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!

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!


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

May - On the Cusp of Summer

Llangrannog Beach

Welcome May!

Normally our world is warming up nicely now and we’ve really started to live outside.  By now the flannel sheets and thick winter duvet have been exchanged for their summer counterparts.  This year is still quite cool, if not cold on times so I’m hanging on a little longer.  The quilt was only changed last weekend – almost unheard of!

While May can still be a chilly month as it warms up our summer eating regime kicks in and the barbeque season starts.  We treated ourselves to a gas barbecue last summer and it’s been a revolution – we often grilled gammon stakes, bacon and sausages for a lunch-time treat, as well as full-on barbies!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

On cold days I still like a warming bowl of soup.  This chicken tortilla soup fits the bill perfectly, warming and soupy to ward off the cold, light and full of flavour because it is late spring now! 

Risotto primavera
This is a lovely month food-wise.  The home grown asparagus is at its best, and a risotto primavera is a lovely way to make use of it.  Risottos bridge the gap between cold to warm weather eating nicely.  They’re comforting enough for cooler days and Mediterranean enough to remind us that better times are coming!

As the weather improves and we take off for beach days I find a corned beef pie (always a stand-by in my kitchen) invaluable.  Sometimes I make them in small patty tins (mince pie tins) and freeze them, defrosting as needed to take along on picnics.  A plate pie is nice to have too, useful to come home to after away days.

Corned Beef Pie
The trees are in full leaf now, my garden has a lovely canopy of green at the bottom, and my summer seclusion is restored!  With significantly longer evenings now I’ll be pretty much moving outside permanently – Holly carrying out regular boundary inspections (!) while I’m buried in my book!  On warmer evenings I’ll have a glass of wine or a G&T to hand, a cuppa and a cardigan on cooler evenings!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Bacon Hotpot

I first encountered this lovely dish on holiday in Newquay many years ago and had completely forgotten all about it until our recent trip to my old family homeland of Cardiganshire! 

It’s one of those lovely dishes that sits quietly in the oven taking care of itself, after some very basic preparation – and it’s a very frugal dish too.  It really sums up the best of traditional Welsh cooking, like the Italian Cucina Povera.  You can make it with some rashers of bacon, or use up the last ends of a bacon, gammon or ham joint.

 For one person I used :

 1 small onion
4 rashers of back bacon (I used up some cooked ham from the freezer)
2 -3 baby potatoes
Just under 250ml chicken stock

 Melt a knob of butter in an oven-proof pan while you peel and slice the onion, then sauté the onion in the butter for a few minutes.

 Coarsely chop the bacon or ham and add to the cooking onions, then thinly slice the baby potatoes and add three quarters of those to the pan too.  Season and give everything a good stir before pouring over the stock, then top with the remainder of the sliced potatoes.

Simmer gently for 10 - 15 minutes, until the potato slices are cooked through and the stock is reduced.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

April - Spring Lambs and the Easter Bunny

After the endurance test of the long, dark winter months April blows in like a breath of fresh air.  The spring bulbs are all in bloom now and the garden is a riot of yellow daffs and multi coloured tulips and anemones.  You just can’t help but smile when you see them, nodding their heads in the gentle breeze.

On the home front it’s all change this month, and a hefty dose of serious spring cleaning – literally blowing away the cobwebs.  Delia’s Winter Collection returns to its spot on the bookcase, to be replaced on the kitchen counter with the Summer Collection!  Later this month I’ll be retiring the flannel bedding for the season and replacing them with the thin cotton Summer bedding.  That first night really is a case of ‘brace yourself’ as you climb into bed, but we’ll soon appreciate their silky coolness.

Baked Chicken and Rice
April is usually the start of the cricket season, which literally takes over our lives until the end of  Our week starts with the selection meeting, then the teams have to be put out, then the daily chasing of players and adjusting the teams as players drop out, the last minute organising of lifts and finally, on Saturday morning the holding of breath waiting to see if the game is going ahead.  The dreaded call “the game’s off” can throw a whole day’s plans into disarray.  It was on one such Saturday last year that I concocted what turned out to be a seriously tasty one-pot dish out of what I had in the fridge and some cooked chicken that was languishing in the freezer!  Holly rather enjoys our Sunday afternoon visits to the cricket club, she’s even grasped the fact that the rope boundary mustn’t be crossed and the red leather balls really aren’t for her!

September (or even October!).

One pan stuffed leg of Lamb
More often than not, Easter falls in April, usually on or around my Dad’s birthday.  In other years we used to have such happy family get-togethers celebrating both events.  Now that Dad’s gone we don’t have the heart for it any more, the Easter gatherings are a thing of the past.  One of my Dad’s favourite Easter meals was the baked stuffed leg of lamb that I used to make.  Meat and vegetables all cook together in the roasting tin which makes for very easy entertaining.

Weather permitting, we might be lucky enough to have the first barbecue of the season.  I seem to remember more sunny and warm Aprils than wet and cold ones – but nothing’s guaranteed!  Last year, the day the barbecue was delivered it snowed – very, very briefly, but nonetheless, it snowed!

Tuna Pasta Salad
A kind April can usually find me abandoning stout footwear for sandals and spending most afternoons, if not early evenings too, pottering outside and drifting out with cups of tea.  A very kind April will see me all but move outside permanently!  Early indications aren’t good for this year, it’s still very cold!

In the kitchen there are some serious changes as I finally retire the winter comfort dishes and start  This tuna pasta salad is a nice early salad, served with the pasta still slightly warm it isn’t too much of a shock to the system!
bringing salads into the rotation.