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Valentine Wishlist

While surfing the web over the last for weeks I’ve spotted fantastic ideas to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It doesn’t have to be a box of Milk Tray and flowers from the garage down the road or even a huge bunch of roses, it’s about a token gesture to show someone how much you appreciate and love them.

Storeyshop has a beautiful selection of hand cut and laser cut cards in her Folksy shop. She also does commissions. For our wedding anniversary she made me a I love you more than my KitchenAid card.

HWR Designs Helen is based in Hilton on the Derbyshire, Staffordshire border. I particularly love the fabric birds she makes at the moment.

The Blossom Tree Flowers on the 14th of February don’t always have to be roses. Tulips and anemones are some of my favourite flowers and I certainly wouldn’t be unhappy if this beautiful bouquet arrived for me. Kerry is also giving 10% off orders over £25 if ordered before 31st January. Just enter iloveyou at the checkout.

Pong – Say I Love You with cheese. I’m a big fan of Pong, but just be warned lots of the cheese they sell are true to their name! Always fantastic interesting choice of cheeses with great service.

The Montpelier Basement – This Supperclub, based in Bristol, is hosting an Anti Valentine weekend that is perfect for those of you want to avoid dodgy dining experiences around the 14th.

A Quarter of – They do say a way to a man’s heart is thorough his stomach and I know the hamper from A Quarter of I gave Hubs for his birthday went down very well. I admit I’m partial to a packet of fizzy Love Hearts.

National Trust Tea Room – While many National Trust properties are closed at the moment many of the gardens and tea rooms are still open. How about a lovely walk followed by a well-earned cream tea from one of their renowned tea rooms? I can personally vouch for the fabulous cream teas served at Calke Abbey and Berrington Hall.

Quirky Cookies & Cakes – Wendy is also based in Derbyshire and makes fantastic biscuits and her rocky road is to die for!

River Cottage Valentine’s Feast – We attended this feast a few years back and it was an amazing experience. A I write this they have a few tickets left for this fabulous event.

Ginger Beer

Hubs is partial to ginger beer be it a glass of tastebud tingling Luscombe Hot Ginger Beer of a pint of Crabbies.When he saw the River Cottage Every Day episode where they made ginger beer he knew he had to make it. Now given some of our past adventures in brewing haven’t exactly been successful, um Nettle Beer that had an acquired taste and looked like dishwater, I tried not to get too excited about this latest foray.

When studying A’level biology as part of the Food Science module along with making sauerkraut we also made ginger beer. Looking back it was quite odd that us 17 year olds were encouraged to make alcohol all in the name of science. Back then my ginger beer went very well, possibly too well as it exploded all over the garage. The tale of when I covered the garage in ginger beer is often recalled around the family dinner table. This time the bottle was sitting behind my desk and I wasn’t going to let this bottle explode. 2 days into brewing the bottle began to make the tell-tale squealing sound that a plastic bottle makes when it is about to shoot its gingery contents across the room. That day I had to release the gas from the bottle no less that 3 times to keep the pressure at a safe limit.

After chilling the beer to stop the yeast and filtering it I have to say it’s made a decent drinkable beer. We have attempted to measure the alcohol content of the beer using a hydrometer. Made an error with the first measurements making us think we had made a 4% beer, but in reality it’s around the 3% mark.  It’s certainly worth giving this recipe a try, just remember to keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t explode. If you made it today it would be ready for Christmas.

Ginger Beer
from River Cottage Every Day

¼ tsp brewer’s yeast (you can get it in Wilkinsons)

225g caster sugar

1½-2 tbsp finely grated fresh root ginger

Juice of 1 lemon

1 good tbsp honey

screw-top, 2-litre plastic bottles, which you have cleaned thoroughly using sterilising tablets

1) Add the yeast to the bottle. With a funnel, pour in the sugar.

2) Mix the grated ginger with the lemon juice and honey.

3) Pour the ginger mixture through the funnel into the bottle. Now fill the bottle about ¾ full with water, put the cap on and shake the bottle until all the sugar is dissolved.

4) Top up the bottle with water, leaving a 2.5cm gap at the top, to allow for production of gas. Cap the bottle tightly, then place it somewhere warm. Leave it for about 48 hours. Once the bottle feels very hard and has no give in it, your beer should be ready.

5) Place the bottle in the fridge for several hours to stop the yeast working. Once the beer is thoroughly chilled, pass it through a fine sieve and serve.


A Taste of the Unexpected

I’ve been a fan of Mark Diacono for a while. He runs UK’s first climate change farm, Otter Farm, and is head gardener at River Cottage. His River Cottage Handbook: Veg Patch is a well used book in this house so when I saw Mark was writing a new book it went straight on my wishlist. After helping Issy at Fennel & Fern with a project she offered to send me a copy of Mark’s new book, A Taste of the Unexpected. Trust me, I do get sent some not so great free stuff from various companies and I choose to not inflict these on you but this book is not one of those.  Not only does it have fantastic photography, by Mark himself, but great content.

The main theme of this book is to not grow boring everyday things you can can easily buy, but to try rarer plants that are more or less impossible to buy; A concept we have been loosely using on our garden for the last year or so. It was great to see some plants featured that we’ve tried to successfully of unsuccessfully grow recently. As the book is full of great tips we may attempt some of the plants again next year with hopefully better results. Each plant in the book is not only accompanied with growing instructions and tips, but also recipes. We are yet to try any of the recipes, but they certainly look good. Some of the plants featured are not suitable for our garden due to size, but we will certainly bear them in mind for our future, hopefully bigger, gardens. I will admit that I find a large amount of gardening books quite sleep-inducing, but this book is anything but and I hope it becomes as well-thumbed as River Cottage Handbook: Veg Patch

As our garden winds down for the winter we look back and see what worked and what didn’t work. Sadly Romanesco didn’t survive the caterpillar onslaught of Summer ’10 but the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is fighting on through and hopefully we’ll have a harvest in the new year. The white Alpine Strawberries finally fruited and while the vine still hasn’t shown any fruit it gave some vivid green colour to the garden. The overall winner of the garden this year has been peas. Easy and delicious. Next year, as inspired by Mark, the plans include: Egyptian Walking Onion, another attempt at Romanesco, Daylillies and Szechuan Peppers.


Croissants have been on my Want To Make list for a long time, but I just hadn’t had the nerve to make them so I was glad when I saw that Corrie from Hot Potato had decided to these being April’s Fresh from the Oven challenge. To make it even better the recipe was from my bread bible – River Cottage Handbook: Bread. I think I would go as far to say this turned out to be one of my favourite Fresh from the Oven challenge so far.

I only did a half batch as the amount of butter being used in the full recipe scared me slightly, even though I knew the amount of butter per croissant would still be the same! Well I have to say I’ve now been truly spoilt. Never did I think I would be able to make such delicious croissants. These are only matched by freshly baked croissants from a bakery near a friend’s house in Bristol. I think we’ll struggle to go back to the ready-made versions we usually have on our Sunday treat breakfasts from the shops. Don’t let the long instructions put you off, they are easier than it makes out and so worth it. If the amount of butter scares you, one thing I will say is that you get a good workout rolling the dough out into the giant rectangle.

Makes 24-28 croissants
From River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens

1 kg strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
20 g salt
330 ml warm water
330 ml warm milk
10g powdered dried yeast (instant/bread machine yeast)
140g caster sugar/white sugar
500g unsalted butter

For glaze:
2 medium egg yolks
50ml milk

1) It is best to use a food mixer for the first stage as the dough will be soft, sticky and difficult to knead by hand. So, put all the ingredients, except the butter, into the mixer bowl and fit the dough hook. Knead on low to medium speed until the dough is soft, stretchy and satiny – about 10 minutes. Put the dough in a decent sized polythene bag (it needs room to rise), suck out the air, tie a knot in the bag and put it in the fridge to rest over night.

2) First thing in the morning, get the butter out of he fridge. You need it to warm up a bit so it is workable, but not soft. The idea is that the dough and the butter have a similar degree of firmness.

3) As soon as it seems ready, lightly flour the butter, lay it between two sheets of cling film and bat it out with a rolling pin to a fairly neat square about 1cm thick. Take your time to get the thickness and shape as even as possible, then put it to one side.

4) Take your dough out of the fridge, flour it and roll out to a rectangle, a little more than twice the size of the butter (allow a couple of centimeters extra all around). Now lay the butter on one half leaving a border, fold the other half over and press down all the way round to seal the butter in.

5) Next roll the dough away from you until it is twice its original length, then fold the top and bottom edges in by one sixth. Fold them in again by another sixth, so the folds meet in the middle, then fold one on top of the other.

6) Give the dough a quarter turn and roll it out again to about the same size as before, fold the top and bottom edges in to meet at the middle, then fold one on top of the other. Roll this out slightly and seal the edges with the rolling pin.

7) Put the dough back in the plastic bag and return it to the fridge to rest for an hour or so. (You’ve given the gluten a good workout and it must relax now, otherwise it will be resistant and uncooperative later.) *I found the dough extremely resistant after a 2 hour rest and I had to use a herculean effort to roll it out. I did halve the dough and let the second half rest overnight and had a much easier time rolling it out. Unless you’re a body builder I would advise a longer rest than an hour or two.

8 ) In the meantime, you need to cut a template from a piece of cardboard (the back of a cereal box or something similar). You want an isosceles triangle, measuring 20cm across the base and 25cm tall. (The easiest way is to draw an upside down capital T and join the points, like a cartoon sail).

9) When your dough has rested, unwrap and roll it out to a neat rectangle, a little larger than 140cm x 50cm . Now trim the rectangle to these measurements leaving perfectly straight edges. Cut the rectangle in two lengthwise, to give two 25cm wide strips. Now using your template as a guide, cut 12-14 triangles from each strip.

10) Lay each triangle away from you and roll it up from the base. Wet the pointed end and seal it. Curl the tips around to form a crescent and pinch them together to hold them in place; or you can leave them straight if you prefer. (At this point you could freeze some if you like. Space them out on a tray and freeze, then pack into bags. Allow an extra hour for rising when you come to use them).

11) Lay your croissants with the sealed point underneath, on baking trays lined with greased baking parchment or (better still) silicone mats. Cover with cling film or a bin liner and leave to rise until doubled in side. As the dough is cold, this could take a couple of hours, or longer.

12) When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C/400F /Gas Mark 6. Beat the egg yolk and the milk together, then gently brush all over the croissants. Bake for about 10 minutes, then lower the setting to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 and bake for further 10-15 minutes until they look beautifully golden. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly, while you make coffee.

P.S. If your work surface isn’t large enough to roll the dough out to a 140 x 50cm rectangle, cut it in half. Roll out one portion at a time to a rectangle a little bigger than 70 x 50cm, then cut the strips as above and cut 6 or 7 triangles from each strip, using your template as a guide.


Back in February I made focaccia, to accompany Snow day soup, successfully for the first time. Then later on in February I attended a course with Dan Stevens & Aiden Chapman at River Cottage to learn the art of bread making. Between Hubby & I we made so much bread on the course, which was stashed in the freezer, it is only now I’ve really been able to put the skills I learnt at River Cottage into practice. One of the biggest things I learnt on the course was that I was relying on my mixer to do all the work and not kneading the dough for long enough.

While down at River Cottage we popped to The Town Mill, Lyme Regis, a water-powered flour mill. There we were able to purchase some wholemeal flour that had been ground of the premises using the old grinding stones. The organic grain for grinding came from Tamarisk Farm

I’ve been waiting for us to finish our bread stash so I could try out this flour. I wasn’t brave enough to make a loaf with 100% wholemeal so to make the focaccia I used 3/4 strong bread flour and 1/4 of this Town Mill flour. Like usual the the foccacia baked really well and the Town Mill flour certainly gave depth to the flavour.

Another ingredient I’ve also discovered recently is Maldon’s flakey Sea Salt. I’d seen it before in shops, but couldn’t see how and expensive salt could be so significantly different to ‘normal’ salt. Back in the new year while eating at friends she had used it on her cooking, then I suddenly understood why it is so good. I now use it on focaccia and a few other things. You only need a small amount of it so it lasts a long time.

Like all bread baking I do I’ll be submitting this to the wonderful & inspiring yeastspotting.

Makes 1 large foccacia
From River Cottage – Bread

500g strong white bread flour
5g fast action yeast
10g fine salt
325ml warm water (mix 100ml boiling water with 225ml of cold water)
1 tbsp olive oil
flaky sea salt

1) Mix together the flour, yeast, salt and water. Once the ingredients are combined add the olive oil. Knead for around 10 min until the dough is smooth and silky. At the stage, if using a mixer, the bowl should be clean of dough.

2) Shape the dough into a round and leave to rise in a covered and greased bowl until it has nearly doubled in size.

3) Tip the dough out and work in a rough rectangle shape then place in an oiled baking tray. Cover and allow to rise for 20 min.

4) Preheat the oven to 250oc (or as high as it will go). When the bread has had its half hour rise prod it with your fingers to get the cratered texture, drizzle generously with olive oil then sprinkle with salt & rosemary.

5) Bake for 10 min then bake for a further 10min at 200oc. Leave to cool on a wire rack for around 10 min before serving.

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