Moroccan Spiced Slow Roast Shoulder of Lamb

I adore the combination of flavours in North African cooking, the rich tagines, delicate sweet pastries, mounds of minted, olive oil rich couscous, bulgar wheat salads gleaming with jewel-like pomegranate seeds – and now, with autumn on the way i’d like to share one of my favourite, albeit possibly inauthentic, recipes combining local Welsh Lamb (which I firmly believe is some the best in the world) with those flavours synonymous with Morocco – garlic, lemon, honey, figs, ras-al-hanout – all melding together to create an extremely ‘moorish’ dish.

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This would make an excellent alternative Sunday lunch or supper party dish, served with a roasted vegetable couscous, or even simply jacket potatoes and salad. The lamb is also excellent tucked into warmed flatbreads with some hummus, spiced yoghurt and a dash of pomegranate molasses. The leftovers (including the bone) can be turned into a simple spiced lamb broth with a few chick peas, veggies and squeeze of Harissa – two meals for the price of one and no waste. I do recommend marinating the meat overnight as it allows the flavours to penetrate the meat.

Serves 4-6 with leftovers

IngredientsIMG_5404

2.5 kg shoulder of lamb (bone in)

2 preserved lemons, sliced

2 heaped tsp ras-al-hanout spice blend – I use Parva Spices

A good handful of fresh parsley

6 cloves of garlic, smashed with their skins

2 tbls of good olive oil

4 chopped, dried figs

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses – this can be found in specialty food shops, in some delis or online from The Belazu Ingredient Company, and gives a rich intensity without too much sweetness

1 heaped tablespoon runny honey

Method

(Day 1)

Place the lamb in a large casserole or in a roasting dish, slash the meat diagonally at 2 cm intervals to make little pockets in the meat.

Slice the lemons and figs, and roughly chop the parsley

In a small bowl mix the Ras-al-Hanout, olive oil, seasoning and pomegranate molasses

Rub this into the meat, making sure to cover the surface completely

Push the lemon, garlic, parsley and fig slices into the slashed pockets, then drizzle with the honey

Cover well and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge

(Day 2)

Remove the meat from the fridge and bring to room temperature

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C , gas mark 2, 300 degree f.

Place the meat in the oven, covered with foil or lidded (if using a casserole)

Cook for four hours, checking every hour or so

If you do find the meat looks as if it is a little dry, add some lamb stock (this can be from a stockpot or cube). Lamb shoulder is a relatively fatty cut, yielding delicious juices so this shouldn’t really be a problem.

Remove the lid, turn the oven up to 180 degrees C, Gas Mark 4, 350 degrees F and cook for a further 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender, browned and a little crisp on the outside

IMG_5457Rest the meat for at least 15 minutes before serving.

I like to serve my lamb with wholegrain couscous which I stir into the juices whilst the meat is resting, adding lemon, mint, stock and seasoning, bringing to the boil and then leaving  for few minutes to ‘fluff’ – this is a great way of using up all those lovely juices and means the couscous really packs a flavour punch.


Late Summer Blackberry and Almond Cake

I adore autumn, I love the foods, the smells, the weather…everything! For me the appearance of blackberries, plums, hips and haws all signify the beginning of a season of abundance, a season which I feel completely at one with. This morning I took a basket and followed the little lane outside the farmhouse until I came across the most enormous crop of blackberries, an absolute abundance of them, my son and I picked (probably a ratio of 5:1 basket vs mouth) a couple of kilos.

Digging through the post-holiday larder I found a packet of whole almonds, the remains of a bottle of rum and a small quality of rich dark muscovado sugar – and this cake was born. It’s really moist, almost pudding-like and would work exceptionally well with a blob of clotted cream or a drizzle of fresh custard as an autumnal pudding.

I’m also really looking forward to the later blackberries, the smaller pectin rich, black gold nuggets which can be readily turned into jams and jellies so a post or two certainly, to follow.

Ingredients

125g self-raising flour

75g almonds, roughly ground

65g dark muscovado sugar

65g golden caster sugar

125g unsalted butter

3 small eggs

1/2 tsp baking powder

125g blackberries

1 tbsp spiced rum

Method

Pre heat the oven to 170 degrees c. (fan oven)

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy

Add the eggs, one at a time

Add the flour and baking powder (sifted), then the almonds

Add the rum, then incorporate the blackberries, very gently, so they remain intact

Butter, and line a 20 cm x 10cm round cake tin

Pour the batter into the tin and place in the oven

Bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown ( check that the cake is fully cooked using a skewer or knife point – it should come out clean)


Autumn Recipes: A Roast Golden Beetroot Mezze, with Honey and Pomegranate #nationalhoneyweek

Roast Golden Beetroot Mezze with Honey and Pomegranate IMG_0586

We are now firmly in Autumn’s grip and what’s left of the leaves are falling fast. One of the most vibrant and plentiful winter vegetables in the Beet, be it the rich red of the classic Beetroot or their bright, vibrant orange and yellow cousins, far less familiar but equally as delicious. Roasted, cooled and marinated in a honey (well it is National Honey Week) and pomegranate dressing, this is delicious mixed with couscous and a sprinkling of Ras al Hanout for an autumnal, Moroccan inspired side to grilled meat or fish, or simply as a Mezze with some olives, hummus and flatbreads for a light lunch or supper. For a greater kick, I add a little Harissa paste to the olive oil before drizzling over the raw beets.

This  keep well in the fridge for up to a week and, besides the beetroot, all the ingredients are store cupboard friendly.

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Ingredients

Serves 4 – 6

3 medium Golden Beetroot

1 tablespoon of good Olive Oil

1 tsp Harissa (optional)

A good pinch of sea salt

Black Pepper

For the dressing

4 tablespoons of good olive oil

1.5 tablespoons of tarragon or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon of runny honey

4 teaspoons of  Pomegranate Molasses (try here)

salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of Ras-al-Hanout spice blend (to taste)

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees c (or 160 degrees c fan)

Cut the Beets in half and place, face up on a non-stick baking sheet

Mix the Harissa (if using) with the Olive Oil and drizzle over the beets. Season generously.

Roast the Beets until golden brown and tender when pressed with a skewer, mine took about an hour but anything between 45 minutes and 2 hours is quite normal – dependant on size – but do make sure you check every twenty minutes to or so to turn and prevent burning

When they are cooked, cool and once just warm, peel off the outer skin

Cut into slices about 4mm thick

To make the dressing whisk all the ingredients together until you have a salad dressing style emulsion

Pour over the warm Beets

Refrigerate for at least three hours to allow the Beets to soak up the marinade

Serve with a a scattering of fresh parsley and a drizzle of Pomegranate Molasses


Spicing up the Welsh Cake for the Autumn

Welsh Cakes have always been my go-to standby for surprise guests; they are so simple to make and are best eaten hot, bounced from hand-to-hand almost straight from the pan. My grandmother, who at the age of twelve took over her family’s weekly baking told me how Welsh Cakes scarcely made it out of the pan before being demolished by one or other of her brothers.

I enjoy the ritual of the Welsh Cake; I always feel as if I am at the end of long, ancient line of ‘planc’ bakers, even the cakes reputedly burnt by King Alfred were Griddle Cakes. There’s something so comforting about the pliable, slightly sticky dough and the griddle warming on the stove. I own three; one standard, plate-sized and Welsh made; an enormous (almost too big to carry) very old planc pitted through years of use and delightfully burnished with age. My latest acquisition, mostly due to my burning myself frequently, is a cast iron enamelled Staub crepe pan with a proper handle. As long as I remember that handles get hot, this seems to work extremely well, and it is also perfect for cooking breakfast and steaks on, and pancakes (which is its true purpose)

Welsh cakes, traditionally, are dotted with currants and liberally scattered with caster sugar, but in this recipe I have removed the currents and replaced them with a generous teaspoon of cinnamon which gives an autumnal feel to the cakes. I always find Easter biscuits and traditional Welsh Cakes very similar in taste so perhaps I associate currants with spring, but in the colder months cinnamon is wonderful for warding off colds and it has anti-inflammatory properties to ease those cold-weather aches.

We like to serve them topped with clotted cream and jam, or (and I don’t advocate this too often) clotted cream and golden syrup.

Welsh Cakes are also extremely family friendly and children love to help cut out the dough in a variety of shapes, we’ve even made pumpkin shaped, Halloween ones.

A good Welsh Cake should have a soft, light scone-like texture; they cannot be cut too deep nor too shallow. They keep well in a tin and there are very few people who’ll refuse one when offered!

Autumn Cinnamon Welsh Cakes 

Makes 12-18, depending on size but as long as they are generally the same thickness it’ll be fine

250g self-raising flour

pinch of salt

130g unsalted butter

90g caster sugar (I use unrefined because it gives a lovely toffee-like undertone)

1 large egg, beaten

1 heaped tsp of cinnamon

splash of milk

2tbls sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Method

Add a pinch of salt to the flour and rub in the butter

When the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and combine well

Pour in the egg – a little at a time until you have a sticky, light dough. You can add a splash of milk or a little more flour if the dough appears too soft or too dry

On a floured board, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 8mm and cut into shapes as desired

Heat your bake-stone or a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat

Cook the Welsh Cakes until golden brown and then turn over

Reduce the heat to low and keep turning them until they are evenly coloured and cooked through (you may need to ‘test’ one at this stage)

They usually take about 12 minutes in total but it will vary depending upon thickness of pan and thickness of cake

Remove and place on a cooling rack

combine the sugar and cinnamon and dust over the Welsh Cakes


Into the woods…..The Forest Showcase Food Festival 2017

IMG_7740As a great supporter of local food festivals, I am always delighted to share my enthusiasm with anyone who cares to listen. It now being ‘food festival season’, I am spoilt for choice. Last weekend I attended a small but perfectly formed festival in The Royal Forest of Dean, about twenty minutes drive from my home.

The Forest of Dean is one of the oldest English forests still in existence and has seen Kings, Princes and Lords ride in the chase under it’s great sprawling oaks. At the heart of the forest is The Speech House, the old Verderers court (click here for the history bit) and last weekend the grounds of this impressive, Carolingian building were packed with producers, musicians, visitors, artists and, of course, food and drink.

 

The Forest Showcase has been fortunate to enjoy splendid autumn sunshine over the past five years, however this year it just wasn’t meant to be.  Despite the rain, and the organisers took extra measures to ensure everyone stayed as dry and mud free as possible, it was a very pleasant way to spend an autumnal Sunday morning. IMG_7745All my good intentions of not going over the top went by the wayside as I was presented with an Aladdin’s cave – in the form of the producers tent.

The marquee was packed, and the atmosphere was convivial.

IMG_7701French-style bread and patisserie sat beside honey producers, cheese makers, purveyors of delicious locally made jams and chutneys, artisan gin, cider and marshmallows, and some rather fabulous pies and pasties from Cinderhill Farm near St Briavels.  There was ice-cream from Forest and Wye, cheese form one of the few PDO Gloucestershire cheese makers, Smart’s   and the eponymous Madgett’s Farm with their excellent free-range chicken, duck and local game. I also discovered a new, extremely local country wine maker and sampled a wonderfully decadent Rose petal wine, the taste of which brought back memories of early summer. I indulged in Fuffle, is a fudge or is it a truffle? Whichever is the true answer, it was delicious. I was offered roasted hemp seeds which were surprisingly moreish, the most exquisite fruit cordials (which would have worked wonderfully in a gin cocktail), cheeses flavoured with honey and fig and cakes in all shapes and flavours.

 

Away from the marquees, there were cider makers, caterers, a craft market, art exhibitions and stalls from various local charities including The Dean Forest Beekeepers, IMG_7700Apple pressing demonstrations were popular and I happened upon a rather good fruit and veg stall where I stocked up on locally grown carrots and broccoli.

Throughout the day a variety of musicians entertained the crowds.

In the demonstration tent, visitors were wowed by cookery demonstrations by, among others, Yvette Farrell who runs the Forest of Dean’s premier cookery school, award winning Hart’s Barn Cookery School.

Very much a family festival, the parent and child cookery classes were filled all day, with healthy eating advisor & cookery teacher Glyn Owen at the helm producing delicious Mezze.

But, if you did miss this year’s event, do not despair….the organisers have a Christmas treat in store!

“We are very much looking forward to our new Xmas event which is at Beechenhurst Lodge on Sunday 28th November…..so those that didn’t make this one because of the weather have another chance to sample and buy the best produce from The Forest of Dean and see some amazing Christmas cookery demonstrations….”

It’s already in my diary, I just hope there’s mulled wine on offer!

 

 

Although I attended as a guest of the festival, all views are my own


Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness…A little taster of the project I’m currently working on…

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The Forest of Dean is at its best in the Autumn months, when the great oaks, once famed the country over for their strength and height, and used in shipbuilding, are burnished in the golden light of an Indian summer. The forest’s leaves encompass all shades from tawny yellow, to ruby-red and dark earthy brown. Coaches drive through these wild woods, their occupants’ cameras poised for the perfect shot, whilst those who live there barely notice the beauty as they drive, eyes front, through this, most ancient of royal forests. The law of the Freeminer and the word of the Verderer still hold here. Any person who works for a year and a day in one of the few mines still in existence is awarded the status of Freeminer allowing mining rights anywhere within the forest. The Verderer’s court, held in the Stately Speech House, a building with more than a hint of Judge Jeffries about it, talk of the free roaming sheep shepherded by the Badgers, or the wild boar.

Ancient legends speak of the Wild Hunt, a fairy army waiting in the forest’s depths to carry you off. Wise women were consulted as doctors were few and far between; tinctures from foraged plants cured all manners of ailments, even into the middle of the twentieth century. Public houses were prolific; breweries filled the village air with the scent of warm malt and hops. Here, rooting out fabulous local foods becomes a pleasure, from the game of the Lydney Park Estate to the fine meat, dairy and chaucuterie of Severnside. Many restaurants have taken up the flag of local and homemade seems to be ‘de rigour’. The Wye Valley, the gateway to the Forest for many, is aristocratically confident in its seasonal changes. Sheltered as it is, autumn arrives a little later and without the violence of the more exposed Forest. Here, the Kingstone Brewery’s experienced brewers produce exemplary real ale, the Tintern Parva vineyards, their vines elegantly placed overlooking the famous abbey and village, produce excellent wines and mead, a legacy of the Cistercian monks who once made this village with its breathtaking abbey a prime example of total self-sufficiency. To stop at one of the many inns between Chepstow and Monmouth, in the autumn is a great treat and, local drink in hand, whiles away many pleasant afternoons.

Early in autumn, as August comes to a close the air is heady with fruit. The lane, to the front of the farmhouse, is shaded by low hanging boughs of ripening orchard fruits, the tiny cherry plums, not seen in the supermarkets spill onto the cool tarmac. We pick these with relish, to be turned into crumbles and jams to fortify the larder throughout the winter. Some are deep red, some buttery yellow, yet none is bigger than a fifty pence piece. They pop satisfyingly in the heavy cast iron pan before cooling and sieving, the ruby juice is returned to the pan with an equal volume of preserving sugar. The ancient, roadside hedgerows are also home to glistening, bulbous blackberries, more of which make it to the stomach than the jam pot, especially if my son is with us. High above, the elderberries wait their turn, their tiny dark berries will be made into a cordial to ward off coughs and colds, also to provide a simple sauce for a rare grilled duck breast. IMG_7742
Apples of all varieties abound, the larger ‘cooking’ apples are peeled, cored, sliced and cooked until they yield their juice before being bagged, labelled and frozen for winter crumbles and pies. Some are made into chutney, enhanced with a dash of cider and left to mature in the deep dark cupboard alongside the fireplace. The desert apples are stored between straw in the old dairy; the darkness preventing their rotting. We bake these, stuffed with a medieval mixture of dried fruit, herbs, spices and honey. They are grated into cake mixtures; we have even experimented with apple and cinnamon Welsh Cakes.

Late autumn picnics make the most of the fine weather, simple fayre a Gloucestershire Squab Pie (Bacon, onions and apples in a short crust pastry) satisfies most appetites, whilst a Plum Upside-down cake provides a sweet finish, throw in some crusty bread, good cheese, chutney, ham and some hard-boiled free range eggs and you have a splendid banquet. As we drive across towards the Severn the Pheasant dash out in front of us providing sport for the distant guns. A brace of Pheasant is modestly priced and will provide an elegant dinner for four people. Drawn, plucked and halved, anointed liberally with goose fat or lard, as Pheasant has a tendency to dry, and roasted, it is simple and delicious. Cold roasted pheasant can be turned in the decadent old French dish Salmagundi; a combination of minced pheasant or other game, wine and rich spices. Roast Pheasant needs Game chips on the side, a spiced red cabbage, and perhaps a light jus flavoured with a little Hedgerow Jelly. We make Hedgerow Jelly as the fruit season is drawing to a close, following a final, desperate scramble to pick anything left. The fruit is boiled, strained through muslin and returned to the pan 500g of sugar to 600ml of juice. It keeps beautifully and adds a deeper, darker dimension to many savoury dishes.
In the Forest the wild boar are on the rampage, barely a week goes by without someone or other ‘cheating death’ when a Boar entered their garden. They leave furrows in the ground, there are official advice sheets on what to do when confronted by one. They are, however, extremely tasty as my Wild Boar Terrine will testify. In France wild boar is often cooked slowly with plenty of red wine, garlic and herbs; a Beef Bourguignon for those made of harder stuff. The flavour is dark; the texture takes you back to the halls of Medieval Europe. It is a perfect delight.

Some years we take a weekend away, most recently to Llantony Priory, a hamlet dominated by its once magnificent abbey in the heart of the Black Mountains. The car packed with the staples needed, children, dogs and kites included, we spend a couple of nights amongst friends, no television or wi-fi to disturb us here. The evenings are filled with good-humoured banter, discussions and confessions. We’ve made a thick, spiced apple cordial from the more weather-beaten of our fruit. It’s adds warmth and sweetness to rough local cider and alone proves a perfect alcohol-free tonic, diluted with warm water or apple juice for ‘I’m not tired’ children. In the morning we become a breakfast station. As a great believer in the traditional British breakfast there is no shortage of crispy dry cured bacon, sizzling chipolatas, stewed baked beans, eggs all ways, mushrooms, potato fritters and piles and piles of golden toast. The teapot is full, the mugs stand to attention. There is a strange formality about the British breakfast; without intention we are drawn to it at times when comfort is needed, curing the heavy head, setting oneself up for the day. Not for our Wild Welsh Weekends, the muesli and low-fat yoghurt brigade. We take tray bakes or slab cakes, robust enough to travel; scones ready to be decked with their thick clotted cream and homemade jam blankets. A walk works up an appetite; the communal meals of the evenings a showcase of hearty fayre. In the morning there will be jugs of cocoa for the children, who for a moment, put down their gadgets and communicate with each other.


Personal Picks for Abergavenny Food Festival 2017 #AFF2017

 

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I am so proud to champion Abergavenny Food Festival. Abergavenny is just under half an hour’s drive from my home in Monmouth and (perhaps I am a little biased) but I absolutely love it. It’s an international festival with a wonderfully local feel; I adore the crowds, the sites, smells and of course the tastes.

Having attended for the past few years and having built up a rather encyclopaedic knowledge of my local producers, possibly through simple gluttony;  I thought it would be rather nice to share some of my favourites with you.

My Top Five Local Producers @ Abergavenny Food Festival (in no particular order!)

  1. Green and Jenks (www.greenandjenks.com) Traditional Italian Gelato; based in Monnow Street, Monmouth. This exquisite Italian-Style Gelato in made on site in the cellars of their flagship shop. The owners’ family  were the proprietors of a rather well know dairy in Cardiff in the early 20th century and, having learnt the art directly from Italian Gelato masters in Italy, the owner decided to continue the dairy tradition by opening an ice-cream parlour. The flavours are seasonal; local ingredients are a priority; the Fig and Marscapone is sensational.
  2. Blaenavon Cheddar Company (www.chunkofcheese.co.uk). Several varieties, my favourite being the cheddar aged in the Big Pit mine in the industrial World Heritage Site of Blaenavon, which nestles high in the hills above Abergavenny. All the cheeses would prove excellent additions to any cheese-board, so taste your way to your favourites. The Pwll Mawr (Big Pit) cheddar cheese is also available smoked over oak chips.IMG_4981
  3. Chase Distillery (www.chasedistillery.co.uk) Festival sponsors and internationally renowned makers of Single Estate spirits; one of my absolute favourite Gins is their Pink Grapefruit; but all their spirits provide an elegant base for any cocktail, and there are one or two rather surprising flavours too.
  4. Trealy Farm (www.trealyfarm.com). Monmouthshire based Trealy Farm Charcuterie has made rather a name for itself over the past few years – it can be found on the most distinguished of Charcuterie boards at some of Britain’s finest restaurants. The salami and saucisson are traditionally made from high welfare, free-range, rare breed meat; the flavours immediately transport you back to the France and Italy of summer holidays. Their Boudin Noir is almost too good to merely grace a Full English; I serve it with scallops and bacon for a simple yet delicious first course or light lunch dish.
  5. The Preservation Society (www.thepreservationsociety.co.uk). Chepstow, Monmouthshire, based company specialising in preserves, jams, chutneys and sauces. Perfect to serve alongside any the above. Very local produce oriented; I always return from food festivals with bags of sauces and preserves; they keep so well and make excellent Christmas gifts. Look out for their Blackberry Bramble Sirop which, added to Chase Vodka, is autumn in a glass – or their delicious ‘Not Just for Christmas Chutney’ which partners very well with Pwll Mawr cheese.

 


Back to school, foodie festivals….and sticky buns!

IMG_1722For years, those words, banded about from about mid-June terrified me. I admit that I did not enjoy school; I was classic bully fodder and suffered terribly. Now, Master A is about to start secondary school; luckily he takes after Mr D and is very popular albeit a little geeky around the edges and after twenty five years I am finally at peace…I think (although I have been having anxiety dreams for the past week).

I still associate September with fresh starts. I think it is ingrained upon you as a child that the true New Year is actually your first day back to school in September; I have implemented diets,  started projects and freshened things up, all in that first week of September. Perhaps that’s why I am an Autumnophile.

In other news, the food festival season has now started and most weekends will find me surrounded by delicious foods and sampling all manner of little drinkies, all in the name of research of course. However, as they are on weekends I do have to ensure that Master A, when he comes with us, always has something to look forward to, rather than trailing around after Mum, lamenting his enforced separation from various gadgets. Luckily, he only gets bored after a couple of  hours; he is a cheese fanatic and will, ostensibly,  try anything (even though he is rather more picky at home). Last year saw us sharing our car with a lovely wedge of the famous Stinking Bishop, perry-washed cheese whose odour is somewhat akin to trench-foot!

I do believe in feeding your children a nourishing diet, certainly not without treats though.  I have found that limiting sugar and swapping white for wholemeal, heritage grains or sourdough does help with concentration hugely. I enjoy baking and always make sure that I stock up the tins with lots of yummy treats. This week I have been making Spelt Buns, with an egg-enriched dough. We are split into two camps in our household – Camp Cinnamon (myself and Master A) and Camp Fruit (Mr D), so I made both. Using spelt flour makes these buns more easily digestible and you needn’t kneed quite so much as with wheat flour.

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These can be made with only a small amount of sugar (and a tiny dusting of icing sugar) as the fruit or cinnamon adds its own natural sweetness.

The Bun tradition is Britain is wonderfully regional, with almost every county and often town having its own variety. The most famous buns being the Chelsea Bun and the Bath Bun (which is also home to the Sally Lunn which possible originates from the French Sol et Lune, sun and moon). In Cornwall, Saffron Buns are found; rich, yellow and slightly spicy. Obviously the most famous is the Hot Cross Bun which is pan-British; however if you delve into those dogeared cookery books you’re bound to find hundreds of small variations which give each bun its individual identity.  The lesser know varieties (mostly from the Bun-loving 17th century include;

The Real Current Bun (Hampshire late 17th C)

The Colston Bun (Bristol mid 17thC)

The London Bun (Unk. but NEVER to be confused with the finger bun!)

 

 


In search of breakfast…

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Allegedly the most important meal of the day; and I am inclined to agree. Until I eat breakfast I just can’t concentrate properly – I have read a great deal on breakfast, researched ‘breakfast’ throughout the world, looked in to history it it – and became rather fascinated about it’s changing role in our society.

Breakfast literally means ‘breaking the fast’ – and was only placed at the beginning of the day, as a specific meal, when the fashion for dining changed from one main meal of the day (and a lighter supper) to three meals a day in the 16th century. It is said that the Tudors invented breakfast. Although their breakfast, and indeed breakfasts up until the mid twentieth century were far more robust than today’s muesli and Nutella toast.

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I think the Edwardian breakfast is probably the King; several courses, served buffet style in large houses, comprising porridge, kippers, ‘the full English’ and the odd kidney (of which I am not very fond). The arrival of cereals in the later 19th century brought about the quicker almost ‘grab and go’ breakfast, which is sadly where we generally are today.

Recently, there has been so much contrasting information relating to the healthiness of the ‘Full English’ –  currently, saturated fats are good for us, twenty years ago they were bad….what is the truth? There are now the paleo devotees who preach about piles bacon of runny eggs, the health brigade with their chia, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free choices and the more usual toast and marmalade lovers who just want ‘something light’.

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At home, we enjoy rather varied breakfasts – dependant of course on time and current food ‘fad’. Usually it will involve eggs and wholemeal bread, sometimes bacon and occasionally something exotic like sweet potato rosti and avocado. If we’re feeling indulgent the croissants come out.

One of the easiest Autumn breakfasts is without a doubt, Porridge, made with oatmeal and served with a good glug of double cream and either maple syrup or fruit compote (blackberry being a particular favourite). On the weekend a ‘Full English’ is non-negotiable; buckets of tea both days complete the line-up.

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I am one of those strange people of actively look forward to the breakfast at hotels, I’ll often sneak a look at their menu and pre-plan; hotel breakfasts can take you right

through the day without need for lunch of carefully planned – I devote hours searching the local farm shops for the ‘ultimate’ bacon and am totally repulsed by the supermarket offerings with their seepage of white gunk. Eggs have to be free-range, preferably organic (from our chickens if we can find where they lay them) and toasted sourdough or heavy stone-ground wholemeal has to be smothered in salted butter and a little marmalade. Beans, I can leave but mushrooms are usually lurking somewhere on the plate, as is black pudding. In Cornwall we enjoyed hog’s pudding which is a white sausage and often far more palatable than than the red. In Scotland, Lorne sausage squares and a slice of Haggis is included. The Irish breakfast with its potato cakes and soft soda bread is totally yum. Of course, in Wales we have our own full breakfast addition – Lavabread. This seaweed is well cooked, and either served as is or made into little cakes and fried to bacon fat; do not be put off by it’s shoreline credentials – just try it and you will be surprised.

Apparently the healthiest breakfast in the world is from Iceland and comprises Oatmeal, Skyr (a delicious Icelandic yoghurt which gives the Greeks a run for their money), dark rye breads, cheeses and meals. I’d be quite happy to indulge! So this Autumn why not experiment a little – whether adding a twist to the usual pre-school offering or going all out on the weekend, breakfasts is well worth the effort.

 

 


Is it Autumn yet?….

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I am an Autumnophile (if there is such a word). I get terribly excited in about July and wait for that change in the air which denotes the beginning of the new season and having become extremely sensitive to this natural phenomenon I can state that Autumn does begin in August, usually when I’m in France on about the 7th. This year it was on the 5th and I admit to phoning Mr D (who was working in the UK) at 7 am in the morning to let him know, although I don’t think he entirely shares my enthusiasm for cold, damp days and soggy leaves!

I’m not sure where this date stands from an ‘equinox’ point of view but meteorologically the Autumn is supposed to begin in late September. However, the leaves are just starting to turn here, the air is muggy and warm, there are plums in abundance and our abandoned grape vine is bending with fruit. I sense a difference in the light, I can’t quite pinpoint the exact first feelings of Autumn (before the traditional ‘signs’) but it does seems to be in the light, which changes to a more golden hue from the bright, fluffy light of summer. Growing up, I  was always told that Mayday was the first day of summer, with its Green Men and general frolics (now apparently the first day of summer is sometime in late June which surely is close to Midsummer’s Day, the clue being the word Midsummer.) In December we don’t sing “In the Bleak Early Winter” as is meteorologically correct. And I’m sure Midwinter is around the equinox of the 21/22/23rd, therefore, Winter must actually start in November which is ‘meteorologically’ Autumn. See how confusing it all is? Answers on a postcard, please!

But for now, all I can really think about is the prospect of Autumn food, long boots, snuggly jumpers, candles and log fires (although I know it’s too early to indulge). So….to help my with my addiction  I’m going to share a few of my favourite Autumn things over the next few weeks, items which I think are essential to enjoy the nights drawing in and the temperature dropping. I know there are many of you who seek the last days of the summer, praying that it’ll eek out into September, but sorry to say an ‘Indian summer’ is just a ‘Warm Autumn’. Perhaps we are just conditioned to hibernation, the arrival of the orchard fruits in abundance call out to our early genetic makeup to ‘stock up and store’ for the hard winter (which we fail to have now).

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When I take the Collie out, along the lane beside the river and up into the woods the smell of autumn is just creeping in – it is of course the smell of decaying vegetation, and not the most desirable if analysed, but I so enjoy driving through the cider orchards and inhaling the fruitiness in the air before the fruity smell turns slightly alcoholic in early October. I do think a cider post will be essential around that time – after all, it’s only fair to guide my readers through the perils of scrumpy, Perry and the like. But for today, overcast and slightly warm, I think I’ll stay indoors, bake something and just ponder on the wonderful season ahead.

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