Hot Brie with hazelnuts on a watercress sauce

Have to say, this is one of my favourite recipes. The warm gooey-ness of the rich cheese is very comforting and, as I feel the inevitable arrival of Autumn (after no summer at all) it seems rather timely… sigh….

I love Brie, but you can make this with another cheese if you prefer. Great as a dinner party starter (as per this recipe), or a delicious veggie main meal perhaps made using two different types of cheese, camembert is another good one… it’s up to you.

You will need:

  • 350g (12oz) ground hazelnuts
  • 225g (8oz) granary breadcrumbs
  • 675-900g (1/2-2lb) small whole Brie
  • 50g (2oz) self-raising flour
  • 4 large eggs, beaten

For the Watercress Sauce

  • 1 bunch fresh watercress
  • 1 handful of fresh parsley
  • 30g (2 tbsp) fresh chives
  • 15g (1tbsp) fresh dill
  • 100g (4oz) plain Greek yoghurt
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) mayonnaise
  • 22ml (12 tbsp) lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Sprigs of watercress for decoration 

The Brie

Mix the hazelnuts and breadcrumbs together. Cut the Brie into eight equal pieces. Coat each piece with flour then brush on the egg, or dip the cheese in the egg, and roll in the crumb mixture. Dip the cheese in the egg a second time and roll it in the nuts and breadcrumbs again. Cover a baking sheet with a piece of greaseproof paper and place the pieces of cheese on it until they are needed.

Deep-fry the pieces of cheese for about 1-2 minutes and then place in the oven, pre-heated to 180ºC 9350ºF), Gas mark 4, for another 4-5 minutes. Do not leave the Brie in the fat or the oven for too long or it will run everywhere and look terrible! Serve in a pool of chilled watercress sauce – see below.

Watercress Sauce

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process for 20-30 seconds until well incorporated. If you don’t have a food processor or blender you should mince all the herbs or chop them very finely, and mix well with the other ingredients.

To serve, spoon a puddle of sauce on to the middle of the plate, place a hot Brie portion on top and decorate with a sprig of watercress.

 

 

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Nature’s first aid kit…

I love herbs and flowers but would never call myself an ‘expert’ on their more alternative uses and I am constantly being surprised by the things I discover they can be used for in relation to our health and well-being.

I was always told to use a dock leaf to relieve the pain of nettle stings, but reading my pal Julia Horton-Powdrill’s Wild Pembrokeshire website last week I saw her recommend this instead:

“Pick a young nettle leaf and scrunch it up tightly so that it gets juicy. It won’t sting. Then rub it onto the stings. There are one or two herbs/plants that help ease stings, but this one will always be on the spot – so to speak!”

Someone else on her website was extolling the virtue of rib leaf plantain as being wonderful for binding wounds and staunching bleeding. Natures first aid kit!

I am very keen on the soothing benefits of herbs and rosemary has a great many uses in this area. It is a common ingredient in sleep pillows and can be combined with other herbs like lavender, hops, and chamomile – they really are very restful.

Fennel is one of nine Anglo-Saxon herbs known for secret powers. In ancient days, a bunch of fennel hung over a cottage door on Midsummer’s Eve was said to prevent the effects of witchcraft. Today, if witches are not a problem, try nibbling on the herb’s seeds, as Roman women did centuries ago, to help depress the appetite!

Our dear old friend, sage – which I expect almost everyone has growing in their herb patch, could almost be called a cure all. The botanical name (Salvia officinalis) is derived from salvere, meaning ‘to be in good health’.

Sage acts as an antiseptic and soothes coughs and colds, flu, bronchitis, swollen glands, laryngitis, is a relaxant for nervous disorders, relieves headaches and expels worms! It is also very effective for the treatment of cystitis.

Sage (pictured right) has always been thought of as good for the brain, improving the memory and, in some cases, even as a cure for insanity. So there’s hope for me yet! And if that wasn’t enough… a sprig of sage in the wardrobe will keep away moths!

One of the joys of the internet is that there is so now much information about these things at our finger tips. But, as with all natural remedies, do exercise caution as concentrated doses can be immensely powerful. If you are pregnant I suggest you don’t try ANY of these ideas.

 

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Harvesting your herbs…

After all the rain we’ve had, my herbs have grown absolutely HUGE and could do with cutting back. Last week I received an email asking me how best to dry lavender… and I thought – aha, time for a blog on drying herbs!

Cutting back overgrown herbs, leaves you with masses of fragrant and tasty cuttings that are far too good to be thrown away. Drying them is a brilliant way to add flavour to your cooking outside the herb growing season and save money.

Drying herbs

Living plants contain large amounts of water – as much as seven eighths of their weight in many cases – and his has to be removed before they can be stored.

Tie bunches of leaves and flowers loosely together in bundles and hang in a clean, airy, place out of direct sun until brittle enough to break easily between your fingers. A good tip is to hold a bunch together with an elastic band rather than string, then it shrinks as the stalks dry out and stops them dropping on the floor. They usually take about a week to dry if the weather is warm enough.

However… given the summer we are ‘enjoying’ in the UK this year, you may need to use an airing cupboard, shaded greenhouse, warm attic or dry ventilated shed.

Herbs can also be dried in a domestic oven or dehydrator, but you need to keep the temperature at no more than 32ºC/90ºF for the first day or two, after which reduce to 25ºC/75ºF until the process is complete – between three and five days. Turn the material occasionally and complete one batch at a time – don’t be tempted to add fresh material as this will reduce the temperature and raise humidity. I personally prefer the hanging in bunches method AND it looks lovely in the house!

Bunching several herbs together for bouquet garnis is easier before drying then after.

Handy tip: Culinary herbs cut up small and packed in measured amounts with water in ice-cube trays lose little of their flavour when frozen and are ready for almost immediate use!

 

 

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Herby beautiful

With all the herbs growing like mad, I thought it was time we had another herby pampering session!

Rosemary Hair Tonic

Rosemary is an excellent substitute for mildly medicated shampoos, and this tonic also helps control greasy hair and enhances the shine and natural colour.

You will need: 

  • 250ml/8fl oz fresh rosemary tips
  • 1.2 litres/2 pints bottled water.
  1. Put the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, then allow to cool in the pan.
  2. Strain the mixture and store it in a clean bottle. Use after shampooing your hair. 

Feverfew Complexion Milk

Feverfew grown prolifically in the garden, self-seeding all over the herb beds, and this is a welcome use for some of this over-enthusiastic plant. The milk will moisturise dry skin, help to fade blemishes and discourage blackheads.

You will need:

  • One large handful feverfew leaves
  • 300ml/½ pint milk
  1. Put the leaves and milk in a small saucepan and simmers for 20 minutes.
  2. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan then strain into a bottle.

PS. Feverfew flowers

If you haven’t got feverfew sprouting everywhere like I have… it can be cultivated easily; it is especially pretty grown in tubs and pots in the greenhouse or conservatory.

Hang bunches of flowers upside sown and leave to air dry; use as a decorative addition to flower arrangements.

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Herby hair tonics

All my herbs are growing like mad now and I hate wasting them, so am always looking for ways of
using them. These two hair treatments are lovely – it’s so nice to produce your own natural products – and they’re really easy to make!

Parsley Hair Tonic

Parsley stimulates the scalp and gets the circulation going, which aids hair growth and adds shine.

You will need:

1 large handful of parsley sprigs

2 tbsp water

1.            Place the parsley springs and water in a food processor

2.            Process until ground to a smooth purée. Apply the green lotion to the scalp, then wrap your head in a warm towel and leave for about an hour before shampooing as normal.

Lemon Verbena Hair Rinse

Add a delicious fragrance to your hair with this rinse. It will also stimulate the pores and circulation. Lemon verbena is worth growing in the Garden, if only so that you can walk past and pick a wonderful scented leaf.

You will need:

I handful of lemon verbena leaves

250ml/8fl oz boiling water

1.            Pour the boiling water over the lemon verbena leaves and leave for at least an hour.

2.            Strain the mixture and discard the leaves. Pour this rinse over your hair after conditioning.

 

 

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