Sunday, 16 July 2017

July - High Summer








Summer time, and the living is easy!  It really is easy since I’ve practically moved outside permanently now!  It offends me to be stuck indoors when the weather’s nice.  Drifting outside with a cup of tea turns into taking meals outside, which turn into endless hours spent pottering in the garden, drifting around pulling the odd weed, dead-heading roses and fuschias, monitoring bees ....  The responsibilities are endless!

My windows are permanently flung wide open, ditto the front and back doors to maximise airflow in an attempt to cool my house.  July can often be unbearably hot and humid, which makes sleeping a near impossibility since it only really cools down in the early hours of the morning.  Poor Holly struggles so badly in this weather and is a very droopy companion.  Our walks are severely truncated affairs now, a 10 minute sniff, meet and greet twice a day is about all we manage, unless we can hit the beach or find a nice river to cool her off in.

Tapenade Stuffed Chicken
In the kitchen, July eating is pretty much a succession of barbecues and salads, with the odd bit of ‘proper’ cooking thrown in when the weather permits.  A perennial favourite is tapenade stuffed chicken.  The tapenade itself is a fantastic standby and can be slathered onto bread or dollopped into cooked linguini for a speedy meal.

Another old favourite is barely classed as cooking – you simply need to boil a pan of pasta
Linguini with parma ham, rocket & chilli

for 10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients!  Linguini with parma ham, rocket and chilli.  This is absolutely delicious enjoyed in a sunny garden after an unbearably long day deskbound!  Sometimes gratification is pretty much instant.

As July progresses my thoughts start to turn to preserving – jams and chutneys.  I start scouring the hedgerows on walks for signs of the early blackberries ready to swoop as soon as they ripen.  I’m often found gazing up at threes on walks too, watching for the cobnuts so that I can start gathering them as soon as they ripen at the end of August/beginning of September – assuming that I can get to them before the squirrels do!







Thursday, 29 June 2017

Bluberry and Banana Dog 'Ice Cream'


I made these treats recently for my dog during a four-day heatwave that broke a forty-year temperature record and almost brought the UK to a standstill.  We do emergencies terribly well in the UK, not so much extremes of weather!





You just need :

500g pot of plain yoghurt (I used Total 0% fat because that’s what I always buy)

200g blueberries (about a cup)

1 banana



Pop everything into a blender and blitz, or pop into a batter jug and blitz with a stick blender.  Pour into silicone cupcake cases and pop into the freezer.  Once the ‘cupcakes’ have frozen they can be tipped into a freezer bag for easier storage.

This works very well poured into a Kong, just make sure to wrap it in cling film first (leaving the top open of course!).


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Lamb Steaks baked with Baby Potatoes and Lemon



Welsh salt marsh lamb is the only meat that beats Welsh mountain lamb in my humble opinion!  It’s a delicious meat which works very well with samphire, as the animals graze on and alongside it on the salt marshes of West Wales.

It would be a travesty to cook such a lovely meat in a rich gravy or sauce, it really needs the lightest hand to bring out the best of its flavour.

Quantities depend on the numbers you are cooking for, you will need : 
Lamb steaks
Baby new potatoes
One or two slices of salt preserved lemon.  (not vinegar preserved, the grated rind of half a lemon could be substituted)

You could prepare the dish the evening before by laying the lamb steaks in a dish with one small clove of garlic and a sprig of rosemary alongside them.  You want the merest breath of garlic and rosemary, not a big hit.

The next day cut the steaks into chunks and pop into a basin, cut the baby potatoes into chunks and add to the lamb steaks.  Drizzle with the tiniest drop of olive oil and toss them together. 

Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper over a sheet of tinfoil on a shallow roasting tray and turn the potatoes and lamb pieces onto it.  Wash the salt preserved lemon slice and cut the rind into thick pieces and dot among the lamb and potatoes.  Wrap up to form a parcel and bake in a hot oven for 35 – 40 minutes.  Uncovering for the last 15 minutes for the meat to brown.

Serve with lightly steamed samphire dressed with lemon juice and butter, and garden peas dressed with butter and a sprinkle of fresh mint.


Seabass and Samphire


Samphire is a lovely green that grows on the salt marshes here in Wales.  Full of the flavour of the sea, it needs the simplest of preparation – steam it for 5 minutes and then dress with butter and lemon juice. 

This lovely dish is one of my favourite ways of cooking such a light and delicate fish as Seabass.  Seasoned lightly and sandwiched between slices of lemon and dotted with butter.  If you can get hold of samphire (it isn’t always available), then a handful of parsley would work instead. 


Simply lay a sheet of greaseproof paper over a sheet of tinfoil on a shallow roasting tray, add a layer of lemon slices, strew with the samphire or parsely, place the fish on top and  season, then top with another layer of lemon slices and dot lightly with butter.  Wrap loosely with the greaseproof and foil so that the fish steams in its parcel and cook in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes.  The actual cooking time will depend on the type of fish and the thickness of the fillets.  It’s cooked when it flakes readily and becomes opaque. 

This method works well on a barbecue too, cut the bottom layer of lemon slices a little thicker to protect the fish from the hot coals.





Wednesday, 14 June 2017

June - Glorious, Flaming June!



We’ve made it!  The dark and the cold have all given way to glorious summer, and very soon the summer solstice will remind us that it’s a temporary gift as the sun crosses the equator again!

We practically live outside now, and thanks to the fantastic Man-Aga (our gas barbecue), the oven gets a good clean and can be retired until the autumn.  From now on, all cooking takes place on the hob or on the Barbie.  My summer world revolves around beach visits, picnics, afternoons in the garden and evenings sitting outside with a cheeky glass of Pimms and my book while my faithful companion monitors the bird and squirrel population.  Housework is relegated to a quick morning flick and vac or a rainy day pastime!

Pesto Stuffed Chicken
As the heat starts building our dog-walking routine has a radical make-over, we take our longest walk in the morning while the day is still relatively cool, lunchtime walks are little more than a walk over to the lake while I sit and soak up the rays and she potters around checking on the ducks.

This is the best time of year food-wise.  Beautiful baby new potatoes, peas in the pod, broad   If winter eating is all about comfort food, summer eating must surely be all about lightness, fresh flavours and clean-tasting dishes.  I love this time of year best of all – as I write this, the sunlight is streaming in through the patio door and Holly is lying with her nose on the doorstep, lapping up the rays!
beans, kidney beans, fresh salads, glorious strawberries, apricots and nectarines.

Griddled Asparagus Salad
One of my favourite summer dishes is Pesto stuffed chicken.  Made with the lovely fresh basil that I often grow in the garden, this is a real flavour-packed treat.  I usually make my own pesto, the shop-bought stuff rarely compares to the real deal.  Delia’s recipe is the one I always turn to and is an absolute doddle to make.  This is a lovely assemble-ahead dish if you’re cooking for company.  You can butterfly, stuff and wrap the chickens the day before and leave them in the fridge.  Pop them into a shallow casserole or tin though as they tend to ooze basil oil everywhere!

Another one of my lunchtime favourites is griddled asparagus over salami or parma ham on a bed of lettuce.  Topped with a softly poached egg this is an absolute treat – especially if you scatter an avalanche of parmesan cheese over the top!  Sometimes you need a blow out!

Trifle
Puddings in summer are really nothing more than a little Greek yoghurt drizzled with honey – something Holly always enjoys too!  A light fruit salad or a fruit compote is a nice treat too.  I just pop an assortment of fresh fruit into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with a tiny bit of sugar and stew it in the oven until it all collapses, add berries at the last minute to collapse in the heat of the dish.  A trifle is a nice treat too,
so many happy occasions are marked with the arrival of a trifle in my family – my Dad used to love it!