Beautiful Beef and Blackberry Stew

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Well it’s that time of year again when we should all be donning our hunter wellies and skipping off around the fields filling every vessel we can lay our hands on with blackberries and other fruits of the hedgerows. I don’t know about you but I love it. Trouble is some years it seems harder than others to find the time. That’s when my back up plan comes in handy. I send the boys and accept the fact that not so many blackberries come back. But luckily usually just enough for some hedgerow jelly and this gorgeous autumnal stew.

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Perfect Plum and Hazelnut Frangipane Tart

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So summer has officially shifted over to make way for autumn and now the flimsy clothes have been packed away it’s time to stop all the lounging around (I know I’m finding it hard too), start making the most of all those serious produce gluts and start cooking. I’m not sure about you but I don’t know of a better place to start than with some gorgeous autumnal plums. And cake of course.

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Perfect Pears

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It does not matter which shop or market that you go into, or which veg box scheme you are signed up for, at this time of year you can not get away from pears. I’m not sure why you’d want to either. You may be lucky enough to have a pear tree in your garden, in which case, you’ll be even more over run. They do, however, have a very short shelf life, and you have to be ready to hit the ground running when someone presents you with a bag, or you pick up a bargain at the farmer’s market.

There are many reasons not to leave those pears in the fruit bowl to ripen when you’re not looking and then turn to mush but to eat them, not least being their very high fibre content. That’s going to push down the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and developing heart disease, and stave off any mid afternoon slumps. They have been shown to reduce the risk of both colorectal cancer, as their fibre binds with secondary bile acids, thereby reducing their concentration in the intestine, and stomach cancer due to their high phytonutrient levels, in particular cinnamic acids. They are also very easy to digest, if you really need another reason. Continue reading

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

So, as I said before, I’m not a big meat eater, but I want the meat to I eat to be really good quality and I want to make sure it goes a long way. That’s why I’d rather spend a lot on my Sunday roast dinner, and then get Monday’s dinner taken care of as well, and have enough stock for a soup or maybe curry on Wednesday.
I cooked a ham the other day, as the stuff you buy in the supermarkets pre-sliced isn’t really recognisable as meat and quite apart from having enough meat to last for sandwiches for quite a while, with careful freezing, I also had some lovely off cuts and a gorgeous stock. I always boil mine for half the time and the whack it in the oven for the other half. Any juices that come off whilst it is roasting up I pour back into the stock pot as well. Whatever you do, when you cook your ham, do not throw away the water you boil it in. It is delicious, and a lovely base for any number of soups, particularly bean or lentil based ones (just what you start to fancy at this time of year).
This time, however, I felt like something different from the usual pea and ham combination that goes so well with ham stock, so I thought I’d combine the stock with an oven roasted cauliflower, for a unusual autumnal soup. I also had a kohlrabi knocking around, a vegetable that you don’t get enough of in English shops, but that I fell in love with when I was living in Germany where it is everywhere, so that went it too. Incidentally, you can get it over here in your veg box, or at a farmer’s market and I use it in place of swede in stews, or grated in a coleslaw, or sliced wafer thin with a vinaigrette as a side salad. The result was delicious, both nutty and creamy, and well worth giving it a go. Continue reading

A Word about Herbs

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I love my herb patch. I wish I were better at growing vegetables, but as I’m not I take comfort from the fact that herbs are really good for you. As I have said before (and almost certainly) will say again, one of the easiest and most overlooked way to improve our diets, and indeed our health, is to add fresh herbs to our food. However it sometimes seems as if we understood their wide ranging properties better generations ago, and now only use them in the precise way a recipe calls for them.

There are various ways to get a variety of these green vitamin boosts into our diets, but I really like to make this paste, and I use it as a secret ingredient in a LOT of things. It is delicious on good bread with a bit of cheese, or cheese on toast, added to salad dressing, added to cooked beans for flavour, stirred through orzo as a delicious side dish and added to all sorts of sauces to add depth. Continue reading

Hedgerow Jelly

So, you’ve made your hawthorn syrup, your rose hip syrup and blackberry jam, but what can you do now with all those lovely berries that are still on the hedgerows? Easy, you can round up all the ones that are perhaps past their best, or the ones that you don’t have enough of to use on their own, and make a hedgerow jelly. That’s basically a jam which you have sieved, so you don’t have more seeds than you do jam.

Before you say no, jam is not good for you, wait a while and think about why jam was made in the first place. Yes jam is full of sugar, but real sugar ( in small quantities) is something that your body can at least process, not like horrendous artificial sweeteners that are out there nowadays, which leave you, at best, over indulging , labouring under the impression that it is not bad for you, and really don’t get me started on the at worst scenarios. You can google it. Homemade jam is about making the best of what is available to you, where you live, and preserving it so that you may be able to keep on enjoying its benefits long after the natural season has passed. Put this on your toast in the morning, instead of lashings of butter and you’ll feel good all winter long. This particular jelly also makes a lovely sauce for game. Once you have cooked your game, keep the meat juices in the pan and add about a glass of nice red wine and some chopped fresh thyme leaves. Reduce that down by about a half then add a good teaspoon of this jelly, and once it has dissolved you’ll have a lovely jus to pour over your game pie or whatever. Continue reading

Rose Hip Syrup

 

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Roses are not only beautiful flowers to look at, but, come autumn, they produce the most wonderful fruit. We don’t really consider them a fruit anymore, despite the fact that they contain over 50% as much vitamin C as an orange, and this vitamin C is absorbed by your body twice as fast as any man made supplement. Whilst I enjoy an orange as much as the next man, I do find it unusual that we ignore a fruit that is native to much of Europe and the US in favour of fruit that is imported and has travelled a far longer distance to get to our tables. It also goes without saying that they are rich in those free radical fighting anti-cancer anti-oxidants, and have an anti-inflammatory effect as well possibly reducing specific enzymes which break down cartilage in our joints as we age a bit, therefore helping with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

To make the most of this fruit at this time of year, you could dry the hips, for use later in a tea, or you could, as I prefer to,  make a rose hip syrup. Parents of the UK were advised to do so during the Second World War to make sure their children were getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. The syrup couldn’t be easier, but you will need sterilised bottles again. Now you should really wait until after the first frost so that the hips are just perfect, but being in south of England, the birds have usually got there first if you wait this long. A good solution is to pick your berries and then freeze them for a week or so. This works well for me as it also allows me to pick smaller quantities, but does mean that I am forever grabbing rose hips wherever I go at this time of year. Continue reading

Ravioli with spinach, borlotti beans and pigs liver

I don’t like to eat meat every night, nor do I think it should always be the centre point of every meal, so it may surprise you to hear that I do like to buy half a pig in one go. I think if we are going to eat meat we really should make sure that the animal concerned has had a good life, and that we eat every part of it and not waste half of it just because we only eat pork chops, or whatever. It’s how generations before us used to cook, and if we’re serious about helping not just ourselves, but the planet as a whole, it’s how we’ll have to start cooking again. Continue reading

Elderberry Cough Syrup

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If you didn’t pick all your elder blossom in spring, now is the time to get out there quick and start gathering. Elderberry has been known for hundreds of years as nature’s medicine cabinet, and in the Middle Ages it was even regarded as a holy tree for its medicinal properties, but over the last few decades we seem to have forgotten about it.
Apart from being delicious (especially when it has been sweetened a bit), usually for free and very easy to gather and pick, Elderberry is full to the brim with free radical fighting anti-oxidants, in fact it’s ORAC score (or oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is double that of super food blueberries. This means that eating them should help to reduce the risk of cancer and should strengthen your immune system. In fact, the anti-oxidants in elderberries help protect mucous membranes and reduce any inflammation in them. Studies show that people who use elderberry cold and flu symptoms were alleviated four days quicker than those who didn’t. Continue reading

Hawthorn Schnapps

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When you have finished making your hawthorn berry syrup and are still wondering about what to do with the masses of haws that are still on the bushes outside, you really should try making this schnapps.

I like to think of schnapps are basically the same as a herbal tincture, but in (slightly!) different size glasses. You will get all the amazing benefits to your heart’s health but more than a thimble full and the other not so good effects of the 40% alcohol will probably kick in. Still, it tastes really good with cheese and is a great way to finish a meal, and if you time it right, makes a lovely present for someone at christmas. Continue reading