recipes

Home Harvest

Hello again, after a brief hiatus; I’ve been travelling with work to San Diego – a beautiful if fleeting visit, spent mostly in hotel meeting rooms but with the occasional, wonderful foray outdoors. One evening we caught the night ferry across the bay for dinner – those 20 minutes on the water, watching the lights of the city skyline and feeling the mist of the water spray, were a highlight of the trip.

I like travelling, but I love coming home even more, and this weekend has been spent nesting with the boys; apple-picking, crumble-making, bonfire-lighting, marshmallow-roasting and the havesting of everything edible from the hedgerows and trees.  We’re tired, scratched up, smeared with mallow and thoroughly happy – and the best is yet to come; tonight we get to eat everything we’ve made.

We began with the ancient apple trees along the garden wall….

The apple harvest

Even after discarding the ones with worm holes, dents and bruises we had seemingly hundreds, so gently wrapped and boxed them to store through the winter.

Apple storage

Apple storage for winter

They’re cooking apples rather than eaters, so I searched for good recipes before coming across this one for a divine-looking tarte tatin.  Incredibly simple, but a delicious, caramelised flaky dessert.  We cheated and used our favourite gadget, an automatic appple corer and slicer, so ours looks a little flatter than it was supposed to; I don’t think that will trouble the tasters later…

Tarte tatin

We’ve been gradually tearing down an old shed, amassing a pile of wood which we used for a bonfire today.  For fun, Harry and I tried making Ina Garten’s marshmallows, and managed to produce a tray of giant, wobbling cubes which made us laugh just to look at them.  Harry dusted them with sugar and added sticks.  Some we ate before the fire was even lit (how could we resist?), others we secured carefully onto toasting forks and roasted over the fire as it died down.  A small minority we managed to set fire to; I suspect it will take several hair washes before the woodsmoke-and-burned-sugar smell leaves us completely…

Making marshmallows

Making marshmallows to toast

And finally today we picked all the pears from our pear tree which was leaning ominously under their weight. Most were unripe so after googling advice we have consigned them to the fridge for a few days to hasten the process.  Apparently if we take them out next weekend they will soften up beautifully within a few days.  A handful were ready, so we invented a recipe of our own and made blackberry crumbles for dinner tonight, each with their very own magic, golden pear…

Gold pear crumble

My recipe is below if you fancy giving this a try – and if you’re a pear-lover and have some other favourites, please do let me know; we’ll have a lot of pears to work our way through this month!

Golden Pear Crumble

Have a wonderful rest of the weekend; it feels very autumnal here so once we’ve polished off the crumbles we’ll be lighting the fire and snuggling up in front of the TV, holding the oncoming week at bay.  I’m praying for a good night’s sleep after jetlag kept me awake last night; at 2am I was cheerfully – if quietly – rearranging cuboards and drawers in the dark, not something I’m keen to repeat…

I’ll be back in a few days; till then, take care.

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Molten chocolate fondants with sea-salt caramel sauce; calorie-free! (not really..)

chocolate fondant pots with seasalt caramel sauce

A quick post today in case you’re looking for culinary inspiration for the weekend…. I’m preparing molten chocolate fondants for dinner with friends tonight, and they’ve become a fail-safe favourite.  The brave will tackle these with relish and determination, stopping only when there is not a crumb or smudge of warm chocolate left, but even those who usually decline desserts tend to manage a spoonful or three.

My recipe is a composite of numerous ones I’ve tried; I think that every cookbook tends to have one.  The beauty of these though is that you can prepare them the evening before and just pop them in the oven when everyone is still congratulating you on the main course (at least in the fantasy world of how you imagine that the evening will go..).  After just 10-12 minutes they will be lightly crusted on top, cake-like at the sides and full of molten deliciousness in the middle.  If you want to be extraordinarily clever and are one of life’s risk-takers, you can actually tip these out of the ramekins or pots at the table, to oohs and ahhs of surprise.  Me?  I keep them in the pan; these mini Mauviel pans I found at an antiques fair last year;

Mauviel pans

Here’s the recipe, which makes 6 pots…..

Chocolate fondant recipe

When they come out of the oven, they will be beautifully soft and molten in the middle..

Molten fondant pots with seasalt caramel

For the salted caramel sauce, look no further than Nigella, who has this easy-to-follow recipe for whipping up a generous amount with relatively little effort.  Or, if you’re like me and value a short-cut, look no further than the shelves of M&S or any good supermarket for a jar of it, and hope that your guests will be so distracted by your obviously-homemade fondant that they fail to ask how you made the salted caramel sauce.  If cornered, quote Nigella.  You can also use dulce de leche and add a few flakes of fleur de sel on top, as in my pictures above; drizzle it over the pudding and then stir in as you break the top…

fondant pots with salted caramel sauce

And then if you’re feeling virtuous, run for approx. 6hrs on a treadmill to ensure that your dinner is calorie-neutral.

But then, where’s the fun in that?

Have a great weekend!

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Hot chocolate fondants from katescreativespace

The Great Asparagus Debate

Asparagus Ricotta and Pink Peppercorn Tart

How was your weekend?  We had a gloriously hot one, the kind that tempts you into thinking summer is just around the corner and leaves a nation of oddly-sunburned yet exuberant workers heading for the office on Monday whilst trying to remember how to locate the car air-conditioning, last used circa 1986.

We made the most of the sunshine with a weekend spent largely outdoors, venturing only to a local farm to pick the first of the season’s asparagus….

Asparagus picking

I had briefly contemplated adding asparagus to our growing kitchen garden, but the fact that you have to wait three whole years before harvesting your first crop  saw it struck swiftly from our list.  That and the vivid descriptions of the ferocious asparagus beetle with its red thorax and many sets of legs (okay, six legs.  And it seemed even more ferocious when I misread its size as being 6 inches rather than 6mm.  But I digress..). We roamed the avenues of spears, selecting those with fat stems and a general air of perkiness…

asparagus trug

Rinsed asparagus

Once home, I constructed these tarts in a somewhat ad-hoc manner, adding together ingredients which I thought would work – asparagus, lemon, ricotta, peppercorns and a dash of balsamic – and hallelujah, they were delicious.  My husband will agree that not all of my creative recipe-generation is successful, but these were the exception and so I share with pride;

asparagus tart recipe

 
As the tarts were baking I drizzled some vine tomatoes with oil and grilled them; lovely on the side or (as we had them) piled on top of the tarts to make a decadent yet easy lunch.

Asparagus and lemon tarts

Despite their beauty, Harry was decidedly unconvinced by asparagus, even after we told him about the exciting sulphuric effects it might have later.  A suggestion from Harry then is that if you pick the asparagus off these tarts, they are even more delicious.  Hmm… I beg to differ.

Asparagus for lunch

p.s. Another super-easy tart recipe here, and my other favourite asparagus dish here.

Have a great week!

Kate

The brief flirtation with Spring is over

spring tableau

Another smörgåsbord post tonight, of the best bits of the past week and a few passing obsessions.  The amazing and short-lived days of Spring last week encouraged the garden to burst into premature glory; I did a sweep at dawn this morning of all the branches and blooms brought down in the gusts of overnight wind and hailstones, and rescued a few of the most beautiful buds to play with and create a spring tableau on a sheet of watercolour paper (above and below).

Paintbox flower

The weather held off long enough for us to go car-booting this morning at a local flea market; the first of the season.  Pickings were slim, but I came across a huge box of vintage British walking maps, all heavily loved and worn, and printed on beautiful linen paper…

Old maps

I scooped up all of the coastal ones (I have an abiding love affair with Cornwall and Dorset), and some of the Lake District, and am just pondering how to use them; regular readers will know that maps are something of a passion of mine, so expect to see them popping up in projects in due course.  Fellow Cartophiles (did you know that’s what we’re called?  Thank you, google..) should try typing ‘maps’ into the Boards search on Pinterest to find some lovely curated collections like this one, and this. Just beautiful.

Vintage maps

I also found an old Polaroid camera for £2 which seemed a small enough price to pay for the risk of seeing whether it worked (and whether I could source film).  I was playing with it in Starbucks afterwards and clicked the shutter only to find an old roll of film still loaded inside; it produced a ghostly black and white image which Harry thought was very cool…

polaroid

We’re keeping up the Cake in the House weekend tradition, this time with a birthday cake for visiting friends.  A four-layer fudge cake no less, with ombré sponges graduating from vanilla through to caramel and chocolate.  Sounds highly technical but proved astonishingly easy (and forgiving of this distracted and cavalier cook).  It was devoured before I could show you the inside, but the recipe and ombré picture here; I’d definitely recommend it for when you need to produce a show-stopper and impress friends who are more used to you secretly roughing-up a supermarket cake until it looks passably homemade.

4 layer fudge cake

In other news, hurrah; I’m on my travels again, albeit briefly – I have a lovely weekend planned in Amsterdam with my mum next month.  I can’t wait!  We’re staying in the Museum Quarter but beyond that have no plans as yet (other than to talk, and walk, and repeat ad infinitum). Any insider knowledge or tips would be wonderful; my only prep so far has been to track down a copy of this lovely little book which lists all the craft workshops and small ateliers where you can find a myriad of handmade things which you don’t need but you want oh-so-much.

Amsterdam map by Evelyn Henson

Map above by Evelyn Henson.

And finally something that made me smile, albeit through gritted teeth as I pulled my soaking laundry from the line whilst blinded and drenched by a storm of hailstones; isn’t this so very true?  Serves me right for being all smug and sunshiny last week ;-)

seasons-winter-comic-funny-cartoon-

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovich, via acupofjo.

Have a wonderful week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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Weekend Rituals: Cake in the House

Marmalade Loaf Cake


Saturday morning signifies the start of our weekend slowdown; the usual weekday hustle to leave the house before sunrise is abandoned and we amble around in pyjamas for as long as possible, revelling in being unwashed (Harry), unshaven (Mr B), and unflustered (me).  We have dance-offs in the kitchen, gradually drain the coffee pot and take our time over breakfast; it’s possibly my favourite time of the week. Recently, a new ritual has emerged; on Friday night Harry and I will choose a cake to bake, and then we’ll mix it up whilst we prepare breakfast on Saturday.  Something simple is the only rule; a toss-the-ingredients-in-the-mixer and-pour-into-a-loaf-tin kind of cake.  Harry goes off to his football lesson, and when he returns, bursting through the door in a spray of mud and exuberance, the cake is cooled, decorated, and ready to replace all the energy burnt off on the pitch.  This week we chose Nigel Slater’s Marmalade Cake, found by the lovely Gillian; we made a few tweaks to the recipe and I’ve decided it’s definitely a keeper… Marmalade Loaf Cake Ingredients If you’re used to working in US measures, try this classic pound cake recipe and simply adapt by adding 1/2 cup of marmalade and the zest of a large orange in with the eggs.  You’re left with a deliciously orange-y loaf cake that even marmalade-loathers will love.  I added crystallised orange slices to the top of ours; simply boil thin slices of orange in 250ml water and 100g of maple syrup for 15mins, then bake in a low oven for an hour to caramelise and crisp up… caramelised oranges And with all that orange goodness, I’m sure this would count as at least a portion of your 5-a-day fruit and veg, thereby making this practically healthy. Slice of cake I’ve become a little bit marmalade-obsessed at the moment, because buoyed by the success of last year’s Valentine’s gift, I’ve been making Mr B a year’s supply of the stuff.  Like Paddington Bear, he is bereft and unequipped for the world without a trusty jar to hand.  To counteract the relentless rain and gloom of January, I made some bright, zesty labels and  glued or tied them onto the vast array of jars and pots I needed to contain it all. Marmalade Jars Homemade Marmalade Tags

And this year, a confession; I’ve discovered the best cheat ingredient ever; pre-prepared oranges in a handy can.  No more grating, squeezing, pulping, shredding, slicing or straining – I felt almost guilty as I opened the newspaper and hummed blissfully whilst the marmalade bubbled away.  Almost.

Valentines Marmalade Jars

I hope that you had a lovely weekend, wherever you are and whatever you had planned.  We’re about to light the wood-burner and do some holiday planning for the year ahead; we’re going to hunt for a last-minute long weekend to escape the British weather, and are dreaming and scheming about our next big adventure for later in the year – New England will take some beating but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to!

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p.s. Any suggestions for next Saturday’s cake?  We’ve tried lemon drizzle, gingerbread and cupcakes so far – if you’ve any (easy!) favourites I’d love to know…

p.p.s. Here’s a downloadable PDF of my marmalade labels in case you’re making your own…

Seville Orange Marmalade Labels

3 Ways with Christmas Cookies

Gifting Christmas Cookies

Cookies are a great last-minute gift; it’s lovely to arrive at other peoples’ houses bearing something homemade, and so Harry and I have been busy making cookies using the dough we froze earlier in the month.  First up, deliciously festive oatmeal cookies with a holiday twist, which we’ve packaged up with bells, ribbon and candy canes.

Fruit and Oat Star Spice Cookies

I used the fruit & oat cookie recipe from the wonderful Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, and simply doubled the measures of spices for a holiday feel.  Drizzled lemon icing and a scattering of white chocolate stars complete the cookie and raise them above the everyday… I’ve added the recipe at the bottom of the post; for the icing just mix together icing/powdered sugar with pure lemon juice until it drips off a fork, then drizzle lightly back and forth over the cooled cookies.  Our white chocolate stars are from here.

oatmeal and raisin cookies cooling cookies with drizzled icing

And two other cookie ideas from our kitchen for inspiration, both using the basic no-spread gingerbread recipe which I posted here; firstly Twinkle-Toe Gingerbread Men; the buttons are tiny chocolate beans held in place with a dab of icing; bakers’ twine scarves and a dusting of rianbow glitter on the hands and feet make them suitably christmassy….

Gingerbread TwinkleToes

And secondly a forest of decorated Gingerbread Spruce Trees, made by dusting the tops with a blend of edible food colouring powder (seen below), plus a dab of silver food powder, followed by a drizzle of icing and some carefully placed white shimmer baubles.  These were the first to disappear when we had friends and family over last weekend; a sure sign of their attractiveness!

spruce christmas cookies

Gingerbread forest gingerbread decorating kit

We’ll be out and about this weekend, delivering cookies and celebrating the season with friends; the blustery wind and rain make it slightly less festive than we’d hoped for, but are a very good excuse to stay inside in the warm.

Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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Basic oat & raisin cookie recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery;

(if you’re working in US cups & measures, try Martha’s gold-plated recipe here)

  • 270g unsalted butter
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 160g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 380g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5 tsp of ground cinnamon (I doubled this, and also added a pinch of nutmeg and allspice)
  • 110g rolled oats
  • 220g raisins

To make, simply mix together the butter and sugars, before stirring in the eggs and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, bicarb and cinnamon, then add the oats and stir together.  Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir into a ball.  Roll into small balls and place on a greased baking sheet, well-spaced as they will spread.  Bake for around 10 minutes at 170C/325F 9slightly less for chewier cookies and longer for crispy ones).

Weekending: Home Harvest

Planted Wellies

Are you having a lovely weekend?  I hope so.  It’s been 48hrs of sunshine and woodsmoke here; the epitome of seasons on the turn and the kind of weather that has you itching to be outside, sleeves rolled up, doing nature-y things.  We planted up an out-grown pair of wellies with vibrant autumnal chrysanthemums, and they now stand proudly outside the door to The Little House.  I lined them with plastic beforehand so that they can be worn again by the feet of smaller cousins in due course, but for now they will be perky sentries at the playhouse door until first frosts arrive.

We bought a new gadget and immediately tore off the packaging and set to work; a telescopic apple picker which makes light work of plucking the biggest and juiciest apples from the top of our ancient apple tree.  A family production-line ensued, with Harry-the-fearless given the task of checking for bug holes and nasties, whilst I cagily packed the safe ones into plastic plant-pot trays salvaged from our local garden centre.  Wrapped in newspaper beds and stored deep in the cellar, I’m dreaming of endless apple crumbles and pies through the winter.

The Apple Harvest

Walking to our local coffee shop for sustenance, we stumbled across this beautiful tree; the only one on a footpath of green which was beginning to turn.  It turned our thoughts to New England and our eagerly-awaited trip (not long now..).  After admiring it, we stuffed our pockets with fallen leaves, and inspired by this picture, had a go at making leaf table confetti with craft punches from my art cupboard.  (The leaves still look lovely at home, but it’s funny how nothing quite compares to seeing them outdoors – I can’t wait for Vermont).

Fall Leaf Table Confetti

Our hedges are full of rosehips, and I filled a trug with them, mostly just so that we could put them in a bowl and admire them.  My brother mentioned that you can cook with them (“I think they taste like cranberries”), so I searched briefly online for recipes, most of which cautioned gravely about the need to remove all seeds from them to avoid ‘significant gastric disturbance’ and ‘problems of the bowel’.  Hmmm.  As a fairly slap-dash cook this was warning enough, so instead I trimmed them and tumbled them into a vase for a welcome splash of colour.

Hedgerow Foraging

Rosehips

If you thought rosehips in vases were a little surreal, then may I introduce you to my tomato hat;

Tomato Hat

Around this time every year my friend Lou holds an Annual Tomato Festival, which is essentially an excuse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled, competitive merry-making under the guise of a genteel event.  Categories this year included Most Oddly Shaped Tomato, Best Wine to Drink with Tomatoes, and The Crafty Tomato, as well as the more conventional Best Tomato Dish.  Last year’s category of Most Adventurous Tomato was won by a cherry tomato which found itself tied to a sky lantern and set on fire, and was last seen floating over the Thames.  On safety grounds, the category was rested for 2013.

My hat was made with ping-pong balls, red spray paint and the tops of real tomatoes, and that is probably detail enough; I don’t think it could be classed as a mainstream crafting project, after all.  I won a Highly Commended certificate, and as a consolation prize was invited to judge the food, which of course meant tasting every dish.  Delicious, but not without consequence; 24 tomato-based dishes represent a culinary marathon rather than a sprint.  I write this evening cresting on a wave of mild acidic discontent, with  - whisper it – a distinct hangover.

Tomato festival

Good times…

Have a great week!

Kate

 

 

 

Midweek Magic: A Hug in a Mug

Microwave Cup Cakes

Occasionally I get asked how I juggle a career with motherhood and blogging. Not, I hasten to add, by those who know me, because they see how much falls through the cracks and bear witness to my forgetfulness, air of general chaos and just-in-time approach to life.  Still, if there are secrets to be confided here, one must surely be that I LOVE a good shortcut, and much of my balancing act comes down to doing things on the fly,  adopting Slummy-Mummy rules wherever possible.  And let’s face it, baking cakes in a mug in the microwave won’t win me any Alpha-Mum prizes (and hallelujah to that).

Whilst I do love ‘proper’ baking when time allows, there are definitely times where our household just needs cake, and needs it right now.  Before the oven has time to heat, before I can strap on a hernia belt in order to drag the KitchenAid out from the cupboard, and certainly before any butter has the chance to gradually reach room temperature (I love those Hummingbird Bakery guys, but really – time, people!).  When the need for cake arises, I know I can knock one up in less than 5 minutes, from conception to delivery – in fact, from conception to consumption – and it tastes so good.  Trust me on this.

Choose a mug and a jug (I’m tempted to write this in rhyming couplets, so taken am I with this first line, but I will restrain myself..).

Then add:

  • 4 tbsp of self-raising flour
  • 4 tbsp of sugar (caster or granulated; whatever you have on hand to stir into tea).
  • 2 tbsp of cocoa powder

Mix it up with a fork, then add:

  • 3 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp of milk
  • 1 egg – crack it straight in; you can beat it in with the other ingredients (no finesse or unnecessary prep here).

Give it all a brisk whisk (there I go again), pour into your mug (fill it about 1/3 to 1/2 full), and then pop in your microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, depending on the intensity of the microwave.  Trial and error is the key here, so you may want to experiment with a couple of mugs the first time for different durations (and then eat both cakes, in the name of science).  Pull up a chair and watch; nothing will happen for about a minute, and then the cake will rise majestically from inside the cup, teetering like a soufflé high above the rim until you are sure a volcano will ensue, before subsiding gently back into shape.  At the ping, remove and blow hard before attacking with a spoon.  The surface will be somewhat akin to that of the moon, but this is not unattractive, and you can artistically decorate with icing sugar to mask it if you choose;

chcolate cup cake with star motif

Add a birthday candle or a sparkler and you will look like the best wife/mother imaginable for your ingenuity and ability to conjure up such culinary magic.

5 Minute Cup Cakes

You probably won’t want to serve these at a dinner party – they have an undeniable slight rubberiness – but they are also undeniably good chocolate cakes, and never go unfinished.  Once you’ve cracked the basic recipe (ie in about 5 minutes), try adding a couple of spoons of Nutella to the mix for a fudgey, muffin-like consistency.  Or for real decadence, bake them and THEN add a dollop of Nutella or salted caramel on the top and give them another quick blast in the microwave; as close as you’ll get to gooey, molten chocolate cakes without actually having to make them from scratch. You can add a dash of vanilla essence or a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon for a festive feel; it’s very, very hard to go wrong with this.

A final word on presentation; I tried using this method with silicon cupcake cases and various other receptacles, but there’s no question that you get the best results in a mug.  Any old mug, but a mug nonetheless.  Set shame aside and give it a go… tonight.

cake eaten

 

Retreating and Restoring

Firstly, thank you for the comments and encouragement and sharing of memories prompted by last week’s post; for me the loveliest thing about blogging is the connectivity and conversation it creates.  The sense of a shared maternal experience of that first day of school, whether separated by days or decades, was potent and wonderful.

Over the last few days, we’ve been in keep-your-head-above-water mode, taking every day as it comes and exhaustedly acknowledging a job well done at the end of each.  For Harry, each day at school has brought a volley of ‘firsts’ and newnesses which have left him glassy-eyed and teetering between giddy exuberance and tearfulness; for us it’s meant juggling work schedules with new school hours, navigating the unspoken rules about drop-offs and collections, pegs and bookbags; the chastisements for wrongly-labelled uniform or missing permissions forms… I’m in yet another maternal learning curve and tackling it with my usual hit-and-miss style.  As a result, it’s been a week of retreating and nesting, where the hours outside of work and school have been filled with the familiar; things which nurture us and guarantee smiles.  Things like..

apple recipes

I took our huge bounty of windfalls and your recipe suggestions and have been revelling in a heady, appley-fog in the kitchen.  Batches of apple sauce, pie and crumble are filling the freezer, and our hands-down winners so far have been more-ish apple & pecan muffins, which we convinced ourselves are healthy enough to be classified as breakfast rather than cake.  Our new apple peeler is a family favourite toy, providing hours of entertainment as we attempt to peel and core every fruit and vegetable we can lay our hands on.

pinceone firelighters 2013

Our walks in the woods coupled with a week of high winds have allowed us to fill pockets full of pinecones; I made a few batches of firelighters for the months ahead and we lit the woodburner one unseasonably chilly night to give them a test-run.

The gradual turning of the seasons has given us a chance for bonfires which beg for marshmallows on long toasting forks.  Soon we’ll be piling foil-wrapped potatoes into the embers and lighting sparklers as we warm our hands with mulled wine, but for now we’re still eking out the last of the summer rituals.

campfire marshmallows

And in a few heady moments of escapism and me-time, I went to a local antiques barn and fell in love with this vintage packing trunk, which is soon to take up pride of place at the foot of Harry’s bed.  A large, wooden trunk complete with working clasps and canvas inlays, it felt very Harry-Potteresque to me and appealed to my current preoccupation with school-life… but I hope it will  grow with Harry’s own taste and look equally good in his room at 14 or 16 as it does now.

harry potter trunk

My other treat this week has been a visit to our local garden centre where the trays and baskets of winter bulbs are stacked high, and where you can stuff paper bags full of papery brown hyacinths which promise to fill the house with scent and colour throughout the darkest days of the coming winter.  It felt like choosing sweets as a child; I limited myself – somewhat – and am looking forward to a weekend of pottering and planting up, aided by a small helper who will doubtless shower soil throughout the house but will revel in the importance of being my Right-Hand Man.

Hyacinths ready for planting

Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing…

Kate

The Great Blackberry Caper

Homemade Blackberry Jam (and other recipes)

We’ve been mercifully distracted from preparations for the start of school, and have spent all our free time over the last few days foraging in hedgerows.  The unusual combination (for England, anyway) of endless sunshine interrupted by intense downpours of rain has ensured that nature is putting on a glorious show as the seasons turn; blackberries are everywhere you look; acorns are likely to fall from the sky and render a nasty ding to your forehead should you be foolish enough to stand still, and the air is perfumed with cider as a million windfall apples quietly ferment in the grass. (Do I sound a little tipsy and effusive?  Blame it on the apples..).

blackberry picking

Harry has proven to be a stoic and unflappable blackberry-picker; whilst I bumble along, shrieking and tossing my pail in the air with fright every time a bug walks over my hand, Harry tuts gently and gathers our fallen harvest before starting over again.  We returned home a little sweaty and scratched up, but with enough blackberries to fill several baskets and make for a weekend of berry-tastic cooking.  We started with our favourite… JAM!!

blackberry jam recipe from katescreativespace


I’ve found through trial and error that presentation is everything when it comes to homemade jam, and minimises the chance of recipients gingerly clutching their gift whilst stealthily examining the jar for mould, unconventional ingredients or smeary fingerprints. I made berry coloured labels for ours and then cut disks to cover the lids from a print-out of the photo above (at least there’s no doubt about the contents..).  Sparkly thread covered the rubber band and completed the look.

decorating jam pots

with approximately a bathtub’s worth of berries leftover we decided to invent a new recipe; blackberry crumble bars, which combine sponge cake, blackberries, jam and crumble, and thus contain all the main food groups.  All the ones we’re interested in anyway..

blackberry crumble bars

blackberry bars recipe

Exhausted – and deliciously full – we decided to abandon all further attempts in the kitchen and instead to package up our leftover berries and take round to friends and neighbours.  I found these pretty trays on sale and added labels with recipe suggestions, and then Harry practised his balance and co-ordination skills with moderate success…

blackberry gifts

And now, in a further fit of procrastination as I avoid all school-related thoughts; what to do with our first apple harvest?  We taste-tested these, and once we’d managed to un-shrivel our taste-buds, roll back our eyes and breathe without gasping, decided that they are probably a little too tart to be eating apples.  If you have any to-die-for recipes for cooking apples I’d love to know; at the moment I’m just enjoying their beauty and scent as they adorn our kitchen table (but I know I need to act soon….).

apples on kitchen table apple harvest

Have a great weekend, when it arrives!

Kate

How to Stay Cool in a Heatwave

homemade fruit juice ice lollies

We’ve had an unprecedented, glorious 3 weeks of unbroken sunshine here, with soaring temperatures and cloudless skies.  It seems to have sent Britain into a state of national shock, with people shedding clothes at an alarming rate and lying, spread-eagled, on every available patch of grass and scrub to soak up the precious rays.  Relatedly, hospitals report new levels of burns admissions and ‘injuries caused by misuse of poolside inflatables’ (there’s a Bill Bryson-esque post in itself there, I can’t help feeling).

Here, we’ve been rather more careful, and instead have been experimenting with ice-cream and lolly making.  In fact, we’ve frozen pretty much everything we can find in the cupboards these last few days, working out what tastes good and what was better left un-meddled with.  The kitchen has become a sea of brightly-coloured dribbles and splashes, and Harry has been diligently working his way through a variety of lollies, giving each one the lick-test for success or failure.  Here are our biggest successes;

Homemade Fruit Ice Lollies

Homemade Ice lollies

We made these by simply pouring our favourite natural fruit juices into ice-lolly moulds and freezing; simple as that.  No e-numbers, no scary preservatives, and a super-quick ice-lolly that you can even justify eating for breakfast (well, it replaces a glass of juice, right?).  You can, as we did, add a drop of food colouring gel to make them more beautiful – most natural juices are pale amber in colour, so feel free to jazz them up with a dash of the brights.

fruit juice lollies

You can find plastic ice-lolly / popsicle moulds like these in many stores, but if like me you prefer to use wooden sticks instead of the plastic handles and can’t find a mould which fits wooden lolly sticks, you can customise the plastic ones very easily (and it’s a great way of making large numbers in batches for a party).  Two foolproof ways; either cover the top of the filled mould with tin foil and pierce the wooden stick through, or (for the very precise-minded); place a piece of tape across the opening, and another at right angles so that you have a taped cross, and make a small incision at the centre before threading the stick through and down into the juice. If you don’t have special lolly moulds, you can make fill & freeze paper cups or even muffin cases using the foil & stick method – silicon works particularly well.

Our other favourite recipe was frozen yoghurt*…

organic frozen yoghurt pops

I made these in exactly the same way, by simply pouring into moulds, adding sticks and freezing.  As you’d expect, frozen yoghurt pops are much creamier and smoother than juice-based lollies, but seem wonderful immune from drips  - ours were mess-free, albeit they were consumed very quickly..

raspberry frozen yoghurt pops

*Yoghurt or yogurt?  Anything goes apparently, as far as the spelling is concerned; the only thing which is universally agreed is that it tastes divine..

yoghurt lolly

If you’re making batches of these, take the moulds out of the freezer when frozen solid (2-3hrs, we found), and after a couple of minutes ease the lollies out of the moulds.  Wrap each one in freezer paper to avoid them sticking together and place back in the freezer; then simply refill your moulds and start over again.

Are you an ice-cream or ice-pop connoisseur?  Any recipes we should be trying just as soon as we work our way through our current stockpile?

Have a great week.

Kate