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Hi all.

As you know I had to find a new home for my chickens which meant I had to find a new source for my eggs.  I tried the farmers market but I wasn’t keen as the man who sells the eggs also sells battery eggs.  I didn’t actually realise this until I looked closely at the eggs and saw the number 3 stamp which means caged hens.  The eggs were just advertised under ‘fresh farm eggs’ so i can imagine some people would buy them thinking they were from happy hens… this is a farmers market after all!

Anyway now life is good again.  I’ve found a lady who is supplying me with fresh eggs from her little hen family.  The hens are free to roam and are well looked after so its good for everyone. 

So why am I telling you this?  Its all to do with my yorkshire puddings!  I’ve always had success with yorkshire puds that are well risen but for the short period when I was having to buy my eggs from the supermarket (I was buying large organic ones and looking for the longest sell by dates) they were just average.  I didn’t think much of it as I don’t really measure my ingredients so the recipe is never quite the same.

Then last weekend after getting my eggs from my friend and making up the puds I found that I was back to the well risen ones I used to make.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe its a silly idea but I wonder if eggs from happy hens are slightly different?  Could the fact that caged hens may be stressed make any difference?  I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this but I have to say i’m happy that I’m getting good puds again and I’m eating eggs from happy birds. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just wish I could get them to stay in a nice round shape lol!

Hi all.

I’m sat in the room listening to the thud of the builders hammer as he puts in a new staircase.  I feel bad for sitting at my laptop whilst he is working hard… even though we are paying him!  It seems an endless job this renovating malarky.

The kitchen is nearly done now, just needs the finishing touches like curtains and things.  I love how its turned out.  We had room to make a utility area and its got a pantry in yaaay!  I’ve waited twenty years to design my own kitchen.  I usually end up inheriting someone else’s design and ideas but this is ours and I’m happy.

Of all the rooms in the house I’m most excited about the kitchen because its where my cooking hobby takes place.  If I’m feeling a little down I’ll go into the kitchen and cook up some comfort food such as chocolate chip cookies.

I spend hours in the kitchen roasting tomatoes for pasta sauces, bottling jam etc.  You can usually hear the whirring of the Kenwood chef in the background making up the next batch of butter or a couple of eggs to make a cake.

I love wondering around car boot sales looking for old cast iron pans for renovation projects.  My favourite cooking pots are old cast iron ones that I’ve sanded down to the iron and re seasoned.  They become non stick and can their heat well so are money saving because you can turn off the pan and it will continue to cook for a little while and keep the food warm for ages.  No one else is allowed to use my favourite pans and I hide them at the back of the cupboard! 

We had a discussion over on MSE about moneysaving and is it worth it and I have to say that I would be lost if I didn’t have all my kitchen projects.  I could stop making everything from scratch and have lots of extra time but what would I do with that time?  I get so much pleasure from cooking and its made all the better if I found the ingredients at a reduced price or growing wild.  Moneysaving is no longer a necessity for me but I think its in my blood now.  If I go to the supermarket which is not that often these days as I try to use the farmers markets as much as possible, then I make a beeline for the reduced section.  If I find a stash of cream for buttermaking or perhaps vegetables for sauces then I walk around the rest of the store excitedly planning what to make with my haul….. please tell me i’m not alone in this :-) 

Hi everyone, I hope you all had a good bank holiday?  We are still doing the renovations so I spent most of the holiday at home.   I fancied something yummy for my tea…. a nice scone with a good cup of tea!  The only trouble is I’ve run out of jam.  I made quite a lot but I always end up giving it away to friends and family and of course I use jam in gravies etc so it is used up quite quickly.

I remembered I had some blackberries from the end of last season still taking up space in my freezer so out they came.   I also had some wild apple puree that I had picked whilst out in the forest and was saving for pies.  I took that out as well as I worried the blackberries wouldn’t have enough pectin in to set (I never use jam sugar, far too expensive!)

So in the jam pan goes the frozen blackberries and wild apple puree.  I added a little water but only enough to cover the bottom of the pan. I let the pan come up to simmer and left it for ten minutes.  Once the fruit looked nice and soft I pummelled it with a masher to get all the lovely juice and flavours out.

Then its onto my favourite part… sieving.  I have a mouli that I picked up quite cheaply and its fantastic for jams, tomato sauces etc.

At this stage I’m left with a pan of puree to which I add the sugar.  I usually put in 850g sugar to every 1kg of puree.  I know some people do equal sugar to fruit but I like that little bit of tang and by reducing the amount of sugar you really get the flavours of the fruits coming through.

I let the fruit puree and sugar warm up slowly to give the sugar chance to fully melt into the fruit puree and then its up with the heat until I get a good rolling boil going.  I tend to give blackberry jam around ten mins before doing the set test.  For this I have an old tea plate in the freezer and I drop a couple of drops of the boiling jam onto the plate.  As soon as its cool enough I get my finger and push it through the now cool jam.  If the jam ‘wrinkles’ then its ready to be put into jars, if not it gets another couple of minutes before I try the test again.  I’ve taken a picture here but I’m not sure whether you can actually see the wrinkling.

Now all the time i’ve been making the jam i’ve had my recycled and freshly washed jars sunbathing in the oven so they are sterilised.  I now take them out and give them a few minutes to cool down then its time to fill them up with lovely fruity jam.  Fill the jars almost to the top to limit the amount of air that stays in the jar.

Once the jars are filled up I put the lids on and turn the jars upside down for a few minutes.   Once I turn them back the right way up I find that the original seal works again and the ‘popper’ bit in the middle of the lid is sucked back down.

Of course I didn’t seal all the jars… I had to have my cream scone and jam!  And even if I say so myself, it was delicious!

 

 

 

I was cooking dinner yesterday and wondered what other people do on a Sunday.  We almost always have a roast, even in high summer.  It may be 80 degrees outside but you can find me in the kitchen with the steamer going full blast and the ovens on high making my yorkshire puddings… you could probably fry an egg on my skin but what the heck, we need our Sunday roast!

Over the years things have changed.  I’m always looking for new ‘touches’ to bring an extra bit of flavour to dinner, just little things to make the food stand out.  I guess cooking has become my hobby and for that reason i’m forever looking for new ways to make it even better.

This Sunday we had rooster from the farmers market. 
Roasted vegetable medley
Green savoy cabbage
Mash potato
Yorkshire puds (we always have yorkshire puds, doesnt matter what meat we have with it!)

I didn’t do much to the rooster, just poked some homemade butter under the skin to make it a bit juicier and put it on a high heat for the first fifteen mins to get the skin browing up a bit.

I cooked the cabbage early on.  I boiled up some water and plunged the cabbage in for a few minutes then took it out and let it cool in some cold water.  I then left it to dry off a bit on a drainer.

I prepared carrots, potatoes, parsnips, half onions and garlic and spread them on a tray.  Steamed them for ten minutes then drizzled in some olive oil, a touch of honey and seasoning and tucked some fresh rosemary and bay leaves from the garden in amongst the veg.  When these were almost done I transferred them to a dish to keep warm and added some flour to the tray and then some potato water to deglaze the pan and make a lovely veggie gravy for my son.  It was lightly coloured but had a gorgous aroma from the rosemary and the caramalized onions.

For the meat eaters gravy I used the rooster tin with its lovely juices.  I spooned off most of the fat and juices and was left with the dark sticky residue from the butter.  I added some flour to this and some of the potato water.  It wasn’t quite dark enough so I added a bit of browning powder.  I added back the juices but not the fat, thats gone in the slow cooker this morning for stock making with the bones. To sweeten it I added a good dollop of homemade blackberry jam, then seasoned it and let it reduce down to a thick gravy.

I mashed the boiled spuds, reserving any leftover water that hadn’t gone into the gravies and I’ll use that for breadmaking.  I mashed with butter and milk but took a couple of cubes of frozen double cream out of the freezer and added those for a bit more creaminess.  Finally I took the roasted garlic and squeezed the now gooey contents into the mash with a few chopped chives.

Back to the cabbage.  I heated up a cast iron wok and added to it a knob of butter and a bit of seasoning.  I tossed in the cabbage and cooked until hot and crunchy again. 

At the last minute I sieved off the reduced gravy to make a smooth dark liquid.

I’m sure its not food for the calorie counting folks out there but I enjoy ‘dressing up’ the meals.  Cabbage is so much more exciting when its stir fried instead of just sitting apologetically on the side of the plate.  The sweetness of the roasted parsnips and carrots go really well with the strong mash and topped off with the rich gravy leaves us stuffed and wishing we had all had smaller portions…. we hardly have any room left for the homemade rice pudding!

Every third Saturday of the month is Ashby de la Zouch farmers market.  I love to go along and check out all the lovely stalls, sometimes I treat myself to a freshly cooked burger whilst browsing.  There’s a real mix of characters and I always ask questions of the stall holders as they have such a wealth of knowledge between them that they are willing to share.  Most of them stand out as being really passionate about what they do.  I buy from them and feel happy to know a little about the meat I’m buying.

There’s a man there who sells roosters.  I always make a beeline for him as rooster is a fantastic alternative to chicken.  Unfortunately in today’s society of egg farming and high output production there is often no place for the males.  The chicks are sexed at a very early age and the males are often destroyed as they are no use to the egg farmer and to keep them alive would cost as they need feeding.  Anyway that’s a debate I don’t want to get into here….

 The roosters that I buy lead a good life.  They sit around all day looking manly and keeping watch for danger, get up for a spot of dinner, maybe strut their stuff if they have the urge and then its bedtime!  The meat of the rooster tastes like chicken but much stronger if that makes sense.  The rooster doesn’t have to stress its body by using valuable energy and nutrients in the process of egg making each day which results in a wonderfully flavoursome meat.  The stock from these birds is a thick gel that smells divine and is so deep and rich that it lifts any dish that it is used in.  The rooster isn’t an expensive bird.  I find it cheaper than an equal sized organic chicken in the supermarket. 

 I also bought some wonderful rare breed beef.  I tend to buy a piece larger than I need so I can use the leftovers to make a meal for the next day.  I treated us to some fillet steak too but we haven’t eaten that yet as I’m saving it for a nice weekend meal with a ton of onion rings all smothered in a mushroom sauce… I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

 I bought a couple of nice pork joints, chops and tenderloins for the freezer and some good streaky belly and shoulder to make into sausages.  I shall be doing a sausage making entry shortly if anyone is interested?

Here’s just a selection of the meat I bought before I portioned it up for the freezer.

                                                                        marketmeats-small1.jpg

Another really good buy is the lamb pieces.  I get a decent sized pack of gorgeous free ranging lamb pieces for a couple of pounds.  I freeze them and use them for casseroles or curries.  The flavour is so different to what you get in the supermarket and probably works out cheaper!

I came away with a real haul and hopefully that’s the families meat supply sorted until the next market.  I also bought veg and ordered some oat groats as I like to mill them myself for porridge and muesli bars.

If you get the chance to visit a farmers market then I highly recommend it.  Its such a relaxed atmosphere and I’ve noticed that lots of people go with their families and treat it as an afternoon out.   No one seems to be in a rush and there’s always plenty of time to just browse and read the labels and information boards to find out more about where the products come from.  There’s always children running about and quite a few people bring their dogs.  I daren’t take my two boxer dogs as they are fed a raw meat diet and I have visions of them running around with sausages in their mouths being chased by angry stall holders in that Benny Hill style…. bless em!    

So here I am with a well stocked freezer full of locally grown, thoughtfully raised meat.  I feel good supporting the local community and feeding the family with ‘happy food’  Oh dear I’m sounding a bit Delia Smith now, well before she lost the plot and brought out her new book…. another entry for that one methinks! 

I only buy organic chicken which as you know can work out rather expensive, so I like to stretch it out a little bit further by using the final leftovers for stock.  Homemade chicken stock is a real delight, not like those salty stock cubes you can buy in the shops.

I use homemade stock as the base for soups and sauces, flavouring gravies, its great added to chicken lasagne to bulk out and flavour the white sauce.  Also if you’ve never tried Delia Smiths leftover dish from her Christmas book titled Turkey en Croute then I heartily recommend giving it a shot.  I make it year round with leftover chicken and homemade stock… its heavenly!

I start the stock by looking in the vegetable drawer in my fridge and I chuck in anything I can find.  Onions, carrots, celery, the leaves from the cauliflower, whatever happens to be hanging about.  Don’t waste your time chopping the veg nicely, just cut it in half and whack it in the pan.  As you can see, its not an exact recipe!  I then throw in about a dozen peppercorns to season it.

I use all the parts of the leftover chicken, including the skin.  Break it up and pop it in, its all good stuff!

This is what mine looks like when its cooking.  My son says it looks vile (he is a veggie) but I like it!

 stockcooking.jpg

Now as I don’t like to keep watch over the stove for hours I simply make the stock in my slow cooker.  I make it up in a morning and put it on a low heat setting for about eight hours.  The smell of the slowly cooking chicken wafts through the whole house and creates such a welcoming setting….. what could be a better aroma to greet you at the door on a chilly evening!

Once the bones have broken up and the veg looks all wilted and emptied of its goodness, turn the slow cooker off and let it cool.  Sieve the ingredients and put the strained liquid into the fridge.  Next morning you will find the stock has set into a jelly like state.  Don’t be alarmed, this is perfectly normal.  If you aren’t going to use the stock straight away, bag it up into portions and store in the freezer.   I also freeze some in ice cube trays so I can easily pop a couple into a gravy or sauce to pep it up a bit.

You will notice a layer of fat has settled on top of the stock.  Just spoon this off if you are watching your diet.  (I spoon it off, warm it up and add flour and use to thicken gravy)  Its the little things like using homemade stock that takes cooking into another league.  You simply cannot get such intense flavours from cubes.

stock.jpg

Please give this a go as its so worth it.  You’ll never use stock cubes again.  I try to respect the animals I eat and use as much as possible.  It would be a crying shame to throw a perfectly good carcass into the bin….

Hi and thank you for visiting my blog

December 2014
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