An egg-citing post…?

Did you know chickens lay blue eggs? No, neither did I until my Hen Pal presented me with a lovely eggy selection last summer which included a blue one.

I love hens, but don’t have time to keep them myself. Hen Pal currently has eight chickens and we are lucky in that we get a regular supply of gorgeous, totally free-range eggs. The yolks are a rich orange, not like anything you can buy, and they taste amazing.

The blue egg layer is a pretty chicken called Hetty and, just to confuse things further, she is a Cream Leg Bar! The blue eggs taste no different to the other eggs, but they just look so lovely…

Eggs are wonderful things – delicious to eat of course, but also fun to be creative with. Blowing eggs is not that difficult and you can still eat the egg so it’s not at all wasteful.

As a child, I loved blowing eggs and decorating them, why not have a go this Easter, it’s great fun!

How to blow an egg:

You need to ‘get the feel’ of your egg, grip it firmly enough, but not too hard so it breaks. If you always work over a bowl even if you break one you can still use the contents once you’ve picked any shell out!

First, grasp your egg! Insert a long needle into the large end of the egg to make a small hole. Work the needle around a bit to enlarge the hole slightly.

Then, do the same on the other end, but this time wiggle the needle more to make a bigger hole – this is the end the egg will come out from.

Push the needle into the centre of the egg and move it around to break up the yolk.

Now, place your mouth over the end with the smaller hole, the other end over a bowl and gently blow into the egg. It might take a few puffs before it starts to come out, but once going it will all come out with a few blows. If any of the egg gets stuck, shake the egg and give it a few more prods with the needle.

Rinse out the egg by running a thin stream of water into the larger hole, then blow out the water the same way that you blew out the egg. Leave to dry and then they’re ready to decorate.

And now – it’s up to you! Paint them, stick on sequins, draw on them with Promarkers or any other alcohol-based ink like the Spectrum Noir range. Great Easter gifts for old and young alike.

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Bread – the stuff of life

What could be more wonderful than the smell of freshly baked bread? It seems to be an aroma that automatically makes us feel good. The kneading process is very therapeutic and then there’s the eating… well it’s the perfect comfort food all ways round!

As you’ve probably gathered I am very keen on herbs in all forms – and this recipe is so delicious! Rosemary is an evergreen perennial so it’s hard to kill off. Even in the depths of winter, I can scurry outside and snip off an aromatic sprig to use in lots of different dishes. Just bruise the leaves slightly and that wonderful scent fills the air…

Rosemary Bread

Sliced thinly, this herb bread is delicious with cheese or soup for a light meal.

Makes one loaf

You will need:

1 packet (7g/¼ oz) dried fast action yeast

170g/6oz wholemeal flour

170g/6oz self-raising flour

2 tbsp butter, plus more to grease bowl and tin

60ml/2fl oz warm water (45ºC/110ºF)

250ml/8fl oz milk (room temperature)

1 tbsp sugar

1tsp salt

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1 tbsp dried chopped onion

1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, plus more to decorate

115g/4oz cubed Cheddar cheese

Coarse salt to decorate

 1. Mix the fast-action yeast with the flours in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter. Stir in the warm water, milk, sugar, butter, salt, sesame seeds, onion and rosemary. Knead thoroughly until quite smooth.

2. Flatten the dough, then add the cheese cubes. Quickly knead them in until they have been well combined.

3. Place the dough in a clean bowl, greased with a little butter, turning it so that it becomes greased on all sides. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Put the greased bowl and dough in a warm place for about 1½ hours, or until the dough has risen and doubled in size.

4. Grease a 23 x 13cm (9 x 5 in) loaf tin with the remaining butter. Knock down the dough to remove some of the air and shape it into a loaf. Put the loaf into the tin, cover with the clean cloth used earlier and leave for about 1 hour until doubled in size onece again. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5.

5. Bake for 30 minutes. During the last 5-10 minutes of baking, cover the loaf with silver foil to prevent it from becoming too dark. Remove from the loaf tin and leave to cool on a wire rack. Decorate with rosemary leaves and coarse salt scattered on top.

PS. Rosemary is another one of my ‘essential’ herbs that I’d put alongside bay, parsley and mint, as already mentioned. I’m plan to be blogging quite a bit about growing herbs over the coming months…

 

 

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Hearty meals for winter warmth

I must confess, this isn’t my favourite time of year. The days are short and the garden is looking very sorry for itself. So for me, the best thing to do is to get in the kitchen and cook up some really comforting and delicious food! I love pies and this one has a twist to give it extra oomph! I would recommend that everyone has parsley and a bay tree, or bush, growing in their garden, or in pots on a balcony, they are both such useful herbs. I know a lot of you are vegetarian, so I’ve also included an easy but scrummy veggie dish too. Enjoy!

Steak and Kidney Pie, with Mustard and Bay Gravy

This is a sharpened-up, bay-flavoured version of a traditional favourite. The fragrant mustard, bay and parsley perfectly complement the flavour of the beef.

Serves 4

You will need: 

  • 450g/1lb puff pastry
  • 2.5 tbsp flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 750g/1.5lb rump steak, cubed
  • 170g/6oz pig’s or lamb’s kidney
  • 25g/1oz/scant 2 tbsp butter
  • I medium onion chopped
  • 1 tbsp made English mustard
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 150ml/5fl oz beef stock
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry on a floured surface to about 3mm/ 1/8in thick. Line a 1.5 litre/2.5 pint/1.5 US quart pie dish. Place a pie funnel in the middle.
  2. Put the flour, salt and pepper in a bowl and toss the cubes of steak in the mixture. Remove all fat and skin from the kidneys and slice thickly. Add to the steak cubes and toss well. Melt the butter in a pan and fry the onion until soft, then add the mustard, bay leaves, parsley and stock and stir well.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5. Place the steak and kidney in the pie and add the stock mixture. Roll out the remaining pastry to the thickness of 3mm/ 1/8 in. Brush the edges of the pastry forming the lower half of the pie with beaten egg and cover with the second piece of pastry. Press the pieces of pastry together to seal the edge, then trim. Use the trimmings to decorate the top in a leaf pattern.
  4. Brush the whole pie with beaten egg and make a small hole over the top of the funnel. Bake for about 1 hour until the pastry is golden brown.

Stuffed Parsleyed Onions

This is a very tasty, easy to prepare vegetarian main course, great served with salad and crusty bread. These onions also make a wonderful accompaniment to meat dishes.

Serves 4 people

You will need:

  • 4 large onions
  • 4 tbsp cooked rice
  • 4 tsp finely shopped fresh parsley, plus extra to garnish
  • 4 tbsp strong Cheddar cheese, finely grated
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine, to moisten
  1. Cut a slice from the top of each onion and scoop out the centre to leave a fairly thick shell. Combine all the remaining ingredients, moistening with enough wine to mix well. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºƒ/gas 4
  2. Fill the onions and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Serve garnished with the extra parsley.

 

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A breakfast with a difference

Guests staying with us for the weekend are always impressed when I serve scrambled egg with smoked salmon and dill filo pastries. Even if they don’t normally eat breakfast, they always seem to change their minds when this dish is mentioned! So, if you have reluctant breakfasters (and it is SUCH an important meal to eat) try persuading them with this dish…

I am lucky in that I have a friend who keeps her own hens, so we get to eat fantastic fresh eggs with bright orange yolks. If you aren’t so lucky, do seek out really good eggs (definitely free range) if you can – happy hens are a must!

Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon & Dill Pastries

Serves about 8 people

You will need:

  • 8 large free-range eggs
  • 75–100gm (3–4oz) smoked salmon
  • 225g 8oz) cream cheese
  • 200ml (8tbsp) milk
  • 25g (1oz) butter
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 25-50g (1–2oz) fresh dill
  • 350g (12oz) ready-made filo pastry
  • 225g 8oz) butter
  • Cherry tomatoes or parsley to decorate

Chop the smoked salmon, some of the dill (the exact quantity depends on your taste) and mix these two ingredients with the cream cheese. Add a pinch of salt and a liberal sprinkling of freshly milled black pepper.

Melt 225g (8oz) of butter in a pan. Take a sheet of filo pastry and butter it with a brush. Fold it in half and put about an eighth of the salmon and cream cheese mixture on top of the sheet of pastry. Fold over as shown in the diagram.

Once all the triangles have been prepared, place them on a baking sheet and brush the tops with butter. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200ºC (400ºF), gas mark 6 for about 20 minutes until they are golden.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a medium-sized bowl and add the milk, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Beat well with a fork. Just before you serve the dish, melt the 25g (1oz) of butter in the pan and pour in the egg mixture. Cook gently, stirring constantly, but do not overcook – aim for a creamy consistency. Serve a triangle of salmon filo with some scrambled egg and decorate with the cherry tomatoes or parsley.

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Country Christmas Celebrations

As Christmas is one of the happiest and busiest times of year for me, I thought now would be the ideal time to start my new blog – no pressure then!

Christmas is always a real family occasion, and we are lucky enough to be a happy family that thoroughly enjoys a large get-together where the ages range from nine to 90.

Although Christmas is often more focussed on children it doesn’t take much effort to make it a happy time for adults too. Quite apart from the food and drink, seeing friends and phoning people you’ve not seen for ages can make the festive season very special!

I’ve come up with a few ideas for you, which I hope you’ll find fun to make in the run up to the big day.

Mulled Wine – Victoria Farm style

Serves 8 non-drivers

The aroma of this mulled wine sums up Christmas for me. It is quite strong, so ideal for prim and proper relatives or friends who need to relax a bit before they can join in the fun – oops, did I really write that?

You will need:

  • 75cl (1 bottle) claret
  • 150ml (1/4 pint) unsweetened orange juice
  • 150ml (1/4 pint) water
  • 150ml (1/4 pint) port
  • 50g (2oz) brown sugar
  • 7g (1 heaped tsp) mixed spice
  • 2 large juicy oranges, each cut into 8 pieces.
  • 8 cinnamon sticks

Put all the ingredients, except the cinnamon sticks, in a saucepan and place on a very low heat. Gently warm or ‘mull’ the mixture for an hour or so. If you want to prepare it in advance, warm it for an hour, leave it to cool and then reheat it when needed.

Serve in chunky glasses or mugs, with the cinnamon sticks as stirrers. Don’t include any of the orange pieces as they have an embarrassing habit of falling onto your nose as you drink the wine – not a good look!

Filo waterlilies with figgy mincemeat

Serves about 8

If you fancy a change from the traditional mince pie, why not try these pretty, tasty and light alternatives? I personally prefer filo to shortcrust pasty – try them and let me know what you think!

You will need:

For the mincemeat

  • 225g (8oz) dried figs
  • 75g (3oz) pecan nuts
  • 350g (12oz) cooking apples (preferably Bramleys)
  • 75ml (3fl oz) Calvados
  • 50g (2oz) stem ginger in syrup
  • 675g (11/2lb) mixed dried fruit
  • 25g (1oz) unsalted butter
  • 5g (1 tsp) ground allspice
  • 2g (1/2 tsp) ground nutmeg
  • 2g (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon

For the pastry waterlillies

  • Approx 20n sheets of filo pastry
  • 225g (8oz) melted butter

To make the mincemeat, pour the mixed dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the Calvados, then leave to soak in a warm place for several hours. Peel, core and chop the apples, and mince or process them together with the stem ginger, pecan nuts and figs. If using a food processor you may need to add more Calvados to moisten the mixture.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir really well to make sure they are well combined. Put into clear jars and seal. Do not keep too long (chance would be a fine thing in this house!). I expect you’ll use it all before Christmas but if not, don’t exceed 6-8 weeks in the refrigerator.

Using good kitchen scissors, cut the filo pastry into 5 – 5.75cm (2-21/2 inch) squares. Cut a stack at once, don’t do them one at a time or you really will be there until Christmas! Keep the pastry covered with a clean damp cloth as much as possible to avoid it drying out. Butter a nine-hole bun tin and place a square of pastry over the hole. Brush the top of the pastry with melted butter and cover with another square of pastry, placing the second square at an angle. Continue to layer about 5 sheets of pastry, buttering in between and rotating each square a little each time to give a petalled edge effect – see diagram. Fill each pastry case with between 10 – 15g (1dsp to 1tbs) of mincemeat and bake in a pre-heated oven at 160ºC (325ºF), gas mark 3 for 45 minutes.

And for your table…

Can’t resist passing on one of my favourite and easiest Christmas table decorations! Have a rummage in your garden, or keep your eyes peeled on a winter stroll and see if you can find some Old Man’s Beard (Clematis Vitalba). These pale silky fronds make a stunning and effective table decoration especially if you add some glitter spray, or sparkle, or interweave some spangled gold threads. Magical!

Next week:

Herbs on the Christmas tree!

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