Sunday, 14 September 2014

Foraging and Bottling

I know this is titled up foraging but I'm making a short deviation from the heading to tell you about my little brother's amazing cycle across Britain.  This picture was taken last sunday evening in Bath at the end of the second day's ride.  We went along to cheer the 800 riders over that day's finish line.  And one of them was my bro.
The next morning's route took them all through our small village as they headed north and I was there again with my camera.  It's a grueling challenge. On the road by 8am and over 100 miles each day for 9 days.  There's little time for aching muscles to rest and recover.  So to complete this has been an impressive and fabulous achievement.  Well done Walt!  I prefer poking around my favourite kitchen ware shop where, this weekend I found a very appropriate biscuit cutter.  Biscuits were baked in my bro's honour and eaten on his behalf too!  (Cornwall kept breaking off which was a shame 'cos that was the best bit.)

It's late summer in our corner of the world.  The tractors have been harvesting and baling in the field opposite our cottage.  The weather has been glorious.  So dry and warm you feel as if the long lazy days are going to go on and on.
But the ripening apples and hedgerows full of blackberries, elderberries and cob nuts mean autumn is on the way and it's timer to gather what you can.
There's a small woodland behind our lane where we go for all things fruity and will return later for sloes which are growing in abundance this year.
 We've even got a special foraging bag!  Cob nuts are so expensive in the shops, we're lucky to have a ready supply.
Although we don't grow our own plums or pears, they're plentiful and cheap just now and there are lots of recipes I want to try.  This was my first go at bottling fruits.  The plums with a brandy syrup and the pears with a cider syrup.
They need to sit in a bath of hot water for a while.
Then they can be labelled and put in a cool dark place and left to let the flavours get to work. 
 And preserved lemons looked easy (lemons and salt) so I gave that a go too. 
We took a trip to a local wood recycling project because part of the plan for the big shed is to make a bench down one side - it's officially my potting bench and in my head will look very nice with neat rows of seedlings but I fear it will get used as a dumping ground and there will be limited potting.  We found all the wood we needed and got it much cheaper than we had expected.

This is where Himself really excels.  We picked up the wood on Saturday and by Sunday afternoon he had made this fabby potting bench!  There's a little more work to do so I've only taken a photo of the completed section.  It has to be sanded down but once that's done it's going to look great. The bars on the window are a necessity and were fitted by Himself as extra security because a couple of weeks ago our shed was broken into. Somewhere, someone is enjoying a very nice bike and some good camping gear.  There were three other break ins that we know of round the village that same night and all lost something.  
 The weekend was rounded off with some seriously naughty fudge.  This was made in the thermomix with a googled recipe and is a proper gorgeous fudgy squishy texture.  I better keep on with my running programme!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Pistachio and dark chocolate macarons

What else are Sunday mornings for...
 It was that nice time of day again, early early before anyone else was awake.  Today was pistachio macarons from my book (Mad About Macarons) because I wanted to try the powdered green food colouring.  This time I got it about right, a very few green grains stirred into the macaron mix delivered a perfect pistachio colour in soft green.
Here's the colour I used.

And here's the result.  Sweet (but not too sweet) crispy, gooey, light as air delight.  I'll need to take a break from macarons partly because work next week takes me to the north of England but mostly because my freezer is full!
 


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Macaron Bliss

As you know I've been trying to chasing the elusive Macaron Perfection and next on my hit list was tiramisu.  The freehand piping work has been improving...
And the bake is better now, there's less of a sticky goo left on the baking sheet where the centre of the shell falls out.  I've learned the lesson about leaving the shells to fully cool before trying to remove them from the baking sheet and achieved some great bottoms!
I'm still not 100% happy with the splayed pieds and have read that using aged eggs whites which have been left on your worktop give a better result. 
 These came out with uneven domes which has been my speciality!
But the proof of the pudding  macaron is in the eating and these are really very tasty.
Next up was Bloody Mary Macarons.  I like the precision required to make macarons and  how attentive you have to be to each stage.  I get all my cookware and ingredients to hand and weighed out before I begin. There's something satisfying about starting with a clean, organised table.  Maybe it gets you into the right state of mind before you begin.
I promise these really weren't this colour in real life.   I think such extensive pinkness affected the colour balance on my phone!
 These were soooo cute when they came out of the oven, about the size of the top of your thumb.  Some were cracked but others were tiny domes of smooth gorgeousness on titchy tiny pieds!
Once filled with the Bloody Mary mixture (vodka, lime, tomato puree, vodka, some other stuff and vodka)  these start off tasting sweet until the filling hits you with an intensity of flavours that demands you give them your full appreciation.  And have another one.  
Unexpected but very, very moorish!  I wanted to re-make the strawberry macarons, partly to try out the powdered red colour and see how little I needed for a soft pastel rose colour (I overdid it again!) and partly because I wanted some to take into the office and I wasn't willing to be parted from the Bloody Marys just as we were getting to know each other.  And then it happened. Imagine the roof above you opening up to a cloud covered sky.  Now imagine angelic singing gradually rising to a crescendo as the clouds part.  Dazzling shafts of sunlight stream down and pool around...these.
The domes are smooth and even, with no lumps, bumps or hats.  The colour is consistent, there's no browning round the edges. The pieds have just the right amount of rise and are not splayed and the filling is just right, visible all the way round the shell without spilling over.  I won't lie.  When these were finished I sat and stared at them.  I turned them around to make sure they weren't just presenting me with their best face.  I stroked their little domed loveliness and I took their photo. Sighhhhhhh
This shows the progression over several attempts.  It's not something you learn to do first go.  You'll have some doozies (although they'll all taste great!) but each batch you make will get better and better.  Happy Days :)


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Bread and Rose Macarons

Sometimes once your eyes are open, you are awake and that's it.  Nothing is going to let you drift back to nodland.  That's why I was padding downstairs at 5.45am this morning.  I'd given up on sleep and wanted fresh coffee.   My recent focus has been on marvellous macarons and since our two week holiday is nearing its end, I decided to take advantage of it being just me and the dawn and bake something savoury.

Just yum.
We had the boys with us today and since I have a recipe for an elderberry sauce, we went to see if there were any ready to be foraged down the lane behind the Country Cottage.  I'm getting more accustomed to being deep in the middle of nowhere countryside.  As long as Tesco and Amazon can still find me I'll cope.
The elderberries are still not quite ready but we did find sloes so once they're a bit bigger that's this season's gin sorted out :)
The cobnuts are ripening.
The (neighbours) pears are coming on.  (I've got pear envy.  Think of all the pear based options if you had a crop like this!)
We picked these poppy seed heads and shook them like maracas all the way home then gleefully scattered the tiny little seeds in the lane outside the cottage in the hope that we may get the splash of bright red poppies growing there next year.
And I had some important macoranage to take care of this evening when I made the rose scented, turkish delighty filling for the pink shells made yesterday and stored overnight in the fridge.  I'm still suffering from ugly shell syndrome so they are veeeeery wonky and don't sit neatly or horizontally on the plate but when you bite into them....you don't care!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

More Macaron Adventures!

You can tell I'm on holiday - firstly I have time to make and bake things and secondly, I have time to blog about it!  And you may wonder where all these are going once baked?  Well the big advantage of macarons is that they can be stored in the fridge for a few days or frozen for 3 months.  This is great because I never seem to have the time to produce home cooked when we have people round or when we want  something special. But now I can have a selection of macarons ready for visitors or special occassions anytime.  Yesterday I tested the powdered food colours I bought from Deco Relief - Santa Claus Red and Yellow.  They deliver a very intense colour from only a very few grains, easily much less than 1/8th of a teaspoon.  Setting up and ready to go!

As well as testing the colours, I wanted to try and improve my piping skills but I probably undermixed this batter because the mix was quite thick which made it easier to pipe but you can see the blobs hold their shape too well instead of gently slumping into low rise little mounds.  In fact they look like smurf hats. Ooops.  I wasn't sure if the intensity of the colour would reduce during baking....
It didn't!  Wow these colours really ping!  But they suited what I wanted and I've finally  got my oven temp and timing right.  The macaron shells were cooked through completely for the first time.  My first attempts left a pile of goo from the centre of each shell when lifted from the tray but these are spot on.
The tops stayed like hats and have risen more than normal but the little frill underneath, the "pied" is better than I normally achieve.  I've read that people struggle to get that effect but right from my first attempts using the Mad About Macarons book and following the instructions to the letter this hasn't been a problem.  
 The red came out a stronger pink than I'd wanted, I was thinking pastel rose but it's still pretty.
 Well cooked bases but slightly wonky tops again!
 The (very tall!) finished result below - passion fruit, mango and coconut macarons - or a shorter title is  Tropical Macarons!
Once today's work in the kitchen is finished (I'm hoping to have shelves by the end of today) I can make the filling for the Rose Macarons so perhaps there will be a pic of those later.




Friday, 22 August 2014

Blue Macarons and Cabbage Whites

I said I wouldn't show you these but perhaps if I do, it will help prevent you making the same blue boo boo.  How did this happen?  Well I got a bit cocky with my colourings!  In her book Mad About Macarons, Jill Colonna  talks about not adding too much colour because if you use too much extra liquid  it can mess with the macaron batter. I was aiming for a gentle rose colour to complement the strawberry flavour and started with 3 drops of blue and added 3 red but the blue was soooo strong I ended up emptying half the (small) bottle of red to the mix in a panic to make it ummm...less blue.  Didn't work lol!  This batter was looser than my first version which I think was because of the excess colouring and had more air bubbles. I decided to press on regardless and this is what went in to the oven.  
And this is what came out.  Ugly huh?  They were brown round the edges with splattered out little feet so I suspected I'd baked them on too high a temperature but some reading online suggested it was the liquid colouring I'd used which although fine for icings, wasn't necessarily heat resistant.  Further searching suggested using a paste or even better, powdered colour and this is Jill's preferred option too.  Good enough for me until I saw the prices, ouch!  So I've started with the two cheapest colours, red and yellow and if they're wonderful and if I think I'll keep making macarons, I'll take a deep breath, empty the piggy bank and order some more.
Don't be fooled by the Ugly above.  Once filled with the strawberry cream, these tasted terrific.  You just had to close your eyes to eat them!

We've just returned from camping in Cornwall so we've had our fix of being woken by crashing sea waves and screeching seagulls and with a freshness in the air it feels as if summer is ending.  The drift into lazy autumn is one of my favourite times of year and I'm watching the elderberries and sloes ripen ready to be picked and bottled.  Our produce has been varied with sweetcorn, black French beans and apples.
There are more apples to come and they're creating a bright splash of red in the otherwise green garden.
The sprouts are starting to look more sprouty and have survived a damaging onslaught of cabbage white butterflies laying hundreds of eggs.  At first I was able to keep up and wash the eggs away when they appeared under the leaves but inevitably I missed some and the caterpillars that survived turned the leaves to lace.  So I fought back with an organic spray and a deterrent!
You can see just how badly chewed the leaves were below and see those two cabbage whites?  They're the deterrent!  I read that cabbage whites are highly territorial and if they see another cabbage white they'll fly off.  So I printed and laminated pics of CW's and wired them to the top of a stick.  One afternoon, we sat and watched several CW's flutter around the sprout patch and not one settled so I think my deterrent worked! Himself said the neighbours would laugh but perhaps they did, I would have, but there have been no new eggs laid and the leaves are beginning to recover. (Or it could have been the organic spray!)
The preparation for colder weather has begun.  Our log store was helped by a luckily timed trip to the local recycling centre where we parked next to a chap dumping this fantastic pile of logs.  He said he couldn't get a chainsaw through them so we were welcome to take them. We didn't need a second invitation and we took home more than we'd unloaded.
And to bring you right up to date, I wrote a very rushed post earlier about what we built in the garden this summer and here's the finished item.  It's our big shed!  It's been about 4 years in planning, two years of saving and two days of constructing but now it's installed!  The chintz curtains are slightly embarrassing and not what I had really wanted but this was the only fabric big enough (Ikea I think) to cover both windows.  Having the shed gives us storage for all the things we don't have space for in the cottage, like potato sacks and rusty cement mixers (it's a man thing).
We're hoping to soften its impact with honeysuckle and below we're just starting to train the plant to crawl along the side of the shed.  Hopefully next spring this will provide wonderful scented evenings as we potter about in the garden.