Thursday, 30 September 2010

sausage & spice & all things nice

Last week I bought some apples from the greengrocers. They were red, shiny & a type I had not tried before. Sadly, they were the kind that are just so sour that your face cannot help but grimace when you take a bite. They were floury too. Do you know what I mean by 'floury'? It's kind of a funny word to describe apples but sometimes it fits.

Not wanting to waste the rest of the beautiful floury apples, I decided to cook with them. This afforded the perfect opportunity to make sausage & apple casserole. Oh yum. This is seriously good my friends. However, I must warn you, if you are offended by the use of lots of butter in cooking, look away now. I only ever use this much butter when I bake, so as we don't eat this particularly regularly, I am able to overlook the buttery content because it is just so tasty. 

Seriously, try this:

Sausage & Apple Casserole serves 4 

600 ml dry white wine
500g sausages
2 shallots or 1 large onion
4 dessert apples
140g butter 
400ml chicken or veg stock
4 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1) Bring wine to the boil in a large frying pan & poach sausages for 10 minutes
2) Peel & slice the apples
3) Slice the onions
4) Melt a knob of butter in a second frying pan. Remove the sausages from the wine, 
   reserving the wine.
5) Fry sausages in second pan until browned.
6) Meanwhile, in the pan with the wine, add the onion, apples, stock, sugar, cinammon 
   & butter.
7) Bring to the boil then simmer until the apples are tender and liquid is a thin syrup.
8) Add the sausages to the apple mixture and stir to combine.
9) Serve with creamy mashed potato and a good helping of whatever vegetables take 
    your fancy, preferably in-season produce.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

plumson chutney

Plumson Chutney. Never heard of it? That's because I just made it up! I'll explain why as the story of chutney making unfolds.

You might remember that I mentioned that John & I don't have space for fruit trees or to grow our own fruit & vegetables at our current home. Now, this might not be reason alone for what I am about to confess, but I'd like to say in our favour, that if we had a garden with fruit trees in it, we might just know a little bit more about them...

Having gathered up our fruits & brought them safely home, we set about making the chutney. I had found a delicious looking recipe online here, courtesy of our very own Delia Smith. She is a brilliant lady, I must say.

I like to think that cooking & baking are arts that allow for every individual's creative license. I also happily acknowledge that creative license in these areas has its limitations in that there is a science involved in cooking that sometimes gets disrupted if you stray too far from a given recipe. On this occasion, however, mixing things up was an essential ingredient.
Our trip to Long Ashton had been necessary - we already had some damsons but not enough to make a batch of chutney. When the moment came for us to unite the baby batch of damsons waiting expectantly in our fridge with the fresh-from-the tree damsons, we came across a slight problem. Let me show you...

Do you see the problem?

Let me give you a little clue. Bearing in mind that we did not use an ultra huge super duper zoom to take this picture, do the fruits that I am holding look the right size for damsons?

I can assure you, damsons, they are not. 

As I mentioned earlier, John & I are not fruit growing experts, so when presented with a whole load of fruit trees (some of which were clearly apple trees) we went for the one that had purple fruit. I think I was so excited about the fact that we were picking fruit for free that I didn't even stop to think about whether or not we were getting the right fruit. Plums. We collected 800 grams of plums.

So, having made a fruit  faux pas, we simply allowed creative license to take over in the chutney making challenge. Our chutney was to be a hybrid plum & damson chutney. It totally works.

We used 550g of damsons (the real deal, I assure you) and 800g of plums. 

To add to chutney-deliciousness the recipe required that we add a collection of spices to our pan & let them infuse while the chutney cooks. In order to do this, you wrap cinnamon sticks, cloves & all-spice berries in muslin, tie with string, and pop it in the pan.
We don't happen to have any babies around yet. No babies = no muslins. So, here's what we did:

We cut up a piece of lace not too dissimilar from a net curtain, and after a little thinking outloud as to whether there might be any plastic content in the fabric which might melt under the heat, we dropped our little sacks of spicy goodness into our two pans.  
(Chutney recipes are designed to make a large batch which means you need a large preserving pan. We made do with two large - 10 litreish flameproof casserole dishes which worked just fine.)

After adding a little dash of ginger to the fruity fray, we sat happy for the next 3.5 hours while the vast amounts of vinegar worked their magic. The result was 12 jars of chutney goodness. Oh yum.

If you are following the recipe I have linked to, it says that it makes 6 jars - we simply bought smaller jars to make it go further and because I think that hexagonal jars are cute.

Monday, 27 September 2010

the weekend round up

I truly marvel at people who grown their own produce. There is something brilliant about being able to cook with the fruits of your labour.

Sadly, I do not at this point in time have the space to grow any produce outside of what you can grow on your windowsill, and so I greatly appreciate it when others share the fruits that they have lovingly tended to for months until the tree boughs have given way to the weight of the ripe fruit hanging from their branches.

Having been given a bagful of damsons, I felt inspired to make something more than just a pudding. Chutney was the order of the day, but we didn't have quite enough to make a full batch. So, on sunny Saturday, John and I went on a bike ride to Long Ashon - the village where we had our wedding - to collect some more from the tree belonging to our kind friend who had given us permission to gather her damsons.

On arrival, we located the tree, found a ladder to reach the fruit which was tantalizingly hard to get and gave the tree some good shakes until the fruit could no longer hold onto its branches. There was something quite exciting about standing under a tree, hearing the leaves rustle & the sound of fruit falling to the ground, not quite knowing whether you might just end up with some fruit on your head. Thankfully, we survived the experience without getting our heads bumped. Although if Isaac Newton hadn't risked a bump on the head from an apple, he wouldn't have been the one to discover gravity, so it's not always a bad thing to be bumped by fruit...

Having filled up our container to the brim and met the friendly tail-less cat, we headed on our merry way home. If I'm honest, I should probably rephrase that. I was not so merry as I knew it would take us a good hour to cycle the 7 mile journey home & I am shockingly unfit, having had a couple of months of very little exercise. It was another of those moments of thinking this is character building & it's doing me good. 

next up: how to make chutney...

Friday, 24 September 2010

culpepper island

There were a few days in Barbados when the rain fell in a spectacular day. Deciding not to be deterred by the rain, we ventured out to take a trip to Culpepper Island.

Now, I don't know about you, but when someone mentions the word 'island' it conjures up wonderful images of paradise - pretty much like Barbados really. So when John started talking about Culpepper Island I thought that it might be like a miniature version of Barbados & sounded like the perfect adventure.

John was very excited about re-visiting this island which is home to a lot of little hermit crabs, and I shared this excitement, imagining this beautiful mini Barbados with hermit crabs as its only inhabitants, this is what dreams are made of. So off we went while there was a little break in the rain, to find this nearby island. One of the roads we needed to drive down was a little on the flooded side so we parked at a different bay and walked in search of Culpepper. John lead us over marshy ground which felt quite nice underfoot - subtly squelchy grass that gave way to our feet just enough to let us know that we wouldn't sink beyond the point of no return.

Then came the clay. We removed our trusty flip flops and relied on our feet to safely slip-slide us down to the sea shore. The clay took us as far as the rocks. Oh, the rocks. Not just any rock but coral rock. Before this trip I had not experienced coral rock & was in for a great shock. Boy was it painful to walk on, and even worse to snag our bare skin on. I kept thinking to myself, 

'this is character building, this is character building...there are lessons to be learnt here and maybe I'll learn them later once I've overcome the pain...' 

Meanwhile, John is thanking me for being such a good sport and so up for going on adventures with him.

Eventually we made it to the shore where we had to now swim the very short distance of about 30 metres to the island. I know this really doesn't sound very far but when there are rocks all around you and lots of choppy waves (we were in the Atlantic at this point, not the Caribbean), 30 metres can seem like a long way. Holding our flip flops in one hand and our waterproof cameras in the other, we flailed our way over to Culpepper Island, musing over all of the slimy things that kept slapping against our legs & tummies, not daring to imagine what they might be. 

After scrambling over more coral rock, with a little bit more confidence in our ability to do so this time, we made it to the top of the island. By this point the black cloud that had been looming in the distance was now almost over our heads. When I say black cloud, it really was as black as black can be, the kind of cloud that you know is just bursting to pour big heavy drops of rain at any second. Although the distance we had swum to get to the island was tiny, I suddenly had a feeling of we have to get off this island soon, otherwise we might get stranded! In reality, we were quite safe and it all felt far more dramatic than it was, but it was fun to think that it might just be possible for us to be stranded on an uninhabited island - wouldn't you find that exciting?!

We said hello & goodbye to the tiny hermit crabs who loved to try and grab on to John's thumb with their little claws, and scrambed back down the rocks, over the seaweed, into the sea, and back to shore as the rain came down. 

It felt a bit like the story We're going on a bear hunt when they have to get home as fast as possible with the bear chasing them, back through all of the obstacles they encountered along the way but at ten times the speed. The only difference was that we did not have a bear at our backs.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

strawberries & shortbread

When John & I arrived back in England after two weeks in the Caribbean, we felt the shift in temperature. Having got used to the sunny climbes of Barbados, it was a slight shock to our systems coming back to the cool, fresh and distinctly Autumnal feeling in England.

That said, there are still the last signs of Summer peeking out here and there. The sun is still shining. The leaves on the trees are not yet golden. The butter in the butter dish is still soft enough to spread. And the greengrocers is still selling big fat juicy strawberries that simply must be bought and eaten before it's too late.

So that is exactly what I did. To make the occasion even better than it already was, it just so happened that yesterday I baked a batch of shortbread & I can think of nothing better to accompany a fresh slice of shortbread than a handful of strawberries.

Brown Sugar Shortbread: makes 2 large circles; approx; 16 slices

250g unsalted butter
120g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
220g plain flour
70g cornflour
50g ground almonds
pinch of sea salt
granulated sugar for sprinkling

1) preheat the oven to 140C (fan oven) / 160C / gas 3 & line 2 baking trays with baking paper
2) beat together the butter & sugar with a pinch of sea salt. mix until pale
3) beat in the vanilla extract
4) grandually fold in the flour, cornflour & ground almonds, gently folding until combined
5) divide the dough in half. roll out each half between two sheets of baking paper to make 20cm circles
6) chill in the fridge for 10 mins
7) remove the top layer of baking paper and pinch around the edges with your thumb & forefinger to create a fluted effect. score the circles into triangular segments to make cutting easier.
8) sprinkle with granulated sugar & bake in your pre-heated oven for 25-30 mins until it starts to turn golden at the edges
9) cut into wedges and enjoy!

Monday, 20 September 2010

bootie love

Babies. Don't you just love them? Would it be wrong to love teeny tiny newborn baby booties almost as much as the prospect of the unborn baby they were knitted for?

Hmmm...Maybe that's a bit too much bootie love...

Anyway, these perfect pairs of booties were lovingly crafted by a lady in my parent's church, at my request for my wonderful friend Hannah's baby. 

The little labels which I stitched onto the sides of the booties are made by Sarah Trigg as part of a project based on Psalm 139 which describes how we were formed. 

Life really is miraculous and I am so excited about meeting the baby that is being intricately woven together in Hannah's womb in just a few weeks time.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

halfway between the clouds and the caribbean

Marrying an engineer has brought a new dimension to my life. It means that I learn about how & why things work in a way that I never did when I lived by myself, particularly things that fly. 

Not only this, it means that when there is an option to do something like, say, go flying in a helicopter, the decision to do this is not decided on the financial basis of whether or not it feels like we are buying the helicopter rather than paying for one flight.  It is decided by John's love for all things that fly & the delightful boy-ish excitement he gets at the idea of flying in a chopper.

Having audibly gasped when John told me how much this flight would cost us, John went and had a shower. He came back to me, fresh from his shower and said,

'Ive been thinking about this helicopter flight....and I definitely think it's a great idea' (announced with a huge beaming smile on his face at the prospect)

Don't you love the way showers provide the space for great thinking time? 

So up in the air we went, and I have to admit that it was pretty breathtaking & provided an amazing perspective of the island that you just don't appreciate from ground level.

Our pilot told us that his Mum & sister were visiting from Venezuela and said, 'let me just say hi'. He efficiently swooped the helicopter within arms length of the rooftops and circled until his Mum, who was in the sea, spotted her son, and waved. How fun is that? To be able to look up into the sky at the roar of helicopter blads chopping the air and say, 'oh look, there's my son!'

The half-hour flight was not long enough to fully take in all that there was to see. I could quite happily have spent the day flying around between the clouds and the caribbean.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

back from barbados

Well, what a whirlwind the last two weeks have been! 

John & I got married on Saturday 28th August. It was a beautiful, sunny day & was all that we had hoped it would be, and more.

On Monday 30th August, we flew to Barbados for our 12-day honeymoon. Our first adventure as Mr & Mrs King.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing a few memories & photos of our wedding & honeymoon in this little space. I hope you enjoy the reflections & I promise that I will talk about normal life all in good time!

We have yet to receive our official wedding photos, so for now, I'll share with you a few shots of paradise...

Sunrise from our hotel room balcony. We stayed on the east coast which is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean - crashing waves & sea that was too rough to swim in - a totally different experience from the calm & incredibly blue sea of the west coast where the Caribbean Sea lies in perfect stillness.

Barbados from the air. 

On our last morning on this beautiful island we took a helicopter flight to see Barbados from a bird's eye view. It was the perfect way to end our honeymoon.