cars, trains and pumpkins

Bertie (previously known as Loofah due to the first four digits of his number plate LOO4) finally rolled his wheels for the very last time and left Susie without a car.  A replacement was found, but it (name yet to be discovered) was in Gateshead and Susie was in Leeds.  So she she hopped on the train to Durham for a few hours R&R (and freezer scoping) at home, pumpkin carving, slushy movie watching and a new car!

We’ve never been hugely into Halloween, and  my own personal interests tend towards Samhain (I will be drumming around my fire pit tonight) but it is hard not to be seduced into buying at least one pumpkin.  I read somewhere I think, that cutting the base of the pumpkin rather than the top reduces rot and consequently makes the carved fruit last longer.  I have absolutely no idea if this is true or indeed why it should be true … but I tried it nonetheless.  Susie and spent ages on Pinterest checking out the carvings created by knife wielders far more deft than we and instead plumped for the simple but, we felt, striking.

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Now to work out what to do with the ghost’s innards.  Stuart is no fan of pumpkin and I knew better than to try an tempt him with pumpkin soup of any variety.  But I do know my daughter and she is partial to a sweet pie.  So whilst they went to pick up the  new wheels I made pumpkin pie.  I make no claim to this being my own recipe, it comes from my well thumbed copy of The All American Cookbook by Martha Lomask.

  • 2 medium eggs
  • 225 ml milk
  • 400g cooked pumpkin flesh*
  • 125g sugar (I used a mix of demerara and golden caster)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmet
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp melted butter (I forgot this and it was fine 🙂 )

*since I had scraped the flesh out of the pumpkin I couldn’t roast it so I added about 250ml of water and simmered gently for 20 minutes and then drained and squeezed out as  much water as I could.  From one medium pumpkin I got 700g of cooked flesh.

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  1. Line a 23cm pie tin with sweet shortcrust pastry.  If you can remember the butter (!)  brush it over the base of the pastry case.
  2. Whisk milk and pumpkin flesh together.  Then add the remaining ingredients and continue to whisk.  I shoved the whole lot in my magimix and it came out perfectly well.
  3. Pour into pastry case.

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4. Bake at 200C for 40-45 minutes until a knife in the centre of the pie comes out    clean.

5. Eat.

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The remains of the pie went back to Leeds with Susie in the as yet unnamed car with a second pumpkin for carving tonight.

Finally, the seeds.  Stuart, who as I  mentioned is not greatly enamoured of pumpkin flesh, thinks these are the best bits.  I usually struggle to remove the flesh from the seeds but heard a brilliant tip on the radio this week.  Put them in a salad spinner.  It worked a dream.

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Dry, place on a heavy roasting dish.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning of your choice, I used ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper)  Place in a hot oven for five minutes.  Don’t burn your fingers trying to get them out of the roasting dish …

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Happy Halloween

Love Gillie x

carpaccio, halibut, creme brûlée and bears

Inverness has changed a lot since I was a child and one of the greatest improvements is The Rocpool Restaurant.  I don’t think anyone will disagree with the observation that eating out in the Highlands during the sixties and seventies was more of a miss than a hit affair.  Tinned tomato soup was usually the safest option for dinners in draughty castles where the staff were understandably as miserable as the customers.

Stephen has changed all that and The Rocpool is quite my favourite restaurant anywhere, not just Inverness.  We have tried and failed to work out how many meals we have enjoyed there, but suffice to say Eloise was about three the first time she ate there.  This was her on Saturday.

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That rather tasty cocktail’s name now escapes me, it was essentially gin and bramble puree, here is a close up of it in all its deliciousness.

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Neither Bea nor Susie were able to join us, so we very kindly sent them some pictures of our meal.  I’m not sure quite how much they appreciated our generosity, I could feel the breath of the green-eyed monsters sitting on their shoulders!

As usual the choice was difficult.  Eloise was really struggling and opened the bartering process with some subtle hints about what other people might want to order.  Scotch fillet of beef carpaccio with crisp fried artichokes, fresh greens and shaved manchego cheese with gremolata was my opening gambit and I can confirm, was an excellent choice.

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After our recent visit to Shetland and Stuart’s fish bothering exploits it seemed only reasonable to try the Shetland halibut with curry spiced cauliflower, spaghetti of courgettes with roasted pine nuts, golden sultanas and brown shrimp with hot buttered new potatoes.

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It did not disappoint.  For me the choice of pudding was a no-brainer.  It had to be the excellent creme brûlée,  thick vanillary cream with a satisfying spoon bashable top.

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This was the one course where Eloise had no difficulty at all.  She can recite the full Lemon meringue pie entry on the menu from memory (including the bit about the 10 minute wait!).

We had worked up our appetite with the traditional Bear Walk.  Its real name is Raven’s Rock Gorge.  But Bear Walk makes more sense to us.

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We have been walking here since the girls were tiny and have taken a photograph at least once every year.  The bear seems smaller now even to me!

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And last week with Poppy on only her second Bear Walk.

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Sadly the storms of a few winters back have heaved out the pine trees and it is no longer possible to walk the full circular path, instead you have to do one walk to the view point and another to the Bear.

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We did venture quite a long way back from the viewpoint but eventually had to concede defeat.

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It was excellent mushrooming though and we came back with plenty of oyster and hedgehog mushrooms and spotted a few chanterelles.

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Eloise fortunately did not repeat the great dunking of 2009!

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Autumnal glory.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shetland sunday tea

I live in a small village in the north east of England where baking is competitive sport played at Olympic level.  I am on the coffee morning rota and when I’m on duty I have some serious baking anxiety.  It has to be easy to bake in bulk, easy to cut up, not require any obscure ingredients or complex baking techniques, not messy to eat, and finally pretty foolproof – I cannot start again at 9am on Wednesday morning!  For those who find themselves in a similar fix I usually go for Lemon Drizzle Cake, Brownies, Date flapjacks or chocolate fridge cake (a million variations).img_6571.jpg

There are some one-off events where the ante is upped, soup recipe induced paranoia anyone?  But I digress.  Back to baking.

For anyone who has not visited Shetland let me introduce you to Sunday Tea.  This is not merely tea that happens to be held on a Sunday it is an Event with a capital E.  Usually fundraising events, they are held in community halls and comprise bountiful cakes and savouries, tea (of course!), often music and crafts for sale.  For the small price of a ticket you can spend an afternoon of pure bliss eating, shopping and tapping your toes to the music.

First obtain a copy of The Shetland Times,  consult the small adverts for the listings of this week’s Sunday Teas and plan your day.

I went to my first Sunday tea last week at Brae in the northern mainland.  Stuart’s eyes practically popped out of his head as he surveyed the bakes on offer, this man was in business and he disappeared at high speed towards the rolls and sandwiches, planning his savouries whilst eyeing up the cakes at the other end of the enormous table.

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Meanwhile I headed into the knitting display.

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Tam

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When I finish my tam I have a vintage cardigan pattern waiting (and the wool already from Jamieson and Smith)  it is this to which I aspire.

These lacework pieces are things of true beauty and if you could only touch the whisper that is the wool you too would weep with joy.

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A simple short row becomes a shawl that is almost alive.

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Weaving the landscape into pieces of art.

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Back in the hall the teas are going down well.

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Even the World’s Fastest Knitter, the wonderful Hazel Tindall  puts down her needles and mucks in.

The band is getting toes tapping across the hall.

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Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head down to the harbour to take the ferry home.  But my first Sunday Tea will stay with me …. until my next one in June!

Love Gillie x

much mushroom mmmmm

Summer took its time, yesterday I wore my first sundress of the season!  But who cares about sundresses when we can have mushrooms?  One of the advantages of lots of damp weather followed by the glorious warmth of the past few days is the massive growth in fungi in the woods.

The first was the chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), one of the few edible bracket fungi.

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Then the boletes (Boletus sp.) and puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum)

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As with all foraging only collect what you know and can positively identify.  After many years of foraging there are only a handful of mushrooms I will pick unless I am on a formal course/led walk.  These are boletes, chanterelles, jelly ear, puffball and shaggy ink cap.  There are plenty of others I am fairly confident in identifying but it is too easy to be confident and wrong so I leave them be.  The most useful advice I have ever been given, by a professional forager and chef, is to learn one mushroom at a time.  Learn everything you can about it until you can identify it and explain why you can identify it and distinguish it from any other potentially inedible or poisonous mushroom and then, and only then, start to learn about another one.  The same advice works well for any plant you might forage from aerial parts to berries to roots.

Many of the boletes have been sliced and popped in the dehydrator for use throughout the year.

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But when there is an abundance of fresh fungi then you can be sure it will be on the dinner table.

The boletes and puffballs were just sliced and fried in seasoned butter with lots of garlic.

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Delicious, but not quite as utterly yummy as the chicken of the woods.  A solid and meaty fungus with a strong, very chickeny  flavour, it is one of my favourites.  Today I chopped it into large bite sized pieces.

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Dipped into beaten egg and then seasoned flour with lots of paprika.  Fried in butter it is hard to stop sneaky fingers stealing it straight from the pan.

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A friend also suggests frying larger pieces without the egg and flour coating and then covering with grated cheese and popping under the grill.  It also pickles very well, holding its shape and flavour (use a lightly seasoned vinegar with with additional sugar and maybe some thyme and oregano).

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

gooseberry

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When we first moved into this house, back in 2000, my husband got a great deal on some gooseberry canes.  He likes a good deal, these were the days before the internet and online selling really took off and much joy was derived from scouring the weekly Ad-mags for bargains to help in the two year rebuild and renovation of the house and grounds.  So we were the proud owners of some 50 gooseberry canes.  Yes, that is correct, no typo.  Fifty canes.

We had the space and there was a perfect spot for them by the secret garden.  However, as even the most beginner of gardeners will know.  Gooseberries need to be pruned and trimmed or they turn into sharp-thorned triffids.

Ours became, over time, sharp-thorned triffids, and the sharper the thorns and the triffidier (I do like that word) they became the less inclined we were to brave the gooseberry patch and whip them under control.

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I wasn’t expecting much of a harvest this year.  I was mistaken.  We have had several small bucketloads already and there are plenty more to come.  Thus far I have made mackerel and horseradish sauce for the lovely fresh mackerel Stuart has been catching.

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Then gooseberry and lemon curd, gooseberry fool and still there are more to come.  So if you are passing, pop in and go home with a bag of goosgogs :_

Gooseberry and Horseradish sauce

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  • Gooseberries – a good couple of handfuls
  • Caster sugar to taste
  • Horseradish – I used homemade fermented horseradish but you could use fresh grated or a standard jar of creamed horseradish

It’s hardly a recipe but here goes.  Put the fruit in a heavy bottom pan with a splash of water (only a splash). Add roughly one tablespoon of sugar to each handful of gooseberries.  Stir over a gentle heat until the fruit is soft and squishy.  Add horseradish to taste, I like it quite hot, but even if you don’t, a little gives it a lovely zing.  Cool and pour into clean jars.  Keep in the fridge and use within a week.

Gooseberry Fool

  • Gooseberries
  • Caster sugar to taste
  • Double cream
  • Full fat greek yoghurt

Another recipe that is hardly a recipe.  Prepare the fruit as above.  Whip the cream until stiff.  Add yoghurt, I use equal quantities of whipped cream and yoghurt.  Stir in cooked fruit.  Pop in a bowl and put in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Gooseberry and Lemon curd

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  • 500g gooseberries
  • 100ml lemon juice
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 450g granulated sugar
  • 4 medium or 5 large eggs

This is a proper recipe and comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Place the fruit in a heavy bottomed pan with the lemon juice and cook gently until squishy.  Push through a fine sieve to obtain a puree.

Put the puree, butter and sugar in a Bain Marie and heat gently until the butter is melted and the mixture rich and shiny.

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Leave to cool, you don’t want gooseberry scrambled eggs.

Beat the eggs and whisk into the cooled fruit sugar and butter mixture.  Replace over the Bain Marie and stir constantly until the mixture is thick and creamy.  If you have a thermometer, it will need to reach about 84C before it starts to thicken.  Don’t be tempted to rush this stage, or it will curdle.  If it does start to curdle whip it off the heat and whisk as fast as you can and cross your fingers!

When thick pour into sterilised jars and spread thickly over your breakfast toast!

Love Gillie x

 

lovely left-overs

We have had a busy couple of days.  On Wednesday we were here.

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That is Novak Djokovic serving at the end of the day on Centre Court.

The weather was perfect, the tennis excellent and the Pimms and knitting not bad either.

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We found a small but perfect airbnb The Pancras Parlour just around the corner from Kings Cross with, and this is very important, quite the most comfortable bed.  There is nothing more irritating than a house/hotel who has scrimped on the bed.  I was once told by a B&B owner in Tintern that when asked what made the perfect B&B (his was pretty darn close) he always replied The Bed and The Breakfast.  He is right it really is that simple, anything else is a pleasant extra but get the bed (and in the case of a B&B the breakfast) wrong, then all the toiletries and fancy gizmos will never make up.

However, the previous day I had been hosting our bi-weekly Ladies in Stitches stitching group.  In fact most of us were knitting this week, only one lady brought her stitching, but only after she completed her first pair of socks, we bring most people over to the knitting side at one point or another!  And alongside all of that I have been suffering from a ghastly throat/chest virus, which a week later is still hanging on.  Net result, by the time we returned home from London last night I was in no mood to cook a proper meal, supper was most definitely going to be a fridge left-over offering.

Sour mint lamb pockets (sounds so much better than left-overs)

  • left-over roast lamb sliced thinly
  • half a small red chilli
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon (in this case rather in need of using up as I had zested it a couple of days a go for a madeira cake and it was looking rather sad)
  • 2-4 tbsp mint sauce (our mint is going ballistic, I have masses of home made, if you use commercial mint sauce you might want to dilute it down or use slightly less
  • Left over gravy, if you don’t have gravy water or a little stock would be fine, you just want something to keep the meat moist.
  • Salad
  • Pitta bread
  • yoghurt

Layer the sliced lamb in a baking dish.  The cake tin was already out so rather than dirty a new dish I used that!

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Sprinkle sliced chilli, minced garlic and mint sauce, squeeze the lemon over the top, repeat until all lamb used up.

Dollop the left over gravy over the top (or dribble a little water or stock over)

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I appreciate this doesn’t look too appetising.  Stay with me!  Cover tightly with tin foil and pop in a medium oven (180 C) for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile chop a couple of tomatoes and grab a few lettuce leaves.  Warm the pitta breads.

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The lamb is ready.  Stuff the pittas with lettuce and tomato, fill to the brim with lamb and top with a good sized tablespoon of thick yoghurt.

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This is a messy eat, serve with napkins!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

pudding for main course

I love bread and butter pudding.  If there was no other pudding on earth I would be content.  I can take queen of puddings at a pinch, but find the breadcrumb base a bit namby-pamby compared to the thick crusts of a hearty bread and butter pudding.

So for supper the night before we left for our trip to the deep south of London and Brighton we had this.

Savoury bread and butter pudding, or more honestly fridge bits bread and butter pudding.  It was quite as delicious as it looks.

I don’t like to leave stuff in the fridge to go off whilst we are away.  So armed with:

  • an elderly sour dough loaf
  • butter (homemade no less)
  • tomatoes
  • half a red onion
  • milk
  • an open tin of anchovies
  • an open jar of tomato jam (from the Azores, keep an eye open for it, it’s very good)
  • the heel of an elderly chunk of strong cheddar
  • 3 eggs
  • an open jar of dijon mustard
  • an open jar of olives
  • an open jar of capers

I created a main course from my perfect pudding.  This made a hearty meal for two hungry people (one had been fishing all day).

There is no real recipe, it’s a make do and mend meal, as long as you have the basic ingredients (bread, butter, milk, eggs) it’s not unlike making a pizza, add what you have/like until you are content with the balance.

  1. Slice the bread thickly, I always keep the crusts on.  Spread with butter and tomato jam (you could use chutney or leave plain).
  2. Slice and soften the red onion in olive oil over a low heat for a few minutes.
  3. Beat the eggs into about 400ml of milk.
  4. Add 1-2 tbsp of mustard to the milk mixture and beat in well.
  5. Layer the bread and the rest of the ingredients in a greased oven proof dish.
  6. Pour the milk mixture over the bread and leave to soak in for 10 minutes or so.

 

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7.  Grate the cheddar over the top.

8.  Bake in a medium oven (180C) for 30 minutes until the top is golden and crusty.

You could serve with a lovely crisp green salad, or you could be greedy and lazy like us and just eat a great big dollop on its own!

I don’t make any claim to this as  my own invention, there are varieties of bread and butter pudding all over the internet, but this was particularly delicious and cleared out our fridge as well as filling up our tummies!

Love Gillie x