A Walk in the Woods, Wild Garlic Risotto & Other Stories

It felt as if it might rain at any moment  last Saturday but I was determined to collect my ramsons, as the wild garlic leaves are often known. In fact wild garlic has many common names such as wood garlic, buck rams, bear leek and even stinking Jenny (which sadly reminds me of my childhood nickname, Smelly Jenny, that was always banded about at Christmas when I just couldn’t leave the Stilton cheese alone) I’d been planning a trip to the woods ever since Jules asked me for some wild garlic recipes during a most fabulous dinner at Bell’s Diner a couple of weeks ago (there’s another blog post – I promise). So this post is for you Jules.

The damp air magnified all those incredible deeply earthy, vegetal smells of woodland and everything was so lush. The new beech leaves were that almost fluorescent green that lasts just a few weeks. Then, once we reached the sweeping carpet of wild garlic, the ground seemed an unnaturally vibrant shade of Pantone green, the sort of colour that Imi might paint a picture of a jungle. Old stone walls were blanketed in feathery moss, it was simply stunning and the waft of garlic almost overwhelming. The wild garlic is apparently an indicator of ancient woodland just like the bluebells that so often grow alongside – how amazing to think that this scene has probably changed so little over the centuries. It will be a picture here in a couple of weeks time too, with the white garlic flowers and the huge swathes of lilacy bluebells, but you’re best to pick the garlic now as the leaves do become more bitter as the season goes on.

I’m always dreaming of getting a dog, firstly because I adore them but also because they make you take the time out for a walk, and I just don’t do it often enough. The garlic hunt brought my friend Kate, me and our girls out into the woods on a day when you’d probably never have planned a stroll-  it seemed so gloomy and threatening and yet it was breathtaking. So get out there, come rain or shine, but do be a bit careful that you are picking garlic and not the rather similar Lily of the Valley. The smell will shout garlic at you and each leaf grows from a separate stalk where as the toxic Lily of the Valley leaves grow 2 or 3 leaves to a stem.

DSC_9617And what to do with your booty? I was planning on making and photographing a number of different dishes but I’m afraid we kept eating them before I got a chance to whip out the camera. The wild garlic leaves give a more chivey taste than the more familiar bulbs of garlic we buy all year round and I particularly love this flavour in anything  to do with eggs.
So here are a few ideas to set you on your way.

  • French Omelette- ( for 2) fry 1/2 a diced onion in a blend of olive oil and butter. Beat 4 eggs up with a splash of milk, pinch of salt and a handful of sliced wild garlic. Add the softened onions to the mix and then fry 1/2 of the mixture at a time in a small omelette pan. Grate over a little cheese such as mature cheddar as you are frying. (Don’t forget that omelettes are fab’ cold  in sandwiches – the Spanish do it all the time) Throw some into a Spanish tortilla with the potato or an Italian frittata with some courgettes and parmesan.
  • Scrambled Eggs – obvious but delicious all the same. Chop up a good handful of garlic leaves into ribbons and stir into the scrambled eggs for the last minute of cooking (just enough for the garlic to wilt.
  • Risotto- I’m being lazy but assuming that most of you probably have a basic risotto up your sleeve ( I should probably have done the same for the omelette!) Just stir a good handful of sliced ramsons (per 2 portions) into the rice a couple of minutes before you finish the cooking. I fried up my left over risotto the next day too…. Add a couple of eggs to the cold risotto to bind the mixture and throw in a bit of extra parmesan. Fry in a flat cake in your omelette pan, flip over using a plate and brown the other side too and serve with a tomato salad.
  • Pesto – Try substituting garlic leaves for the basil in a traditional pesto recipe. I like to make the pesto using Pecorino rather than Parmesan in this case. Don’t just use this for pasta, try it blobbed into soups or stews too.

I’m planning on coming up with a few more adventurous recipes over the next few weeks (Kate had a wonderful wild garlic bread and butter pudding in the Tyntesfield Café)  but I’m desperate to get this post off tonight and entice you into a bit of foraging whilst the garlic’s at its best.

And a little reminder to all you West Country-ites – there’s a BIG food festival happening in Bristol next month. I have a couple of classes here, on May 6th Eat your Way to a Healthier Lifestyle and May 7th  Spring into Summer. Take a peek at the full line up of events on the Bristol Food Connections website

Bristol Food Connections

 

 

Spring In Snackistan ~ Spinach, Rhubarb and Pomegranate.

Japonica or Japanese quinceWelcome to Spring and Happy Nowrooz.

Today isn’t just the Spring Equinox it’s Persian New Year too. Iranians the world over will be celebrating, whilst back here the  Japonica up the street, on Jen the Potter‘s wall, is looking spectacular – a sign that winter’s been and gone.  I decided to mark the occasion by cooking a recipe from my very latest acquisition, Sally Butcher’s Snackistan, using some of the huge haul of rhubarb I received from a friend with a glut. Hoorah for gluts.

I have to admit that I hadn’t even heard of Nowrooz until last week when I visited Persepolis, Sally’s amazing shop, which she describes as a little bit of “Persia in Peckham”.  I walked through the door to find her amidst a new delivery from Iran, bowls of lush wheat grass and a washing tub of goldfish. The shop was hotting up for New Year (music and all ), which just happens to be Jamshid, Sally’s Iranian husband’s birthday too. Both the wheatgrass and the fish are meant to represent the new life and prosperity that everyone hopes for in the months ahead.

I sipped fragrant cardamom tea from the samovar, and managed to devour an entire plate of traditional pastries too, before setting off around the shop. The place is packed with all those fabulous Middle Eastern treats such as sumac, dried barberries and plums,  lurid-green nibbed pistachios, Turkish delight and pomegranates. The shopping experience is further enhanced by Mrs Shopkeeper’s labels around the shelves, along with her advice and incredible insight into the  life and food of Persia.

My Peckham pilgrimage was a wonderful one (just a 20 minute bus ride from Victoria on the 436 or 36) and I left with a great stash of goodies to cook with. Better still, when I dive into my copy of Snackistan (or the equally inspiring Veggiestan) I can now picture Sally writing in her chaotic office at the back of the shop and celebrate the idea that at least one person in this world ( and a fabulously creative one at that) has a messier desk than I do.

Spinach with Rhubarb, Chickpeas and Pomegranate
Esfanj va Rivas

“Snack lunch for 1 hungry shopkeeper” – it fed 2 of us at suppertime with some rice.

This recipe is taken from Snackistan- Sally gives you plenty of extra info’ in her inimitable, witty style but you’ll need to buy the book for that (you won’t regret it). Her inspiration for this was a dish that contains chicken too, so do feel free to experiment. I’d love this alongside lamb or in a very non-PC (when it comes to Persian New Year) way with some juicy belly pork.DSC_9501_2

2-3 spring onions
Sunflower oil for frying
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 garlic clove, chopped
A big handful of both mint and parsley, chopped
1 glass of water
1/2 of a 400g can of chickpeas, drained
2-3 sticks of rhubarb
1 tsp sugar
1/2 a bunch (I used 2 large handfuls) spinach, washed and roughly shredded
Juice 1/2 a lemon
1 tbsp Pomegranate molasses
Salt, black pepper (and sugar too, if necessary)
Fresh pomegranate to garnish

Fry the onions in a splash of oil and then, once soft, you can add the turmeric and garlic, followed by the herbs. After 5 minutes, stirring well, add the water and bring up to the boil.
Throw in the chickpeas, rhubarb and sugar and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the spinach, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses and cook until the spinach has just wilted.
Season well and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

I do have a bit of a rhubarb fixation as you may well have noticed on my blog. If you are up for some more rhubarb trivia you could go to my post on the Borough Market Blog or consult either/both of these fabulous little books  The Great Book of Rhubarb by Elaine Lemm or Rhubarbaria by Mary Prior.

Winter Slaw with the Pinky-Purple Princess Touch

I was never much of a pink princess but my purple phase did last at least a year. Aged 8, I owned the requisite 1970′s skinny-rib polo neck in a smashing shade of mauve which I teamed with a thistley -toned tartan kilt.  Mum painted my bedroom walls lilac and I was even allowed to dye the Candlewick bedspread a complementary shade of mulberry. Soon I had tie dye pillow cases, sheets and pyjamas to match. I’ve thankfully branched out since, although I was slightly shocked  a few minutes ago to look down and clock that I’m wearing purple trousers.

Earlier today I popped up the road for a few vegetables, I just felt the need for a healthy, zippy winter salad. Once I’d filled my basket I realised that it’s strange, but when it comes to pink and purple fruit and veg’ I seem to have become increasingly obsessed. Rhubarb, beetroot, red cabbage and radishes all filled me with dread as a child and now I just can’t get enough of them.

Winter Slaw

Reg’ the Veg’ also had some of the ridiculously beautiful little amaranth shoots too (you can see them on the edge of the plate). I discovered them for the first time last week whilst working at Borough Market and up they’ve popped again. They have an almost beetrooty flavour and make a fabulous garnish for all sorts of salads and soups (I’ve already got a bright pea soup sprinkled with fuschia amaranth shoots lined up in my head). There’s a bonus too; the more varied and vivid the palette of your fruit and vegetables, the more healthy your diet.

Fruit and veggies such as beetroot, aubergines, red cabbages, red onions, blueberries, blackberries, plums, elderberries, raisins, and pomegranates are loaded with purple pigment. This pigment is evidence of the high concentration of anthocyanins (powerful anti-oxidants that ward off disease and could put the brakes on the aging process too  - bring’em on)

I know it’s not very British to drop the “cole” and call this a “slaw” but I’m afraid that coleslaw seems to have become synonymous with those plastic pots of supermarket gloop – too sweet, no pert crispy cabbage and unbelievably cloying. A slaw is really just a cabbage salad and my recipe today has a simple vinaigrette dressing because I was really yearning some fresh , clean flavours. You could try adding a couple of teaspoons of tahini for some extra richness, make a herby yoghurt dressing or go the whole hog and stir in some good mayonnaise.

My Pinky-Purple Winter Slaw

It goes without saying that everything is raw- lots of people are unaware that you can eat raw beetroot or rhubarb but they have amazing texture and flavour and they’re loaded with vitamins.

1/2 a head of red cabbage (about 500g)
2 small beetroot
2-3 good, crispy apples
1/4 of a red onion
6 radishes
2 sticks of rhubarb
2 Sanguinello oranges
50 g raisins
50 g walnut halves
A handful of parsley
1 sprig of tarragon
For the Dressing:
2 tbsp white wine vinegar (I used Moscatel vinegar)
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt & plenty of freshly ground black pepper
To Garnish
A handful of amaranth shoots

Shred or slice all the vegetables and fruit as finely as you like and then mix together with the raisins, walnuts and herbs ( I don’t ever grate the vegetables as everything becomes rather sludgy).

Mix the dressing, making sure that it’s quite rich and oily – you’ve got lots of acidic rhubarb, apple and orange to balance up.

Toss the salad with the dressing and sprinkle over the amaranth shoots.

Poncey Slaw

Alternatively, depending on the occasion, you could take a more glam approach. I thought I’d give it a try, layering the vegetables in a glass and tipping over the dressing.

And some more ideas – How about?
White or green cabbage as well as/instead of the red.
Kolrabi, carrot or golden beet as well as/instead of the beetroot.
Spring onion or shallots instead of the red onion.
Pomegranate, grapefruit or pears as well as/instead of the rhubarb, apples and oranges
Other dried fruit such as figs, apricots, cranberries or cherries in place of the raisins
Using any nuts such as peanuts, pine kernels, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts.
Varying your herbs – mint or basil instead of the tarragon.
Sprinkling with alfalfa, pea shoots or bean sprouts.

Rillettes and Hellebores

The hellebores are flowering outside the kitchen window, they seem to arrive in the nick of time every year just before I’ve decided that I really have to emigrate.

I know it’s a bit early to be celebrating but, after the wettest winter since British records began,  the sun shone all day yesterday.  There’s a huge damp patch on the sitting room ceiling but at least the relentless dripping has stopped and with the unbelievable sight of thousands of flooded homes every time I switch on the news, I really can’t complain. Meanwhile, Pete has been “working hard” on a whale watching trip in sunny Baja California, leaving me and Imi to batten down the hatches alone.

I’m always much more productive when Pete’s away, I sometimes even get out the sewing machine of an evening, there’s no one to offer me an Aperol Spritz (my current tipple) and more time to hatch domestic plans. So this month I’ve been on a preserving roll. I started off with marmalade but, since the Seville Oranges have pretty much been and gone, I won’t ramble on about that now (you can look at my Borough Market post in any case). My other endeavour has been to make the perfect rillettes.

When I teach bread classes at The Bertinet Kitchen in Bath there’s always a fabulous spread of cheese, salads and pots of homemade goodies for lunch (along with plenty of bread, of course). I always make a beeline for the jar of rillettes. Okay, consumed on a daily basis this fatty, pork pâté-ish mix would be recipe for a heart attack, but relished from time to time with some cornichons and plenty of salad it’s perfectly healthy and tastes superb.

Making rillettes at home is surprisingly simple, the only draw back when it comes to the traditional French technique (used by Richard Bertinet of course) is the quantity of fat. It’s not that I’ve got a problem from the calorie aspect, it’s just that most of us Brits don’t have large pots of goose or duck fat lurking around the house to cook the pork in. Nigel Slater uses no extra fat at all in his recipe- just slow roasts some really fatty belly meat by itself, I can’t ever seem to get my hands on any sufficiently fatty belly. So here’s my recipe which does use a few tablespoons of duck or goose fat, you’ll find it at plenty of butchers and supermarkets.

The pork must obviously be the best you can find. I would never dream of buying meat from a factory-farmed pig in any case, but here the distinctive flavour of slow-reared, free range pork is key. The beauty of the dish is that pork belly is cheap cut anyway and that the rich rillettes will go a very long way. My pork came from Sheepdrove, the organic butchers in Lower Redland Rd.

The recipe will make about 4 jam jars or 2 good size kilner jars.  So here you go:  It’s really just a question of assembling all your ingredients and then cooking them long and slow until everything simply falls apart.

Rillettes – 2 large jars

1 kg pork belly – bones and skin removed but ALL fat left on
1 heaped tsp of salt
2 bay leaves
8 juniper berries, lightly crushed
12 peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 sprigs of thyme
4 whole, peeled cloves of garlic
250 ml white wine
4-5 tbsp good lard, goose or duck fat (depending on how fatty your pork is)

Cut the pork into chunks (about 2-3 cm ) and then put all the ingredients into large ovenproof dish and cover with a lid. I covered the meat with a layer of greaseproof paper too as my lid was not that good a fit.  Place in the oven for 3 – 3 1/2 hours at 150 c °/ Gas 2 until really tender.

Lift the meat out from the juices and shred it with 2 forks. Squash the garlic cloves and add to the mix too.

Have a taste to check the seasoning  and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Press the meat down into jars or pots and then, using a sieve, strain over the fatty juices from the pan.

If you are wanting to keep your rillettes for any time (and that’s the general idea, rather like duck confit) then use sterilised jars, press down the meat and juices to expell any air, melt some more goose or duck fat and tip over a thick layer to protect the meat. Keep up to 2 months in the fridge.

Serve at room temperature with sour dough toast or fresh baguette and some cornichons, pickled peppers, radishes  or any other zippy ingredients that take your fancy.

Rillettes for lunchNigel loves his rillettes with a baked potato, I stirred some into hot Puy lentils with plenty of parsley and red onion the other day and I’m also planning on stuffing some Piquillo peppers.

I needn’t have bothered with the sterilised jars, my rillettes aren’t going to be hanging around for long.

A British Celebration – Cloisters and Black Badgers

The sky feels heavy, the daylight lamp’s on and I’ve got a hot water bottle on my lap to keep warm at my desk. I’ve already drunk my daily coffee quota ( I’m trying to switch to green tea but  it’s just not happening) and I’m meant to be sorting my accounts. These are the days that I suddenly find a mound of washing to do, decide to clip the guinea pig’s nails or, once I’m finally at the computer, do a bit of “surfing”. Some masochistic streak always seems to pull me towards a blog called Manger. Envy isn’t a pretty thing to admit to, but hell, it’s unavoidable. The writer, the super-modelesque Mimi Thorenssen (oh yes, she has an unbelievably exotic name too), gazes out of the glorious pictures taken by her uber-talented photographer husband. There are teams of dreamy children, hounds to die for (I so want a dog) and the most incredible images of the rural Médoc. Even the recipes are inspiring, fabulous, and really work too. Take a peek. You’ll no doubt feel an urgent need to trade in your Tupperware for Terracotta and your M&S for Missoni, but there’s no denying it, Manger is a work of art.

But now’s the moment to get a grip. The huge basket of Seville oranges are waiting to fill the house with their fabulous wintery scent when I put on the marmalade later today. The hellebore buds in the garden are just days off bursting into flower. I’m beginning to reminisce about our fabulous visit to Lacock  in the sunshine last week and all of a sudden there seems plenty to get excited about. Right now I’m determined to celebrate all things British and where better to start than The National Trust and a bowlful of Black Badger Peas?

I’m ashamed to admit that a National Trust Membership did seem a rather middle-aged birthday present (I’m in denial), from my sister last year  but I’m loving it. The West Country is just packed with magical buildings and parks to visit, so last weekend with a clear blue sky calling we leapt into the car, proudly bearing our badge, and whistled off to Lacock Abbey (I’ve not got as far as packing the thermos and sandwiches yet, but just give me time). There’s no need for the tour guide bit now, you can find all that on the Lacock link. I’ll just say that it’s right up there with spots that I’ve traversed oceans and trekked up mountains to experience. The tythe barn, the abbey cloisters, early snowdrops and ploughman’s lunch in the pub. It’s a great reminder to celebrate what you’ve got in your own back yard.

And now to some other rather unlikely British stars – Black Badger Peas; you’ve probably never heard of them, I hadn’t until a few months ago. The fascinating thing is that we’ve been growing them in this country, along with fava beans, for hundreds of years. I came across the Black Badgers via Hodmedods, growers and purveyors of Great British peas and beans, whilst I was researching my book. Hodmedods, who are based in Norfolk, are doing a fabulous job of re-igniting our national appetite for beans. It’s easy to forget how big a role legumes have played in our national diet (think “pease pudding cold, pease pudding hot…….”). It seems bonkers that most of us are unaware that we’ve been exporting tons,  around 500, 000 tons a year I’m told, of beans to The Middle East for decades. At last we can eat British Baked Beans (yes, they even sell them by the can) along with local favas,  marrowfat peas and the evocatively named Black Badger pea. Black Badgers are also known as Carlin or Maple peas in the North of England or somewhat less glamourously as Grey Peas in the Black Country  (try the accent and they sound even more appetising!)

Hodmedod's British Black Badger Peas

I cooked up the Badgers on a particularly dismal day last week. I’d soaked them overnight and then cooked them for about 4o minutes (remarkably quick compared to most dried peas in my experience). After a bit of an Old Mother Hubbard moment  I reverted to my default way with legumes. It’s great to have a recipe up your sleeve that doesn’t usually require a trip to the shops. So here you have a simple adaptation of the Syrian lentils from my book Pulse.

Syrian-style Black Badgers

2-3 brown onions, sliced finely
4 tbsp olive oil
400 g cooked black badger peas ( cooked fava beans, cooked brown lentils would also work well)
1-2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and then ground
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 pinch of chilli flakes or better still 2 tsp of sweet Aleppo pepper flakes
1 small bunch fresh coriander, parsley or a few mint leaves, roughly chopped
juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon

Begin by frying the onion in the olive oil in a large saucepan, you could use a frying pan and then transfer them but I prefer to keep this as a one pot dish. Keep the temperature fairly low and allow the onions to soften, sweeten and turn gold, this may take about 20 minutes. Be patient.

Set aside half of the onions from the pan, turn up the heat and throw in the garlic, cumin and chilli. Stir and, as soon as you can really smell the garlic, add the peas and a couple of ladles of their cooking water.

Simmer for about 10 minutes, enough for the flavours to marry, stirring from time to time.
Have a taste and season with salt, pepper and enough lemon juice to really zip everything up. Add the rest of the onions and plenty of herbs.  I used mint as we had some rather moth-eaten leaves left in the garden (come on spring I need some fresh herbs) but coriander or parsley are fab’ too.

We ate our Badgers with sourdough and a squeeze of blood orange juice but they would be equally good with toasted pitta or lavash and a dollop of creamy Greek yoghurt.


DSC_9320

Peter has eaten ALOT of pulses over the years, as I experimented and tested my way through recipes, and he pronounced the Black Badger “one of his top three”(other winners to be revealed in later posts). I do agree that the entire dish was comforting and suprisingly nutty, without feeling too worthy or wholesome. Just give the Grey Pea a chance, it might not look much but it’s deeply satisfying.

Oranges are not the only fruit – Citrus fruit salad with a waft of rosemary

When did the blood orange drop its blood and become a blush? I planned to make a citrus salad this week and found myself getting all hot under the collar when I spotted blush oranges in the supermarket. Is this some poncey marketing ploy? Please tell me that they’re a slightly different type of orange, and not that “bloody” is somehow deemed too gruesome or coarse a term for your average shopper. My local green grocer, Reg the Veg, does thankfully continue to sell blood oranges amongst a fabulous range of other seasonal citrus fruit.

I have to confess that I’d never even heard of a Mineola or a Nadorcott before, they sound like something the Jabberwock might have gorged on, but I decided to have a citrus fest and buy a selection. I had a slightly tired looking Navel Orange languishing back at home in the fruit bowl too. I wish I could be bothered to peel them more often, once I’m over the faff oranges are one of my favourite things to eat. There’s a lady who always smuggles an orange into the sauna where I go to swim and I tell you, there is nothing better than a segment of chilled orange (she’s always very generous) in the sweltering heat and it smells pretty wonderful too. …..I resolve to use all citrus fruits before they turn blue and squashy this year. Below was the line up for my citrus salad.

Oranges are not the only fruitOn the left my well-matured Navel Orange- still suprisingly juicy and sweet.

Moving clockwise the Blood Orange – stunning to look at, bursting with intense citrussy-raspberry flavour and filled with magical anthocyanin (a powerful anti-oxidant).

Dipping down to the right we have the Nadorcott ( a seedless cross between an orange and a mandarin) – oooh easy to peel, very, very tasty and maybe my new desert island fruit

Top right, the Ruby Grapefruit that’s just that bit sweeter than your average grapefruit and looks stunning too.

Below is the Mineola,( a very juicy cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine) apparently also known as a honeybell – ever heard of one? I hadn’t either. Comes in at my number 3, after the Nardacott and the blood orange.

Bottom left is the leafy Clementine, the easiest of the lot to peel but perhaps my least favourite.

Citrus Fruit Salad and Rosemary Syrup for 4

A sprig of rosemary ( and perhaps a couple of extras for garnish)
4 tbsp sugar
150 ml water
About 8 pieces of fruit (to include at least 1 grapefruit)

Put the rosemary in a small saucepan with the sugar and water. Heat over a medium flame until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has bubbled down to a syrup. Set the pan aside and leave to continue infusing.

Meanwhile slice the peel off the fruit. I like to cut most of it into segments; a good serrated fruit knife is definitely the best tool for the job. You can squeeze the membrane left behind to make the most of any juice. Cut a couple of the smaller fruit into “equatorial” slices to add a bit extra interest. I did add the juice from a bitter Seville orange, as you can see in the picture below it was far to pippy and leathery to cut up.

Blood and Seville Oranges

Now pour over enough of the rosemary syrup to sweeten the fruit – do taste to gauge how much you need. The rosemary should be a subtle, almost indiscernable background flavour. The combination of citrus and rosemary is divine. Try making the syrup and pouring it over any lemon or orange cake. I’m planning on making an orange and rosemary jelly too.

You might find it tricky tracking down the Nadorcotts and Mineolas but be sure to snap up some blood oranges whilst you can, their season is short. They’re great for juicing, I love them  in a Moroccan style salad with mint and black olives and Stevie Parle makes an amazing salad with mozzarella and fennel

Citrus salad with rosemary syrup

 

The Ethicurean Wassail & Simple Apple & Cider Cake

The Ethicurean wassail

We went a-wassailing this weekend at the fabulous Ethicurean Restaurant  (If you haven’t heard of it, where have you been? You’d better catch up with a review or two) It’s one of my favourite places not just to eat, but to be. The restaurant’s set in the old greenhouses of a Victorian walled garden, so you look out over rows of carefully nurtured vegetables with a backdrop of sweeping views out across the Mendip Hills. It’s the kind of place that I always take my Catalan friends when I want to show off; Barcelona can’t fail on the urban-cool front but when it comes to bucolic-country, we win hands down.
Supper was fabulous- You may need your reading spec’s but I’ll let you read the menu and salivate ( too fuzzy – take a look here). Ethicurean Wassail Supper

I’ve included some pictures of the food too, they’re small because I snapped them on a tiny camera with no flash but hopefully they will give you the feel. I still haven’t got to grips with taking pictures in a restaurant, it interrupts the conversation, they rarely do justice to the food and I’m usually so busy eating that I forget – So these may be my first and last. You’ll spot a “magic” black and white bean on the pudding plate, it was hidden in my toffee apple cake and so I was instantly transformed into the wassail queen.

So, after a stupendous feast we made our torch-lit trek down into the apple orchard to do our wassailing duties – to bless the trees, scare off the evil spirits and feed the robin (with cider-soaked toast) My role was to be hoisted up into the boughs  by two “burly volunteers” (ahem … their words not mine) to hang the toast in the tree. At this point I was feeling that I’d made a wardrobe faux-pas with my tomato red, down jacket (not very country -rather spoiling the idyllic rustic performance) so I was relieved to see Robin, the orchard guardian, in full fluorescent lycra. The Ethicureans are thankfully not too earnest about these things.

The ceremony was followed by a “spirited” and ludicrous Mummer’s play with plenty of flames and wafting of worryingly inflammable capes . Then back to the glass house for great music and mulled cider. Quite simply a fabulous evening.
But now for a recipe as I’ve been pretty slack of late. The quickest way out would be to direct you to the wonderful Ethicurean Cookbook ( I will certainly be trying out the pear and cardamom cake very soon) but I’ll pull out the stops and give you a really simple apple and cider cake recipe of my own. So simple in fact that little Imi and her friend Freya baked this cake at the very first meeting of the Monday Baking Club.

Apple and Cider Cake
3 eating apples, peeled and sliced
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Juice of ½ lemon
3 tbsp cider
170g butter, softened
170g soft brown sugar (or a mixture of dark brown sugar and caster sugar)
3 medium eggs, beaten
170g flour
2 tsp baking powder

For the glaze
2 tbsp cider
4 tbsp icing sugar

Pre heat the oven to 190 C/375 F.

Grease a 23 cm/9 inch spring-form cake tin with butter and line the bottom with baking parchment.

Toss the apples in a bowl with the cinnamon, vanilla extract, lemon juice and cider.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg to the butter and sugar a little at a time, take care to beat thoroughly between additions, throwing in a tablespoon of flour if the mixture begins to curdle.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold into the cake mixture along with the liquid from the apple slices.

Now spread the mixture over the bottom of the tin and add the apple slices. You need not be too precious about the arrangement, as the sponge will rise up and cover most of the apple.

Place in the middle of the oven and cook for about 50 minutes until a deep, golden brown.

Spear the centre of the cake with a skewer, it should come out clean, any custardy juices and the cakes needs a few more minutes.

Leave the cake to cool a little in the tin.

Meanwhile mix together the cider and icing sugar to make a thin glaze.

Brush the top of the cake with the glaze and serve warm or at room temperature.Cider and apple cake