Tell me, what’s your cooking Kryptonite?

This year, I have decided, will be the year that I conquer my cookery kryptonite.  I can spend many a happy hour pootling in my kitchen baking, steaming, roasting, pan frying, chargrilling and the like, but the one thing guaranteed to rattle me is yeast… or more specifically, dough.  I was taught how to make bread at school (which was pretty easy on reflection considering they were brave enough back in the day not only to allow us access to sharp objects but to let us use pressure cookers and attempt choux pastry too!).  However like many things I learnt at school, post exams, it has been filed away, forgotten in some recess or other of my brain with the other relics like algebra (!) until called back into action in adulthood, usually to help the Junior Ns with their homework.  Some things bounce back super-fast – I can recall most of my English Lit A level quotes – whereas others, for example the past participle and it’s function in Spanish language, two step equations and their ilk are slower to resurface, and then there’s dough, flatly refusing to be recalled and coaxed back into action.

My good Twitter friend and fabulous shopkeeper, Louisa at Sugden and Daughters (do catch up with her fab blog https://sugdenanddaughters.wordpress.com), also had a bit of a bread block until recently; she has just been on a one day sour dough course with the inspiring Vanessa Kimbell (http://www.sourdough.co.uk).  Our back and forth chattering on social media has led to us setting ourselves a little challenge for this year. And lo! Project #12breadChallenge was born! We have decided to conquer dough and bake a different loaf each month, sharing honest snaps of our successes (and flops) on our blogs and Instagram accounts.

So as January draws to a close, I decided soup night at Nicholas Towers would be the night I got started on my first loaf in a very long time.  I chose a focaccia from the Jamie Oliver stable of straight forward ‘super easy’ recipes.  The middle child decided that she had to help too, so was in charge of measuring and a bit of mixology – because ‘I love science and you always say baking is a science Mummy’ (huzzah! She does listen to me… well, where food is concerned, less so with the request to do homework/ chores!).  After much excitement and willing the dough to rise, it did just that! Blow me, I made a focaccia, and a flipping tasty one at that!  Needless to say, Miss N has taken the majority of the credit for the success…and is propping up her bed with loads of recipe books trying to decide what we’ll make next.

get set, go

It’s *just* ingredients, right?

proving

Proving done, now into the oven…

Finished Focaccia!

Finished Rosemary Focaccia!

So dear readers, what’s your cookery kryptonite? Do you have any top tips or fool proof doughy recipes for me to try with my able assistant?

Mrs N x

Seasonal change – reasons to embrace Autumn 1, 2, 3…

autumn

  1. It’s pie season – at last! Indulge in some pie loving, savoury or sweet, we’re not fussy!
  2. Warm nights wrapped up in blankets with steaming mugs of tea/ hot chocolate/ mulled cider whatever you fancy and a box set or a magazine.
  3. The return (hopefully!) of decent television after a fair few weeks of meh tv.  Homeland and Downton anyone?
  4. Bountiful hedgerows, get out and forage.  We had a lovely crumble with pears from the garden and blackberries collected on the school run: custard or cream, that’s the question!
  5. Winter duvet time, be gone chilly toes, beds look inviting with thick fluffy duvets and blankets on: perfect excuse to go to bed early with a good book.
  6. Autumn is very much muddy knee season chez Nicholas, however, this opens up a new opportunity for sneaking in a bath or two: Mrs N gets dibs on the first dip in peace, with a cup of tea and lovely bath products whilst the kids watch a bit of TV.  They get round two, posh bath products and clean knees into the bargain – everyone wins!
  7. Unwrapping and airing the winter woolies in anticipation of cooler weather, digging out favourite boots and chasing away the spiders from the welly collection!
  8. It’s still mild out, so get outdoors and see the changes in our landscape.  Revisit childhood by crunching through falling leaves, collecting conkers and berries.  It’s good for the soul.
  9. Spoil yourself by slowing down a bit, you need the rest in the run up to Christmas and all that it entails, be that school carol services, nativity plays, shopping, cooking, cleaning like a mad woman – whatever it means to you and yours, please, slow down and enjoy spending time together…before you know it it will be 2015!!

June Already?!

What does June mean to you? Here it signals the rapidly approaching end of school year, which in turn equates to getting a mammoth push on the list of ‘things that need to be done without help from small people’! Disciplined collating of paperwork, list making, tidying away – all those things that are ‘jobs for another day’ suddenly take on urgency when the thought of six whole weeks of the kids being home lurk on the horizon. Crazy lady behaviour, true, but I know I’m not alone! So here I am, writing out my latest list of things I feel I need to achieve before the end of term, including getting some blog posts in ‘The Bank’ for when I don’t have time to sit and write without interruptions, when the realisation hits me that we’re already a week into June and I’ve not got a food post up yet for this month. Cue abandonment of list, and hitting the keyboard. Without further rambling, here’s your mini guide to what is seasonal fare in June…

Image via Jamie Oliver

Image via Jamie Oliver

English Asparagus – bountiful now in farmer’s markets, unbeatable for taste (in my humble opinion) to its air freighted cousins from South America. Asparagus loves: Parma ham, bacon, dippy eggs, hollandaise, salt and pepper, lemon juice, fish, shellfish, new spuds, butter, chilli…Keep it in the fridge – nobody likes floppy spears!

Broad beans – young’uns can be gently cooked and eaten with the white skins still on, bigger ones you may prefer to peel the skin off once cooked. Broad beans love strong flavours and go well with things like chorizo, chilli, salty hams and bacon, mint, feta cheese, lamb, lemon, garlic and nuts. Great whizzed up into a dip with some yoghurt, mint and lemon (delicious on toast too). Keep them in the fridge. If you are lucky enough to have a glut, blanch in boiling water then plunge into ice water before freezing. Cook straight from frozen or defrost to use in salads and dips.

Courgettes – did you know these are actually summer squashes? (Courge is French for squash – every day is a learning day here!) Courgettes are as delicious raw as they are cooked, try them raw in salads (as you would a cucumber), thinly sliced with feta and lemon juice, roasted in the oven, baked, stuffed, in cakes, dipped in batter and flash fried, steamed – the possibilities are infinite! If you have grown your own, the flowers are beautiful stuffed with cheese and/or rice.

Broccoli – Broccoli is busting with vits and flavours, loves cheese, garlic, almonds, ginger, beans, pulses, lemon, soy sauce, cream and nuts. Delicious hot or cold, raw or cooked, in salads, stir fries, bakes, soups, roasted or steamed to name but a few.

Cherries – utterly divine, just as they are. Also good with duck, feta, salads, ice cream, baked in cakes and puds, as compote or jam.

Peas – freshly picked and podded peas are a thing of beauty. Lovely used in salads and dips, cooked and dressed in butter with fresh mint, as an accompaniment or as a treat on top of hot toast and soft cheese, chuck in a handful with pretty much any dish and these lovely pops of freshness will lift the dish (e.g. risotto, rice, noodles, curry…)

Radishes – lovely on their own, good for snacking (as you would grapes) eaten whole, thinly sliced and lightly pickled, use to add crunch to salads, top burgers, dipped in salt, delicious with smoked salmon, stir fried with lime, ginger and chicken, mixed through a potato salad – you can even chuck them in the juicer with a couple of carrots and ginger for company. Good friends with goat’s cheese, mint, hummus, mackerel, olives, as a salsa with lamb or fish – leaves are also good in juices, salads and as a base for ‘pesto style’ sauce.

Strawberries – yes, we can get strawbs year round here in the UK but June is when our home-grown British strawberries hit the shelves. Do a taste test for yourself; the difference between the big beefy imported numbers from Spain and Israel, against our smaller, sweeter British counterparts is in my humble opinion huge. There are so many ways to eat a strawberry, from ‘naked’ to homemade ice cream and cakes, in jams, smoothies, in sweet or savoury salads (good with peppery rocket), with grilled halloumi and Parma ham, with balsamic vinegar or ground black pepper (really) – give some a whirl.

Watercress – another from the ‘delicious raw or cooked’ tribe. Great as a peppery salad to accompany richer foods, in soups and juices, mixed with some grated carrot and raw grated beetroot and sesame seeds with a soy dressing. Like its fellow peppery salad leaf rocket, watercress is partial to blue cheese, nuts, steak, chicken, grapefruit, salmon, potatoes and oily fish.

Much of what was good for eating in May will blur over into June, especially with the weather being so erratic these days – think back to Winter 2012/13 – months of freezing and snow and yet this past winter there wasn’t really a ‘Big Freeze’ so to speak, just a very soggy, grey collection of months: the crops are as confused as we are so some are early and some are late. Your local farm shop/ farmers market/ greengrocer should be more than able to help you out with what is local and perfect for eating right now.
Whatever you decide to eat this month, enjoy it, experiment a bit and cook up a storm!

Mrs N x

Food Glorious Food!

Gosh this year is marching on a pace! Blossom is well and truly on display here, with the magnolias and fruit trees shedding their prettiness already, making way for lush greenery. I am very aware that I’ve been somewhat slack in the food post department of late (sorry!) so am rectifying that now with a bumper ‘end of April, all of May’ one.

As ever, seasonal and local are buzzwords here at Nicholas and White, we are very fortunate to live in a beautiful county with access to fantastic local produce and suppliers of the aforementioned deliciousness who are both friendly and knowledgeable. We are lucky enough to have a bustling monthly Farmers Market, greengrocers, farm shops, a local micro brewery in ‘Hopping Mad’ (which Mr N is very fond of), artisan breadmaker in ‘Amazing Grains’ and three great delicatessens. Several of our local pubs are also very proud of the local provenance of their dishes and beverages and advertise it as such accordingly. Do actively seek out your local suppliers (try bigbarn.co.uk for local to you info) and make full use of them, there is nothing better or tastier than enjoying high quality, local produce and doing your bit for your local economy.

Image and recipe for this here

Image and recipe for this here

Moving along to seasonal delights….Traditionally, Spring was known as the ‘Hunger Gap’ as it was historically a time for planting rather than harvesting crops, of reaching the tail end of the pickles and preserves that had been made from the summer gluts and stored up for use over the winter months, but, climatic changes *read unpredictable weather* and air freighting have changed how we farm and feed ourselves. The veggies below are what are traditionally available to us at this time of year, but we do obviously have other veg that are grown and available year round here in the UK, and of course courtesy of the supermarkets you can eat whatever you fancy pretty much year round! In terms of meat and fish, lamb is at its best now, along with brown trout, herring, plaice, langoustine and Atlantic cod to name a few (see our foodie post back in Nov ‘13 for full pdf of MSC fish calendar).

Asparagus – loves being a bread substitute for dippy eggs and soldiers, butter, hollandaise, parma ham, shellfish, salmon, parmesan. Steam, boil, roast, griddle, anything goes!

Beetroot – loves apple, feta, watercress, carrots, lentils – delicious grated raw over salad leaves and lightly dressed, juiced with apple and ginger, you can eat the leaves too, just treat as you would spinach or chard.

Spring Greens – lovely steamed or lightly sautéed with garlic and butter, use as you would cabbage.

Wild Garlic – smaller and more delicate that ‘normal’ bulb garlic, think chive like in flavour, leaves are tasty in soup, mixed through mashed spuds, in salads – if you don’t have anywhere local (wild garlic favours woodlands) to forage, try your greengrocers.

Early carrots – smaller and more delicate in flavour than main crop variety, so don’t overcook. The green frilly fronds can be used like you would parsley.

Chard – loves eggs, chilli, spices, sausages, parmesan, nuts and cream. Great in quiches and omelettes, added to curries in place of spinach, gratins, stir fried…

Jersey Royals – as a Jersey Girl, the only way to eat these beautiful gems for me personally is swimming in Jersey butter with some salt and pepper, a seaview and a cold, crisp glass of white!

New Potatoes – self explanatory really, smaller that the main crop variety, a good scrub, a sprig of mint and butter are all these need.

Leeks and Spring Onions – very happily married with any cheese, lovely with eggs, lentils, crème fraiche, lamb, mint, coriander… gently pan fried and put on toast with some cheese under the grill and you have a simple but delicious speedy treat.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli – to keep the colour, stir fry or griddle as boiling/ steaming leeches the colour but most importantly, not the taste.

Early or Forced Rhubarb – loves vanilla, pork, ginger, duck, mackerel, chilli, cream, oats, crumble topping: a favourite here in the Nicholas house (well, 4 out of 5 love it!) as a compote on porridge, in crumble, with pork (Jamie O has a fab recipe for it), made into cordial. It also freezes well (uncooked).

So, what’s for supper then? Happy eating, promise not to leave it so long next time! Mrs N x

Some links you might like…

bigbarn.co.uk
hoppingmad.com
amazing-grains.com
pasturespoultry.co.uk
muchadocatering.co.uk

Turntable Kitchen

Mrs W stumbled across Turntable Kitchen a little while back – actually, thinking about it, it was on Lauren Laverne’s twitter feed… so it’s got to be pretty good eh?!

Based over in San Francisco, it is the brainchild of Kasey and Matthew and brings together the 2 best things, in our opinion, music and food.

They offer the service of a Pairings Box where, for a monthly fee, you get a box sent to you containing a 7 inch vinyl single, a digital mixtape, 3 themed, seasonal, original recipes and premium dried ingredients, tasting notes and occasional treats.  Plus, good news – for $32  (around £20) a month, they’ll ship it over here to Blighty!

I really love this idea as for me, music and food are the perfect pairing. Music is a big part of both the White & Nicholas households and no food preparation happens without some form of music in the background.  It’s also a great opportunity to try something different in both cases.  Who isn’t always on the lookout for a new recipe or artist/band to listen to?  Just us?!

Of course, you don’t have to commit to the pairings box, hop onto the website as there’s a load of recipes, musical recommendations, interviews and a shop so you can get kitted out.  Their Instagram is worth a follow too if that’s your thing.

Well said Mr Shakespeare...

Well said Mr Shakespeare…

This is not a sponsored post – just a cool thing that we found and wanted to share!

January Eating

First off, sorry for the delay in getting this out of my head and on to the page – all of a sudden it’s mid January, how did that happen?!
The vast majority of us will fall into one of the following tribes this month:
• ‘I’ve overindulged so I’m detoxing/ fasting/ juicing/ booze free’ tribe
• ‘Going on a health kick trying to change everything all at once’ tribe
• ‘Eek that was expensive, what exciting *read cheap* things can I make with beans and pulses?!’ tribe
If you’re reading that little list feeling slightly smug that you don’t fall into one of those, then well done you.   As you know if you are a regular reader, we’re not big fans of detoxes or trying to overhaul your life all at once, but that need not mean that January is all about empty cupboards and living on toast.   At this time of year, we often feel the need to cleanse after the food fest that Christmas can be, but salad isn’t very seasonal or local in January…or is it?   If we step away from the refrigerated isles of the supermarket for a moment and take a stroll around our local market, we might be surprised with what we can get our mitts on that is seasonal, tasty and local.
Many of our winter veg can be eaten raw such as grated raw beetroot, sliced celeriac and cabbages alongside carrots in coleslaws, broccoli florets and cauliflower are also good in salad/ with dips, shredded raw brussel sprouts (sorry Mrs W, they *are* delicious!) also make for tasty ‘salad’ eating; potatoes however should always be cooked.  Likewise, roasted veg is excellent in all manner of dishes: for example parsnips and carrots added to bacon and feta make a great topping for watercress or spinach (which are available year round).  Let’s not forget my standby faithful of soup…in this house soup comes in many guises, with/ without pulses/ pasta/ rice, more often than not it’s ‘green’ or ‘orange’ soup with the kids guessing the contents with varying degrees of success!
I get a weekly veggie box from Abel and Cole, I’d reached a stage where every time I looked in our fridge, the same veggies peered out at me, week on week, in short I’d lost my food shopping mojo. Bored with eating the same things, we decided to give A&C a whirl, and a few years on, we’re still regulars.  My veg box forces me to use seasonal vegetables, try things I’d swerve in the supermarket because I either couldn’t think what to do with them or how to prep them (turnips, Jerusalem artichokes anyone?) or (an even more pathetic excuse) wasn’t sure the kids would eat them.  Turns out my children really are total dustbins, who, thanks to the weekly influx of varied veg now know their kale from their cavolo nero, are the creators of some amazing soup combos and wicked cakes.
I guess it’s all about how creative you feel like being, which let’s face it can sometimes be 90% of the battle!  Something we have started doing in the Nicholas household is writing a list of meal ideas for things that are quick and easy to make from what we have in the cupboards/ fridge each week.  This list sits on the fridge door and is used particularly on the nights when there is a lot going on and my poor brain is fading or refusing to process.  It is surprising how useful a little list can be, it only takes minute to write one but can save the day in an instant.  Examples from our current list include: green soup, bacon and halloumi salad, savoury rice, omelette, spicy veg noodles, chorizo and butter bean stew, veggie curry.  Have a trawl through your cook books or mine the many websites out there for inspiration.  A little planning not only saves time, but also pennies which we could all do with!

Image from Redonline

Image from Redonline

Seasonal Eating – December

December’s eatings…

We heart Veg!

We heart Veg!

Having previously promised that ‘old fashioned, dull’ veg could be exciting and appealing, it’s time to make good on that.  Below we have broken down some such veggies and what they like to be paired with, along with a couple of suggestions for creating – this is by no means an exhaustive list, just a suggestive one.  Do let us know how you get on or if these inspire you to get more creative in the kitchen!

Sprouts love…bacon, chestnuts, butter, cumin, lemon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, parmesan…and turkey!                                                                                Try them shredded, quartered or halved with any of the above, also good stir fried (either Asian style with chilli, ginger and soy, or just with some butter and herbs).

Green cabbage loves…cumin, bacon, pork, cheddar, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, chilli, spuds, apples, sage, chestnuts and beer (yes, really!) So many ways with cabbage: stir fry staple, boiled, steamed, roasted, braised…

Red cabbage loves…honey, apples, orange, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, streaky bacon, pears and thyme.                                       Try shredded with carrots in coleslaw or braised with a roast.

Cauliflower loves…blue cheese, walnuts, bacon, cream, cheddar, chilli and Indian spices                                                                                                                    A staple on the crudities platter, in cheese sauce and curries.  Makes good fritters too.

Chicory loves…ham, parsley, honey, mustard, blue cheese and nuts. Delicious griddled, baked, in a gratin, wilted, in winter salads…

Kale and Cavolo Nero love…cheese, soy, chilli, garlic, butter beans and chorizo                                                                                                                         Both are iron rich so fab when you feel a bit peaky/ tired, try with chorizo, butter beans and good bread for a filling supper.  Also makes great pesto.

Parsnips love…bacon, mascarpone, rosemary, ginger, chilli, cinnamon, honey, grain mustard, parmesan and orange.                                              Lovely with roasts, makes a great spiced soup with ginger and rhubarb.

Radicchio loves… blue cheese, nuts, balsamic vinegar, parsley and oranges                                                                                                                                        Good in winter salads or roasted in quarters with a splash of balsamic towards the end of roasting time.

Jerusalem artichokes love…goats cheese, soy sauce, nuts, orange, thyme and cream                                                                                                                Try a salad thinly sliced with orange segments and a grainy mustard dressing (taste a bit like water chestnuts).  Equally at home roasted, pureed, in soups, in gratins or raw.

Turnips love…thyme, rosemary, garlic, butter, lemon, paprika, bacon, cream and apples.                                                                                                              Try in soups, casseroles, baked with bacon and garlic or raw, thinly sliced or grated in coleslaws.

Swedes love…crème fraiche, carrots, vanilla, butter, coriander, Indian spices and mascarpone.                                                                                                 Try it as an alternative to chips, cut in batons, roasted off and sprinkled with sage at the last minute; thinly sliced, baked with garlicky cream and topped with breadcrumbs; mashed with carrots.

Carrots love…orange, raisins, butter, nutmeg, swedes, rosemary, cinnamon, lentils, ginger, chilli, honey, balsamic vinegar and garlic           Where to start! Roast, mash, stir fry, baked with friends, steam, raw…!

December – the month of bleak gardens and gluttony?

IMAG1784-1

So, it’s here, we’re into the second week of December and bodies up and down the country are bracing themselves for the onslaught of ‘naughty’ canapés and too much booze; but, it really doesn’t have to be like that with some planning…and not a cardboard rice cake in sight (unless you’re into that kind of thing). Outside, there are many plants that can still be put into gardens now to give you something pretty and cheerful to look out on (winter pansies, cyclamen being just two that spring to mind), visit your local garden centre and ask for advice.  Colder weather is actually the gardeners’ friend: it kills off pesky fungi and pests that may have damaged your plants earlier in the year, and cold snaps are what create tender textures and sweetness in what can otherwise be sometimes stringy, chewy, bitter veggies (think spouts and other brassicas).  If you embrace winter as season of stews, slow cooked meals, thick soups and roasts, great, if you yearn for something lighter, more salady, it’s still relatively easy with a bit of clever thinking.

Winter leaves can be a bit on the bitter side (think chicory, radicchio) but if you pair these with some crispy bacon (or field mushrooms), blue cheese and a creamy, garlicky dressing or thick balsamic one, you have a lovely balanced flavour. How about roast squash and lentils with some crumbled feta and a spiced lemon dressing (big fan of pre prepared pulses), thinly sliced radish with smoked salmon and pickles is another delicious example: let your imagination wander – or search recipes online for inspiration – you don’t have to stick rigidly to a recipe, just take what you like from it (unless it’s baking, that’s a bit more science-y!).  Good Food, Delicious, Olive and Good Housekeeping are great resources for recipes either online or in magazine format.

Prolific (read budget friendly) foods available this month include: cabbages, kale, sprouts, swede, turnips, parsnips, celeriac, beetroot, winter radish, Jerusalem artichokes, spuds, leeks, celery, cavolo nero, chicory and blood oranges.  Root veg often gets a poor reputation as being ‘dull’ or ‘old fashioned’, but with a bit of forethought, you can create some really delicious dishes (more on that in a later post this week).

As for the alcohol side of this month, there’s no need to take booze (or food for that matter) to the extreme: take it steady, find a softie that you like – there is only so much diet cola a girl can take before her teeth itch (lemongrass and ginger cordial is a big hit with Mrs N, Mrs W is an elderflower cordial fan) – you don’t need to pickle yourself, drink plenty of water alongside your tipple of choice (you’ll be thankful in the morning!) and remember to enjoy yourself and the company you are with…for it is Christmas but once a year.

Happy December!

Happy December!

Seasonal Eating – November

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In our opinion, there are four key reasons behind eating seasonally:

  • It’s good for you and your wallet, if you eat what nature provides when it is at its optimum, not only will you benefit from beautiful fresh food, but as it is ‘in season’ it is reasonably priced – for example, if you buy cherries at Christmas time, you won’t be getting much change from £5!
  • It’s good for the planet – less air freighted produce means less carbon emissions.  Granted there are some foods we cannot grow here in the UK such as bananas, but, if you buy local, fresh produce which is in season for the majority of your shop, then you will notice a difference in the price of your trolley load.
  • Natural cycles – nature provides us with what we need and when, according to which season we are in – there’s a reason she doesn’t give us lots of salady things in December, it’s because without the help of a greenhouse, they can’t grow, whereas hardier veg like sprouts, squash and parsnip in abundance and can tolerate everything the weather can throw at them at that time of year; pretty clever really.
  • The best things come to those who wait – this ties in with nature and cycles, if we eat food when it is at its optimum point, it will taste better (and cost less).  A good example of this is British strawberries, if you eat these little beauties in June when they are at their sweetest, the taste is incomparable to those big, beefy numbers that we import year round from the likes of Spain and Israel, which can be a bit watery and lacking in flavour, they certainly don’t seem to have the heady perfume of ripe British Strawbs.

What to eat in November….

This is some of the produce which is in abundance at this time of year, look it out and give it a whirl on your plate:

Apples, celery, beets, sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chestnuts, cooking apples, kale, leeks, field mushrooms, parsnips, pumpkins, squashes, pears, sweetcorn, broccoli and spinach.  Game is still at its peak if that’s your thing too.  Check out this pdf from the Marine Council too for seasonal fish. http://www.mcsuk.org/downloads/fisheries/BuyingFishInSeason.pdf

Autumn is the perfect time to get cracking with making preserves and pickles.  Mrs N loves a bit of chutney or onion marmalade to go alongside her cheese (under the blatant delusion that the fruit/ veg content of the chutney counteracts the cheese).  There are recipes a plenty online, though preferred ones to follow for us come via Nigel Slater, Jamie, Nigella, Abel and Cole (not too much faffing required!).  Pickles, preserves and homebrews make great gifts too…there’s a rumour afoot that Mrs N & Mrs W may attempt sloe gin making this year…watch this space