A little seedy…

When we moved into the castle we inherited a mostly neglected and weed-infested vegetable patch, which included a clump of thyme and a spindly coriander plant. The thyme is now the size of a small shrub and the coriander has gone to seed in spectacular fashion. I pulled it out yesterday and planted some spring onions in its place, but not before I cut off all the seed heads. Offering them to visitors is my new party trick – they are SO insanely coriander-y and fresh. Or, as Jeremy put it yesterday, “Bugger the leaves, let’s just eat the seeds!”

If you’ve never eaten a fresh coriander seed then you need to get out into your garden right now (or make a mental note to do so if your garden is currently covered in slush). They’re also good scattered in salads or over olives, but nothing beats eating them straight off the stalk.

Give us today our daily bread…

Chief among my New Year resolutions is the one to make bread. About 10 years ago I had a sourdough starter on the go all the time and made bread a lot, partly because I was living in big shared flats and there were always lots of willing eaters. I’ve decided that 2011 is the year to get back in the saddle and am challenging myself to make bread of some sort at least once a week.

But because I wasn’t organised enough to have a sourdough starter on the go for January 1 (that was the old me, so 2010!), I used Hugh F-W’s recipe for a ‘cheaty yeasty sponge loaf’. This is brilliant, no-stress breadmaking – especially if you employ a mixer to do all the kneading. I do love kneading but I think I love being able to do other things while the mixer is doing all the work even more. I haven’t quite got it nailed yet, but for once time is on my side.

Cheat’s Sourdough (from River Cottage Everyday)
These instructions assume a working knowledge of basic breadmaking – if you can’t follow them, then you can definitely find far more experienced advice elsewhere on the interweb!

500g strong bread flour (I used some Italian 00 flour lurking in the pantry)
5g dried yeast (about 1 1/2 tsp)
2tsp fine sea salt
325ml warm water

The night before you want your bread to be ready, combine 250g of the flour with the yeast and water. Beat to form a thick batter, then cover with cling film and leave overnight.
In the morning, beat in the remaining flour and salt, then knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and silky. It will be fairly sticky and wet to start with. (I use the dough hook in my freestanding mixer so I can have a cup of tea and check my emails while the bread is doing its thing).
Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for an hour or two, until  doubled in size. Knock back (deflate) the dough and shape, then cover loosely and let rise until doubled in size again.
Preheat the oven to 250C. About five minutes before you want to put the loaf in the oven, put a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the proving basket/bowl, upside down, on to the sheet. Slash the top of the loaf a few times with a very sharp knife or pair of scissors.
Put the loaf into the hot oven and give a few squirts of water from a clean spray bottle over and around it. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 200C, give the oven another spray, and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool completely, on a rack (or wait at least 20 minutes) before slicing.

Do you have any foodie New Year resolutions? Better still, do you have a great bread recipe for me to try?

Sweet sweet Friday: Sweet Hana’s Raspberry Syrup

Where did 2010 go? Am I the only one who feels like the end of the year has sneaked up on them? Most people I’ve spoken to recently seem glad to see the back of 2010 and I can understand how they feel. It’s been a tough old year in lots of ways that I won’t bore you with now, but we’ve survived relatively unscathed and for that I am extremely thankful.

Portrait of the artist as a demented soak

One of the things that’s happened to our little family that I’m most grateful for is that we found Hana, who looks after the Small Girl when I’m at work.
Before we moved and I started my new job I told people I was looking for a Mary Poppins-alike. They all laughed and told me horrible stories about prison-style childcare centres or nightmare nannies, assuring me that I was looking for a needle in a haystack. In fact, finding Hana – a modern Mary Poppins – was so easy that we still can’t believe our luck. The Small Girl loves her to bits and we think she’s brilliant.

Last week Hana turned up with a pile of presents for us all (see, I told you she was lovely!), including a whole stocking-ful of treats she’d made. This pretty pink syrup was one of them. The Boy Wonder has been sneaking it to pour over strawberries and yoghurt for breakfast, but we’re saving the rest to splash into glasses of bubbles tonight for a fruity toast to 2010.

Here’s hoping we all have a sweet, sweet end to 2010 and much happiness in 2011. See you in the new year!

Hana’s Raspberry Syrup

1 cup raspberries, plus a few more to garnish
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
juice of half a lemon

Bring all ingredients to the boil in a medium saucepan. Keep boiling until the mixture thickens slightly. Strain through a sieve into a jug, then pour into sterilised jars or bottles in which you have placed a few whole raspberries. Seal and allow to cool. This syrup can be stored for about two months unopened, but store it in the fridge and use within a week once you’ve opened it. Makes about 400ml.

Do you have a favourite end of the week – and in this case, end of the year – sweet treat? Add it here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Good enough to eat: Body Scrub

It was called pampepato and it was going to be the answer to all my Christmas present woes. I’d found the recipe for this medieval Italian treat – a kind of panforte – and bought all the ingredients. I set aside an afternoon in my tumbledown kitchen and imagined all the grateful recipients sighing with joy as they bit into their handcrafted festive treat.
Then I took the finished products out of the oven.
“Oh,” my flatmate said, peering over my shoulder. “It looks like a whole lot of cowpats.”

I’ve since learned that Christmas plus stress plus the best will in the world will not necessarily equal success. By this stage in the game it’s far too late to make chutneys and jams, but you can make this – a no-cook, no stress body scrub. And your friends and family will love you for it.

Chocolate Olive Oil Body Scrub
I snitched this recipe from Melissa at Tiny Happy, who has a really gorgeous blog about the things she makes for her shop. I’ve changed the proportions a tiny bit and added cinnamon for a bit of festive spice. It’s moisturising and exfoliating (especially good for getting rid of dodgy fake tan streaks) – and possibly the most waistline-friendly way to get a serious chocolate hit. Enjoy!

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar (not raw sugar, unless you have the hide of an elephant)
1/2 cup cocoa
2tsp cinnamon

Mix everything together until well combined. Add a little more oil or sugar to get the consistency you desire – it should be a nice blend of grittiness and viscosity. Pack into a small glass jar and decorate in a festive fashion.

Thinking pink: Roasted Beetroot Salad

I’ll never forget the day a box of organic fruit and veg turned up at my desk in London. My colleagues poked about in it, making hopeful enquiries about the possibility of there being some organic chocolate inside. Then one of them pulled out a bunch of gloriously crimson beetroot. “What’s this?” she asked, as if it might bite. It took about 10 minutes of convincing her, along with the help of some internet pictures, that it was really, truly beetroot. I’m not sure how she thought it grew. In the tin?

I love beetroot every which way – raw, roasted, boiled, out of the tin and inserted in a proper Kiwi burger. When I saw some baby beets with their greens still attached at the market in the weekend I couldn’t wait to get them home and make this seasonally appropriate salad. Beetroot is a natural partner for ham and this would be a good addition to a Christmas spread, not least because it’s also good for your liver and your sex drive (according to lovebeetroot.co.uk) at a time of year when both probably need all the help they can get…

Roasted Beetroot Salad
The tinfoil package technique has come from my beloved Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It keeps the beetroot and garlic soft and moist – and means there’s no oven tray to wash afterwards. This is just as well,  because unless you take a tip from Nigella and wear latex gloves while you’re handling the cooked beetroot, you’ll spend a lot of time feeling like Lady Macbeth and trying to get those crimson stains off your hands.
Note: If you can’t find beetroot with the greens attached, use another robust sort of green leaf, such as spinach or cos lettuce.

500g bunch of baby beetroot, preferably with greens attached but long rat-tail like roots chopped off
3 cloves garlic
a few sprigs of thyme (optional)
splash of olive oil
handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
edible flowers if you have them (nasturtiums, coriander flowers

1tsp honey
1/2 tsp mustard powder (or mustard)
pinch of sea salt and black pepper
3Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2Tbsp red wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 200C. Wash the beetroot and cut off their greens. Pat the beetroot dry with some kitchen towel and set the leaves aside in a salad spinner or clean teatowel (in the fridge). Take a large piece of foil and put the beetroot, garlic and thyme on top. Drizzle over some olive oil, then fold the foil to fully enclose the contents like a parcel. Put on an oven tray and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beetroot can be pierced with a skewer. Set aside to cool completely.

When you’re ready to eat, squeeze the garlic cloves out into a small bowl and mash up with the honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Add the oil and garlic and stir well to form a thick dressing. Taste for seasoning.
Shred the beetroot greens and mint leaves into ribbons and pile into a bowl or platter. Peel the beetroot – the skins will slip off easily – and cut into wedges, then scatter on top of the greens. Drizzle with the dressing and you’re good to go.