingly) when I am speaking French in an attempt to encourage multilingualism in our daughter. But this is the point: Daddy Pig is a sweet, funny character who clearly loves his wife and children. In a day and age of so many absent fathers, he seems like a pretty good role model to me. Evie's favourite episode is the one where Daddy takes Peppa and her brother George to the office with him. They get to do Daddy's work: stamping; printing out different coloured shapes; and writing on the office whiteboard with coloured pens. I have never loved my husband more than the day he recreated this episode for Evie in his own office. She came home with the biggest smile and a clutch of paper with printed out shapes; she was in heaven. 

In my opinion, Giles Coren came to the perfect conclusion in the Radio 4 debate: 'I would rather have Daddy Pig bring up my daughter than David Beckham'. Me too! The last word goes to Evie though. In reply to my question, 'What do you like most about Daddy?' she said, 'He likes being silly and I like playing with him the most.' 

Chocolate Truffles

Our solution to no school-made Father's Day gift. It's a great recipe for kids to make; easy, and they can say they made it all (with supervision Evie even stirs the chocolate in the bain marie). More importantly, it involves messy hand fun! 

Makes 12 truffles

150g. Chocolate of your choice.

50ml. Double Cream

15g. Butter

2 tsp. Icing Sugar

Cocoa, sprinkles or chopped nuts to coat the truffles

Break up the chocolate into a mixing bowl and add the cream. Pour a couple of inches of boiling water into a saucepan that is large enough to sit the bowl in. On the hob, keep the water at just below boiling point so that it maintains a gentle heat in the bowl to melt the chocolate into the cream. Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the butter and icing sugar (it is best to sieve the icing sugar to avoid lumps). Chill the mixture in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove from the fridge and take a teaspoon of the mixture and place it into the palm of your hands, roll it into a ball before rolling it in cocoa powder or chopped nuts. Put on to a plate. When you have made all of your truffles cover them and return them to fridge until you are ready to eat them.

Happy Father's Day! Enjoy. Vic & Evie xxx

Saturday, 1 June 2013

A Walk in the Woods: Wild Garlic Butter

Wow, it's been a long time but I have finally made it back to the blog. I don't quite know what went wrong; a busy week turned into a busy month and into a busy spring and before I knew it I had missed a whole season of inspiration. In that time I have had lots of ideas, I even started writing a number of posts but never quite had the time to finish them. I have missed it! Being out taking the pictures and sitting at the computer this week was so much fun, like re-connecting with an old friend. I promise not to stay away so long this time.

During the break I have got totally addicted to Pinterest. If you haven't discovered it yet, it is a social networking site that is image-based. You set up pin boards and pin images of things that inspire you. You can also follow others to see what they are pinning. It has been a source of much inspiration and certainly helped nudge me to get blogging again. Seeing the gorgeous images and blog posts of others inspired me to want to practise my photography more and create beautiful things to share. I have also been inspired by posts that aren't just restricted to food and recipes. So although I am sure there will continue to be lots of recipes here (food is never far from my thoughts), I am hoping to also blog about other ways to find beauty in the everyday and the simple. Which brings me on to today's post.

In the welsh borderlands we have been finally feeling a change in the season. The cold clung on well into the spring but the last few weeks have seen a change. The tell-tale scent of garlic first hit me last week on my drive to work. I am very lucky that my commute climbs the hills of the Clwydian range before descending into the valley along the edge of the Loggerheads country park. At the bridge over the river at this time of year the air is thick with the aroma of wild garlic, a pungent smell that contradicts its delicate flavour. It was time to get out picking. 

Evie and I set out one beautifully clear and sunny morning for a walk in the woods, basket in hand. While Evie told me stories of the bears and witches that live in each of the dark nooks of the woods I scouted out a good picking spot. The perfect place was next to a shallow bank ideal for paddling. It was still cool enough for Evie to prefer to keep her wellies on. Splashing over we began our harvesting, aiming for enough to fill a salad bag.

Wild Garlic Butter

Back home, I washed the leaves before blitzing them in a food processor with a drop of olive oil. I then mashed my wild garlic paste into a packet of crunchy sea salt butter at room temperature. Next I took out a sheet of greaseproof paper and shaped the butter into a sausage shape in the middle before rolling it up and tying either end with string. This will remain stashed in my freezer waiting to be sliced and stirred into pasta or soup, pushed under the skin of a chicken for roasting, melted onto jacket potatoes or smothered onto a stale baguette for delicious wild garlic bread. 

As we were enjoying our wild garlic pasta on the patio, I noticed that the bluebells were in full bloom in the woodland that surrounds our neighbours' house. Wild garlic and bluebells; what better reason do you need for a beautiful woodland walk this weekend? 

Enjoy, Victoria xxx

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Store-cupboard Tomato Soup and Rock Buns

Sometimes it's not just what you eat but where and when you eat it: tartiflette after a morning tearing down the slopes; churros and chocolate after dancing until the madrugada; paper-wrapped fish and chips at the seaside; a fragrant tagine on the roof-top terrace of a ramshackle restaurant, taking in the exotic sights and smells of Place Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakech. Moments when all seems just right with the world: a coming together of the senses to create that perfect epicurean experience. These are simple pleasures; nothing to do with expensive restaurants, just the beauty of having the right thing to eat for the time and the surroundings. Often serendipitous moments, never to be repeated only cherished. But, occasionally they can become traditions to which you can return when the mood and time is right.

This week Nick and I headed to one of our favourite beaches at Talacre. The flat-roofed 60s buildings lining the road to the beach promise little, but in winter, once you head over the dunes from the car park, you can find yourself alone on the vast beach but for the odd dog walker and the striking lighthouse. The unsheltered sands are swept by winds that make it perfect for flying a kite and for a blast of cold salty air to make you feel alive. If Evie had been with us we would have built sandcastles whilst trying to hold our hair out of our eyes, instead we just held hands to try and stop the wind from blowing us away. 

The perfect antidote to all that cold air is a flask of steaming hot tomato soup and a cheese sandwich to dunk. I grate the cheese so that flecks of it melt into the soup, making sure I leave a bit of cheese sandwich to mop up all traces of soup before returning the mug to my bag. Cold, salty wind, sharp cheese and sweet, warming tomato soup; a moment of pure bliss. This was the staple winter picnic on walks along the Scarborough prom in my childhood. On particularly stormy days it was your solace for wet feet when you didn't manage to dodge the crashing waves that splashed up onto the pavement.

Store-Cupboard Tomato Soup 

Enough for a 500ml. flask

Olive Oil
1 onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves
1 can of chopped tinned tomatoes
Chicken or vegetable stock (optional)
A sprinkling of sugar
Salt and Pepper
Pesto and/or a splash of cream (optional) 

Warm the oil in a saucepan on a low-medium heat, add the onions, garlic, a pinch of salt and sugar. Soften for about 15-20 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes until they have darkened and reduced. Fill the tomato tin with water or stock if you have it, add to the soup and cook for a further 10 minutes. Blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Stir through a spoon of pesto or a splash of cream to taste. Keep warm on the heat whilst you   warm your flask by filling it with hot water and leaving to stand for a few minutes. Pour out the hot water and pour in the soup. A mug of pleasure when eaten breathing in the salty air on the sea front with grated cheese sandwiches to dunk. 

On the journey home I was yearning for something sweet to enjoy fireside with a cup of hot tea. The lighthouse had made me reminisce about a TV programme my brother had enjoyed when we were children. My mum still has his old battered Portland Bill annual in her kitchen cupboard because it holds the recipe she uses for rock buns, a firm family favourite. That rock bun recipe is a treasured item. They are very quick to make on those days when you need cake and you need it now. Even more pleasing is that rock buns are at their best straight from the oven, no need to wait for cooling, and gobbling them all up whilst they are still warm is the perfect excuse for winter walk-induced greed. 

Portland Bill's Rock Buns
Recipe adapted from the 1985 annual

Makes 12 buns

225 g. self-raising flour
110 g. butter, cut into cubes
50 g. soft light brown sugar
50 g. caster sugar
2 heaped teaspoons of mixed spice
100 g. of mixed dried fruit
50 g. dried apricots
1 egg
3 tbsp. milk

Preheat oven to 180°C. Rub the butter cubes and flour together in a large bowl until you have a sandy mixture. Add the sugars and mix in with a fork. Add the fruit and stir again. Beat the egg and milk together. Stir into the sandy mixture with the fork. You want something that is slightly wetter than scone mix but still holds a firm shape. Using a dessert spoon, spoon rough balls of mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment. Bake for 15-20 until slightly browned. Delicious served simply as they are, warm from the oven, though butter and marmalade do make a pleasing addition.

I would love to hear your simple pleasure eating experiences, send me an email, tweet or leave a comment and inspire me with your favourite food/time/place/season combinations. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the recipes. Vic x

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Crêpes Suzette & Yorkshire 'Breakfast' Puddings

I'm back! I know, I know, it all went quiet. My laptop died and what unfolded was a farcical chain of events that meant that I have been without a laptop for more than 4 weeks. I'll spare you the details of the ineptitude of HP's customer service department and the bad luck of finally receiving a laptop to have it break the very next day! I hope you can forgive me. 

A whole month has passed. New Year's resolutions have been made and broken and we are starting to feel the tailing off of the winter. The snowdrops are abundant and there are days when I am making it home from work during the hours of daylight. Lent is fast approaching so today I offer two recipes for Shrove Tuesday. Though they would equally work for next week's other celebration, St. Valentine's. I think you are allowed a day off fasting in the name of love. That is if you are fasting; many of us forget that Pancake Day is actually the day when the rich ingredients in the house were eaten up in preparation for the fast that marked the run up to Easter celebrations. Pancakes are of course the popular recipe to use up the forbidden ingredients. For my second recipe I will offer a fresh idea for a Shrove Tuesday or indeed Valentine's breakfast but first I will stick with the traditional pancake. 

I have been meaning to include this classic Crêpes Suzette recipe on the blog since I visited friends back in October. We had a wonderful evening of catching up, punctuated with gorgeous food and well-filled glasses, culminating in Crêpes Suzette. I was so excited! Anything orange-scented is always warmly welcomed onto my plate, but in this case the excitement was heightened by the fact that I had totally forgotten about this most perfect pancake recipe. I am a sucker for an exciting new recipe, but shiny and new cannot beat the the delight of rediscovering an old, forgotten favourite.

Crêpes Suzette was one of my first solo kitchen projects. My mum taught me the recipe when I was about 10, and for many years it was my favourite thing to make. Then, over time, I learnt new recipes and moved on. With the waft of the boozy orange juices I was both sad that I had been missing out in the interim years and so grateful to have been reunited with the immediately familiar taste and the associated memories. I was a hopeless Girl Guide, earning only two badges in my 5 years service; my cooking badge, for which I made Crêpes Suzette, was my first. I remember pre-preparing the sauce at home and putting it into an old jam jar to serve with my practiced and perfected wafer-thin pancakes, and my mum allowing me to put in a drop of Cointreau as long as I didn't tell my Guide leader. 

I love the connection food gives us to our past experiences. Without that orange-scented reminder, I would not have relived those happy memories. So, I dedicate this recipe to Clare and Spence in thanks for the simple pleasure of spending an evening catching up with friends, topped off with the perfect nostalgic pudding.  

Crêpes Suzette

For the Crêpes

125g. plain flour
1 large egg
300ml. milk
2 tbsp. caster sugar
1 tsp. melted butter
butter for frying

For the sauce

50g. butter
1 large orange zest and juice
2 large oranges juice only
1 lemon zest and juice
3 tbsp. caster sugar
2 tbsp. Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Sieve the flour into a bowl (if I'm feeling lazy I don't always follow this step). Make a well and crack in the egg. Start beating with a whisk. Then slowly add the milk, beating all the time. Add the melted butter and the sugar. Beat for a final time until the batter is lump-free. Rest the batter for at least half an hour. There's no reason why you couldn't make the batter in the morning for later that day, or even the night before, keeping it covered in the fridge.

Leaving the butter aside, stir together all of the other sauce ingredients in a jug.

Put a pan on to medium heat. Once hot, add a small knob of butter, smooth it around the pan and remove any excess with some kitchen towel. Put in your first test pancake, You want just enough batter so that you can thinly coat the bottom of your frying pan. For my large frying pan, I need just under a ladle of batter. You may find that you need to adjust the temperature of the pan a little if the pancake is not cooking evenly or is burning. Once one side is lightly browned flip the pancake and cook the other side. Place on a plate and cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper repeating the process with the remainder of the batter, aiming for 8 crêpes.

Once the pancakes are ready add the butter for your sauce to the pan and allow to melt before adding the other ingredients and bringing to the boil. Once bubbling, start adding the pancakes one at a time to the pan, immersing them in the sauce before folding them in half, then in quarters, then in eighths. Leaving the pancake in the pan, repeat this with the remaining pancakes until you have all 8 pancakes sitting in the pan. Transfer to warmed plates with a spoon of the buttery orange sauce and a dollop of clotted cream.

My second recipe came about when my pregnant sister came to stay. She'd been having cravings for Yorkshire pudding and was seriously considering eating them every day of the week, so we were discussing possibilities for sweet and savoury recipes and accompaniments. After a few minutes of swapping recipes we both realised we had eaten our county's eponymous pudding in many guises, both savoury and sweet, but never for breakfast. Instantly, I thought of using them in place of pancakes with berries or bacon and maple syrup. The next morning, there was no question as to what we would have for breakfast. They were heavenly, so much lighter and fluffier than pancakes with the added advantage of not needing to be made in batches; perfect for when you are cooking breakfast for the hordes. They are also super-easy to make, maybe for an impressive Valentine's breakfast in bed. Two reasons to never stand flipping pancakes in my dressing gown ever again?

Yorkshire Breakfast Puddings

I have been making Yorkshire puddings since I was very small. I suspect beating this batter was probably my first ever kitchen task and I must have been quite good at it because it is one of the few kitchen tasks that my mum regularly entrusted to me. I have always made them without measuring. You want roughly the same amount of egg, milk and flour; so I suggest this easy method.

Rapeseed oil
Eggs (1 for every 2 people/ 4 muffin sized puddings)
Plain flour
Rashers of pancetta or thin-sliced smoked bacon per person and/or a handful of berries.
Maple syrup to serve

Preheat your oven to 220°C. Put a drop of rapeseed oil into each of the muffin tin moulds and put in the oven to heat.

Crack the number of eggs you require into a measuring jug, make a note of the line that they reach and pour them into a large bowl. Pour the milk into the jug up to the same level as the eggs.  Add the milk to the eggs and repeat with the flour, adding the flour up to the same level as the eggs and milk and then add to the batter. Whisk the batter until smooth, season and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Lay the pancetta rashers on a baking tray. When the batter has rested, put the tray of pancetta rashers into the oven and ladle the Yorkshire pudding batter into the muffin tray. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the bacon is crisp and the Yorkshire puddings are puffed up and crispy on top (I like them a little soggy at the bottom - with apologies to Paul Hollywood). Serve with bacon or a selection of berries and cream, and add a splash of maple syrup.  The berry versions also make a lovely pudding. I use the middle of the pudding to hold a scoop of ice-cream and top with berries and syrup. You can take the girl out of Yorkshire but.... 

Enjoy! Vx