I enjoyed listening to an interview recently with a mobile librarian in the Black Country, who drives her converted transit van around the country roads, housing estates and visiting care homes. We might have imagined the walls of the van stacked high with dusty books, however this mobile library had a children’s snug area, audio books and kindles for customers to borrow, computers and DVDs too. This amazing lady also talked about the surprising demand for cookery books, the best sellers (Mary Berry being top of the request list) along with old favourites, like the illustrated All Colour Cook Books, that I for sure cut my culinary teeth on.
Many of us enjoy those hard-backed cookery books reliant on brilliant photography and creative writing that we can ponder and salivate over on a rainy afternoon, yet would never even dream of actually following the recipe or finding the ingredients. These wonderful books compete against the numerous websites, magazines, tweets and blogs to get our attention for a new food fad or, heaven forbid, yet another diet. Food writers have found new ways of reaching us. The food blogger in particular has become an incredible resource for us food lovers, and for those passionate about origins of ingredients and long lost recipes. Many bloggers write with colour and enquiry, as if they want to dissect a dish, the people who prepared it and the history of why. We don’t ‘know’ these bloggers, but they introduce us to their life’s highs and lows and what food or drink soothes or excites. The photography too is inspiring, yet they are mostly just ‘snaps’ of the moment. Thankfully there isn’t much negativity in the world of food blogging although a single blog can crush a young business with its withering criticism, but for those that are following their passion it is mostly a joyous exploration. My favourite is ‘Eat Like a Girl’ – a London food blogger, voted one of Britain’s top 500 most influential people. I follow Ottolenghi’s tweets, of course, as he posts amazing photos from his test kitchen, travels and has interesting foodie ideas. I don’t write a blog but I do tweet occasionally, and I am one of those despicable people who whips out my camera to photograph my food before devouring it, if it is exceptionally beautiful, tempting or downright ridiculous.
Phil James from Ludwell Stores may be pleased about this deplorable habit, as he has turned ‘Truly Scrumptious’ into a blog style section on the new Ludwell Stores website www.ludwellstores.co.uk. Most back issues of ‘Truly’ are there, going back to the very first column in December 2009 (Venison ragout with chestnuts, port and orange). When you get past the wonderful ingredients and introductions to Ludwell Stores suppliers, you will find the jottings and recipes of issues past. Phil is keen to add inspiring photographs to enliven the words and recipes. Please send in your photos of successful, or otherwise, ‘Truly’ dishes. Just imagine, those mobile library customers in the Black Country can also access these recipes – ‘Truly’ has gone global! Thank you Phil. aif
Beef and Green Pepper Goulash
£14.80 when all ingredients purchased in the Donheads.
According to the numerous writings about this classic dish, it’s the onions that make it so authentic. Traditional Hungarian goulash is more of a soup, whilst other versions are a wet stew – this recipe is the latter, a meal in one with lots of sweet onion, that dissolve in to the sauce. You can use sausages, pork, chicken or vegetables if you don’t want beef – it will still be a goulash.
4 tbsp rapeseed or other plain oil
1.25 kg onions, sliced very thinly
2 cloves of garlic, grated or finely chopped
1.5 kg shin of beef or stewing steak cut into medium size pieces
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp paprika (sweet – not smoked)
1½ tbsp hot paprika (optional/reduced quantities depending on taste)
1 tsp caraway seeds crushed in a pestle and mortar
1 tbsp brown sugar
4 tsp cider vinegar
1 large green pepper, sliced into fingers or chunks
Seasoning – black pepper and salt
Chopped flat leaf parsley and sour cream for serving
To make the Goulash
1. Fry (in a very large pan) the sliced onions in the oil, stirring continuously, until soft and just starting to colour. This will take some time as the onions caramelise slowly.
2. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, then add the tomato. puree, paprika, crushed caraway seeds, sugar and generous seasoning
3. Add the vinegar and 1 litre of water, bring to the boil, then add the beef and stir well.
4. Turn down to a gentle simmer for 2½ hours partly covered, whilst checking and stirring frequently.
5. Check the meat for tenderness after 2 hours and add the green pepper, adding additional water if required, until the meat is just perfect.
6. Remove the meat from the pan and reduce liquid with peppers until thickened and peppers soft but not disintegrating.
7. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley, a dollop of sour cream and chunks of warm crusty bread – Ludwell Stores part baked sourdough or rye bread are perfect.
A truly, truly scrumptious all in one, comforting winter meal.
With most new spring bulbs planted snugly in the ground to appear from early January, I am ashamed to say that I am sitting looking at two huge boxes full of bulbs still in their net bags. I have taken it upon myself to plant over a thousand spring bulbs for a friend for whom spring 2017 will be significant, as it is likely to be her last. I wrote a couple of years ago in ‘Truly’ about Bhavna, my friend who is living with an aggressive brain tumour. Then I told you about her love of spices and pepper. However she also adores colour – the brighter the better, so this spring planting scheme will be a blaze! With Bhavna and her family’s agreement, we will plant the already potted bulbs by digging up the lawn to create new beds. Come January–April she will be able to enjoy the spring colour from the house. It should be quite a display.
I can’t be trusted with a bulb catalogue, especially those with ‘wholesale’ on the front as you can only buy in quantity, pampering to my weakness for doing things to excess. As well as the thousand plus bulbs for Bhavna, I also have 200 wild garlic rhizomes and 500 saffron crocus bulbs (Crocus sativus) to plant in my own garden and am thankful for two young apprentices (13 years going on 14) who will be coming to help me tomorrow.
The saffron crocus grows well in this country although they flower in autumn rather than spring, which is why I am worried I have so many of them trying to flower in their net bags now. A very small amount of saffron can totally change the aroma and colour of a dish, and happily so, since saffron is the most expensive spice in the world – gosh I could be sitting on a gold mine! What I must master still, is the skill it takes to collect (with tweezers), dry and grade the saffron laced stamens. So….look out. My saffron could be sold in Ludwell Stores in a couple of years – who couldn’t resist a few grams of local gold dust!
Whilst I love the intense colour of saffron, for me I associate it more with summer, so at this time of year I turn to cinnamon. Christmas memories for me are sparked by the smell of cinnamon, in iced biscuits and mulled wine for example, filling the house with their amazing aromas. I am a great fan of cinnamon, probably using it more in sweet rather than in savoury dishes although they can be spectacular there too, adding colour and depth to Moroccan dishes like tagine. I might add cinnamon to ice cream, apple puree, custards and pies perhaps with some star anise or nutmeg. To add a word of caution however, I find ground cinnamon stales more quickly than any other spice so check the best before date or you will be adding coloured dust to your dishes, rather unpleasant and disappointing. Do try these wonderful cinnamon rolls this season, giving yourself a few relaxing moments to knead and roll before family and guests arrive home to the wondrous smell of home baking and yes, of Christmas. Have a merry one everyone.
Makes 24 if you are skilled and experienced, however for those trying this for the first time (and you really must – it’s easy-peasy) you will have anything between 1 merged lumpy loaf for tearing and sharing or 30 smaller buns. Read the recipe first as it’s best to have trays buttered and mixes made beforehand.
Approx. £5.75 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
Cinnamon roll dough
250 ml warm milk
2½ tsp (or one packet) yeast
110 g caster sugar
113 g butter – melted gently
2 tsp salt
2 eggs (medium) mixed together well
575 g plain flour and a little for handling
Cinnamon roll filling
220 g soft brown sugar
2½ tbs freshly ground cinnamon
113 g butter
Cinnamon roll frosting
113 g softened butter
192 g icing sugar
57 g cream cheese
½ tbs vanilla essence
Preheat oven to 200°C / Gas mark 6. AGA top oven – middle shelf (at stage 8)
1. Add the yeast and sugar to the warm milk in a large bowl. Stir gently to combine and allow the yeast to foam. Once the yeast has stopped bubbling, stir in the melted butter, salt, eggs and flour. Gently mix until well combined.
2. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10–12 minutes (it will be wet to start, don’t despair), then form a large ball and place into a large buttered bowl.
3. Cover the bowl with cling film or a tea towel and stand in a warm place, allowing to rise to double the size.
4. Place the risen dough on a large lightly floured surface and roll to a 1 cm (¼ inch) thickness. Your dough sheet will be quite large. Keep the dough long side to you (i.e. rectangle landscape style).
5. Spread the softened butter (not melted) over the top of the dough (be gentle).
6. Stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon then sprinkle generously all over the buttered dough, right to the edges.
7. Now …. with the long edge to you (as above landscape orientation), start to roll the dough tightly, front to back, long edge first like a tight swiss roll, until a log of rolled dough has been formed (with lovely layers of cinnamon sugar visible).
8. Taking a sharp knife, cut the dough roll in 2.5 cm (1 inch) slices and place on a lightly buttered sheet.
9. Allow rolls to rise for 30 minutes then cook until lightly browned for 15–20 minutes only. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
10. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting by creaming together butter, icing sugar, cream cheese, vanilla and salt.
11. Spread frosting generously over rolls while they are warm. Please share them.
A truly, truly scrumptious treat especially with a mug of steaming hot chocolate
I just love mushrooms. I’m fascinated by their beauty and miraculous appearance not to mention their deliciousness. Nonetheless my passion for eating them and being haunted, as I am, by their potential to do serious harm, I have never been tempted to forage for them myself.
As autumn draws near, many others are looking forward to the thrill of the mushroom hunt, poking and peering into dark corners and shady recesses using their noses as well as their eyes to forage among the wet underwood in search of ceps, morels, chanterelles, shaggy ink cap (sounds poisonous from its name, but they are not) and common field mushrooms but there is still danger out there as someone recently said “All mushrooms are edible, but some you’ll eat only once”.
The only mushroom I would feel confident plucking from the ground, is the giant puffball. These are huge, white and loosely spherical with no stalk, reminiscent of overgrown marshmallows. Puffballs with their delicate flavour are perfect for soups, as they are easy to blend down nicely. They are a little like the pumpkins of the mushroom world, extremely profligate, with their spores, found in meadows and pastures often near hedges. When I walked my dog at Rushmore I would see them dotted all over the place; however, they were mostly covered in brown blemishes and should be avoided. When I first moved to Ludwell nearly sixteen years ago, my neighbour brought home a giant puffball, giving me a large slice the size of my hand. I cooked it slowly in a frying pan with butter and a little salt and served it on crunchy ciabatta toast. Recalling this delicious meal makes my mouth water and makes me want to get out there and find one of my own.
I have planted two Kentish cob trees in my garden which have been impregnated with truffle spores – summer truffle (Tuber aestivum), I presume, as it is the only truffle that grows in this country. According to the experts you need a trained animal to hunt for the hidden treasure. Fortunately, I know where I have planted mine and so won’t be buying a pig anytime soon. Fresh white truffle which is grown in north-western Italy, and is three times the cost of the more common black truffle from France, has flavour so intense that it is used very sparingly, shaved onto risotto or added to ravioli with cheese in minute amounts. There really is something truly seductive about truffles.
I plan to cultivate my own mushrooms this autumn. I learnt the simple method whilst on a course a few years ago. You need a supply of freshly cut hardwood logs and spore-impregnated dowels which you insert into the logs then leave them in a damp shady area for many months, then you ‘shock’ them by banging them very hard on the ground and, in a couple of weeks, out pop the mushrooms. Sounds straightforward. We will see, I shall be sure to update you via these pages. Happy hunting if you know what you are doing!
Mushroom, Spinach and Goats Cheese Lasagne
Approx. £8.95 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
This delicious lasagne will work with almost any mushroom you care to mention. Fresh ceps would be my first choice mixed with field or chestnut mushrooms, but use whatever is around. Dried mushrooms, shiitake for example, may be a little too strong for this dish.
800 ml Béchamel sauce, made with 750 ml milk and 175 ml cream
100 g Parmesan plus a little for sprinkling
½ tsp grated nutmeg
300 g spinach, washed, de-stalked, dunked in boiling water for 1 minute
2 cloves garlic, chopped
250 g goats cheese (mild, creamy) or use Ricotta
150 g shallots – finely diced
75 ml olive oil
500 g mushrooms – sliced
1 tbs fresh tarragon – chopped
Handful parsley – chopped
200 ml crème fraiche
Good glug Marsala or sherry
300 g fresh lasagne or 250 g dried and cooked (don’t use lasagne that claims you don’t need to pre-cook)
Preheat oven to 200°C / Gas mark 6 AGA top oven – middle shelf
1. Having made the béchamel, add the nutmeg, Parmesan and seasoning to taste. Whisk hard until smooth and put aside placing greaseproof paper on the top to avoid a skin forming.
2. Dunk the washed spinach leaves into boiling water for 30 seconds until wilted, refresh with cold water, dry and chop roughly, not too finely.
3. Add the goat’s cheese in lumps or teaspoons to the spinach, keeping it rough and loose, you want the cheese to be identifiable on the plate, so mix gently.
4. To make the mushroom mix, sauté the shallots and garlic in a large pan, using the olive oil. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat the mushrooms in the shallots and oil. Cook for around 10 minutes until the mushroom liquid has evaporated.
5. Add a glug of Marsala or sherry and cook hard until the liquid has been absorbed and breathe in the wonderful sweet aroma. Add the crème fraiche and stir well.
6. Now add the tarragon and parsley together with seasoning to taste (you can afford a good grinding of black pepper here).
7. To put the dish together, begin by spreading a little béchamel on the base of a rectangular dish.
8. Place a sheet of cooked lasagne on the top covering the base of the dish.
9. Spoon a thin layer of the spinach mix on the lasagne and add the mushrooms mix, building up all the components of the dish ending with a layer of béchamel. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan.
10. Cook for 45 minutes until golden. Serve with a crisp green salad.
A truly, truly scrumptious supper dish or for entertaining.
I am a new apiarist (beekeeper) and a rather nervous one at that. Bees sting. I have managed to survive more than half a century without being stung by a bee and my over active imagination has me convinced that when I am stung (it’s an occupational hazard I’m told) I will go straight into anaphylactic shock and die.
Last summer I lured a few friends to lunch with the intention that they spent the afternoon helping me assemble two very beautiful traditional cedar bee hives, known as WBCs (named after its designer William Broughton Carr). These are the classic hives that you see in illustrations and paintings. They are good hives, staying cool in summer and warm in winter, and just ideal for my superior bees. The hive assembly was quite an undertaking but we were led by my ‘Bee man’ in a ‘flat-pack assembly’ team activity. Then came the bees – 10,000 of the noisy little blighters. Bee man handled the whole thing with great calm and confidence, from what I could see. I was half way down the garden dressed up like Michelin man in a specially made outfit with netted hat, two pairs of trousers, leather gloves and boots. Those little critters weren’t sending me to an early grave.
Both I and my bees survived the winter, the bees with a weekly feed of sugar syrup and a little fondant in the spring. The two queen bees were strong and worked hard laying eggs whilst their now 50,000 offspring busied themselves making my lovely honey. May is swarm season which made me extraordinarily anxious (not to mention exhausted, climbing in and out of Michelin man’s outfit and sending my heart a racing). The bees swarmed five times that we know of. Bee man came to the rescue each time and took away my welltempered gentle bees depleting the hives considerably.
We harvested the spring honey in early June and I spent a couple of hours with Bee man spinning the frames in a violent centrifugal machine that we had to hold to the floor, before returning the frames back to the hives. 40 lb of pure, clear light-coloured honey poured out of the tap. It looked and smelt nothing like any honey I have used before. I don’t like honey which is a little ironic, but I had a teaspoon of this golden nectar – it is superb, tastes like a hedgerow and smells, sweet, fruity and perfumed. It resembles nothing like the commercial honey you can buy. It seems my bees had been bringing back pollen from the local rape crops, so my honey went like concrete. This is quite normal I understand. I now need to warm it up very gently and it will return to the clear liquid gold it started as, before jarring up and labelling and running a few jars down to Ludwell Stores. If you are a honey lover, then please try the local spring honey – every jar will taste deliciously different. Let’s hope the summer crop will be even better. Thank you bees, and thank you Bee man.
Donheads Honey and Sea Salt Ice Cream (for cheats)
Approx. £6.50 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
If you're a fan of salted caramel, I'm willing to bet you'll love this one too. It’s not your traditional ice cream with eggs and heat and anxious churning. There are only four ingredients, and no ice-cream maker needed! If you don’t like sea salt in your mix, simply remove it. You could add a tablespoon of whisky, honeycomb, nuts or crystallised fruits etc. Adjust the base recipe as you see fit.
600 ml double cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk (397 gm)
4 tbs (60 ml) local runny honey plus 1 tablespoon for topping and a little more for serving. (According to Bee man, if your honey has crystallised, warm it slowly in the jar to return it to runny, golden nectar)
½ tsp best sea salt you can get (Ludwell Stores sells Fleur de sel amongst others)
To make the ice cream
1. Pour the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer affixed with the whisk attachment. Start out mixing on low speed, then slowly increase speed to high and mix until the cream forms stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to overwhip or you are done for! You can also use a bowl and a hand mixer, just takes a little longer.
2. Using a spatula, gently fold in the sweetened condensed milk, honey, and ½ teaspoon sea salt into the whipped cream (plus any alternative or extra ingredients you might be using).
3. Continue stirring gently until completely combined. Pour into a freezer-safe container with airtight lid. Drizzle the top with 1 tablespoon honey. Seal.
4. Freeze until solid, at least 6 hours.
5. Scoop into cups, bowls, or into cones; drizzle individual servings with a little more honey and a bonus pinch of sea salt if desired. Or serve with sun warmed raspberries and strawberries, or with pancakes, bananas and an extra drizzle of lovely runny honey.
Luxurious creaminess, honey's slightly floral nuances and flecks of briny sea salt elevate this to absolute summer perfection.
A truly, truly scrumptious treat without all the faff.
I am sitting in the hairdressers as I write this, hair wrapped in tin foil like an oven ready porcupine. I have been left to 'cook' (ladies you know what I mean), for 35 minutes and have a very good fresh coffee and one of those French caramel lotus biscuits to enjoy. Such luxury and I still have the chair massage to come! It's the day before the 4 Villages Spring Fête and my life has been dominated by fête business. I also have the builders in, so ‘walk the plank’ every day rather than fall into one of their enormous trenches and the dust everywhere inside, is unbelievable. Housework is not on my to-do list. With work too, I feel rightly deserving of this ‘me’ time.
Part of my ‘fête’ duties included completing food safety risk assessments with those serving food at the fête whether as a volunteer or not. Interestingly, the focus is now on allergens as a big (or bigger) risk to public safety than the ‘chance’ of bacteria oozing from your cream cake. I wanted to be sure that we informed consumers of any potential risks, for them to make their own decisions about what they ate. There has been a marked rise in the numbers of young people, especially, who are severely intolerant or allergic to basic ingredients like soya, gluten, eggs, additives etc, not to mention nuts which are in most things nowadays in one form or another. This is serious stuff. Allergens can kill.
When I was in my twenties I spent the whole of one Christmas day morning in Salisbury A&E with a face like a puffer fish including taut water filled balloons for eyelids. I had been given a huge side of smoked salmon by a boyfriend. Unexpectedly (to me) we were not spending Christmas Eve together so this gift was a sort of apology. Well, very down in the dumps, I commiserated on my own by eating most of it in one go, washed down with a few glasses of vino no doubt. Well – the salmon was as cheap and dodgy as the boyfriend. By three in the morning I was unable to open my eyes and my face felt weird. Squinting in the mirror it dawned on me that not only was my Christmas well and truly ‘over’, but so was the relationship. I was on piriton for the rest of Christmas so could not drink, could not go out for fear of frightening the dogs, and there was only left-over psychedelic orange salmon in the fridge to eat. A Christmas never to be repeated. I was unable to eat smoked fish for many years after (for reasons of allergic reaction, not from memories of a broken heart!)
So, please don’t ignore the effect of allergens on some of us more ‘sensitive’ souls, and beware unexpected gifts of hallucinatory inducing coloured food. You’re about to be dumped! aif
Golden Pan-fried Plaice with smashed Baby Broad Beans and Pancetta
Approx. £6.00 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
4 whole plaice fillets (Ludwell Stores sells some wonderful fresh fish)
75g polenta (enough for coating the fillets)
2 slices of pancetta or thin streaky bacon (not smoked)
2 tbs oil (olive or rapeseed)
For the smashed bean/pea mix
1 onion and clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 slice of pancetta or streaky bacon, diced
150g baby broad beans, edamame beans or peas, blanched
2 sprigs fresh mint, finely shredded
2 sprigs fresh thyme
150ml light chicken or vegetable stock
150g finely diced potato (1/2 large baking potato sort of size)
2 tbs single cream
To make the smashed bean/pea mix
1. Sauté the onion, garlic and diced pancetta in half the butter until golden.
2. Add the mint, thyme, stock and potato, bringing to the boil and simmer gently.
3. When the potato is almost tender add the blanched beans or peas and simmer for a further five minutes.
4. Remove the sprigs of thyme and put the whole lot in the blender (or a big bowl and smash with the end of a rolling pin) together with the cream. The mix wants to be quite loose (not sloppy) but also to be chunky.
5. Check seasoning at this point, adding salt and black pepper as required.
6. Grill or oven cook the remaining pancetta slices until crispy.
For the plaice
7. Trim and skin the plaice if required.
8. Add seasoning to the polenta and then coat the fillets really well in the dry mix, shaking off the excess.
9. Heat the butter with the oil in a large frying pan until foaming.
10. Fry the fish for about 2–3 minutes on each side, until just cooked through.
11. Reheat the bean mix if needed – it only needs to be warm.
12. Spoon a small mound of the bean mix on to both plates and arrange the plaice fillets and pancetta slice on top. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
A delicious light lunch or supper with a taste of summer.
A truly, truly scrumptious dish
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.
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